Keywords: Helsinki, traveling, gourmet, museum, art, nature, UNESCO, architecture, physical exercise
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Some tips what to do, eat and drink in Helsinki.
- 2016-11-09 The article got published.
- 2016-07-01 Writing the article started.
We lived five months in Barcelona and during that time I collected a list of ideas what to do in the city and where to eat and drink. Nowadays I live in Helsinki so this is something similar.
I'll share some ideas what to do if you have a couple of days in town. I've also put on map quite a list of useful places both for tourists and local people. The best restaurants and pubs are covered too.
For your pleasure the best data is listed below right away. If you need more guidance, read further.
Suomenlinna, sauna and salmari (1st day)
The few things you should know about Finnish culture is that we locate inbetween two influential cultures, Swedish and Russian, east and west. Many of us are people of few words but being naked together in a hot room is something we enjoy alot. We are a people with most inventions per capita and our sociaty is regularly considered as the least failed country in the world.
Suomenlinna is our main attraction, the first UNESCO heritage site in Finland. The fortress has been used in tensions between Russia and Sweden since 1748. There's a brewery restaurant in Suomenlinna but you can also buy your picnic foods on the island. Reserve 2-6 hours depending on your dining and museum choices.
The most authentic Finnish sauna locates in the countless numbers of private summer cottages around the country so pick one of those if possible. But the urban social saunas in Helsinki are also among the best in the world - at least if you find the spirit. My personal favourite is Kotiharju but Arla, Kulttuurisauna and Löyly are good ones too. If you are brave enough, you can also visit Sompasauna or Yrjönkatu swimming hall. You can drink own beer on the street after and inbetween the sauna experience.
In Finland only the special store owned by the goverment, called Alko, can sell alcohol bottles to take with you (over 4.7 %-vol, CRAZY UPDATE (2018): the limit is 5.5 %-vol now!). But interestingly Alko actually has a really good variaty of different bottles imported around the world. So you probably want to visit the flagship store of Alko and maybe buy bottles of three popular Finnish beverages: Salmiakki Koskenkorva (liqueur), Lonkero (mixed drink) and Sahti (beer).
You can also try sahti, lonkero and salmari drinks in the St. Urho's Pub, next to the Parliament house. This is also your chance to taste an authentic Finnish style pizza. Select the 5th pizza named as Paradise (often named as Hawaii too) because it contains the most popular pizza ingredients in Finland. I think, we the Finns believe that Hawaii is the paradise, something totally different than Finland... There's also a jazz bar nearby, Storyville, if you prefer background music more than good beer.
Finnish nature and cuisine (2nd day)
Finland is known as a country of thousands of lakes. But unfortunately you can't really experience it unless you have a helicopter or travel to Koli. But luckily, the coastline of Helsinki, eventhough it's hilariously a coastline of a sea, gives you a feeling of quite same. So rent a bike and bicycle around the Seurasaarenselkä. Stop by at the Café Regatta, Sibelius Monument, residents of prime minister (Kesäranta) and president (Mäntyniemi), Seurasaari (outdoors walking park) and Tamminiemi museum where you can see how our own dictator lived in the 1970s. Reserve 2-6 hours depending on your stops.
In case you want to taste the traditional Finnish cuisine, you should reserve a table in Savotta, Lappi, Saaga or in a bit cheaper ones like Konstan Möljä or Salve. Or maybe you prefer a gastropub? Try Bryggeri, Il Birrificio, Viisi Penniä or Bruuveri.
The tourist attractions (3rd day)
Okay, so after you have experienced the real nature of Finnish culture, we can rush the main tourist attractions. Go to Kiasma or Ateneum for art. I'm pretty sure the National museum or the Natural history museum of Finland are not interesting so rather go to the Museum of Mannerheim or Design museum. Reserve about 2-3 hours per museum.
Many tourists, especially from Japan, come to Finland because of our architects and designers so you might want to visit the home of Alvar Aalto and his studio or enter Artek, the furniture store where you can buy, or just test, the famous Ball Chair of Eero Aarnio.
Finland belongs to the west (EU member, free press, transparent democracy and low corruption) but because we have Russia as our neighbour, there are also many good Russian restaurants in Helsinki which you might want to try out. My recommendations are Saslik, Troikka and Bellevue.
In case you are blessed with a longer time in Finland and you are not able to visit any private summer cottages, I have a few recommendations for you.
Rovaniemi in Lapland is the most popular tourist city besides of Helsinki because it offers Christmas fairyland miracles for children and because many snow related activities are easier to do there.
The upper Lapland is a real wilderness so go hiking and fishing there. Remember to visit Norway as well because the views are even better there.
Åland Islands (Ahvenanmaa in Finnish) is an archipelago with a historically interesting political situation (autonomy) and semi-isolated culture. It's probably one the most peaceful places in the world. All the ferries are free to use if you are travelling by bike.
A good day trip destination from Helsinki is Porvoo.