Helsinki was the last Scandinavian capital city to tick off on my ‘to visit’ list. Since visiting Stockholm a few years ago I have regularly travelled around the Nordic regions, returning for the fresh clean lifestyle, the beautiful scenery and innovative cuisine. The welcome I have received from the locals in each country has always been overwhelmingly friendly and kind. The natives are proud and inspired by their surroundings, and want to show it off. Finland has many similarities with its neighbouring countries but also very much has its own identity. Before visiting I imagined I would encounter Marimekko, Moomins and lots of saunas in Helsinki, but what I discovered was far more exciting than just design prints and cartoon characters!
Hotel Indigo – This super new boutique design hotel proved itself to be the perfect blogger’s base in Helsinki. Conveniently located, chic in design and efficient in service, we couldn’t fault it.
Chef & Sommelier - The ‘new Nordic’ food movement is progressing at vast speed and Helsinki is home to a few leading chefs who are paving the way. The most magical meal I experienced was at Chef & Sommelier where chef Sasu Laukkonen uses humble ingredients to create imaginative dishes.
Ask – A little Michelin star restaurant serving meticulous and magnificent food. The lunch menu is light and lovely using all organic ingredients that are locally sourced, even the wine here is organic.
Nokka – This is one of the more traditional restaurants in Helsinki serving local flavours and authentic dishes. The eatery is currently teaming up with FinnAir to provide meals to their business class services out of Finland. We tasted a set menu of delicious treats including beetroot soup and immaculately cooked duck breast.
Sandro – Sandro is a unique food concept in Helsinki and has garnered a reputation as one of the hippest and tastiest places to eat in town. After a round of sweet fruity cocktails, we were presented with the ‘Marrakech Madness’ feast. This exotic menu includes goat cheese and date pastilla, kofta salad with halloumi and lamb tajine… it was fragrant, comforting and delicious food.
The Cock - This trendy hang-out is the latest venture from the people behind Sandro. The eatery has a chic design and is consequently filled with young trendsetters. We indulged in a feast of varied dishes, including oysters, salads, pastas and a bowl of very memorable sticky chicken wings.
Streat Helsinki – After the success of its premier year Streat Helsinki recently returned for its 2nd year. Street food is an ever growing trend in the city and this was apparent at this popular festival. Thousands of locals and tourists gathered to try the eclectic mix of cuisines available from the 66 food trucks. We loved the burgers from Naughty Brgr created by the winner of Top Chef!
Vanha Kauppahalli - The Old Market Hall in Helsinki has served its customers since 1889. The merchants sell everything from cheese, fish, shellfish, vegetable, fruit and cakes to spices, coffee and tea. Whether you are hungry or not it is worth visiting to look around the beautiful hall and carefully arranged stalls.
Good Life Coffee – this much loved coffee shop is in the cool and quirky Kallio district. The café is run by Lauri Pipinen, the Finnish Barista Champion 2011 and their motto “avoid bad life” is very apparent. I tried a smooth and rich flat white from Good Life Coffee though they are best known for their filter coffee.
Trillby & Chadwick – this secret detective-themed cocktail bar is from the creative bartending agency, Son of a Punch, who also run popular bars Liberty or Death and 100 dogs in Helsinki. In true prohibition style there is no sign and no markings outside, just blacked-out windows. Once through the front door, you find yourself in a tiny four-walled room with just a telephone and guests leave via the back exit to avoid being seen. The cocktails are innovative and tasty, we tried the exotic ‘Market Street’ and ‘Hand & Flower’ drinks.
Kaffa Roastery – It is said that as a nation Finland are one of the biggest coffee consuming countries. This characterful café was one of the first independent coffee shops on the scene in Helsinki. They have their own roastery ensuring every cup is of top quality and taste. I tried a creamy cappuccino while I chatted to the friendly staff about their favourite places to go in the city.
Heather’s Helsinki – Heather is an Australian who has lived in Helsinki for 12 years. She runs the “Fork in Hand” food tour which runs daily on request. You will learn about food, food culture and design as you walk around the centre of Helsinki. Heather gave a group of us a comprehensive and inspiring foodie tour of the city highlighting the delicacies and specialities as well as showing us one of the most atmospheric food markets.
Kulttuurisauna – The sauna culture is impossible to ignore in Finland and most people have a private sauna in their house or apartment block. This trendy and stylish sauna is on the water’s edge so guests can take a dip in the harbour after a steamy sauna session.
Kampii Chapel of Silence – This unique building stands out, an otherworldly smooth wooden building designed by KS2 architects. It has won numerous architecture awards and is the perfect place for a moment of reflection. This minimalist chapel opened in 2012 and is open everyday with free entry for all.
Helsinki Day Spa - Helsinki Day Spa was founded in 2005 and was Finland’s first urban spa located in the centre of the city. The spa is housed in the historic Rake building and is carefully designed to calm guests as soon as they walk through the door. The treatments are effective with a medical focus, the trained therapists will target problems ensuring guests leave feeling healthier and happier. We experienced the Quick Fix and Go facial, which takes just 30 minutes but gives your skin a zingy boost.
Suomenlinna – this incredible UNESCO world heritage site makes the perfect excursion. The little island is an inhabited former sea fortress and is beautiful, especially in summer. The blue walking route runs from the north to the south, about 1.5km, and takes in all the main sites including the Dry Dock, King’s Gate and a number of museums. It is the most sought-after place to live in Helsinki, with only 900 inhabitants at one time. The island is easily reachable by a 15 minute ferry which runs regularly from the main harbour.
Marimekko - When I think of fashion in Helsinki it is the Marimekko ‘Unikko’ flower print that comes to mind. This Finnish design company has been renowned for its original prints and colours since 1951, and when I visited the flagship shop I noticed tourists buying in bulk. The company designs and manufactures apparel, bags, clothes and textiles, all with the striking classic patterns. We headed to the outlet store on the outskirts of town to pick up some floral blue fabric to make curtains for our new living room.
Karl Fazer – Karl Fazer chocolate was launched as a milk chocolate bar in 1922, and has grown in popularity ever since. We were lucky enough to enjoy coffee and cake for breakfast at the main Karl Fazer store in Helsinki one morning of our trip. This institution stocks the very best chocolate in town and is available in flavours to suit everyone. Today, every second chocolate bar consumed in Finland is Karl Fazer Milk Chocolate. My favourite was the recently-released Salted Popcorn bar.
Iittala – this glassworks was founded in 1881, a Finnish design brand specialising in design objects, tableware and cookware. The brand is renowned in Helsinki and the beautifully simplistic objects are very versatile being used for a range of uses. I spotted the classic clear objects in many of the restaurants and bars I visited.
Paper shop - It is no secret that I am a stationery addict, and this shop satisfied all my paper cravings. Papershop is stocked full of artistic handmade cards, exciting craft equipment and inventive paper products. I spent a while wandering around admiring all the pretty things.
Salakauppa - Salakauppa translates to ‘secret shop’ and housed in a bizarre glass cube, it is certainly not your average souvenir store. All of the products in this tiny shop are designed by Aamu Song & Johan Olin of Company and are the result of excursions to very exciting, yet old fashioned, factories around Finland and neighbouring countries. Company’s design is purely based on each factory’s story and function. The items are unique and utterly lovely – I fell in love with the connecting father and son leather satchels.
Many thanks to the Helsinki Tourist Board for all their help on this trip.