48 hours in… Helsinki
By Laura Gelder – August 2020 – 2 minute read
According to the United Nations, Finland is the world’s happiest country and its capital is the happiest city. We take a look at how to spend two sustainable days in Helsinki and come away smiling.
Day 1: Shopping, art & sauna
Morning: Start the day with coffee and a pastry at St George Bakery and Bar. This cosy but stylish café is located in the cinnamon-scented basement of the swanky but sustainable St. George Hotel. The design-rich boutique hotel also has a minimalist pool and spa and a Nordic-meets-Anatolian restaurant.
Just around the corner from here is the main shopping street, Mannerheimintie, and the city’s long-standing department store, Stockmann. While away some time in here but don’t miss the Home department for its impressive selection of stylish Scandinavian décor, including many items by renowed Finnish designer Marimekko. The ground floor has lots of pop-up restaurants for a light lunch, ranging from ramen to sandwiches and salads.
Afternoon: Take a street art tour in East Pasila. This gritty inner-city neighbourhood has become a canvas for artists from around the world thanks to local organisation Helsinki Urban Art. A walk reveals a plethora of colourful murals, some emblazoned across several storeys on the lofty tower block, others clinging subtly to the pedestrian bridges, stairs and underpasses which characterise this concrete jungle.
Rest tired feet with a visit to Allas Sea Pool at dusk and a quintessential Finnish ritual – a sauna session. Powered by bio fuel, this green-friendly public facility sits on the side of Helsinki’s harbour and offers the solace of a heated outdoor pool or a dip into the actual sea via its floating pools. Visit the communal sauna first to steam before taking the plunge and enjoying the spectacular views of grand government buildings and passing ships.
Evening: If you still have the energy, head to the family-run Natura restaurant for a taste of its innovative and minimalist menu based around sustainably-sourced local game, seafood and vegetables.
Day 2: Nature & nurture
Morning: Head out of town to Espoo. Technically it’s another city, and Finland’s second-largest, but it’s so close you won’t notice. At Haltia, the Finnish Nature Centre, you can explore the Finns' close connection to nature and experience flora and fauna from all over Finland inside this award-winning sustainably-designed building which is shaped like a local duck. The visual and audio exhibition inside showcases everything from Finland’s southern archipelago up to the snowy swathes of Lapland. The centre is surrounded by the very real Nuuksio National Park and you can explore hiking trails through the forest. Stop for lunch in the wood-scented café which serves up organic ‘nature plates’ and overlooks the tree-lined Lake Pitkäjärvi.
Afternoon: Head back to the city for a walking tour. Architectural highlights include the Kamppi Chapel of Silence, a curved chapel made of Nordic spruce in the bustling city centre; the rock-hewn Temppeliaukion Church built in the 1960s and Oodi, Helsinki’s new public library. This ship-like futuristic wooden building has been designed for the good of the environment and society. Its cathedral-like top floor has lounging space with impressive views of Helsinki’s government buildings, its middle floor offers locals the chance to hire everything from a music studio to a 3D printing machine and its ground floor has cafes, eateries and browsing spaces galore.
If you have time for shopping go local and sustainable. Stores include Lokal, which sells independent Finnish art, design and craft; Pure Waste Concept Store, which sells ecological clothing, and Lovia Concept Store, which crafts accessories from the leftovers of other industries.
Lastly, pop into Metsa/Skogen (meaning 'forest' in Finnish and Swedish), another concept store which brings the forest to the city. Amongst the herbal beauty products and sustainble 'tree-hugger' hoodies is the Mushroom Bar, which serves up innovative forest-themed cuisine from celebrity chef and author Sami Tallberg. Depending on your mood, order a chaga cappuchino (made from a birch tree-loving fungus packed with anti-oxidants, or a health-giving Champagne (yes, really) infused with medicinal herbs.