?Ever since breaking free from Sweden two centuries ago only to become part of Russia, Finland has been something of a Scandinavian stepsister (like Iceland, viewed by many now as more properly Nordic than Scandic), and she proves typically troublesome in terms of her second city. After Helsinki, the city most Finns regard as their most important is the ancient former seaside capital of Turku—a town well worth a visit, and one that?s especially in the spotlight this year as a European Capital of Culture for 2011 (including a yearlong exhibition of local boy Tom of Finland?s racy work; see
). But the actual second Finn city by head count, not including glorified Helsinki suburb Espoo, is south central Tampere, founded only in the late 18th century and known as "the Manchester of Finland" for its heavy industrial past. For what it?s worth, Tampere was likely gay-founded, by opera-loving Swedish King Gustav III.
SAY IT RIGHT:
WHY GO: As the largest noncoastal Nordic city, Tampere is the gateway to Finland?s gorgeous interior Lake District; if you fly a discount carrier into Finland, chances are good that you?ll arrive at Tampere-Pirkkala Airport.
Don?t miss: The city-run
Sara Hildén Art Museum
Laiturikatu 13; +358-3-5654-3500
), which houses one of Finland?s most important collections of international modern art; the peculiar
Hämeenpuisto 28; +358-3-276-8100
), one of the world?s last museums dedicated to the father of Soviet communism, standing on the site where he first met Stalin in 1905.
?GET THERE: Direct
flights from Helsinki take about 40 minutes,
links Stockholm in about an hour, and
flies direct from cities throughout
, Helsinki is about two hours away.
STAY As Tampere?s tallest building (and one of Finland?s highest beyond Helsinki), the
Sokos Hotel Ilves
Hatanpään valtatie 1; +358-20-123-4631
), with its minimalist boutique-cum-business vibe, offers excellent views of the city and its surrounding lakes.
EAT: Southern Spanish fare in very northern Finland might sound a tad risky, but
Tuomiokirkonkatu 19; +358-20-741-2121
) has become a local institution and is likely the best place on earth to experience Andalusian (like Ibérico pork tenderloin) with a Finnish flair (à la roe deer with sweetbreads).
SHOP: If the legendary all-in-one Finnish emporium
Hämeenkatu 4; +358-9-121-6200
) doesn?t have what you want, surely one of the 80 stores at Sokos Hotel Ilves?adjacent shopping hall
Hatanpään valtatie 1; +358-3-274-0470
CLUB: Open Tuesdays to Saturdays,
Itsenäisyydenkatu 7-9; +358-3-222-0364
) is Finland?s oldest LGBT watering hole, serving as Tampere?s gay ground zero since 1990. Tuesdays hop with ?80s night, and on weekends DJs spin the
latest gay faves in the downstairs dancehall.