The insiders’ guide to Helsinki – where to go, eat, sleep and relax in Finland’s capital, and the best things to do

From sipping cocktails at the Clarion Hotel to dancing at the Kuudes Linja nightclub to swimming outdoors in an Olympic pool, discover the coolest places in the Nordic city with the help of our three artistic guides

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 5:18pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 5:18pm

Petra Majander, marketing director of Helsinki Design Week

What’s your favourite neighbourhood in Helsinki?

I love to spend time in Kallio, which is rough and edgy. There are a lot of young creatives, and some very nice bars, restaurants and galleries. One of my favourite cafes there is Ipi Kulmakuppila.

It has a beautiful atmosphere, good vegetarian food and the people who work there are friendly. An alternative is the legendary Rytmi, which is a destination for Finnish actors and artists. One of the nightclubs that I like to visit is Kuudes Linja, which has a vibrant nightlife and fantastic live gigs.

Where is your go-to breakfast spot?

My favourite place is Cafe Engel. I like the history of the place – I spent my childhood nearby, so it is a familiar place. The cafe is located in the district of Torikorttelit, near the Senate Square. We don’t have a very big old town, so it’s one of the few places we have left. It was designed by Carl Ludvig Engel in the 19th century.

How do you like to unwind after a stressful day?

I like to swim, so from April until September, I swim outdoors at the Olympic Stadium. The facility was constructed during the 1950s for the Helsinki Olympics. It’s a nice way to swim outside and breathe the fresh air. Otherwise there is a sauna in Merihaka called Kulttuurisauna. It was completed for the city’s World Design Capital in 2012, and designed by architects Tuomas Toivonen and Nene Tsuboi.

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Where do you go for a culture fix?

In Kallio there is a nice little cinema called Riviera. It’s also a bar. So if you want to see a movie, you can order some drinks or something to eat as well. It’s kind of like a boutique cinema, with 55 seats and a few couches. It’s a great way to enjoy nice company, dinner and drinks whilst watching a romantic film.

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Where do you find creative inspiration?

Creative inspiration usually comes to me unexpectedly. Nature plays a big role in this regard, and helps me to get away from it all. One way is by running outdoors, which I do two to three times a week at the Hietaniemi Cemetery. There is a running track around the area. It’s the place where all Finnish presidents and high-profile people are buried. Because the area is so old, there are reminders that we used to be part of Russia.

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What is your favourite summer activity?

I recommend kayaking as a fun way to get to know the city, and to understand it from a different angle. My favourite spot is in Vuosaari. It’s a 20 kilometre bike ride from my home, and it’s an enjoyable way just to exercise and get there. They have people who will help you to be safely equipped with life vests, and will brief you with a map to navigate between the different islands.

What is your favourite hotel?

My favourite place is The Clarion, which is one of the tallest buildings in Helsinki. A lot of fashion and design people hate it, because they say the building’s exterior doesn’t fit with Helsinki’s design language. However, I think it’s pure snobbery. The view is amazing and I like the drinks. It’s also a fun way to look at the city from above.

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What is your favourite part about living in Helsinki?

I really enjoy the seaside that our city has to offer. Finland has a lot of small islands off the coast, with a wide open sea that is very strong. There are a lot of beautiful islands just out of Helsinki, including some fortress and military islands, yacht clubs and restaurants. One example is a yacht club called NJK on Valkosaari island, which is nearby. It features a wooden villa with nice rooms and a great restaurant that is open to the public.

What’s your favourite restaurant?

The best place I’ve been is Baskeri & Basso Bistro. The staff travel all around France and buy all the wine themselves. As a result, the wine selection is very sharp. The ambience is very different from one that you’ll find in a big business. Once you’ve been there enough times, the staff there start recognising you and it’s like visiting old friends.

What is one building you recommend people to visit in Helsinki?

Visitors should pay a visit to Dipoli, the main building at Helsinki’s Aalto university. While everyone in the city knows the work of Alvar Aalto, some don’t know about the work of architect Reima Pietila.

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He designed Dipoli, Finland’s president’s house and a lot of other nice buildings. His work inspires me, and encourages me to think freely. As an architect, that is a difficult approach to achieve.

Where are your go-to places to buy furniture?

For classical pieces, you can go to Artek. If you want to find pieces that exemplify carpentry excellence, you can also find products by Nikari, a company that has a workshop and showroom in a small village outside Helsinki called Fiskars. They excel at making simple but high-quality pieces.