Romantic weekend in Helsinki

A couple enjoying the summer sun at a mattolaituri.
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Everyone knows that the way to the heart – and to a romantic weekend in Helsinki – is through the stomach. To help you choose a romantic place for dinner, lunch, drinks, breakfast or coffees, Timo Santala has listed his top tips for romantic couples on their first dates or just looking to spend some quality time together!

Friday

The perfect way to get started on Friday is to explore the city and discover its food offerings by strolling down the quiet Art Nouveau streets of Katajanokka. Not far from the iconic icebreakers you will find Wellamo, a traditional local bistro that was among the first art restaurants in Helsinki. You can enjoy a quiet lunch there savouring classic Finnish dishes by candlelight. The menu includes delicious blinis, which you can savour in an atmosphere that is straight from an Aki Kaurismäki film.

If you want to upgrade the Friday lunch, just around the corner you will find Nokka, a restaurant that prides itself on using only the purest seasonal ingredients from small Finnish producers. Inside the cosy redbrick restaurant you can try the Menu Nokka created by head chef Ari Ruoho, who loves to fish and hunt. The menu includes wild reindeer from Salla and vendace roe from Haukivesi.

For afternoon coffees after lunch, just stroll the short distance to the waterfront restaurants at Kanavaranta, next to which you will find the pleasantly lit café Johan & Nyström. Upstairs you can enjoy premium single origin coffees in a lovely warm atmosphere.

Next, take a walk along the Pohjoisranta shoreline, admiring the boats moored at the Halkolaituri quay along the way, to the tiny Chjoko chocolate boutique towards the end of Meritullinkatu. What could be more romantic than tasting delicious chocolate pralines together? The flavours of blueberry thyme, lingonberry vanilla and cranberry let you taste the Finnish nature, while the heart-shaped strawberry-passion fruit-white chocolates will melt both of your hearts! You can also give a Valentine's Day kiss in the form of a red sea buckthorn-orange-dark chocolate pouty lips truffle.

As you walk back through the Kruununhaka district, you can admire more of Helsinki’s Art Nouveau gems and all their stunning architectonic details. When you get to the Esplanade, check out the sensual curves of the Havis Amanda statue.

On the opposite side of the street are Art Nouveau style buildings situated in front of Tove Jansson's park, Katajanokka.
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If the weather is nice, you can end the day with a nice long walk over Observatory Hill and through the park to the Kaivopuisto shoreline, where you can enjoy the beautiful archipelago scenery and work up an appetite before dinner. Walking up Neitsytpolku you will find the classical Russian restaurant Šašlik, and if you are really romantic, you will have reserved the private Diamond Suite, which exudes an old-world atmosphere. Surrounded by the crystal chandeliers, colourful glass mosaics and dark wall coverings, you can savour not only the beauty of your date, but also the delicious Russian cuisine, from borsch and blini to genuine bear skewers!

Even after sipping champagne from a bottle opened with a sword, you don’t have to call it a night just yet. Perhaps after your exotic Russian meal you might feel like a slightly lighter snack. No problem, because just a short and pleasant walk down to the other end of Tehtaankatu you will find Baskeri & Basso. “BasBas” is not only known as a cosy bistro, it has even been awarded for having the best ambience in Helsinki and all of Finland.

BasBas serves small French- and Italian-inspired portions that are so good that it can be hard to get a reservation, but fortunately it will be past ten o’clock in the evening by this time, so you can grab a table as earlier diners leave. The blood orange risotto, cacio e pepe, ox tartar, in fact anything that chef Kalle Kiukainen conjures up in the kitchen is absolutely delicious. A wine cabinet covers the entire wall and offers an excellent variety of wines, including many different bottles of trendy natural wines. The staff is also extremely knowledgeable, so ask them to recommend something special! On top of everything else, everyone is in an extremely good mood on Friday evenings, because unlike most restaurants, BasBas is closed on Saturdays, so the staff know they can sleep in the next morning!

Saturday

Indeed, Saturday morning is the perfect excuse to sleep in before heading out for a late breakfast, which you can enjoy at the small and intimate Way next to the Karhupuisto “Bear Park” in the heart of the trendy district of Kallio. Way is a bakery in the daytime that serves some of the best sourdough bread – and coffee – in town, as well as excellent vegan food. Remember to order its iconic honey caramel glazed cinnamon buns too, and why not a couple of glasses of sparkling pét-nat at the same time – after all, Way happens to be one of the best places in Helsinki to taste natural wines.

Afterwards, you can visit all the vintage clothing boutiques in Kallio to find a unique gift for your loved one before making your way to the local bistro Harju8, whose salads and pastas are the perfect light lunch. The restaurant also doubles as a flower shop, so in addition to enjoying the pleasant floral scents, you can also make an impression by presenting your partner with another small gift.

In summertime, the perfect post lunch afternoon walk would take you around the Töölönlahti bay to the cafés at the “Blue Villa” (Sininen huvila), especially the Art Café Taideterassi, whose romantic furniture and ornamental frescoes are from another time. It also has a large terrace that affords a beautiful view across the lake to Finlandia Hall and the Finnish National Opera.

