Walking is a great way of getting exercise and fresh air while at the same time observing the locals and discovering different parts of the city. In Helsinki’s open-air markets you can admire the rows of freshly washed salads and vegetables, freshly caught fish laid out on crushed ice, and stalls selling all kinds of root vegetables, including rutabaga, carrots, turnips and parsnips. Root vegetables are particularly trendy right now all over the world, but here in Finland they have always been a mainstay of home cooking. Finnish kids often snack on raw root vegetables, including sliced and chopped rutabaga and turnips.
Helsinki’s traditional market halls and open-air markets are still a part of everyday life among locals. Many locals wake up when the rooster crows even on weekends and head for the local market with a basket under their arm. Consumers are drawn to Helsinki’s markets by their big selection of fresh ingredients, especially fish, but just as appealing is the chance to leisurely stroll among the market stalls and enjoy a cup of coffee from a paper mug. You often see the same people sitting together and socialising over coffees, especially old men. This is the Finnish equivalent to the Italian espresso bar!
Food journalist Hanna Jensen has planned the perfect one-day culinary tour of Helsinki that takes in all the main open-air markets and market halls.
Morning: Hakaniemi Market and Hakaniemi Market Hall
The cobblestoned Hakaniemi Market is the perfect place to start your culinary tour of Helsinki. Drink your morning coffees and traditional Finnish porridge at Kahvisiskot (“Coffee Sisters”) while soaking up the early morning sun and watching the passersby on their way to work. You may even see a pet micro pig being walked on a leash by its owner!
The best thing about Hakaniemi Market is its inexpensive vegetables, useful plants and herbs. Inside the adjacent Hakaniemi Market Hall you will find fresh fish, premium meats (Reinin liha is legendary), arguably the best feta cheese in Finland (Maustekeidas sells everything from turmeric to preserved lemons) and lots of other delicious cheeses too (there’s nearly always a line in front of Lentävä lehmä, the “Flying Cow”).
Walking around inside is like diving into the everyday morning reality of the locals, many of whom get there early to avoid the crowds. They are not there to socialise necessarily but rather just to pick up the essentials. It’s always fascinating to observe what the older generation buys from the market. They are the real foodies – the ones who demand only the best, fresh produce. They also like to purchase seasonal foods.
Hakaniemi Market Hall is under renovation until late 2021. You can however visit the same vendors at a newly completed temporary market hall next door.
Midday: Market Square and the Old Market Hall
You can easily spend a couple of hours in Hakaniemi. When you are done, stroll for 15 to 20 minutes (or take Tram 7) towards the city centre and the iconic Market Square. Sitting right next to the sea the atmosphere here is very maritime, and in summertime you have to watch out for the cheeky seagulls that are always after your food!
Along with the all the happy tourists, local office workers in their suits and ties also come to the Market Square for late breakfasts and lunches. Dive into one of the market tents – or grab a table outside – and order a bowl of creamy salmon soup or fried vendace.
The best thing about the Market Square, at least in summertime, is its selection of Finnish berries and vegetables.
The Market Square also has many stalls selling Finnish souvenirs. You can smell the wood used for the handmade cutlery, and don’t be surprised if the salesperson tells you not to wash your new “kuksa” (a traditional Lappish drinking cup made of birch) with detergent as it could wash away the good luck!
The perfect place to grab lunch is the adjacent Old Market Hall. You won’t be able to resist the cold-smoked salmon and other fish sandwiches that lie in waiting as you enter! Go for the thin-sliced salmon with pink peppercorns served on traditional Finnish rye bread!
Here you can also purchase everything you need for a picnic on the outlying islands of Suomenlinna, which can be reached by ferry from the Market Square. Ask the salesperson for picnic recommendations. We suggest fresh baguettes, hummus, cured salmon, fruits, cheeses and dark chocolate!
In addition to Finnish delicacies, including fish, meats, breads and pastries, the Old Market Hall also offers a colourful selection of international food. There are stalls selling American, Spanish and Middle Eastern food, as well as vegetarian alternatives. There is even a tiny little Alko shop where you can pick up a nice bottle of wine.
Our foodie tour continues by tram. From the Market Square (stop number 0430) take Tram 2 for 15 to 20 minutes until you get to Töölöntori (stop number 0210). If you prefer to walk or take bike, you can enjoy the scenery through the city. The total distance is just a couple of kilometres.
Töölöntori is a small local market frequented by locals. Here you will find vegetables, fish and flowers. You can also enjoy your third – or fourth – cup of coffee; Finns themselves typically drink 4 to 5 cups a day! We highly recommend you try a “possumunkki”, a Finnish speciality that translates literally as “piglet donut” – simply irresistible!
Early evening: Hietalahti Market Hall
From the district of Töölö we head south again to Hietalahti Market Hall, where you can enjoy ethnic treats like kimchi, ramen and Mexican food.
If you’re there on a Saturday evening between 5pm and 10pm you can enjoy the child-friendly “Tunes ‘n’ Tastings” happening at Hietalahti Market Hall. Walk around, listen to cool music, sample the delicious food and then buy a bigger portion that you can eat wherever you like. The atmosphere is nice and laid back, and you can go alone and still have fun. In Finland you can’t walk around with a glass of wine in your hand, but you don’t have to; just take a seat at any restaurant and sip some delicious rosé!
Wild food courses and hiking tours are a great way to discover the beautiful nature around Helsinki and enjoy delicious food in the wild.
And don’t forget these delicatessens:
A culinary tour of Helsinki would not be complete without visiting one of our wonderful delicatessens. We especially recommend the following three:
Ruohonjuuri – “Grass Root” – is specialised in organic and local food.
2. Stockmann Herkku
Stockmann’s department store is the centre point of Helsinki, and its delicatessen is probably the best stocked food shop in town.
3. Anton & Anton
Anton & Anton is a premium delicatessen where you can also buy convenient ready-packed bags with ingredients and recipes for three days of home cooking!
Tip: Try some wild foods!
Wild food courses and hiking tours are a great way to discover the beautiful nature around Helsinki and enjoy delicious food in the wild. Within an hour you can get to Nuuksio National Park, where you can experience total peace and learn to see nature through the eyes of a wild food connoisseur.