In Helsinki, you can unwind and relax at your own pace. Living close to the sea has taught Helsinkians to respect the weather, further the dark evenings of the colder months are conducive to fortifying indoors. However, if the weather allows, there is nothing better than to dress warmly and let the fresh air cheer you and enjoy the outdoors. Because the weather - if anything - is just a matter of dressing up.
Fill your day to the brim
Start your Helsinki day with a peaceful sauna and a dip in the cold sea water. The Allas Sea Pool, located next to the Market Square, allows you to enjoy a proper sauna while admiring the city that surrounds you. You can swim in the pool outdoors and therefore during the colder months you should pack along a beanie. The icy sea breeze can freeze your wet hair as well as your scalp incredibly quickly. After the sauna, walk across the Market Square to the Old Market Hall for lunch at Story. Head towards the Design Museum straight from the Market Hall. If you don't mind taking busier route, you can go directly towards the museum via Kasarmintori, though it might be more interesting to choose a detour, but only if time allows!
The nearby Tähtitorni Park offers a perfect setting for Helsinki residents to celebrate Vappu, first of May celebrated as International Labour Day and is one of the biggest festivals of the year in Finland, as well as a peaceful spot for outdoor activities. The park, stripped of leaves, stands tall and proud in the colder months and exudes a moody standstill that the city has come to.
In addition to the changing exhibition, you can always get acquainted with the gems and history of Finnish design at the Design Museum. The Museum of Finnish Architecture is located in the same block. If you happen to have enough time, a joint ticket will take you to both museums. If the museums have managed to peak your interest in design, you must visit the nearby Momono design store. Momono has art, design and interior design items - ample opportunity to find suitable gifts.
The Menita yarn store is also located on the same street. If you got excited about knitting during the pandemic, Menita is definitely a place you must pop by in Helsinki. The expert staff can also offer great advise to beginners. A quick stopover to make some vintage discoveries at Ritva Blomquist's antique shop and your day in Helsinki can be wrapped up. If you still have time for a quick dinner, sit at the bar counter in Vinkkeli, opposite Blomquist, sigh and let the staff take care of you, an evening well spent at Vinkkeli is guaranteed.
An art-filled day in Helsinki
Indulge in art! In Helsinki, it's achieved easily because many of the best galleries are within walking distance from each other. However, start your day with breakfast. On the edge of the Old Church Park is one of Helsinki's newest and most talked about hotels, St. George, which in itself is like an art gallery: in the foyer itself, you will be greeted by Ai Weiwei's spectacular work Tianwu. The hotel’s Wintergarden is also open to non-hotel guests. If you are busy on the weekend, you can also book an afternoon tea with a Nordic twist in advance. It is a unique combination of classic British tea tradition complimented with Nordic delicacies. On the other hand, if you’re just starting your day, enjoy a coffee and a bun downstairs at St. George Bakery to gain sustenance for an entire day full of art.
The art tour begins with a true art gallery classic, Galerie Forsblom, which is also located on the edge of the Old Church Park. In addition to Finnish artists, Forsblom represents a wide range of international artists. On the edge of the park at the other side of the Boulevard street there is another art gallery, Helsinki Contemporary. The gallery, which focuses on contemporary art, is a staple that many Helsinkians walk past during their Sunday walks. Once your thirst for art has been quenched by these art galleries, you can move along to Pamela, next to the gallery, where their speciality of beloved charcoal-grilled portions can further satiate your hunger.
Another favourite option for lunch for Helsinki residents is also located on the Boulevard, Lie Mi. The restaurant rose in popularity with its legendary portion of Shanghai Taco.
Boulevard itself is a pleasant promenade for a stroll. Along it there are small shops, restaurants, cafés and also the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, near the shores of Hietalahti. There are many historically significant buildings along the street and almost the entire block of buildings is about a hundred years old. The Boulevard also houses the Alexander Theater, which until 1993 served as the Finnish National Opera.
In addition to the Boulevard, Fredrikinkatu street is perfect for aimless and peaceful city walks. If you are looking for second hand finds, this street is full of small boutiques that sell beautiful and special clothes: UFF, PréPorté, Birka Second Hand and Relove Freda. There are also other small shops along the street where you are sure to make a find. Chez Marius offers kitchen utensils for home experiments, Zicco offers interesting toys and children's clothing, C. Hagelstam's Antique Store is a good place for old classics and the Nide bookstore is a fascinating place for new books, as well as a good selection of international magazines.
A tour of Fredrikinkatu may also end very well with a gallery. Galerie Anhava presents Nordic and Finnish contemporary art and is especially focused on conceptual art. You can also get dinner on the same street. Nolla is a sustainability-based restaurant where tasty food and circular economy go hand in hand. As its name implies, Nolla is committed to offering their services without creating waste.
