Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo have all made it onto the cool map for travelling pros and swishy vacationers. But now it’s time for another Nordic city to take reign as the ultimate
cool-climate-your-friends-wish-they-could-go destination. Helsinki may be small in comparison to its Scandinavian and Nordic sisters, but it’s
brimming with spas, saunas, fresh food and all the laidback chillness of California – minus the hecticness of a bustling city. Did we mention it’s a design lover’s dream? The Fins have long been known around the world for their simplistic design in fashion, art and architecture. And since Helsinki has been dubbed the design capital of the world for 2012, we’re pretty sure you’re going to want to pack your bags for this easygoing city with our travel guide musts.
Helsinki travel guide: Where to stay
When locals say that a certain restaurant, shop, sight or museum is “just around the corner” from the Klaus K, they mean it. It took me a jet-lag-filled day to realize it, but everything major was within a two- to five-minute walk of this arty hotel. Booking this as the place to rest your head based purely on location is good enough, but you also don’t want to miss out because of its fabulous design and relatively spacious rooms (for Europe). In every corner you will find unique and one-of-a-kind Finnish pieces of art, fashion and more (when I stopped by I oogled at the Minna Parikka shoes on display by the main counter). Another not miss? The yummy breakfast they serve where you can munch on granola-topped local yogurt and berries. Make sure you leave an afternoon free for a swing by their day spa as well – to do a proper Finnish sauna, of course, and to treat yourself to
a facial, mani or pedi (or all three … we won’t judge).
There’s a reason why this hotel is named one of the best in the city. Centrally located on a pedestrian walking strip it’s just seconds away from shopping, cafes and hot spots for a night out – it’s also the only five-star hotel in town. The spa (
Kämp Spa) isn’t too shabby either and you’ll want to book yourself a sauna (another one, naturally) and a massage or facial to relax and purify your skin. After seeing all the Fins walking around sans makeup but still sporting clear, natural-looking skin, a treatment using locally sourced ingredients and berries will be in order. The top pick? The Brightening Cloudberry facial – ultra soothing cloudberries (think of a golden raspberry) act as a detoxifying cleanser and a mask in this 50-minute treatment, leaving you with radiant, glowing skin. You may not have Finnish in your genes, but you will get closer to their natural look thanks to this treatment.
You won’t want to miss a bite of Helsinki’s amazing food … find out where to dig in on the next page …
Helsinki travel guide: Where to eat
When a spot has the title of one of the world’s best cocktail lounges attached to its name, it’s more than worth a visit for a champers cocktail. The lunge name comes from their address (Annankatu 21) and they call their fanciful drinks “liquid poetry.” We have to agree. Every cocktail on the menu is unique and has its own story, with the menu reading like a book and each cocktail being its own chapter. It’s in constant rotation with the seasons, but also finds a spot for the classics if you have an absolute fave you can’t go without. Either way, sipping on a cocktail here is not only an experience bevie-wise, but is also great for people watching since Helsinki’s social set makes regular visits.
When you’re in the Nordic part of the world it’s time to put aside your food inhibitions and let your taste buds explore all the local flavours. There’s no better place to do this in Helsinki than at Spis, a tiny restaurant serving up fresh Nordic dishes with incredible fashion and flair. The 18-seat gem, tucked unassumingly along Kasarmikatu 26, focuses mainly on veggies but also offers a meat and a local fish option each night as well and is typically full, so book a table early. Not to be missed are their potato and dairy concoctions, delicate white fish dishes and a Nordic beer perfect for sipping with dinner (the one I tried infused with wildflowers was to die for).
If you are hankering for a burger, but not just any pub burger, Adam’s Nightclub and Restaurant has some of the most delish burgers you will find in probably all of Finland. Gourmet is the word, where you get the chef’s daily selection of burger or veggie burger (with unique combinations offered up every day). This is the hot spot for lunch, so make a pit stop midway through design sightseeing and store-hopping to fuel up.
Time to visit Helsinki’s best sights and shops on the next page …
Helsinki travel guide: What to see
The Design Museum
How could you make it all the way to Helsinki and not step inside the eclectic showcase, The Design Museum? It’s an absolute must. Housing some of the best design pieces from Finnish designers, the museum hosts amazing exhibitions and collections (check out the Alvar Aalto and Eero Aarnio selections).
The Design Forum
Another amazing show spot for Finnish designs, this shop is worth the visit for the shopping. Trust me, after spending time wandering the city, taking in the design elements everywhere you look, you will have the Finnish design bug and will want to pick up some unique pieces to bring home.
Keeping with the design theme, this neighbourhood (conviently located behind the Klaus K Hotel) is filled to the brim with shops all touting a Design District Helsinki stamp. Jewellery stores, art stores, clothing shops and shoe stores are all in this area, where you could easily wander for an afternoon from one spot to the next. As with most of Helsinki, walking and taking in the culture and design is the best idea.
Cruise ships dock at this meeting point in the city. It’s bustling daily with vendors and their stalls brimming with fresh local produce and veggies, knick-knacks and crafts, loads of seafood and spots for coffee and lunch. You’ll see a mix of Fins grabbing lunch or fruits and vegetables for dinner, and tourists perusing the stalls. One thing is a definite must – order up some perfectly grilled salmon topped with lindenberries, peppercorns and dill, and a side of new potatoes for the best salmon lunch ever. Period.
Helsinki travel guide: Where to shop
Be forewarned: shopping in Helsinki can be dangerous. You will want to make sure your credit card has lots of free space. Swing by one of Finland’s most
famous designer shops,
IVANA Helsinki, for items from the design duo’s recent runway collections, all with simple cuts and a Finnish flair. For the eccentric (or the shoe obsessed) a trip to the Lady Gaga approved
Minna Parikka shoe store is a must. Her bold colours, dramatic designs and suede details will mean these shoes will make your outfit. Other can’t-miss shops: Finnish design stores
Artek, all situated along the easy-to-walk Esplanade.
Save an extra day for a jaunt to the countryside … find out why on the next page …
Day trip: Mustio Village
Finland is known for its beautiful countryside of rolling green hills and amazing sea-side escapes. The peacefulness of the rural areas is what the Fins treasure, and just an hour-long drive will get you outside of Helsinki and to a little slice of this Finnish heaven. Mustio Manor (a 19th century country house) is where you’ll want to spend a night, or at the very least stop by for lunch. If you happen to be there during the summer, be sure to take part in the traditional crayfish party, where you can sip on schnapps, sing and eat crayfish with the locals.
After viewing the countryside, you’ll be inclined to spa in an organic way. Enter Liinu’n Organic Beauty, a tiny and completely charming spa set along a river in an old brick building that is well worth the trip. Owner Karoliina Rauhala will treat you to a soothing hand or foot treatment using organic French products that will take you to the point of total relaxation.
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