In wintertime, on the other hand, you can pop into the smallest bakery in town, the Helsinki Homemade Bakery, and pick up some delicious Karelian pies and croissants for an improvised Saturday picnic among the tropical plants at the Winter Garden.

The romantic “Birdsong” villa district of Linnunlaulu is worth walking through anyway on your way back. You can then visit the Arkadia International Bookshop and marvel at the impressive selection of titles offered by its cosmopolitan owner, Ian Bourgeot. Pick your favourite book from the shelves, grab a cup of coffee and settle into one of the reading nooks in the cellar, where you can read love poems to each other or even play pool together.

Torikorttelit jouluvalaistuksessa.
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Another romantic afternoon destination is The Ounce on Fredrikinkatu. This old-fashioned tea shop is as beautiful as an adult’s candy store. In the back there is even a cosy tea room, where you can retreat to sample one of the numerous quality teas that you have selected from among all the glass jars as classical music plays in the background.

It is always a good idea to indulge in a glass or two of wine prior to heading over for dinner. Apotek is over a hundred years old. The menu offers artisanal meals such as scallops with beurre blanc or quail with celery and white chocolate that pairs beautifully with a glass of European artisan wines such as Louis Chenun Aligotéa Burgundy or the Nominé-Renard champagne, it’s easy to fall in love not just with Apotek but with companion sitting across from you.

If you would rather have pre-dinner beer instead of wine, then Bier Bier, a place that specializes in brew beers is round the corner from Diana Park is an apt choice.

But since this is only meant to be a small amuse-bouche before your actual meal, don’t fill yourselves up just yet, as Helsinki has lots of great restaurants where you can enjoy a long and slow romantic dinner for two. Walk along the small streets into the Kruununhaka district, where you will find the popular local bistro Kuurna, whose candlelit tables create the perfect atmosphere. The meat and fish are all sourced locally, as well as the Finnish root vegetables that are used in a creative fashion yet still upholding respect for tradition. So you may be presented by a plate, consisting of for example, fried pike with parsnip-amaretto foam.

After dinner you will not doubt want a nightcap. There is no better place in this town to seduce your companion than the intimate and dark speakeasy Trillby & Chadwick run by the bartender collective Son of a Punch. To find it, of course, you will have to know exactly which door to knock on! There is a superb selection of gins, fantastic cocktail creations and even a small corner where you can cuddle up to each other while sipping your drinks.

Sunday

Begin your lazy Sunday morning by returning to the scene of the crime and camping out at a window table at Café Engel, one of the city’s oldest and most popular cafés, where you can enjoy the perfect view to the Helsinki Cathedral across Senate Square. Engel is a classic socialising café for dates, and its generous breakfast menu has something for everyone. The refined atmosphere is also perfectly fitting for a Sunday!

Contrasts are always effective, of course, so next you can take a nice long Sunday morning walk to the shoreline behind Sibelius Park. There you will find a tiny red Finnish cottage that houses the national romantic Café Regatta, where you can sit down at a corner table surrounded by all kinds of art and objects and savour a cinnamon bun with your coffees. Sitting in the cottage by the sea, you will feel like you are a million miles from the bright city lights. You can easily spend hours there, especially since the café pays you 5 cents for every additional cup of coffee – and you can even roast sausages on the fire outside.

On your way back towards the city centre through the Töölö district, you will pass the iconic artists’ restaurant Elite, which is the perfect place for a Sunday lunch. The spacious interior exudes a Nordic atmosphere. The classic Finnish dishes, from salmon soup to vorschmack, are exquisitely prepared, and the service is impeccably thoughtful. For dessert, perhaps you could share a crème brûlée with cloudberries?

Overlooking the bay on a sunny, spring day, a long queue of people can bee seen outside Cafe Regatta.
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After lunch, stop by the impressive Temppeliaukio Church, which has been quarried out of the bedrock, before unwinding in the holiest Finnish place of all – the Sunday sauna. Most public saunas in Helsinki have different times for men and women, but Löyly – a stunning example of contemporary Finnish wooden architecture – has a dark smoke sauna where you can enjoy the heat together. You can even take a refreshing dip in the sea together! Sitting by the fire afterwards, you can enjoy the view out to sea with a cold drink in your hand.

Once you have gotten the sauna detox, it’s a good idea to retreat to Passio for the last romantic dinner of the weekend, known for its modern Scandinavian food inspired by French cuisine. In Passio, you should ask for a table in the small room to get away from the hustle and bustle and rely on Jesse Vottonen's recommendations. Opt for a three- or five-course surprise menu, thus avoiding the hassle of choosing the perfect food and instead focusing your energy on your partner. The relaxing atmosphere and beautifully prepared dishes will serve as a perfect culmination for a romantic weekend.

After dinner you can celebrate by popping into Chihuahua Julep, an agave-friendly cocktail bar hidden behind dark windows. There you can raise a toast to your unforgettable romantic weekend in Helsinki. If your partner is still the best person in the world after the first drink, you can nestle on one of the sofas in the early-1900s interior to enjoy another mezcal cocktail. Here’s to love and the romance of Helsinki (in its own unique way)!

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Here are the top tips for romantic couples on their first dates or just looking to spend some quality time together!