Back in June, I made my first trip to the Finnish capital of Helsinki and liked it quite a lot. Here are some reasons why.
Finland is a world-renowned centre of modernist design and functionalist architecture. In fact, it’s this year’s World Design Capital. As a fan of that pared back Scandinavian aesthetic, I found Helsinki very easy on the eyes. From the Aalvo Alto-designed buildings to the suspended Eero Aarnio ball chairs, everything feels sleek and slick and refreshing. A bit like a really cold glass of water in an Iitala Kartio tumbler.
A Sense of Direction
I’ve lived in London all my life but if you blindfolded me, dropped me off somewhere in South London, and told me to make my way home to Islington, chances are that I’d end up in East Grinstead. But within two days of arriving in Helsinki, I was walking around without so much as a Google Map to guide my way. The city is so small and the grid system so easy to master (at least in contrast to London’s spaghetti-like tangle of streets) that you’ll feel comfortable - maybe even a little bit smug - about traversing its streets sans phone, sans map, sans any real sense of purpose.
Coffee. Lots of It.
I love coffee. I love being places where other people love coffee; where they make coffee well, and serve it, cheaply, all over the place. Helsinki is one of those places. It’s definitely not the best coffee I’ve ever had, but it is everywhere you look. I’ll give it points for that.
Weekday and Others
The British high street is the best in the world - I’d recommend a shopping trip to London over pretty much any other major city I’ve visited - but the Scandinavian equivalent definitely has its charms. H&M is obviously as ubiquitous as McDonald’s nowadays, and Cheap Monday and Monki are now both available online, but Helsinki still offered the opportunity to revisit Weekday - a store that I first discovered in Stockholm and have been obsessed with ever since. It seemingly makes every garment that I’ve ever wanted to own.
Like tapas, but Finnish. So, same small sharing plates but combined with unexpectedly verdant flavours (fried willow herb, Aquavit marinated salmon). I sampled sapas at Juuri, one of Helsinki’s best restaurants, and was suitably delighted. Read more here.
Several beautiful azure lakes emerge, oasis-like, at various points in Helsinki. I particularly liked the one that met us unexpectedly in the middle of Kaisaniemi Park, where we ended up after a morning of cycling and duly stopped for a few hours of lakeside sunbathing. It was impossible not to.
In Helsinki, in the summer months, it stays light beyond midnight. This isn’t quite so magical if you want to just go to bed - there’s nothing quite like trying to sleep when it’s light outside to make you feel seven years old again - but it does transform a simple evening walk into an ethereal, slightly surreal experience. Like being a Sofia Coppola movie, minus Kirsten Dunst.
An Abundance of Free WiFi
Don’t pretend that being able to check your email, find your way to an obscure restaurant, and then Instagramming your dinner plate without having to turn on your data roaming doesn’t ease that constant ‘technology niggle’ that you have when it’s off. And why try to defy the niggle when you could just succumb to it like the hopeless social media addict that you (probably) are?
It’s Easy Breezy.
Visiting Helsinki is a pleasingly stress-free experience. It’s easy to get around. Easy to navigate. Easy to communicate - everyone speaks absolutely perfect English, in that curious way that Scandinavians tend to. Perhaps you’re the kind of person that likes your holidays to represent a challenge. Perhaps you like white water rafting. But me? I like my ‘city breaks’ to be genuinely relaxing, with the only condundrum being whether to have waffles or a ‘continental’ selection of mystery cheese and meat for breakfast. (The answer is: both).
Mashed potatoes with everything.
Finnish people are not afraid of a carb. Mashed potatoes are served with most main meals, and they’re good mashed potatoes too - fluffy, light, pleasantly devoid of lumps. If that’s not a selling point for a city, then I don’t know what is.