The best thing in Helsinki is aimless strolling.
Maija Tanninen-Mattila is the director of the Helsinki Art Museum HAM as well as the Helsinki Biennial. She has previously headed the Ateneum Art Museum and Kunsthalle Helsinki, among other institutions.
Maija Tanninen-Mattila was born in Helsinki and has lived here for most of her life. Her father Aarne Tanninen was a well-known journalist. Tanninen-Mattila spent some childhood years also in London and Moscow due to her father's posts as foreign correspondent in these cities.
"Perhaps due to these experiences, it has always been important to me that museum work has an international aspect to it. London and Moscow are both interesting because they are international cities, not because they are big cities", says Tanninen-Mattila. "Helsinki is becoming more and more international and through this also more interesting. Helsinki has a lot to offer on the cultural front, yet at the same time you can take in the city just by walking around."
"One of the finest and most beautiful libraries in the whole world. The architecture of Engel makes for an amazing atmosphere. The library mirrors the scale of the city: perhaps it is small compared to the world's biggest libraries, but the ambiance is intense. A great thing about the library is being quiet there and focusing. The place is like a temple of civilisation. When I was a young art history student, it was important to be able to study in a beautiful environment. And the dome is spectacular!"
"A lovely café in Kallio. It is designed and furnished in such a fine way. Being there always puts me in a good mood. The whole concept works well, and the food is good. The large windows bring a lot of light inside and you can sense an urban feeling. IPI is great for a day of strolling around Kallio. This is my family’s favourite pastime, just wandering around the city, taking a moment to sit in a café, maybe reading for a while, and then just heading to the next place your nose tells you to go. It's our favourite type of being."
"My husband and I are May Day lovers from 40 years ago. We were walking around near the statue – known locally as Manta – on the night of May Day and decided to park ourselves by the statue for a moment. Havis Amanda is one of the few public fountains in Helsinki and its water is turned off in winter. The opening of the fountain is always synonymous to summer and fun, it is a symbol of a jubilant Helsinki. It is not a memorial for an esteemed man with the weight of history bearing down on the visitor; it is rather a place to praise the joys of life. Such a statue is hard to come by."
"The pearl of Helsinki yet not well known by many. It is one of the finest exhibition spaces in the city – for me personally the best. It is humane and its proportions are beautiful. When I worked as the director here, I used to wander through the halls before opening and after closing. That is one of the perks of being a museum director, so amazing and wonderful! If you enjoy a meal at Farang, the restaurant situated in the same building, turn your gaze towards the fine windows and the frescoes by Ellen Thessleff."
"Helsinki has plenty of wonderful cafés. The interior of Café Ekberg has kept its fine atmosphere and lamps by Paavo Tynell. I have a personal attachment to Ekberg. After I met my husband at the Manta statue, we got married 10 years later at the Pasila magistrate followed by some signature Champagne cork-shaped pastries at Ekberg."
"I can see the tower of the Natural History Museum from my office. It is lit up in the wintertime. I often think about how it would feel to be inside that tower and see all the amazing museums around! The Kunsthalle, the National Museum, HAM, the Hakasalmi Villa, Kiasma, Amos Rex, all right by each other! Little pearls as well as big, international museums. It is amazing that together they are more than the sum of their parts."
"One cannot pass the Hakaniemi Market Square without stopping for a coffee at the Kahvisiskot (‘Coffee Sisters’) tent and having a portion of rice porridge. Sometimes in icy weather and sometimes in sunshine. Someone might be playing the tango at the next stand. The Hakaniemi Market Square is full of life, it is unlike any other place in the city."
"When I show my international visitors around, I often take them for a meal at Lehtovaara. The restaurant belongs to a small number of traditional Helsinki restaurants that seem to never change, along with Elite and some others. Luckily their interiors have been preserved. The classic dish at Lehtovaara is the coeur de filet: before the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, the chefs were sent abroad to learn how it's done. After a meal, it is great to walk over to the Sibelius monument in the adjacent park. It is like the direct opposite of the Havis Amanda statue – a monument honouring a great man, designed by a woman. It invites passers-by to discuss the open-minded essence of Finnish modernism. After a stopover, I like to keep wandering along the shore towards the Mestaritalli restaurant or Café Regatta and to show the traditional carpet washing platforms by the water."