About nine months ago I began my year on exchange in Helsinki, Finland. I didn’t know what to expect from a city and a country I had barely heard of. I’ve since come to discover that whilst Helsinki may not be the most obvious choice for students looking to study abroad, it definitely deserves to be considered.

So that is why I’m giving you my top 5 reasons why you should study abroad in Helsinki, Finland.

1) The Universities

Helsinki hosts some of the most prestigious and highly rated universities not only in Europe, but in the world. In particular, the University of Helsinki regularly ranks inside the top 100 universities in the world, placing 67th on the Shanghai Academic Rating of World Universities List of 2015.

Other higher education institutions in the city include Aalto University, Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences and the Sibelius Academy.

The university culture in Helsinki is vibrant and flexible. In terms of academics, many courses are available in English across most institutions, with Finnish, Swedish and Russian also being options for prospective students. Many courses at Finnish universities place an emphasis on the practical aspects of any given topic.

Student life at universities in Helsinki is another major attraction for exchange students. The Erasmus Student Network is extremely active in Helsinki, as it is in many major cities across Europe. Regular parties, vacations and the traditional Finnish ‘sitsit’ are organized by ESN and many other student organizations in many of the universities.

2) The City

Helsinki is a city with a population of about 600,000, with a greater metropolitan area of approximately 1 million people. The city itself is extremely easily to get around in, with a world-class public transport system.

Admittedly, Helsinki is quite an expensive city to live in, with food, accommodation, transport and most other aspects of everyday life being more costly than your average city, even by European standards.

However, it must be noted that whilst the city is certainly expensive, the quality of things like public transport and most student accommodation is considerably higher than many other cities. Essentially, you get what you pay for in Helsinki.

As an estimate, you would need 600-700 EUR per month to live comfortably in Helsinki.

One more thing that should be stated about Helsinki, and Finland in general is the prevalence of English. I have lived in Helsinki for almost nine months and I have never had a problem with just speaking English. If you are to travel outside Helsinki, you will find that most people will speak at least some basic English. Swedish and Russian languages are also prevalent.

3) The People

Finnish people have a reputation of being quiet and reserved, and for all intents and purposes, this is true. Whilst they certainly appreciate their silence and generally dislike small-talk, the Finnish are generally very polite and more than willing to help.

Finnish students are generally quite enthusiastic to meet international students, and if you have the opportunity to befriend a Finn, I would highly recommend it. Finns are very proud of their country and they will certainly welcome the opportunity to show you around.

4) The Travel Opportunities

Helsinki is uniquely located in Northern Europe, and provides you with many exciting travel opportunities. Whilst reaching mainland Europe from Helsinki does take several hours by plane, trips to the likes of Sweden, Russia, Denmark and the Baltic countries are readily available.

Boat cruises to Tallinn and Stockholm are both cheap and easy. The journey to Tallinn is just 2.5 hours, and a cruise to Stockholm is generally an overnight trip. Whilst prices spike in the summer time, if you are willing to face some colder weather, you can make the trip to Tallinn or Stockholm for around 10 EUR return, which is an absolute steal.

Visa-free travel from Helsinki to St. Petersburg is also a great option. You are able to have a 72 hour visa-free period in St. Petersburg if you arrive by boat only. Helsinki’s proximity to Russia is enough motivation for most people make the journey, and the cheaper prices in St. Petersburg is also a major drawcard.

Traveling inside Finland is also a unique experience. Lapland is a popular destination for exchange students, with the Erasmus Student Network, amongst others, organizing regular trips for students are reasonable prices.

5) The Weather

Now, I understand that it might sound strange to state that the weather in a city close to the Arctic is a positive thing, but bear with me. Whilst the winter in Helsinki is definitely harsh, with temperatures falling to an average of -20 degrees in December and January, the summer is definitely worth wait.

The average summer day in Helsinki is beautifully sunny and around 25 degrees, and after a long, cold and dark winter, this is an incredible relief. Helsinki truly comes alive during the summer, with an enormous amount of festivals, markets, parties and events being planned from June to August.