Stroll through the weekend in Helsinki
Helsinki is full of hotels one more stunning than the other. If you are in the city for the first time, try the new Scandic Grand Central, which recently opened at the Railway Station. The central location combined with the unique Art Nouveau building will make your stay unforgettable. But if this isn't your first trip to the city then how about give other areas of the city a go, instead of downtown.
Opened in the industrial area of Vallila, The Folks Hotel Konepaja is located in some of the most unique buildings. The facilities, originally built for the use of the state railway machine shop, exude history. Start your morning with a filling breakfast at Albina, located on the ground floor of the hotel. Eat well, because during the day you will accumulate about a thousand steps.
If you are traveling with children, walk from the hotel to the Sea Life Aquarium next to Linnanmäki, where you will all learn about marine conservation and marine animals. Observing the life of a fish through a glass is at the very least meditative.
From Linnanmäki it is just a short walk to the atmospheric Winter Garden in Töölö. The early period of Christmas is especially beautiful, you will find numerous poinsettias, azaleas, tulips, amaryllis, hyacinths and lilies of the valley blooming at the garden. The winter garden has a beautiful view over Töölönlahti reaching all the way to the city center and Finlandia Hall.
From the winter garden, continue your journey around Töölönlahti towards Hesperianpuisto Park. Töölönlahti is a popular outdoor area and there are beautiful villas along it and, of course, the stunning Finlandia Hall and the Opera House - lest we forget the ducks! Along your walk, when the hunger pangs hit, naturally you must head towards the iconic Helsinki institution, Elite, located on south of Hesperiankatu.
After lunch, continue your journey towards the Hietaniemi beach and cemetery. Towards the end of the year the wind at the seaside is rather harsh and even a quick stroll can get you very cold, so remember to dress warmly in the morning. The route from the beach towards Ruoholahti is soothing and beautiful. The Hietalahti cemetery adjacent to the beach exudes dignity. The beautifully maintained cemetery was founded as early as 1829 and a considerable number of Finnish celebrities are buried there. The atmosphere in Hietaniemi is sensitive and relaxed.
When you decide to head off from the beach, you can continue towards the Lapinlahti hospital area. Originally established as a psychiatric hospital, Lapinlahti is now known especially for its cafés and restaurants. Primo bakes fresh bread with a crispy crust on weekends at the Venetsia building in Lapinlahti. Since you are in the area, it's definitely worth enjoying some artisan sourdough.
If you can still walk, after Lapinlahti you can head towards the Helsinki Art Museum and from there to Kiasma and then to Helsinkians' honorary living room, Oodi, the central library. On the other hand, at the end of a long walk, tram 9 takes you directly from Hietalahti back to the Folks Hotel and directly to Albina's sizzling table for dinner. The classic servings at Albina, which has been open for more than a year, include dishes such as a full-bodied truffle risotto, tartar with buttermilk sauce and salty sweet tarte tatin. After dinner, enjoy a handmade drink amidst Vallila’s rooftops at Alexis Terrace Bar (or rest your feet in a hot bath).
The next day is the time to pamper your tired legs. Yrjönkatu swimming hall is the best location for this pamper session. The indoor swimming pool is Finland's first and oldest indoor swimming pool, where you can best calm yourself especially if you rent yourself a rest cabin. What could be better than enjoying a little nap between sauna and swimming! Traditionally, the Yrjönkatu swimming hall has been known for skinny dipping hence why the swimming shifts are separate for women and men. Of course you can also wear a swimsuit.
After a spot of swimming, it is only fair to enjoy a bit of lunch. Karl Johan, next to the swimming hall, offers hearty classics. Try their vorschmack and fall in love!
The afternoon is a suitable time for some souvenir shopping. Kämp Galleria inhabits multiple small stores in its upstairs floor, including some of the best names in Finnish fashion. Maybe you will surprise yourself with a colorful éN hat, a Klaus Haapaniemi scarf or a Nomen Nescio beanie.
After shopping but before dinner, you can still enjoy a drink at the Restaurant Salutorget next to the Market Square. Sit on a soft sofa in the middle of a beautiful Art Nouveau setting and exhale. At the same time, you can admire the townspeople passing by from the window. If you’re ever manage to revisit Salutorget in the afternoon, do make it a point to enjoy their high quality afternoon tea for which they are particularly well known.
Make it a point to enjoy your last supper at Vallila, in Restaurant Plein. The restaurant, located on a small property, places heavy emphasis on native wines and innovative dishes. It’s best to let yourself be led and try the surprise menu.