Spotlight :: Helsinki

[trip style = urban]

Helsinki is a modern and forward-thinking city of design, culture, history and harbour. Design is as intrinsic to Finnish identity as saunas, which are a source of national pride {and public nudity}. The Finns roast themselves to a boiling point before jumping into the Baltic Sea and then repeat the process all over again.

In a country that borders Russia and stretches into the Arctic Circle, Helsinki feels one part Scandinavia and one part Eastern Bloc. It's both edgier and friendlier than its Nordic neighbors, which is admirable in the winter when it sees as little as five hours of daylight. You may want to visit in the early summer, when it sees up to 19 hours of daylight. Don't forget your eye mask!

Everything is within walking distance in Helsinki. Charming cobblestone streets connect the must-see churches, parks, art nouveau buildings and design shops. But you'll need an umbrella in a city that sees an average of 191 days of rainfall every yearthat's more than Vancouver, but less than Twilight-famous Forks, WA. During my four-day mid-August visit with friends, I experienced sun, rain and hail but I didn't let the weather rain on my parade. As the Finnish say, there's no bad weather, only bad clothing! {Check out our stylish rainwear picks!}

The most engaging and colorful afternoon of our trip was spent at Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. The best part of the experience was that it was so tactile; we were encouraged as visitors to touch many of the installations, which made us feel like we were breaking the rules. Helsinki's quirky and contemporary cultural scene is so strong that the city is in negotiations to become the next outpost for the Guggenheim Museum.

Architecture enthusiasts will appreciate the churches of Helsinki. The statuesque Helsinki Cathedral sits high above Senate Square and its steep steps are a popular gathering place when the sun is shining. A minimalist escape from the chaos of the city, Kamppi Chapel is a small space made from curved wood and designed for silent prayer and contemplation. Temppeliaukio Church {Rock Church} feels more like a Bond villain's secret lair than a Lutheran church; quarried out of natural bedrock in the 1960s, this famous church welcomes visitors year round.

Don't miss the Design District, an area of 25 streets with 150 boutiques, galleries, antique stores and cafes ripped from the {web}pages of Etsy. Next, stop by tiny Finnish design shop Salakauppa for a modern twist on traditional Finnish footwear, Artek for innovative furniture and Marimekko for housewares, textiles and clothing in the Finnish brand's iconic graphic prints.

The Finns are the highest consumers of coffee per-capita in the world. In an effort to blend in with the locals, coupled with a bout of bad weather, we had an especially caffeinated visit to the Finnish capital. Our Helsinki motto was "But first, coffee", which led us to multiple cafes a day. Since man cannot live on macchiatos alone, I've included restaurant suggestions to dampen the coffee buzz.

Freese Coffee Co // Friendly staff, fantastic coffee and fresh food can be found at this delightful coffee shop a stone's throw from the Rock Church. This cozy cafe was a haven from a freak hail storm; we shared cakes and thumbed through modern periodicals like Cereal and Lucky Peach while waiting out the storm. {Note: hours are limited, so check before you go!}

Old Market Hall  // Eat at Story in the renovated food market or grab some candied salmon skewers, freshly baked bread and lingonberry jam and step outside to hop a ferry for Suomenlinna,  an 18th-century island fortress that's popular with both locals and visitors.

Old Market Hall // Eat at Story inside the newly renovated food market or grab candied salmon skewers, a loaf of bread and lingonberry jam and step outside to hop a ferry for Suomenlinna, an 18th-century island fortress popular with locals and visitors.

Sandro // Middle Eastern fare in Finland? Why not? This laid-back restaurant in the hipster Kallio District, born out of a food truck and into a brick and mortar, serves dishes like confit duck burger with pomegranate yogurt and za'atar fatan salad with avocado mousse. After the meal, pop next door to Good Life Coffee for the neighborhood's best brew.

I stayed in an apartment a short tram ride outside the city center {there are lots of cool spaces on airbnb}, but if a boutique stay is more your speed, try Klaus K or Glo Hotel. Whatever you choose, look for accommodations close to the harbor in the Punavuori, Kallio or Centrum districts.

This post is written by Trip Styler's Assistant Wayfarer/Editor Heather.

Spotlight :: Copenhagen {Part 1}
Spotlight :: Copenhagen {Part 2}
Jetset Style :: Scandinavia-Inspired Jackets
Roam+Board :: Hotel Kakslauttanen
Experience Whistler :: Scandinave Spa

[images by @heatherlovesit & @graceyvr except freese coffee co via kinfolk & story restaurant via retail design blog]