This year is a special one for Finland, as it is turning 100 years old on the 6th of December – a prime time to discover Helsinki: the beating heart of Finland as well as its window to the world. Helsinki’s attractive and unique character comes from its proximity to the sea, as well as its mixed aspects from the East and the West. Although Finnish roots are much older, Finland has conquered its independence only in the last century, which makes its culture relatively new. In addition to being a young European country, Finland has lately made its way to being one of the top tourist destinations. To discover Finland has become trendy, and we want to share the absolute best spots to visit when travelling to Helsinki.
Discover Helsinki in a Convenient Way: Little Things to Take into Account
When travelling abroad, it is important to consider what to take into account when it comes to the culture and habits. As you have possibly already gathered from our previous article about shipping trends in Finland, Finns are really into digital marketing and anything high-tech. Thus, it is very common to pay by card – even for a banana worth 60 cents.
When discovering Helsinki, it is important to pay attention to traffic and its rules. Crossing the road when the light is red – although without any cars in the horizon – is something non-helsinkiläiset should avoid. The country is known for being strict with many laws, and respecting traffic rules is a must.
If you feel a little more adventures and consider having a few drinks in the “Kaivopuisto” park, you should also pay attention to a few things while buying alcohol.
- First of all, age is always verified – so carry your ID with you, as the cashiers won’t allow you to buy alcohol if you can’t prove you’re actually not a minor.
- Secondly, there is a limited time for any alcohol shopping – always do so between 9AM-9PM.
- Thirdly, it is not possible to buy stronger drinks than beer in supermarkets. If you feel having wine or stronger drinks, there is only the government-owned Alko wine shop at your disposition, and it has its specific opening hours. So, make sure to check each Alko-shop’s opening hours before going out!
If you happen to discover Helsinki as a student, remember to mention it everywhere you go, as students often benefit from many discounts when it comes to shopping, eating and attending exhibitions or events.
Depending on your preferences, you should take the seasons and climate into serious consideration when planning a trip to Finland. Winter times in Helsinki are magical and fairy-tail-like, however, it is challenging to keep yourself focused on discovering when it is freezing cold and windy. By the sea, the weather is most of the time raw and humid, regardless of the time of the year.
Moreover, if you want to experience and discover the authentic Helsinki life in action and full of festive spirit, here is one date to remember: 1st of May, also called “Vappu”.
Discover Helsinki through Design & Shopping
Helsinki is known for its design-oriented state of mind. Being the World Design Capital in 2012, its legacy in design can still be experienced in many projects it has inspired. From Kamppi Chapel of Silence to the the Kiasma museum, the design-appreciating vibe is present nearly everywhere in the city. If you happen to a design enthusiast, September is the prime time for discovering Helsinki due to the Design Week. The event gathers designers from around the world and offers a unique experience both for professionals and design-lovers.
When combining design and shopping in Helsinki, one has to acknowledge the existence of Marimekko, and the promenade in the Helsinki Design District, full of tiny shops and unique cafés.
Otherwise, Helsinki has concentrated its shopping spots wisely in the centre. There are two big shopping malls next to each other in the city centre: Kamppi and Forum. Both gather Nordic brands as well as bigger chains. If you are into “window shopping”, the Esplanadi is your spot: fancy brands with beautiful terraces and a lot of sass are gathered on this street.
Shopping has more aspects to it than malls and expensive brands on Esplanadi. Thrift shopping is extremely trendy in Finland, as new, quality brands are expensive and out of reach for many. There are many good spots for secondhand shopping in Helsinki. Finnish magazine Anna has listed the best spots for secondhand shopping in Helsinki, including the following: Relove, Emmaus, Kaivarin Kanuuna, and Dom.
Discover Helsinki through its Cafés, Bars & Restaurants
To discover Helsinki without having good food is just not proper (and frankly speaking, quite impossible!). Finns have become passionate about the alimentation trends, and the food culture in Helsinki is now more interesting than ever before. After Berlin, the Finnish capital is one of the most vegan and vegetarian oriented cities. However, the biggest downside to experience the food scene in Helsinki is the expensiveness. Nonetheless, after long strolls and walks around the city while admiring its architecture and harmony, it is important to refuel wisely with good food in nice places.
