Finland’s cool, classy capital is a design lover’s destination, with ample art museums, architectural marvels, and plenty of fine Finnish textiles and glassware sold in beautiful boutiques around the city. In July, I made my second visit to Helsinki, a decade after I honeymooned there in 2008. The city is famous for its varied and adventurous cuisine, including Scandinavian staples like smoked fish and filleted reindeer, but branches out into Michelin-level fare, too.
Where to eat
Sea Horse, with its blonde wood interior and turquoise booths, looks like the mid-century classic that it is. Wild mushroom soup and filleted reindeer are savory highlights. Don’t miss the deliciously sweet, mouth-puckering dessert of frozen cranberries with caramel. For contemporary cuisine, try Juuri for Finnish sharable small plates known as sapas. A Michelin star award seems likely soon. In the meantime, visit the charming restaurant or its cozy café in the Design Museum.
Where to sightsee
Museum highlights include contemporary art museum the Kiasma, as well as the Design Museum, which features a semi-permanent exhibition showcasing centuries of iconic Finnish designs, including an original Eeno Aarnio Ball Chair that visitors can sit in. A pleasant diversion regardless of belief, a number of notable chapels are open daily to the public, including the almost 50-year-old Temppeliaukio Church (aka the “Rock Church”), carved deep into solid rock, its hillock topped with a copper dome. Drop-in visitors to the sanctuary can often catch free concerts performed by talented local musicians. The round-trip ferry to historic sea fortress Suomenlinna is a popular day trip to learn local lore and enjoy hiking the windswept former barracks. Take an “island hopper” ferry, which stops at several islands, and disembark for an hour on Lonna, the newest inner harbor islet open to the public. Formerly used as a minesweeper station for WWII naval ships, Lonna is tiny and mostly deserted, and that’s the point. It takes about nine minutes to walk the peaceful island perimeter. A café serving waffles, both sweet (rhubarb jam) and savory (smoked salmon), provides personalized attention.
Where to shop
Famous for their high-quality glassware (Iittala, Muurla), Finns are equally serious about their textiles. In addition to the Marimekko flagship store, a must-visit for colorful clothing and housewares, numerous designers have inviting storefronts. Established in 1820, Finlayson still focuses on stylish, utilitarian linens for kitchen and bath. And for 30 years, Johanna Gullichsen has produced patterned woven goods including rugs and handbags. For interiors, visit Artek, founded in 1935 by acclaimed designer duo Alvar and Aino Aalto and still featuring iconic furniture and accents produced by the famed couple.