The next time you’re planning a trip to Europe, why not venture a bit further north and explore the stunning Scandinavian capital of Finland, Helsinki?
Renown for its world-class architecture, Helsinki’s busy downtown core is filled with landmark design gems such as the Saarinen-designed Central Railway Station, the Senate Square, the Lutheran Cathedral, the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral,Market Square, and more. One of my favorite buildings that I visited while in Helsinki was The Church in the Rock (Temple Square Church), which was dug out of solid rock and constructed out of 22km of copper strips in 1969 by architects (and brothers) Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen.
This city is a cultural hub and home to some exceptional museums like the Ateneum Art Museum, Design Museum Helsinki,The National Museum of Finland, Helsinki City Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Sinebrychoff Art Museum and many, many more. Helsinki is also the center of Finland’s government with the Parliament House located on Mannerheimintie, just steps away from Finlandia Hall (a large congress and concert venue).
The main downtown area is also filled with many stores and boutiques. One of the most iconic names in Finnish design is Iittala (Pohjoisesplanadi 25) who has their flagship concept store in the center of the city that sells their brand of Finnish glassware, pans, kitchen utensils and more. If you’re looking for uniquely Finnish interior design, bags and fabrics, Marimekko(Pohjoisesplanadi 33) has made some of the most recognizable prints since 1951 and are currently distributed all over the world.
Explore past the downtown city centre by water to see the archipelago that surrounds Helsinki. Take a stroll along the seaside or hop on a ferry (which leave from Market Square) to wander around the nearby island of Suomenlinna. Once a Swedish army fortress in the mid-1700’s, today Suomenlinna is now open to the public and still the home to this historic fortification and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
An authentic Finnish experience isn’t complete without a trip to the sauna. With over three million saunas across the country, the sauna is not a luxurious spa experience but rather a necessity for everyday life. Seen as a place to relax and unwind with family and friends, Finland has established their own sauna customs and experience. Even though many Finnish people have a sauna directly in their home, there are also many public sauna facilities all around the city for tourists to visit.
The best way to travel is to explore the different neighborhoods that are off the beaten track and see where Finnish people really live and go out. One of the most vibrant areas of Helsinki is the district of Kallio. Located in the eastern end of the city, this laid back and eclectic area is filled with trendy cafes, brunch spots, bars and boutiques. The home to Finland Flow Festival in August, as well, Kallio is the spot to visit if you want to experience the city the way local hipsters do.
Here are some great local spots for you to visit during your trip:
Olohuone (Fleminginkatu 7) – Still looking for a souvenir? Olohuone, which means living room in Finnish, has an excellent selection of local, handmade and vintage home and giftware.
Good Life Coffee (Kolmas Linja 17) – With a staff that is as passionate about coffee as you are, this cozy coffee shop brews only the finest beans from small roasters from all around Finland and Europe.
Sandro (Kolmas Linja 17) – This local hotspot infuses the delicious north-African and middle-eastern flavors in a relaxed atmosphere. A neighborhood favorite since 1994, stop by for the great food and stay to enjoy the warm service.
Onda (Toinen linja 3) – Satisfy your craving for something healthy with one of their vegan or gluten free items from their buffet or a la carte menu. This restaurant also doubles as an art gallery so you can surround yourself with local art as you fill your plate and sip wine from small vineyards around Europe.
Siltanen (Hämeentie 13 B) – Arguably the best bar in Helsinki to go out dancing and drinking, this laidback bar is exactly what you’re looking for a great evening out. With a patio for the summer days and a lively club inside, there is something fun going on every night in the week.