10+ Places You Should Pin on a Map Before Visiting Helsinki
Have you heard from someone that Helsinki is boring? Well, it might as well be true for some. Helsinki is a place one should take one-coffee-at-the-time. To be perfectly honest, it might be a quest of a lifetime to find a good coffee around here. Majority of the Finns is still keen on a filtered drink that they leave idling on a burner for entire day. Nevertheless, as to any other rule — there are exceptions to this one too. Here is a short list of places that may spice up your image of the city if you are anything like me.
In case you read it, you are likely to be a foreigner. Most likely, the only Finnish word you have ever heard then is “sauna”. Shockingly, it sort of means the same thing here as you would imagine. With the only difference that people usually go in naked and are allowed/read as expected/ to throw water on the hot stones. They are as close to the everyday Finnish life as 6–15 euros can get you. In fact, every house in the country is usually having at lease one sauna used by the residents. Here is a short list of alternative saunas you can visit.
Kultuurisauna is a place owned by a Finnish-Japanese couple. A traditional sauna combined with Japanese minimalism in architecture. Mix-gender resting area. A chance to dip into the bay in between sauna turns. If you pick your own towel it gets a bit cheaper.
Löyly is a new hip place on the shore. Visit it just to have a nice view from its double-deck terrasse. The bar is very expensive. The sauna is not cheap either. This place you visit to experience new architecture and have a great view when you run out to the bay to have a dip.
Mäkelänrinne Swimming Pool is one of the most visited swimming pools in Europe. A basic pool ticket gives you 2.5 hours visit. You are free to spend all this time in between three saunas that they have in the shower area. The saunas are great even though they are not the core purpose of the place. This is probably the cheapest and the most laid-back way to get in touch with a tradition.
Public Saunas in Kallio (e.g. Harju Sauna) are the washrooms of the old proletarian district. Back in the days when factory workers didn’t have showers in their small flats, they would have plenty public saunas. Some of them are working until today. Prices are a bit too high, but the experience is still very low key. If you want to seat barechested and red-faced on the street and watch trams pass by while having a sip of a beer — that’s your place.
Sompa Sauna is an ultimately hippy experience. The place is run by the enthusiasm of random stranger which keeps it free of charge and full of unexpected audience. One has to have balls to try it out, but hey — we only live once.
Well, cheap food is virtually non-existent in Helsinki (unless you are come from Copenhagen or Dubai). But there are a few places with below 10€ tags for a meal.
Barbarossa is a pizza-kebab place hidden in the very centre of the city. 5€ will get you vegetarian falafel or a large pizza with all the standard toppings.
Soma is a small chain serving sushi-burrito rolls for under 10€. Those are great if you are looking for something moderately healthy and strictly vegan.
SoiSoi vegetarian/vegan place (with a few meat options too). Sandwiches are good, perhaps, not the best (you can ask for various bun options if you are allergic or just want a rye bun). The greatest thing here is sweet potato fries. Ask for mango souce along with them.
Kipsari a vegetarian student place in Arabia. They serve the best tofu sandwiches you can find. Also, two hot meal for you to choose from and a salad bar are served as an alternative.
Unicafe Ylioppilasaukio the largest student diner in town owned by the student union of Helsinki University. Several hot dishes or a salad bar to choose from. Just ask any of the students how the line works. It’s a self-service place with a check-out.
Rupla has nice offers on lunches several times a week. Also offers “all you can eat“ cake buffet for 8–10e on Saturdays (highly recommended).
Krog Madame has a decent lunch buffet with under 10€. Centrally located.
Mad is a Chinese restaurant nearby Kamppi. It works rather late and is usually empty during the evening. It is a great place to have eggplant pot in peace.
Bamboo Centre is one of the loudest and the most cheerful places in the city. They have one of these extremely long menus of Chinese dishes that you never wanna read through when you are hungry. Very large portions that can be easily split in two (in this case you pay for an extra rice). Check the menu of the day, it is always much cheaper than ordering a few dishes. However, if you are only taking the main course, go for something new to you.
