36 reasons to love Helsinki

On the right a small group of people are chilling outside of the Lonna sauna on Lonna island, a few trees at the back of the building, and the shoreline stretching into the distance to the left of the photo.

1. Because you can get lost for a moment in Helsinki.

At the Curve in Sörnäinen everyone is on their way somewhere. The streets are filled with busy people who are rushing to catch their tram, popping into a shop to buy beers for the evening, grabbing a quick lunch at a pizzeria, and buying their groceries from local market stalls.

Sörnäinen sounds like the screech of the tram, people shouting across the market to get each other’s attention, rock music playing from the sun-kissed pub terraces, and old friends running into each other. At the Curve, people get the chance to be anonymous for just a moment. It’s an area that lies between the East and the West of the city, in a sort of no-man’s land. Sörnäinen is a special part of Helsinki where no one notices or judges you. (E. T.)

2. Because Helsinki is home to the most cinematic bridge.

The road leading up to Mustikkamaa's bridge passes through the newly built streets of Kalasatama. The bridge’s real name is “Tiikerihai”, which translates as “Tiger Shark”. But, despite what the name suggests, there’s nothing dangerous about it. The bridge wobbles below your feet as you cross it, but that’s about it. And it offers the most glorious view of Helsinki’s cityscape; all the way from the sea to the cliffs. At sunset, standing on the bridge feels like being part of a scene from a romantic movie. The bridge leads you to the wild forest trails and bays of Mustikkamaa that overlook Kulosaari and Kruunuvuori in the East.

There, the beach is filled with rocks, which you can pick up and examine, collect in your pockets, or throw back into the sea to release your anger. In the evening, when Helsinki Zoo on Korkeasaari closes and its visitors leave, Mustikkamaa’s bay fills up with young couples who can sometimes get a little too carried away by the romance of the place! (E.T.)

3. Because you can feel the sea in Helsinki, even when you can’t see it. 

The sea is everywhere in Helsinki. Even when you can’t see it, you can feel its presence.

Two women swimming in Katajanokka bay on a sunny summer's day, stop to throw peace signs at the camera.
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4. Because Kuusiluoto is home to three sheep: two are brown and one is white.

If you ever walk across the duckboards connecting the Old Town and Lammassaari, take a picture and send it to someone who doesn’t know Helsinki. There’s something incredibly satisfying about showing off the fact that we have access to such gorgeous nature, just a few kilometres away from downtown Helsinki. But don’t stop walking once you’ve reached the end of the duckboards: walk through Lammassaari and along to Kuusiluoto (just remember to be quiet so as not to disturb the birds!)

There are three sheep, two brown and one white, in Kuusiluoto. Not many people know about them, but they’re there all the same. They don’t live in an enclosure; they’re free to roam the island from the beginning of June until September. And their wool is lovely to touch.

Give them a stroke… if they let you! (E.M.)

5. Because Helsinki locals stop at the traffic lights.

All around the world, people run across the road regardless of whether they’re in a rush or not. But Helsinki locals don’t. They stand still until the light turns green. Especially if there’s a child waiting at the traffic lights. They don’t want to teach children bad habits – and eventually those children will grow into adults who wait at the traffic lights to set an example too.

6. Because Helsinki is full of great date spots.

There’s a small restaurant called Shelter in Katajanokka, hidden in Kanavaranta. The dull, yellowish light of the cave-like bar makes for very flattering lighting so it’s a great place to go if you’re looking to impress. Their list is wonderful; you can’t make a bad choice. And the atmosphere is intimate. Shelter is one of those places where you find yourself opening up and spilling all kinds of secrets. When you’ve had enough to drink and eat, you can continue your date by walking along Katajanokka’s lovely shoreline. 

7. Because Helsinki is home to a €6 million design sauna called Löyly

The city is full of public saunas that offer a range of fun experiences.

A front view of Löyly and its outdoor terrace under an overcast sky.
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8. Because Kontula shopping centre is in Helsinki.

