I can’t believe its already been more than a year since I went to Helsinki. I was tagging along on the trip of the boyfriend’s architectural office. So naturally, the journey was filled with lots of architectural explorations – which I did not mind a bit. Apart from the official programme, however, we did have some time to explore the city by ourselves. In this article I want to combine five of my highlights into a small Helsinki travel guide. Maybe it will come in handy one day when you plan a trip to the capital of Finland yourself.
I did not immediately for Helsinki, maybe also because it was autumn and we had just come back from Southern France. My body was still yearning for the sun, and my heart was yet full of joie de vivre. So Helsinki with its cold winds, grey skies, and stern people was quite the contrast. I believe the city has an entirely different vibe in the summer months when the sun out, the days are longer and there is more life happening outside than in autumn.
Aalto House and Studio
This was my favorite thing from our trip to Helsinki. So, I already dedicated a lengthier post to our visit to both Alvar and Aino Aalto’s House and their studio. Both the house and studio are close to each other. You can visit the places individually, but the guided tours are timed in a way that you can easily see both and still have some time to roam the grounds, take pictures and take a little walk around the neighborhood.
For more impressions check out the post I mentioned above. For more information about location, opening times and the tours, visit the website of the Alvar Aalto Foundation. Also, note that you will have to book your visit in advance.
Dinner at Spis
If you are looking for a unique dining experience, I suggest you book a table at Spis. With only 18 seats the restaurant is tiny and very cozy. They serve a tasting menu of fine Nordic cuisine in a short and a long variation. Curious as we are, we naturally went for the extended menu. Everything was delicious and meticulously prepared. We ordered the wine flight. While some of the artisan and natural wines were something for the more acquired tastes, it did add to the overall experience and would not have wanted to miss them.
I cannot recommend this place enough, so if you are headed to Helsinki and call some culinary curiosity your own, definitely make a reservation and look forward to dinner at Spis.
Lunch at Döner Harju
This place has somewhat become an institution in Helsinki, and I had read raving reviews of the kebab at Döner Harju in several blogs and magazines. So, we decided that this would make a great lunch spot. It was a bit far from the places we were roaming that day, but the metro ride and a short walk through the neighborhood were worth it. The kebab is decent with very fresh ingredients and delicious sauce. With its laid back atmosphere, the place is perfect for a short break from all the walking and exploring.
Enjoy Views of Helsinki at Ateljee Bar
Let me do some expectation management here. No, this is not the hippest bar in town, and yes, this is a bit of a tourist trap. However, for the views from the outdoor terrace (and the bathrooms) alone, it is worth a visit. Ateljee Bar is on top of Hotel Torni. I suggest a visit close to sundown. Also, don’t bother with the cocktails, they are not that great, but stick to wine or beer, get a place outside and take in the panorama of Helsinki.
Architectural Details and Brilliant Design Everywhere
Well, and then there is all the architecture and design Helsinki is so well known for. From the lamps inside the train station to the extensive Artek shop or Temppeliaukio Church, there are plenty of things to discover. In order to explore you can either book a guided design or architecture tour – a quick google search might point you to the right information about that – or you just start exploring on your own with a guide book. I suggest the latter. The Monocle Guide to Helsinki offers some interesting tips and walks. If you want to learn more about the architectural history of Helsinki since 1917, the Helsinki Architectural Guide will come in handy.