Fronting the historic Esplanadi park, which was established in 1812 for Finns to promenade in and converted into a vegetable garden during the rough years of World War II, Hotel Kämp has been welcoming guests since 1887, when it opened as the first hotel in Finland with an elevator. Service, however, has not been without interruption: A modern office building took its place in 1969. But in 1999, Helsinki’s grand hotel returned: The old façade and some of the interiors were restored, and the five-star establishment was back in business.
In its 179 rooms, Hotel Kämp has hosted heads of state from around the world; European royalty; Jean Sibelius, Finland’s leading composer; and the renowned Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela. It was the secret meeting place of the underground movement during the Finnish Civil War, and during the summer of 1919, military leader of the Whites during the Civil War and future president Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim was a permanent resident. More recently, Tina Turner, Bon Jovi and Elton John have all checked in.
It also has welcomed less celebrated folk, such as myself, but I sensed there would be very little difference in how we were treated. The friendly concierge in the sleek new lobby and the polished staff at the front desk were early indications of an egalitarian spirit: Check-in was a breeze, and they were more than happy to make a reservation for me at a local Russian restaurant where I could enjoy some potted bear.
The old lobby, with its crystal chandeliers, carved wood and marble columns with intricate capitals, invited me to explore the hotel’s common areas. Cozy lounges are a perfect place to enjoy a unique cocktail created by the inventive bartenders, or to dive into one of the Finnish- and English-language books from the nicely stocked library that are provided for you to enjoy during your stay. Grand staircases, covered in red carpet, lead to split-level floors and hallways lined with sofas, sconces, gilded mirrors, artwork by Finnish painters and marble-top tables with fresh flowers.
My spacious room — complete with a dulcet doorbell, heavy drapery to block out any light that could impinge upon my slumber, and a green rubber ducky and fizzy bath salts in the marble bathroom — was so enticing that I was almost reluctant to leave it to explore the charms of this winning Nordic capital. Wrapped in the complementary plush white robe and comfortably sprawled on the enormous bed in front of the LCD flat-screen television with an abundance of English-language programming, I felt rather princely. But if you’d rather live like a king instead, you can book the Mannerheim Suite — for more than $3,000 per night.
Of course, you’re also encouraged to eventually leave your room and take in everything Helsinki has to offer. I often started my day with a generous continental breakfast in the classy Brasserie Kämp and sampled such creative juices as cranberry-mint and blackcurrant-tarragon. Bicycles were available to rent from the hotel, if I had felt so inclined to take to the streets like a local. To cope with the city’s mercurial weather, I always toted around the umbrella that was provided for me in my room. And, when my vacation was coming to a close, I spent a large portion of my final evening at the full-service Kämp Spa, which offers three different kinds of saunas (the eucalyptus-scented grotto steam sauna was interesting) and comfortably heated divans to relax you before your treatment, whether it be a traditional Swedish massage or a cloudberry body treatment.
From the morning until — and all through — the night, Hotel Kämp does everything right.