‘The Daughter of the Baltic’ Helsinki in Southern Finland, never fails to charm with its good mix of historical and metropolitan areas.
Though made up of a majority of cityscape, it still manages to retain a good chunk of its neoclassical influences, presenting a destination that boasts equal parts modern architecture and urban life versus classical art and design.
Jasiminne Yip was recently in the Nordic city and we got her to share with us where and what to best see, do and taste in the city she has nicknamed the Scandinavian ‘hipster capital’.
I took a short city break to Helsinki from 5 – 8 July. Henry (Ridley-Cook) suggested Helsinki because he knows I love design, islands, and hipster-watching – Helsinki is basically a Nordic version of my East London neighbourhood, Shoreditch!
Summer is the best time to visit Helsinki as the days are long – when we went, it was bright till midnight. The warm sun and sea breeze is incredibly refreshing and makes you want to walk for hours – just as well, because Helsinki is a very compact city best seen on foot.
I stayed at Klaus K, Helsinki's first design hotel. The hotel's design is inspired by the Finnish epic Kalevala with allusions to history and mysticism woven among the modern details of the hotel's decor – in our room was a framed embroidery of an ancient poem verse right beside our flat-screen TV.
The Finns we encountered were mostly blonde, blue-eyed, laid back and friendly - a 'Hoy' (hello) goes a long way!
Bike culture is a Helsinki way of life – keep off the cycle paths or expect an annoyed ring from approaching cyclists.
Outdoor island-dining in the summer is so quintessentially Finnish. Skiffer Island is a tiny gas-stop restaurant, accessible from a short boat ride at Merisatamanrata pier, where the locals frequent for fuel (both for their boats and stomachs).The restaurant serves a cracking 'surf n turf' crayfish and pepperoni pizza.
Reindeer meat was a bit of an eye-opener for me! It's such an integral part of Finnish culture. The reindeer meat, pelt, and antlers are used. Also if the reindeer was hunted in the wild (although lately it is mostly farmed) that makes the meat truly free-range.
I saw reindeer meat for sale everywhere; in tin cans at the food halls at supermarkets, slabs of meat at the market square, and offered as hotdogs and burgers in food stalls.
I absolutely loved Kappeli, a gorgeous and refined 140-year old restaurant in the middle of the park by the upmarket Esplanade that serves classic Finnish dishes. I tried the 'Taste of Finland' and the 'Hunter's Sandwich' – two dishes with reindeer meat. I definitely got a taste of Finland there!
The sauna is apparently a very popular pastime! Henry and I wanted to try the sauna in Teurastamo (the City of Helsinki's former abbatoir turned hipster-haven) but we didn't have the time. It's said that you can't go to Finland and not visit the sauna – if I go back to Helsinki I'll definitely dip my toes in!
To understand Helsinki's history, take the ferry to Suomenlinna – it's a maritime fortress island that's seen Swedish and Russian rule, and finally the independence of modern-day Finland. Today, it's a UNESCO heritage site that's lovingly cared for by the government and also the residents of the island – it's literally a living museum of Helsinki's history.
Helsinki's Design District covers the areas of Punavuori, Kaartinkaupunki, Kamppi and Ullanlinna – all the shops you could ever want; Marimekko, home décor, fashion, vintage, etc. are covered there! I definitely recommend a visit to Moko Market & Cafe – it's a bohemian, pastel-hued rainbow of a concept boutique brimming with an eclectic selection of décor, books, artisan foods and coffee, textiles. And they've got a charming cafe within the shop too!
For café-hopping, go to Teurastamo! It's a former abbatoir turned into many cafes and even a sauna. There's something for everyone there. I also recommend Story inside Vanha Kaupahalli (Old Market Hall) just beside the market square by the esplanade.
Go to Helsinki for a short and sweet city break – don't stay too long or you might run out of things to see and do, as Helsinki is very small – full of cutting edge design and foodie culture. Take a day trip to Tallinn and Riga if you can!
(Photos: Jasiminne Yip)
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