So a couple of days ago I wrote about our fun fun fun weekend away in Helsinki. Sorry, this was not meant to be an exercise in gloating. I wasn’t trying to make anyone feel jealous. I just couldn’t help but write about it because it was so fun fun fun.
Anyway, for practicalities’ sake (because that is sort of the point of this blog) I thought I’d separately share all my recommends for a weekend in Helsinki, because it’s so easy to do from Lewes.
Here they are:
From Gatwick with the excellent Norwegian. Spanking new planes with tail fins bedecked with famous Scandis. Go for the early morning ones both ways – see ‘Time difference’ below for why! Flight time is just under three hours. The city bus from Helsinki airport is easy to find, takes half an hour and is about €6.
Ordinarily we’d go AirBnB but it was such a special occasion we splashed on the hotel option instead, staying at Hotel Fabian on Fabianinkatu (although it was really reasonable for what it was and its location). An easy walk from the main train station, where the airport bus drops you, it is central, small, boutiquely styled but not chi-chi. Breakfast was included and the staff were just so friendly and helpful. hotelfabian.fi
Worth a mention as it’s two hours ahead. We arrived ready for lunch and a mooch, but discovered it was nearly tea time. Every time we slept in until 9 we realised it was in fact still 7am! Getting up at 6am for the return flight home was a killer (because it was really 4am).
We went Nordic all the way because of my roots and love of the lightness of the food and the seasonal focus of ingredients. Since we went in September this was loganberries and amazing ceps. On that, a wander down to the market in the harbour is brilliant for lunch – fresh fish and incredible accompanying vegetables eaten communally in the open air on benches pulled up to long tables – and stalls and stalls of those seasonal ingredients.
You should know that in Scandinavian restaurants, particularly those that are privately owned, you will always be given a preamble as your food is placed on the table – a full and justifiably proud description of each plate. I know some Brits (my mother) find this hilarious and frustrating in equal measure.
Two seatings and a taster menu of what felt like endless courses (that didn’t leave you full) all in a tiny, stripped back interior. You can opt for accompanying wines or (in our case!) beers. Not at all snooty, despite the Michelin star that is undoubtedly in its future. spis.fi
This may suffer or benefit from being right next door to the ever-popular African-fushion Sandro over in the bohemian Kallio district (a short hop from the centre, but SO worth the trip for this and Siltanen bar), but in our case, unable to get into the latter, we settled for it – only to be BLOWN AWAY by a melt-in-the-mouth piece of flank steak and a Scandi version of apple crumble that would make you weep with happiness. Owned by a Brit and a Fin, who are working themselves into the ground to make Kolmon3n a contender, we would both say they’re doing splendidly in that regard. kolmon3n.fi
We just walked in here, but everyone we mentioned that to couldn’t believe we had bagged a table. Apparently the waiting list is months long because it’s the newest bistro-style restaurant in Helsinki. A set menu, but one you can switch other things into from an excellent a la carte. We were sitting practically in the kitchen, but were never forgotten and not disappointed. murudining.fi
BARS [Side note: AVOID that local liquorice-tasting drink that everyone will foist on you with a friendly wink. It doesn’t look like Sambuca but it’ll make you feel just as rotten…]
Liberty or Death for killer cocktails; Putte’s Bar + Pizza for a very laid-back, hipstery atmos, amazing pizza and craft beers; very cool Kafe Mokba for a true Russian feel and smileless service; We Got Beef for divey, grungy fun and bands; Siltanen over in Kallio (worth the trip) for dancing to ‘House with the Bamboo Door’ and a very mixed crowd (prepare to watch a woman your dad’s age headbutt the DJ’s booth); Latva, for a very relaxed pub-equivalent cellar bar serving delicious wine.
The top floor of the Savoy restaurant. Snooty, snooty, snooty and utterly atmosphere-less. They gave us a seat and then after some whispering, told us the bar was closed – on a Saturday night. #bollocks
Iittala for classic glassware and homewares; Marimekko for cult fabric, fashion, homeware and stationery by Finnish designers; Kauniste for ‘inspirational everyday textiles’; Pino, for useful and ephemeral homeware from across Scandinavia – prints by Playtype, geometric dishes from HAY, totes by Baggu.
All underwhelming and will make you hungover even if you are a tee-totaller. Sixth floor at Stockmann for overpriced LEGO, not-great Moomin paraphernalia and other toys you can buy back home, or BR-Toys, a Danish toy chain that’s landed in Helsinki and does the same faintly disappointing range. There’s a Moomin floor embedded in another shop on posh Pohjoisesplanadi, but I would recommend hitting the dedicated Moomin store at the airport. If you can’t find anything there, there’s a tiny selection of LEGO etc in the Duty Free shop.
I didn’t even know about this museum! A Little Lewes reader told me about it via Twitter when the post about our weekend went live the day before last… This is where the other half of the collection that the Finnish National Gallery once housed went (with the more contemporary half going to Kiasma, below). The Ateneum’s collections introduce Finnish art from the Gustavian period of the mid-18th century, to the modernist movements of the 1950s. It also houses a beautiful collection of international art, featuring works by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, Fernand Léger and Marc Chagall. ateneum.fi/en
Sadly this was closed when we were in Helsinki, but I had to include it as it’s an amazing piece of architecture, both externally and internally. As the Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma (meaning ‘chasm’) hosts both its own collection of Finnish contemporary art and a (usually) vibrant and ever-changing roster of visiting exhibitions. It was designed by Steven Holl, whose vision for its shapes and textures are driven with his fascination with the light in Finland, and the way it changes through the day. kiasma.fi/en/
We were so excited for – and so utterly underwhelmed by – the Design Museum. We got there after a day of traipsing around shops, so we already had museum feet, but even so it was between visiting exhibitions so for a half-price entrance fee, we got to see the permanent ‘Story of Finnish Design’ exhibition, showing the work of the biggest names from the late 19th century to now. I’m sad to say it did not excite us – just boringly displayed and atmosphere-less. What I would have done to see the Marimekko exhibition earlier this year. Shortly upcoming are a show on ceramics and a children’s exhibition. designmuseum.fi
TRAVEL GUIDE + MAP
I still believe in travel books because I used to write them and am being stubborn about ‘print being dead’. We used the Wallpaper* City Guide Helsinki (even though there is an app) because we love design and it has been updated this year. But its maps were complete rubbish (the places weren’t marked on them or even given grid references, and most streets were not written into the map either). phaidon.com/store/travel/
We supplemented this with a Like a Local Map, which is a brilliant detailed map with recommended places marked on and written up by locals around its edge. There is an accompanying website that offers up even more places: likealocalguide.com/helsinki
Disclosure: We went to Helsinki for my husband’s 40th birthday, and I started writing this post on the flight back because I felt so invigorated by having had a few days away with him. I wanted to share the best of what we did with Little Lewes’s readers.
As you can possibly tell, I write about design and I write about travel for a living, so this post was not an arduous task, but rather it was a joy to put together. I hope at least some of it is fun to read, even if not super-useful.
After we got back I discovered that some of the products and brands we had browsed and loved are stocked at John Lewis, who recently asked me to be one of their affiliate partners. Therefore some of the links to products in this post are affiliate links. I figured no one reading this would want to pay exchange rates and shipping on products from Finland, whereas the same pieces from Marimekkko, Iittala and Moomin are stocked at JL and with their Click and Collect, shipping is free if you pick up from Waitrose. This is entirely coincidence. I did not go on a long weekend to Finland to think about LL or write about products on behalf of John Lewis!
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