East Helsinki is the most interesting part of the city, especially Kontula. You can reach it from Helsinki’s centre in 15 minutes by metro, which means you can satisfy all your cultural, food, beauty, and partying needs in one day.

Next to the metro station you’ll find the Museum of Impossible Forms, a decolonial museum and community living room for artists and locals from different sectors. They use the space to socialise, work on collaborative projects, arrange parties, and break down societal power structures.

In the same complex you’ll also find several Syrian and Iraqi restaurants, where you can try a $7 skewer, fresh salad with hummus, huge pitta breads, lentil soup, and kefir. There are even a few places where you can enjoy shisha after dinner.

You can also shop for beauty products in the shopping centre, where a few euros will get you the best Syrian Aleppo soap, which you can wash your face (and, in desperate situations, your hair) with. One bar will last a year. (K. H.)

9. Because you can go to the cinema alone in Helsinki.

People can be divided into two groups, those who ask “What did you see?” after you go to the cinema, and those who ask, “Who did you go with?” For the first group, the cinema is a place you go to watch a film. For the second, the cinema is a place for socialising.

In Helsinki, it’s easy to belong to the first group. In fact, going to the cinema or a film festival alone feels like one of the safest things you can do in the city. Helsinki’s cinemas are a wonderful place to share an exciting experience with total strangers. (I-S.H.)

10. Because Helsinki’s libraries are the most beautiful in the world.

Kaisa Library in Kaisaniemi is a great reminder that new builds can be really successful. The only problem is that it’s so popular that it’s always full of students.

That’s why I’d rather go to the Finnish Literature Society’s Library, pull open its heavy doors with all my strength, admire the grandeur of the building, and settle down to work. In that library, you can just feel how wonderful the librarians are, smell the knowledge in the books, and enjoy the fact that there are only two or three other people there. It’s a well-kept secret.

The National Library is slightly busier, but it’s free to enter and its interior is truly beautiful. And, of course, the gorgeous Oodi was finished last year. (O.O)

Keskustakirjasto Oodin kolmannen kerroksen lukusali
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11. Because Helsinki locals have their own blueberry dealers.

At the end of the summer, the Instagram accounts of Helsinki locals fill up with pictures of blueberries. A bit later, they’re full of mushroom pictures. If you’re so inclined, you only have to head half an hour out of the centre to pick up fresh blueberries, lingonberries, and chanterelles.

But why go into the forest when you could just go to the cinema or for a glass of wine?

Well, if you’re not a forest person, you don’t need to. But if you happen to love fresh blueberries anyway, you should get to know the best person to buy blueberries from. Ask Helsinki locals for tips, and keep your fingers crossed that they’ll be willing to share their best dealers’ contact details with you!

12. Because you can go anywhere in Helsinki without changing shoes.

Helsinki locals dress stylishly and practically. And Finnish parties are a million miles away from formal events where people just attend to look good and pose. Helsinki is a city in which you can go from work to a party without changing your shoes.

13. Because you stand on the right hand side of the escalator in Helsinki.

Every city has its own unwritten rules about which side you should stand on when it comes to escalators. In Helsinki, you stand on the right.

But, every now and then, someone stands on the left. It feels wrong: they’ve either just arrived, they’re a tourist, or they’ve come to Helsinki from the countryside. And whenever it happens, everyone else gets annoyed that someone has dared to stand on the wrong side! You have to leave space on the left for anyone who is in a rush!

Knowing this rule is a true sign that you are a Helsinki local. The day that a new Helsinki resident learns to stand on the right hand side of the escalator is the day that he or she finally belongs.

14. Because Harriet Aryenda gives the best beauty tips.

There are lots of different kinds of shops on Hämeentie, but I have to recommend The Natural Beauty Shop. You’ll find domestic, natural, and homemade hair and skin products there. Some of the products are for Afro hair, and there are all sorts of products for other hair types too. They sell cult products from brands like Shea Moisture and Kinky Curl, as well as textiles imported from lots of African countries. It’s worth going in and talking to Harriet Aryenda, who always has great skin and hair care tips.

