The most gratifying thing in Helsinki is aimless wandering.
Singer-songwriter Mikko Kuustonen grew up as the youngest of six children in a miner’s family. He moved from Leppävirta to the Helsinki metropolitan area to study in 1979. His mother had died, and Kuustonen first moved to Vantaa with his father. Already as a schoolboy, he often visited his older siblings in Helsinki.
“For me it was clear already as a child that I would move into the city.” Above all, Kuustonen loves walking in Helsinki. “I love the great café culture, terraces, parks and especially the sea, but the most gratifying thing in Helsinki is aimlessly wandering the streets.”
Kuustonen has two homes with his spouse: one in the Kamppi district near the Old Church Park and the other in Mäntyharju. “Returning to Helsinki always feels like being embraced by life. It is such an energising feeling.” Kuustonen’s occupation involves a lot of brainstorming and writing. The musician gains most of his insights by walking
One thing he has noticed is that many people who live elsewhere do not know how much they can actually experience nature in Helsinki. “One of my friends simply cannot understand why people speak about pollen allergies in Helsinki, since apparently there are no trees in Helsinki! Even though I live in Kamppi, I still wake up each morning to the sound of birdsong.”
Kuustonen has also lived in the Kruununhaka, Kallio and Töölö districts of Helsinki. “Each of those neighbourhoods has its own special atmosphere. Kallio is perhaps the homeliest place for me. It is like a lively and constantly changing village in the heart of the city.”
He also likes how the centre of Helsinki is so compact and charming. He enjoys going for walks to the quiet centre on Sundays and early mornings, around half past six. “I love Helsinki enormously. It is a sympathetic, creative and inspiring environment.”
This park has become one of my very favourite places in recent years. It is extremely lively for a cemetery, now that it is public park. It is a real oasis that is active in an interesting way at all times of the year. It is a beautiful and complete park that has a strong history. The place [known locally as “Plague Park”] reminds us that COVID-19 is not the only virus that has run amok here.
This park is the heart of Kallio, and it has a really nice canopy kiosk. I lived by the park for a few years and included a song called “Karhupuisto” on my album Agricolankatu 11, which I released around that time.
The Tokoinranta shoreline reminds me of New York’s Central Park. It is urban nature that is accessible to everyone. I enjoy going there with my three grandchildren for walks. There is always something to do there and playgrounds too. During the Helsinki Festival, the Festival Tent and other happenings really bring the place to life. Tokoinranta has ice cream kiosks and cafés, and I always run into someone I know there.
I used to enjoy boating off the coast of Helsinki. You can see everything from a new perspective at sea. The great thing about Helsinki is that you do not always need to have your own boat to get to the islands. You can just hop on a ferry or cross the bridges. During the pandemic, I have been visiting the island of Uunisaari more frequently, even in the roughest weather in wintertime. You really feel like you are out in the archipelago, even though you are still in the city. All of the islands here make you realise that Helsinki really is on the open sea – it is right there in front of you.
I love the theatre! Who would think that such a pompous institution as the National Theatre could be so innovative and creative and provide work for such a talented group of individuals! Without culture, we have nothing. The theatre helps me perceive the world in a special way.
Inside the station you can still see the old ticket booths that are no longer in use. When I was younger, I used to sit on them and watch people. It is a beautiful building that has seen such an unbelievable amount of leaving and returning, both mundane and dramatic. I belong to the generation for which Interrailing was a big thing. It allowed aimless young people go out and see the world.
This is my favourite place in the city. I even named an album and song after it. It makes you feel alive among the dead. I have often enjoyed walks and talks on its beautiful grounds. I like to visit the hill of artists and especially the little path along which Mika Waltari is buried.
I have many friends who have a workroom at the former psychiatric hospital, and the place really exudes culture. The building now has really nice cafés and other interesting small businesses, including a rescue flower shop. Many people have sought vitality on the rocks in the area – me included.