- Date + Kale, an organic, natural and plant-based restaurant, which is among the youngsters’ favorite places. It serves wholesome, plant-rich and sustainable foods, bursting with flavour, colours and nutrients. Simply rainbow bowls for happy minds and balanced nutrition. This little gem is located on Urho Kekkosenkatu 1, in the heart of Helsinki.
- Finnjävel is a newbie restaurant which specialises in serving traditional Finnish food. Located on Eteläranta 16, the restaurant prepares the dishes using traditional Finnish cooking methods. Plus the open kitchen provides a sous chef–style view!
- El Rey, The best Mexican restaurant in town. It is small and cosy, located in the heart of Helsinki on Vuorimiehenkatu 18. This restaurant is perfect for a break from the visiting hustle.
- Bergga, a place to get coffee, lunch, or late dinner after an evening shift. Situated in the district of Kallio, on Viides linja 14 a 1, Bergga is a relaxed place, that warmly welcomes dogs as well as their owners.
- Good Life Coffee, is a coffee bar in the district of Kallio in Helsinki. Situated on Kolmas Linja 17, it’s a place where you can enjoy the best possible cup, together with a bite from like-minded local bakeries. At Good Life Coffee, they have their minds set on coffee, and coffee is clearly on their minds.
- Sushi Bar + Wine, is a perfect place for a fresh fish and a relaxed atmosphere. According to Finnish blogger White Trash Disease, it is the only option for high-quality sushi, with a glass of wine and prime time.
- Latva, situated on Korkeavuorenkatu 25, is a cozy restaurant, or rather a neighborhood pub and wine bar that specializes in serving quality wines and Finnish beers from microbreweries at sensible prices.
- Jackie, on Iso Roobertinkatu 21, is a nostalgia-tinged bar and pizza place that is well-known for its design and warm atmosphere. Once again, if you are into design, this place is a must! Further pictures of the interior of Jackie can be found here.
- BasBas Wine Bar, is a beautifully furnished and decorated place, where you can enjoy high-quality food and wine. It is located on Tehtaankatu 27-29.
Discover Helsinki Through Art, Monuments
When it comes to diversity in Helsinki, it has a lot to offer. Parks, museums, market places, the Baltic sea, an archipelago – the choice is yours. Although there is a lot to discover in Stadi, it is also a city you can get a good grip of after a couple of days only. Nonetheless, you should not miss out on these must-visit places below:
- Kiasma, is a contemporary art museum located on Mannerheimintie, right next to shopping malls Kamppi and Forum. It is most definitely the favorite place of many Finns, as the design combines simplicity and history. The name kiasma refers to the basic conceptual idea of the architecture implicated. Its goal is to make contemporary art better known and affordable.
- Ateneum: Again, if you’re into art, this place is a must. The Ateneum is one of the museums of the Finnish National Gallery and mainly exposes Finnish art from earlier centuries. It is located in the center of Helsinki, close to the railway station. It has the biggest collections of classical art in Finland. Previously the Ateneum building also housed the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and University of Art and Design Helsinki.
- Suomenlinna, a.k.a. Sveaborg: UNESCO’s World Heritage has listed Suomenlinna as one of the prestigious cultural and natural sites. It is a populated sea fortress built on six islands, usually being a lot more enjoyable during the summer – due to the beautiful nature combined with the historical building. The site is perfect for a small escape from the city and a picnic in the rural nature of Helsinki.
- The National Library of Finland: As written on their website: “The National Library of Finland is not just a library, it is also a sight and a cultural destination”. If you’re a fan of books and historical monuments, this one is for you. Administratively, the library is part of the University of Helsinki, and also the reference center to one of the most complete collections of books published in the Russian Empire of any library in the world.
- Markets: The most famous one, Market Square, is open from Monday to Friday, and also on weekends during the summer. It is located by the South Harbor at the end of Esplanade Park, offering an interesting view for shopping food or flowers. Each October, there is an annual Baltic Herring Market taking place there, and it has been happening since 1743. But, in addition to the main Market Square, you should definitely discover Helsinki through two other markets. The Old Market Hall is a must-stop shop to have a sample of local cuisine and delicious regional goods. And last but not least, there is also the Hakaniemi Market Hall, which has a good selection of homemade goods and handicrafts. Through these markets, you can experience the most honest Helsinki vibe and authentic west-east-mixed Finnish culture. Enjoy!
(4) Helsinki Design Week, About Us