Forty-eight hours in wintry Helsinki
Forty-eight hours in wintry Helsinki
Drop your luggage at the hotel and go for a cocktail at A21 (Annankatu 21), voted world’s best bar in a recent internet poll. On the menu they offer drinks made from recipes from as early as the 1800s, daring modern creations and even cocktail classes.
Head off to restaurant Kuurna (Meritullinkatu 6) or Michelin-starred Demo (Uudenmaankatu 9-11) for Finnish “fusion” cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere.
Start your day the Finnish way with coffee and korvapuusti (cinnamon roll) under the orange tents of Kauppatori (Market Square) open air market, or among the nearby Old Market Hall’s colourful array of greens, fresh fish and traditional fare.
From there, you can catch sight of the landmark cathedral’s green dome, located on a side of central Senaatintori square.
Embark on the 3T tram line for a one-hour round trip through the city. Have it guided — download an audio commentary of the tour to your media player, for example from http://www.dewhurstdesigns.co.uk/helsinki/.
Then, hop on and off as you please for a visit or two. Do not miss the Temppeliaukio Church, an architectural curiosity built into the rock, next to the Sammonkatu stop.
Round off your tram trip to enjoy a cruise on the public ferry, leaving from the end of the Market Square, to the UNESCO-protected sea fortress Suomenlinna.
Take a stroll off the beaten tracks to avoid the crowds and explore the Swedish star-shaped fortifications and the wooden houses built during Russian rule, or just enjoy the view from the shore.
The best remedy against the chilly sea wind: steaming hot creamy salmon soup, served with fresh dill and rye bread. Get a bowl from one of the several cafes of Suomenlinna.
Take the boat back to the Market Square and walk up Esplanadi for some window shopping at the outlets of luxury brands. Department store Stockmann, located at the end of the esplanade, is also worth a visit.
Finland’s largest classical art collection is on display at the neo-Renaissance Ateneum museum, situated on the railway station square Rautatientori.
Admire the symbolist works of national epic Kalevala’s illustrator Aleksi Gallen-Kallela, which shaped Finnish identity at the dawn of the 20th century, or realist painter Helene Schjerfbeck’s poignant series of self-portraits.
Now that you are warmed up for the real thing, dive head-first into Finnish traditions at Yrjonkatu’s swimming hall. Nowadays nudity in the Art Deco main pool is merely customary — bathing suits were forbidden until 2001.
A naked swim in the ozone-purified water is a unique experience one gets easily hooked on. Check the separate opening days for men and women on http://tinyurl.com/69pp4m.
There are more than two million saunas in Finland, and the Yrjonkatu swimming hall is no exception. Go for the traditional wood-heated sauna and relax in the steam.
After sauna, a light snack is recommended. Pick something at Cafe Yrjo, overlooking the Art Deco main pool.
Round off your day with some music. There is something for everyone: dress up for classical music in Finlandia hall or swing in jazz cafes Storyville (Museokatu 8) or Kuudes linja (in arty district Kallio, Haamentie 13).
For the rock aficionado, Tavastia (Urho Kekkosen katu 4-6) is the place to go. “Suomirock” bands as well as international artists perform in the 30-year-old club, often compared to New York’s C.B.G.B. for its importance in Finnish modern music.
Gorge on a magnificent breakfast at restaurant Ilmatar. On the menu, fish, cheese and berries supplied by local Finnish producers, and of course coffee served in designer cups. This is a perfect starting point to wander around Punavuori, branded Design District Helsinki (http://www.designdistrict.fi/)
Helsinki, which earned the title of World Design Capital 2012 in November, is famous for its diversity of design from industrial to handicrafts, renowned architects Alvar Aalto and Eliel Saarinen as well as fashion brands Marimekko and Iittala.
Shop in the stores in Uudenmaankatu and Erottajankatu for avant garde fare, ranging from innovative kitchenware to handmade jewellery.
Try the “sapas”, tapas made of Finnish traditional ingredients with a twist, in nearby restaurant Juuri. For 4.50 euros each, sample the oregano-flavoured munajuusto (egg cheese) and the reindeer terrine with berry jelly.
Catch the tram 6 to Arabiakeskus. Ceramics maker Arabia manufactures Finland’s favourite tableware since 1873, including Moomin trademark mugs and bowls.
Observe historical pieces and designers’ works at Arabia’s museum and gallery and bring home a souvenir from the factory’s outlet.
Back in the centre, contemplate the unchallenged view over the city from Ateljee, Hotel Torni’s rooftop bar, while sipping a last drink before leaving.