One recommendation: the rose-lime oil will turn heads and get you loads of compliments. When I used it recently, one woman came to tell me that she noticed I smelled great and wondered whether I was using Dior perfume! (K.H.)

15. Because fantastic gin is made in Helsinki.

A couple of blocks into Sörnäinen, in the Old Abattoir, you’ll find a gin factory and cocktail bar called Tislaamo. The place is as elegant as a Helsinki Dry Gin bottle, and they serve gin that is made on-site. On Fridays you can learn about gin production there, but the most delightful spot is the upstairs bar. There, you’ll find people whiling away the hours drinking cocktails like the Abattoir Negroni and the Champagne Collins. (E.T.)

Tislaamo - Distillery Bar
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16. Because you might bump into the former president with her Nordic walking poles.

Tarja Halonen, Finland’s first female president, likes going for a morning walk with her Nordic walking poles in Hakaniemi. You may also see her standing behind you in a supermarket queue. Locals never make a fuss when they see her. After all, she is from Kallio: she was born there and she’s lived there almost her whole life.

The current president Sauli Niinistö may be spotted playing hockey on one of the city’s ice rinks. In fact, when he unexpectedly joined Käpylä’s Monday ice hockey team, they changed their name to Käpylä’s Monday Presidential Ice Hockey Association. Or so the story goes...

17. Because Bar Molotow is in Helsinki.

I know it feels like you should explore the city and never visit the same bar more than once, but Bar Molotow on Vaasankatu is so nice that you can’t help but return. Lots of bars are too brightly lit, but in Molotow it’s always twilight. The bar plays post-punk and nostalgic pop classics, and the music is quiet enough to talk over.

It’s a busy bar, but people give each other space. The bartender doesn’t measure your wine by the centimetre, he free-pours. And sometimes he pours a little too much! Molotow is the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by, especially in the evenings when it’s full of people but you can sit in peace. Molotow hasn’t even been spoiled by the fact that the musician Paperi T named it Helsinki’s best bar in one of his poems. Perhaps that’s because he’s right. (I-S. H.)

18. Because in Helsinki, nature is always just a short walk away.

Helsinki is full of enchanting nature trails that help you forget why you’re stressed and restore your inner peace. Vanhankaupunginlahti is just a stone’s throw away from the city centre, and it makes for the perfect Sunday afternoon walk.

To get there, go through the Kalasatama metro station and keep walking along Arabianranta. Follow the trail of the the duckboards and make sure you stop along the way to take in your surroundings and appreciate the calm. Climb the bird watching towers and make sure you ask the local birdwatchers what species you should be looking out for. Keep walking towards Viikki’s arboretum, where the trees come from Japan, Siberia, and North America.

Your tour should end at the water’s edge in western Herttoniemi’s nature reserve. You can walk along the beach and enjoy a delicious burger at Treffi Pub next to the metro station before catching a ride back to the city centre. (E.T.)

Ihmisiä Lammasaaressa
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19. Because Helsinki can sometimes feel like a touch of luxury.

OK, I’ll admit: sometimes I just want to feel like I’m living a life of luxury in the centre of Rome. Luckily, I can do exactly that in the centre of Helsinki.  

20. Because you can get a drink in a suite at Yrjönkatu swimming hall.

Yrjönkatu swimming hall is open on different days for men and women, and you can swim naked there. On the second floor there’s a steam sauna and a wooden sauna, which is one of the largest in Finland. After your swim, you can order snacks, drinks, or champagne from Cafe Yrjö. If you go with a friend, book the Marsk suite (Marskin sviitti), which has a huge picture of Mannerheim on the wall. You’ll hear the best gossip there!

There’s only one problem with Yrjönkatu’s swimming hall: it’s not open in the summer. Then, Yrjönkatu’s regulars migrate to Uimastadion.

21. Because in Helsinki, you can drag your children to nursery in a sledge.

Pulkkamäessä Kaivopuistossa
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21. Because the city bikes are a part of everyday life.

