Serena is also a large amusement park/sports center on the outskirts of Helsinki, Finland, consisting of half a dozen intertwingled operations.

Serena Water Park

The biggest reason to visit, and one of the coolest hottest places in Helsinki especially in the winter, is the Serena Water Park. Now the observant reader may recall that Helsinki is on the 60th parallel, not terribly far from the Arctic Circle, and wonder whether this is compatible with frolicking about in a bikini -- but that's what makes Serena unique: 2000 m2 of the park are covered and heated, which allows the water park to stay open all year round!

And boy, do they pack some stuff into that cavernous hall. There are five large water slides catering to all tastes: the Aquatube drops you down a 45 degree slide at over 40 km/h, the nameless light blue slide is gentler but 140 meters long, and everybody's favorite, the new Black Hole, plunges you through complete darkness punctuated with spacey light effects. The unpredictable Wild Stream (Villivirta) river ride circles the hall and through the rock, with new surprises after each bend. Then there are waterfalls, jacuzzis, a wave pool, and of course (this is Finland after all) a dedicated sauna section. In the Turkish steam sauna you can even find yourself face to face with naked members of the opposite sex -- although there is a railing and a dense fog of steam in the way. And during the summer, another 1000 square meters of aquatic fun is opened up.

But the best part of this is that the hall has plenty of windows, which means that you can settle down in a warm jacuzzi with a drink from the bar in your hand, wrap an arm around a blonde Nordic goddess barely contained by her swimsuit (hint: you may wish to ask permission first), and then enjoy the fact that you are not outside, where the temperature is -25°C and the wind is blowing straight from Siberia. The heating bill for the place boggles the mind.

Serena Ski

Oddly enough, some people actually seem to like going up and down hills in such weather, an expensive habit that Serena Ski is happy to accommodate. There are five slopes and four lifts, but southern Finland is terribly flat so the maximum descent is a whopping 60 meters. In the summer, the ski slopes transform into the Serena Mountain Cross Center, where you can roll down those same slopes in little "EKO" cars powered by the fearsome force of gravity -- not one of the more successful bits of the Serena Empire.

Granina/Caveman Restaurants

Much of the water park has been dug into the hillside, so lurking in its bowels are also two restaurants. The family-friendly Granina offers burgers and chips at inflated prices, but it has an effective monopoly; the Caveman Restaurant is only open for conferences and other special occasions.

Costs and Getting There

The water park is open every day (except Christmas) 11-20. Entry costs €15 for a full day and €11 for the 16-20 evening ticket; in my opinion, four hours is just about right, unless you've got hyperactive kids in tow.

Ski passes cost from €13 (2 hours) to €20 (full day), but are perhaps best combined with the water park for a relatively affordable €22. Ski rental is also available.

The best way to get to Serena is by your own car, or do as the Russians do and take an entire tour bus. If you have to resort to public transportation, bus 339KT from Helsinki's Central Bus Station will do the trip in 40-50 minutes, but these run less than once per hour so check schedules beforehand.

Personal experience