With Finnair offering some very attractive routes to Europe for the business traveller, it’s time to take a fresh look at Helsinki – Finland’s capital of cool and home of the quintessential Scandi-Baltic stopover.
If you’ve never been to Finland, Helsinki is the perfect introduction. Everyone speaks English, impeccable design is everywhere, and the bar and dining scene is very, very good. While most travellers have been to Paris, London and Rome, not nearly as many have been to Helsinki, which is surprisingly liberating. You have no expectations, no experiences you ‘need’ to have, no stories from friends lingering in your head. Helsinki is all yours.
Here are some suggestions for your eye-opening Helsinki stopover...
Where to eat
Baskeri & Basso
Tehtaankatu 27-29, Helsinki
Locals love this hip new restaurant, inspired by cosy Parisian bistros, casual San Francisco joints and small Italian osterias. Known for its welcoming vibe, exceptional flavours, outstanding wine list and happy wait staff who love what they do. If you want to impress friends or clients, this is the place to go. As soon as you know you’re going to Helsinki, call and book your table because Baskeri & Basso is popular.
Meritullinkatu 6, Helsinki
Small, unassuming but punching well above its weight in terms of cuisine, service and calibre of wines, Kuurna is perfect for an intimate dinner with friends. Located on a quiet side street, this charming restaurant will win you over if you like personal service that is absolutely top class. Many of the ingredients are sourced locally, and organically where possible.
Etelaesplanadi 14, Helsinki
Savoy is iconic Helsinki, located in the middle of downtown. Since 1937, patrons have enjoyed the views across Helsinki rooftops and out over Esplanadi Park. Savoy’s minimal design can be attributed to national hero Alvar Aalto and the firm that went on to become world-famous design group, Artek. If you’re looking for something that oozes atmosphere and is simply like nowhere else, Savoy is the place.
Where to stay
Clarion Hotel Helsinki
So if you’re looking for the most spectacular hotel in Helsinki – we’re talking sky bar, heated rooftop swimming pool and transparent glass footbridge that links the two window-clad towers, Clarion Hotel Helsinki could just be what you’re looking for. The hotel opened in 2016 and is known not only as a must-do destination for visitors (Those views! That pool!) but also as a classy place to do business.
Hotel Indigo Helsinki
Right in the heart of the Design District, Hotel Indigo Helsinki puts you at the centre of a creative neighbourhood, surrounded by an eclectic mix of boutiques, galleries, museums and restaurants that embody traditional and new Scandinavian style. The hotel is located on one of Helsinki’s most historic, well-placed streets: Bulevardi. And if you like waking to the smell of freshly baked bread every morning, you’re in luck – Hotel Indigo Helsinki has its own urban bistro, Restaurant Brod (“bread” in Swedish), serving up a mix of European and local delicacies, with a focus on bread, fresh from the oven.
Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Helsinki
Historic on the outside, Finnish-modern on the inside, the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel is the hotel many Helsinki regulars call their Number One. Its location is hard to beat – in the centre of the city, next to the glorious Art Nouveau central railway station designed by Eliel Saarinen – with all transport options nearby, and just a short walk to other major highlights of Helsinki such as the National Theatre, Ateneum Art Museum, Market Square and Old Market Hall, as well as Seurasaari Open-Air Museum. Good to know: the stylish Plaza Lobby which serves wine, beer, coffee and other drinks, plus light snacks and freshly baked pastries is open 24/7.
Where to play
When in Finland: Take a sauna. The sauna (pronounced as if it rhymes with ‘brown’-a) is the most Finnish of pastimes, cultural practice that dates back centuries. Finns take their sauna very seriously, so much so that there are an estimated 3.3 million saunas in Finland – for a population of 5.4 million. Public saunas had declined in popularity but a new focus on creating an urban community has let to new developments, the most impressive of which is Loyly. This super stylish venue embodies modern Finnish design and was built according to sustainable building principles. It occupies a stretch of Helsinki waterfront, has a fantastic restaurant with terrace, and offers visitors to Finland a public sauna experience all year round.
Idyllic Old Porvoo is one of the six medieval towns in Finland and bewitches visitors with its charming streets and lovely red shore houses. Founded nearly 800 years ago, it is the second oldest city in Finland and home to about 700 permanent residents. In summer, m/s J.L. Runeberg and Royal Line’s m/s RoyalCat cruise between Porvoo and Helsinki almost daily. The ships journey through the beautiful archipelago, departing Helsinki in the morning and returning in the afternoon.
Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
If you’re travelling to Helsinki between mid-May and mid-September, you’ll have the opportunity to wander around the incredible island of Seurasaari. Located just a few kilometres from the heart of Helsinki, this is where traditional cottages, farmsteads and manors from the past four centuries have been relocated. It’s a great way to stretch your legs and discover more about Finland’s little-known history.
Kamppi Chapel of Silence
Rushed off your feet on your Helsinki stopover? One suggestion is to work the Kamppi Chapel of Silence into your day. Located on the south side of busy Narinkka Square in central Helsinki, it offers a tranquil, quiet place in which to take time out. With its curved wood facade, the small non-denominational building embraces visitors with its gently curved walls and soothing timberwork.
Meaning ‘Castle of Finland’, Suomenlinna is on the Unesco World Heritage List as a unique monument of military architecture. What’s unique about this site is that in the course of its history, the fortress has served in defence of three realms: Sweden, Russia and Finland. Today, it’s a fascinating place to explore. Suomenlinna is accessible only by water, with a ferry service running from the Market Square throughout the year. There are six museums on the island, guided walking tours and – thankfully, plenty of cafes, restaurants, a bistro... even a brewery.
Before you leave...
- Dash out to the Arabia factory if you have time. Arabia ceramics has been a flagship of Finnish design for more than 130 years. Surely you can squeeze a large Teema platter into your carry on? Of course you can.
- Try a Karelian pie, traditional salmon soup and the national cinnamon bun, the pulla.
- Treat yourself to one of Alvar Aalto's iconic glass vases, a design famous around the world for its unusual ripples, inspired by Finnish lakes.