There are almost 4600 city bikes and 347 bike stations in Helsinki. The best thing is that the bikes aren’t just intended for tourists on sightseeing tours of the city. Every day, locals use them to get to work, lectures, and bars. The bikes are light but robust and they have baskets for your shopping. Sometimes you even see a little dog enjoying a ride in the basket!

When you borrow a city bike and cycle around the city, you realise how compact Helsinki really is. You can use the bikes to explore any area you want to. In good weather, you can even cycle all the way to Espoo.

23. Because no one knows where Tarja Halonen park is.

Former president Tarja Halonen, an advocate of equality, Finland’s version of Obama, and the superstar of the liberal democrats asked for a playground to be built in Kallio in her honour, instead of a statue. How did it go?

Terribly, of course. The playground never materialised. Halonen got a park next to the City Theatre. The park differs from all the other city parks in that no one in Helsinki knows where it is. There’s nothing in the whole park to connecting it to Halonen!

But maybe the park will get enjoyed by locals this summer… (O.O.)

24. Because you can actually work in our libraries.

Töölö’s library has a huge reading room, which is filled with light and has beautiful green views out of the window. There are loads of working spaces inside, and there’s a good internet connection there too. The library is popular with students who can often be spotted in their jogging bottoms, and elderly locals who are just there to read the newspaper.

It’s so common to sit and work in cafes that people often forget what lovely working spaces Helsinki’s libraries are.

Helsinki’s libraries are supposed to promote a hard-working atmosphere. No one has to do anything in them, but you can just feel all the important work getting done in them. (I-S.H.)

25. Because Helsinki is home to a proper bookshop.

Nide on Fredrinkinkatu is an independent bookshop that does not underestimate its customers. There you’ll find all the magazines, contemporary books, and old classics that you could possibly wish for. They also have a lot of English-language books. If you’re nervous about asking for help or recommendations, rest assured that the staff are always knowledgeable, calm, and helpful. They also organise literary events for the public, to which everyone is welcome. (K.H.)

Nide kirjakauppa
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26. Because Helsinki’s customer service style is leaving people in peace.

Normally when you go to a clothes shop you have to talk to the cashier about nice colours or the weather while you wait for your shopping to be packed. You go to a restaurant and hope that no one will come and interrupt your meal to ask how it tastes. It’s annoying, right?

Thankfully, Helsinki bars are still full of waiters who have been taught to leave you alone.

Helsinki is a European city at heart, but it’s still pretty close to Russia. All you have to say is “a beer, please” and that’s it. 

No bullshit, thank you. (O.O.)

27. Because you’ll find post-modern surprises in Pikku-Huopalahti.

Postmodernism is an artistic and philosophical style that you’ll see a lot of in Helsinki. The city may not be famous for its bold architecture, but when you look at Pikku-Huopalahti, you’ll see for yourself. You’ll find curved buildings, round balconies, holes in the walls, and pastel colors aplenty.

And of course there’s Terrace House, a pyramid-shaped building that was finished in 1994. Almost every apartment in Terrace House has its own private terrace. The wall has a picture of a cat on the outside, and in the middle of the building there’s a crooked gate that’s really something special.

Pikku-Huopalahti beach also makes for a great jogging area. (E.M.)

28. Because when you read a poem aloud on a stage, you’ll get a round of applause.

In recent years, the poetry scene in Helsinki has blossomed. Every month there are several events for locals poets to take part in, for example: Tenho Restobar's Poetry Slam, where poets compete; and Mascot Bar's Poetry Jam Club, which is more relaxed. Both clubs are in Kallio. And on Töölö’s Runeberginkatu, there’s also an Vastarannan Kiiski's Open Mic, a monthly event where anyone who wants to read their poem gets a chance to.

Being nervous of getting onto the stage is part of the ritual. But don’t worry because you’ll be applauded for your courage. Even if your hands are shaking as you read your poem aloud, all that matters is that you want to share your work with others. (E.M.)

29. Because you can escape the cold with a trip to the Winter Garden.

The Winter Garden and Kaisaniemi botanic gardens have become really popular in recent years; they pop up on Instagram a lot, because they’re, well, really stylish.

