Your Four-Day Itinerary
SEE: Helsinki is edged with sand and surrounded by tiny islands, so relax on Hietaniemi Beach, an urban oasis dotted with winter-weary sunbathers.
RELAX: Finns are known for their caffeine habit. Duck into Café Aalto, an austere bookstore-coffeehouse designed by national icon Alvar Aalto, for a fix.
EAT: Finnish food—like English cuisine a decade ago—has gone from laughingstock to cutting-edge, as chefs embrace indigenous produce (rutabaga, turnips, chanterelles, all kinds of berries) and game (duck, elk, grouse). Try Ateljé Finne for fried pike and leg of locally raised lamb, served in a former sculpture studio.
DRINK: After dinner, kick back with some cans of lonkero, a Finnish gin cocktail, and catch an underground DJ or live music at Kuudes Linja, an intimate club.
SEE: Ready to strip down in front of strangers? Resurrecting Aalto's steam-room-as-cultural-salon concept, a local duo conceived the Kulttuurisauna, a public bath, which opens in August.
SHOP: Head to the Nordic version of Eataly, Eat&Joy Kluuvi Market Hall (pictured), for a smorgasbord of native treats, including microbrews like Lammin Sahtia.
EAT: Try farm-to-table favorite Nokka, on scenic Katajanokka Island, where almost everything—cheese, chocolate, and, yes, reindeer (served braised)—is supplied by small-scale producers.
SHOP: When it comes to design, you could say that Finns have more fun, and Design Forum Finland is the one-stop shop for housewares with that Finn spin.
EAT: The minimalist aesthetic of Michelin-starred Olo carries over into its omakase-style dinners—artfully presented small plates like lavaret (a regional fish) and a modern take on the three-meat Karelian stew.
DRINK: Café by day and club come sunset, mbar (pictured) hosts poets, designers, and multimedia gurus on its 300-seat tented patio. Finland's licorice-flavored vodka, Salmiakki, flows freely.
EAT: Helsinki's quirky culture shines on the four-times-a-year Restaurant Day, when anyone can transform his or her home into a temporary eatery. The next one is May 19.
SHOP: Tucked into a nondescript building, Artek 2nd Cycle (pictured), the Finnish company's only vintage outlet, is an insiders' secret stocked with the type of mid-century furniture IKEA loves to rip off.
DRINK: Stop for a nightcap at A21, where bartenders use Finnish foodstuffs, such as sweet cloudberry jam and the acidic fruit of the sea-buckthorn plant, in their inventive cocktails.
Where to Stay
Klaus K (pictured)
The Kalevala— Finland's Lord of the Rings-style epic—guides the decor at this art-and-folklore-filled hotel. But the inn's wine bar and day spa ensure that the pampering is 21st-century.
GLO Hotel Kluuvi
This warm, woodsy inn is happy to lend such amenities as laptops, acoustic guitars, and even hand weights to use in-room.
Scandic Paasi Hotel
Opening in late summer in Siltasaari, the SoHo of Helsinki, this seaside hotel plays on the area's history as a crash pad for circus performers. Vibrant colors and harlequin patterns dominate the 170 rooms.
Insider Tips from Hip Finns
Founder of Eat&Joy Farmer's Market
Have a meat pie very early in the morning (6am) at the Boys tent at Kauppatori, Helsinki's main marketplace. The marketplace is the best tourist attraction ever; you can meet almost all the important politicians—Helsinki's mayor and our President are frequent visitors!
Have breakfast at Hotel Klaus K; it's the best place to taste unique Finnish food such as reindeer roast, arctic char, traditional Finnish porridge, and sparkling spruce-shoot champagne. Owner/manager Marc Skvorc is an excellent host and walking encyclopedia of Finnish delights.
Stop by our new Eat&Joy Market Hall for handmade Finnish food. You can also learn traditional Finnish skills like how to smoke fish with firewood, bake original rye bread, and cut and cure steaks from Finnish forest cows as taught by our chef and meat man, Markus Maulavirta.
Designer for avant-garde menswear label Dusty
Jump on a Z-train and take a one hour ride north to the small town of Lahti, where we have Dusty's design studio. This is how to see the real Finland in my opinion: open, fresh air, silent yet friendly people. There is also a small harbor area by the lake, which is lovely place to spend time in summer!
Shop for Finnish fashion at Liike, a collaboration of six Finnish designer labels, featuring both menswear and womenswear.
Grab a drink at Kitch Bar, a down-to-earth corner bar next to Liike. The barkeeper has a wonderfully dry sense of humor.
Catch an event at Suvilahti, an old power plant area converted into a cultural center: Check out what is going on in Suvilahti whenever you visit: a fashion show, a circus, a music festival, perhaps?
Project Manager for the City of Helsinki's Food Culture Strategy
Take a dip at Yrjönkatu, a fabulous public swimming pool from the 1920s. Reward yourself afterwards with refreshments at the Café Yrjö.
Eat blinis at Kosmos, another pearl from the 1920s. The design of the patio and entrance has been slightly updated by designer Stefan Lindfors.
Dine at Suola, the new brasserie from 21-year-old chef Tio Tikka. Last summer he brought the first food truck to town. Now he's turned a former legendary gay club into a lively restaurant in the Punavuori neighborhood.
See the Helsinki skyline from one of the oldest roller coasters in the world at Linnanmäki, the iconic amusement park. In addition to the rides, it's become the new playground for the top chefs in town. And if you go to Kattila Kitchens, you can snack on something really creative, not just junk food.
Graphic designer and cofounder of Pelago Bicycles and service shop
Play some pool with locals over a few bottles of Karhu beer at Corona Bar and Billiards, owned by the film-making Kaurismäki brothers and created in homage to Matti Pellonpää, the star of Aki Kaurismäki's legendary movies.
Order naantali salmon soup at Bar 9, because they make it creamy and you get a piece of tasty toasted dark bread with it. Art adorns the walls.
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