As Finland turns 100 this year, Helsinki’s blossoming craft cocktail scene and nouveau Nordic cuisine are helping the capital earn the cool cred it deserves.
Over the past few years, all eyes have been on Copenhagen’s endless list of new Nordic eateries and Stockholm’s effortlessly cool fashion labels. But as 2017 marks Finland’s 100 years of independence, Helsinki has all of the ingredients it needs to steal the spotlight from its Nordic neighbors. From a new Meatpacking District to thriving craft cocktail bars and breweries, here are 10 ways Helsinki is stepping up its game to claim the much-deserved title of Nordic Capital of Cool.
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Iittala & Arabia Design Centre
Two of the most famous names in Finnish design, Iittala and Arabia, have teamed up in the form of a design center, where you can step inside workshops and watch artists craft new ideas for the brands. Head up to the ninth floor and wander through a museum-worthy collection that puts the history of Finnish ceramic art and glass design on full display. To celebrate Finland’s centennial, Arabia went through its archives to launch a collection of 10 mugs designed with vintage patterns, each hailing from a different decade.
INSIDER TIPEntrance is free, but to really get a sense of the brands’ past, present, and future, join one of the complimentary weekly tours.
Up-and-Coming Design District
You don’t have to look too hard to find Finnish design. Just stroll the 25 streets forming Design District Helsinki, lined with over 200 design shops and Finnish labels on par with those in Paris, such as fashion favorite Samuji. Boutiques like Box Jewellery showcase minimalist and bespoke collections of silver and gold by local designers Pioni Design and Keski-Pomppu, while hotels such as Art Deco-inspired Lilla Roberts seem right at home nestled amongst the neighborhood’s showrooms.
The one-year-old TRE is an airy boutique set in the heart of downtown that’s been dubbed the flagship for Finnish design. Underneath the exposed pipe ceiling you’ll find furniture, wall art, organic cosmetics, and even plants. Nearly 90 percent of the shop’s 300-plus brands are Finnish, but don’t think you’ll only see the major players. TRE allows small designers to shine, with a growing collection that’s even available at a seasonal pop-up shop in the airport.
Gallery-Style Concept Shops
When you step inside Lokal, it’s hard to tell whether you’ve entered an art gallery or boutique. Photographer and owner Katja Hagelstam is constantly curating the art exhibitions that greet you at the entrance. Continue deeper inside and you’ll discover a mix of handmade ceramics, furniture, art prints, and home décor, crafted both by small-batch producers and larger names like furniture favorite Nikari.
Teurastamo “Meatpacking District”
Similar to New York City’s Meatpacking District, Helsinki’s slaughterhouses are now some of the trendiest spots in the city. Built in the 1930s, the abattoir reopened as Teurastamo in 2012, with everything from a coffee roaster and pasta factory to a sauna that was once used by slaughterhouse workers. During the day, you’ll find farmers markets and food trucks setting up shop in the al fresco courtyard, while bars open later in the afternoon. Start your night with authentic Chinese street food at Ho’s Food before taking a seat with a local lager at the 1970s industrial-style B-Side, Teurastamo’s first bar
Microbreweries & Distilleries
One of the highlights of Teurastamo is The Helsinki Distilling Company, the first distillery to open in Helsinki in over a hundred years. Housed in a building that’s led past lives as a power plant, a meatball factory, and a car wash, the distillery now dominates the first floor. Take a tour Wednesday or Friday afternoon or head straight up to the buzzy new distillery bar, Tislaamo, where you can sample the artisanal whiskey and gin right at the source. Craft beer is also having a moment in Helsinki, and one of the top spots to head for a tasting is Stadin Panimo, which translates to Helsinki Downtown Brewery. Since opening in 1998, the brewery has crafted over 500 different beers and opens up its latest batch to the public at the small beerhouse sitting just next door.
Craft Coffee Culture
Finns are the top coffee consumers in the world, so don’t be surprised if the first thing you’re asked anywhere you go is if you’d like a cup (the answer is always yes). It’s only more recently that this part of Finnish culture has gone from traditional brew to the craft variety, thanks to revolutionary cafes and roasters like La Torrefazione. While wandering through the center of the city, head up to this second-floor café and take a seat by the window overlooking Helsinki’s bustling shopping streets. If you’re staying in the former working-class neighborhood of Kallio, Good Life Coffee is a local hotspot that acts as both a roaster and coffee bar with a cozy, living room-inspired space.
One of the city’s new restaurant and café hubs, Kanavaranta, sprouted up last year along the Katajanokka harbor. Reimagined old warehouses are now restaurants like Shelter, a nautical-themed eatery with seasonally-inspired tasting menus (think crispy freshwater whitefish with dill broth and beef tartare with sour cherries). Walk upstairs to the attic and you’ll discover the Finnish version of a seaside speakeasy in the form of cocktail bar Rusty. If it’s fine dining you’re after, you don’t need to go to Copenhagen to sample some of the region’s most innovative fare. Pop in Nokka, a restaurant leading the way in gastronomic Finnish cuisine.
Locally Fueled Craft Cocktail Scene
When you put “Helsinki” and “bar” in the same sentence, you may immediately think one thing: karaoke. And while you can find plenty of happening karaoke bars in town, Helsinki’s craft cocktail scene is putting the city on the map for a different reason. Award-winning bars like A21 Decades are weaving berries and birch into cheekily titled cocktails like Sex in the Forest, while themed Trillby & Chadwick Detective Agency pays tribute to a fictional 1920s speakeasy that was Helsinki’s most profitable. In true speakeasy fashion, the bar is hidden behind an unmarked door. Make an “appointment” by picking up the vintage telephone. If you’re in luck, you’ll be invited in for a drink.
In Finland, there are enough saunas to comfortably fit all 5.4 million Finns at the same time. You’re more likely to stumble across a sauna than a restroom when you’re strolling through town, since these heated cabins are located everywhere from boats and buses to the Helsinki Parliament House. There are two saunas in the city, however, that should definitely make your list of places to visit. Near the Helsinki Market Square, the new Allas Sea Pool is designed as a floating oasis on the Baltic Sea with three saunas that host sauna yoga (Finnish Bikram, anyone?). On the southern tip of the city, the design-savvy Löyly features three wood-heated saunas shielded by a free-form wooden pine “cloak,” which forms terraces jutting over the sea.
INSIDER TIPDespite a number of saunas in the city, they fill up fast, so be sure to make a reservation so you’re guaranteed a spot.