But even though they’re popular, both gardens are usually really quiet. The best thing about Helsinki is that you can find peace in the most popular places.

On a nice day, you should take a picnic to the Winter Gardens, it feels a bit like being in a 19th century Victorian sanitorium. (I-S.H.)

Interior of Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden's conservatory, where the sun shines through the windows into an area surrounded by a variety of large and verdant green foliage. In the distance and at the center of the photo, two people are looking closely at a vanilla plant.
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30. Because people give each other space at the tram stations.

Helsinki locals need their own space. Even at the tram station. In Helsinki it’s perfectly normal for 10 people to be waiting for the same tram 50 metres apart, taking up 2 and a half meters of the platform.

What if it rains? Well then all hell breaks loose. All ten people will stand under the tram station’s tiny roof. Your handbag will be touching someone else’s coat, and it doesn’t matter. You have to accept it and continue as normal. (E.M.)

31. Because Merihaka is in Helsinki.

At the heart of Hakaniemi, at the corner of Ympyrätalo and Rytmi, is Merihaka. Merihaka is full of 1970s offices. It’s an obscure, densely built suburb with a lovely sea view.

It’s Finnish, and yet it’s very un-Finnish. It’s the kind of place that epitomises what people from the countryside hate about city living, and that’s why Helsinki locals should be so proud of it. Besides, Restaurant Sir Oliver is in the middle of Merihaka, and it’s open until 3am. It plays punk music and has karaoke, so surely Merihaka has everything you could possibly want. (O.O.)

32. Because you don’t have to run to catch the tram.

It’s a mantra that is repeated by every generation: there’s no point running after men or trams, because there’ll always be a new one in five minutes.

Walking slowly to the tram is always a good idea. Everyone does it. Whatever you have going on today, there’s no need to rush. The next one will arrive soon.

33. Because you can watch the ships from the top of the observatory.

If there is such a thing as “Finnishness”, it’s this: a childhood spent on cruises to Sweden and dreaming about the next boat trip you’ll go on.

There’s no better place to to withdraw from your daily life and be at one with your thoughts than on Kaivopuisto’s rantatie. If you’re lucky, you’ll see lots of boats going out into the big world on the horizon. And if you get bored of the sea, you can climb to the Observatory for a closer look. This is where you’ll find the best view of Helsinki. You’ll find views of Korkeasaari, Katajanokka, and Uunisaari.

Maybe you’ll also find yourself.

An early morning view of the old Helsinki ‘Kaivopuisto’ observatory
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34. Because if you see a queue, it’s sure to lead to a festival.

Helsinki isn’t big enough to suffer from traffic problems: congestion is measured in minutes. But occasionally you’ll see a queue. And it’ll almost always lead to some kind of festival or event.

35. Because you’ll get your wallet back in Helsinki.

Helsinki is built on trust. Here, you can walk home from restaurants. Lost wallets end up in the lost and found. Children can walk to school on their own. People lend parking money to strangers. And if a Helsinki local finds an envelope that has been dropped on the floor, they’ll pop it in the postbox.

This has even been proven. Helsinki solidarity was tested in 2014-2015 when addressed envelopes full of cash were dropped on the ground. Helsinki locals found them and put them in postboxes so often that the people running the investigation were astonished.

36. Because Töölö bay is like a lake in the middle of Helsinki.

Töölö bay is in the middle of Helsinki and you can spot all kinds of birds there. Joggers, tourists, couples on first dates, people on their way to work, and Sunday walkers circle the bay. You can rent a rowing boat or a wakeboard there, and you’ll find three of Helsinki’s most lovely cafes along the water’s edge.

But the best thing about Töölö bay is how peaceful it feels.

Authors: Erkka Mykkänen, Iida-Sofia Hirvonen, Oskari Onninen, Veera Luoma-aho, Koko Hubara, Eeva Taimisto. Text was also reproduced from Marjaana Toiminen and Anna Moilanen’s Helsinki-stories.

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These are the reasons we love Helsinki, now and forever.