24 hours in Helsinki is just enough to get into the mood of this easygoing capital that you might not want to leave. Words by Milla Visuri.
The city of Helsinki, located at the Northern coast of the Baltic Sea, has stood here nearly 470 years still being a people-sized city where one can easily feel at home. It may seem like a curious choice for a holiday destination but once you get to know it, you will love it. Explore some of the best Helsinki has to offer as it must neither be exquisite nor expensive.
Helsinki is buzzing with happy energy. It is easy to get around with a public transportation day-ticket covering metro, bus and tram routes plus the Suomenlinna ferry – children under the age of seven travel for free. Transfer time is smooth: 30 minutes to and from the airport, whether you hop on a taxi, bus or train. There are comfortable yellow city-bikes for rent and ferries will take you out to some of the 330 nearby islands. Navigating on foot is easy too – it only takes 40 minutes to get from one side of the city to the other.
9 AM: HELSINKI GOES WITH COFFEE
First things first. When you think of Finland there is sauna and Santa Claus but there is also coffee. Perhaps surprisingly, Finns drink the most coffee in the world yet you will only find two Starbucks in the whole country. If you need your caffeine fix, head to the cafés, coffee shops and roasters around Helsinki – here nobody counts the cups – the average local drinks 3 to 4 mugs a day.
There is even a Helsinki specialty coffee guide listing all the cozy places to sit down for a good cup such as Mood Coffee Roastery in Ullanlinna, Andante serving coffee and cakes in a flower shop or the cute little Kahvila Siili, a summer café in Helsinki’s historic Käpylä neighbourhood.
Should you prefer your cup of tea try the Finnish version of rooibos mixed with sea-buckthorn and birch leave aka Polar Night cup at Teemaa Tea House.
10 AM: CULTURE BREAK
Helsinki is mostly known for the design rooted into the everyday life in the city. However culture, art and architecture run deep in the Helsinki DNA, be that an evening at the National Opera, a classical concert at the newly built Helsinki Music Center, a Dinner Under The Sky on the street with friends, Lux Helsinki, a joyful light festival in the middle of the winter solstice or We Jazz, a surprise jazz fest in the trams, coffee bars and homes.
The most liked museums offer a bite for everyone: go to Kiasma for modern art and the architecture of the building itself, to HAM (the recently reborn Helsinki Art Museum) for its convenient location and a delightful collection of local masterpieces and pop up exhibitions of masterminds such as Ai Wei Wei,or to Design Museum for the Finnish icons but also for their Saturday program for children. Not forgetting the National Museum of Finland for the beauty of the building and the stories of this quirky Northern nation.
Churches in Helsinki are free to visit – go to Kamppi Chapel of Silence for peace of mind or Helsinki Cathedral and theUspenski Cathedral. Quarried out of the natural bedrock Temppeliaukio Church also known as Rock Church is perfect for concerts due to its unique acoustics.
12 NOON: THE LOCAL LUNCH HOUR
If you want to taste a bit of Finland head to Juuri for local tapas called ‘sapas’ or to Savoy, with a herb and bee garden on the roof and detailed Aalto interiors. Kolmon3n in Kallio district serves a tasty locally sourced menu. Also any of Helsinki’s three unique 100 year old market halls are excellent for tasting, smelling and sampling the local delicacies.
At the Michelin starred restaurants Olo, Ask, Demo and Chef & Sommelier you get to taste some of the best Finland has to offer. Lunch is a clever tasting option if you are on a budget and don’t want to spend it all for dinner.
In Helsinki the whole world is on your plate. Sushiburritos, a fusion of Japanese sushi and a mexican burritos are served in Soma. Three foodies from New Zealand, Canada and Italy are now making comfort food in Hello Darling, a hidden courtyard eatery at Iso Roobertinkatu.
The local street food scene is bursting from Puurola’s raw porridge bike to Richard McCormick’s pink food truck and Powau’s green smoothies to yummy handmade burgers atRoslund, or Friends & Brgrs, pizzas at Lotten Piece & Love Pizza, Putte’s or Pizzarium, tacos at Cholo’s, Lucha Loco and Ahorita not to forget the delicious ramens at Fat Ramen in beautiful Hietalahti Market Hall.
1 PM: SAMPLE THE SHOPS
Afternoons are perfect for shopping as there are less crowds and some of the smaller shops tend to close a bit earlier in the evening than those on the busier shopping streets like Esplanadi, Aleksanterinkatu and Mannerheimintie.
Head to the Helsinki Design District or Toriquarters for unique pieces of clothing, design objects, art, antiques, books and home-ware. Some of the most visited shops are Iittala, Marimekko and Artek while Lokal, R/H Studio, Johanna Gullichsen, Samuji, Anna Ruohonen, Papershop,Costo, Karhu Concept Store, Kauniste, Lapuan Kankurit and Nide Bookstore offer a vast sortiment of handcrafted goods and special items for souvenirs.
3 PM: RELAX BY THE WATER
Everywhere around Helsinki there is water. A lazy afternoon walk, biking tour or run along the shores of the city will take you to some of the most popular sights such as Sibelius Monument, Finlandia Hall, City Hall, Old Market Hall,Market Square and Sky Wheel. Popular year round open bars and cafés are dotted along the waterside from Johan & Nyström to Holiday at Katajanokka, Cafe Regatta in Töölö and Ursula in Kaivopuisto.
If you feel like taking a touristic ferry ride it is also a lovely way to see the city from the waterside. You can even visit some of the coastal islands nearby, such as Lonna, Vallisaari or Suomenlinna Unesco World Heritage Site by ferries leaving from the Market Square. One-way journey takes 10 to 20 minutes and you get to catch also a good breath of fresh air.
5PM: SAUNA TIME
There are over 3 million saunas in Finland which is more than the number of cars in the country. Still for many also in the cities, a Saturday evening sauna is a necessity. For a visitor it is equally easy to warm up in any of the city’s public saunas open until late.
Culture Sauna in Merihaka and the brand new wooden sauna Löyly in Hernesaari are for architecture lovers. A summer evening at Sompasauna in Kalasatama is more for the adventure-minded with a view of the famous Helsinki icebreakers and a private grill right outside (bring your own towel, drinks and eats).
In the winter the best place to soften up is the glorious 1920‘s Yrjönkatu swimming hall still open for public (separate days for men and women) with its own restaurant, a fancy menu of food and drink and table service straight by the pool. Uunisaari is the place for those who are bold enough to dip into the brisk sea even in the winter months. The wonderful thing about sauna is that any day is a good sauna day!
8 PM: DINNER & DRINKS
Dinner is served in the many Helsinki establisments that keep on popping just like mushrooms after the rain. Over 70 new restaurants opened in Helsinki in 2015 offering exciting tasting menus, dinner touring and dishes for sharing. One of the most original new restaurants is Finnjävel, which takes guests on a Finnish food journey serving fermented potatoes and root vegetables prepared in a pit on the restaurant backyard.
Many of the restaurants serve wild food from the nearby forest such as restaurant Grön opened by Toni Kostian, the latest Chef of the Year. While others go for much-liked and relaxed bistro style such as Sinne, BasBas, Ox, Kuurna or The Cock where food is un-pretencious and simply delicious.
Before or after dinner it is well worth it to taste some of Finland’s best drinks at A21 Decades Bar, sample some of The Helsinki Distilling Company’s worlds best voted gin in their new bar and terrace at the Helsinki meatpacking district called Teurastamo or taste a local craft beer in downtown at BeerBeer.
The article was published for Visit Finland in May 2016:
Image by Jussi Hellsten (Helsinki365.com)