Sandro and Kok are the fusion kitchen restaurants with a few spots in town. They serve interesting menus as well as very personal and laid-back service. At the same time, the places are leaning towards a refined experience, so they are suitable for getting your partner’s fancy parents out. During the weekend it makes sense to make a booking — these places are popular.
Mei Lin is yet another Chinese. Claimed to be the most authentic by all the Chinese friends of mine. It has a large off-menu selection, so if you know what you want or if the menu is not enough — ask a waiter for an advice.
Helsinki City Museum has a free-entrance small show in the very centre on the Senate Square. An interactive display telling about the city history. Your chance for some good selfies in a replica of a 1960s old lady flat. On the first floor, perhaps, the best souvenir store you will find in town. On the last floor — temporary shows connected to Helsinki. Drop by for about an hour. It’s good for groups too. There is a very fixed list of the museums within the city area.
If you are a frequent visitor of contemporary art venues — I would not recommend any of the art museums in here. What you get does not match the price. However if the whole scene is new to you, it may worth taking a look.
HAM, Helsinki Art Museum. At times has interesting works on display. Some big names like Ai Wei Wei, for example. If you want to visit “an art show” (without much preference) during the time in Helsinki — it is a good place to do so.
Kiasma is a contemporary art museum that most of the people would claim you should visit. The place mostly works as a large gallery, often showing new works rather than a collection of previously exhibited art. A new curator was hired recently and some positive changes are expected. However a previous curator drove the place off the hill and since the current shows were still planned earlier — they are pretty intolerable.
Taidehalli and Sinebruhoff museum are both very old-school. If you have too much money — go ahead and spend it there.
Well, these places are plenty around town. There are few I can name just for a start, but suit yourself on this matter.
Casa Italia is, probably, the only place I truly like these days. The stuff there cares to remain human. The coffee tastes like coffee. Hot chocolate is more than just cacao powder fused with hot water. It is extremely small, though, so if you like grand spaces it isn’t for you.
La Torrefazione is a coffee place in the very centre. Here you can look at the Russian tourists shopping cheap H&M and Zara clothes one floor above one of the busiest streets. This place is most often crowded, but if you let a waiter know how many you are, most often you get a place soon. These guys always have nice tea, thick hot chocolate and reasonable coffee.
Regatta is a super home-like cafe on a sea side. Have cash with you. Get a bun and grill some food on the open fire outside. Great for a sunny day or just as a break on your walk along the western shore.
Story at the old Kauppahalli (Close to the Market square), mostly nice due to the old market hall itself.
Karhupuisto, “a Bear Park”, is a place with plenty of cafes and bars around.
PARKS AND NATURE
Winter Garden Greenhouse is an old school promenade in the centre. Free of charge. Very nice light during the noon hours.
Seurasaari is an island with a sanctuary forest and old Finnish wooden architecture along the main path (collected from around the country). If you want to spend the whole day walking, maybe start at the old cemetery at Lappinlahti. Then walk along the water (all the time) until you reach Regatta cafe. Get some warm drink and continue walking towards Seurasaari. Then get another warm drink when you get to the island. Then when you are leaving tired and happy — take a bus back. Sorry, no idea about parking in this area if you need it.
Lammassaari, omg, so sweet. It is a long walk in reed across the swampy part of the bay. Some people go there to watch rare birds. Some just go to hang out in nature. If you go there, you can check the old hydro-electric plant on the end of the Vantaa river. It has a small waterfall these days. And the building itself is a large free of charge museum (well.. just the station parts and rooms are all open. You are free to roam inside and read a bit… It’s about 40 min long if you really take your time to walk through). Take some snack and water with you if you go there for a long trip. Dress warm.
Mustikkamaa. Well, it is just a rough direction, not really a destination. If you get to Kalasatama subways station and walk from there across the “Grandpa bridge” a new pedestrian bridge, you will get onto the island next to the zoo. It is a nice area within the city that faces plenty nice sea views, has a few picturesque hills and awesome old trees. All of this within 10–15 min walk from the pretty urban Kalasatama.
Keskuspuisto, literally translated as “Central Park”. Literally a forest. Literally in the centre of the city. Just check it on the map. It’s sick. And sort of cool. Easy to walk through.