To HEL and back: The top five things to do in Helsinki
Did you wonder where I disappeared to this past week? Did you think I’d run off and joined a burlesque troupe named Rosie Gardens and the Kinky Hos? The truth is that I went to HEL – otherwise known as Helsinki – on a work trip.
Helsinki is an effortless city in summer; all straightforward streets, easy-to-find landmarks and an abundance of cool shops, good coffee and public gardens that appear to be tended by obsessive-compulsive horticulturalists.
I can’t claim to have done everything but I gave Helsinki a red hot go. Here’s what I would recommend to other first-timers;
1. Catch the ferry to Suomenlinna sea fortress
Built in 1748, the Sveaborg fort was built when Finland was still part of the Kingdom of Sweden. Today this impressive group of buildings is UNESCO World Heritage listed as an example of unique European military architecture. Dreary history aside, the fort sits in rambling fields daubed with white cowslip, yellow canola and purple lilacs. Geese and seagulls seem to be the main residents of the island despite the fact that people still live there. Ferry tickets are 6.50€ return with departures every 20 minutes.
2. Visit the Marimekko shop
My credit card started to bleed the second I crossed the threshold of this Finnish design temple. Familiar Marimekko icons such as the red poppy print intermingle with bold new prints that are equally as attractive. Like a butterfly looking for a place to land, I flitted around eyeballing everything until I finally settled on some fabrics. While it wasn’t exactly cheap, I comforted myself with the fact that it was a lot cheaper in Helsinki than it is in Australia. Just like Madonna in 1990, I justified my love.
3. Have lunch at Café Esplanad
After a solid couple of days of three-course tourism body funded meals, it was refreshing to hang out in an old school café and eat a salad. But oh what a salad! For 9€, you get a base of greens, tomato and cucumber to which you can add two ingredients. I chose mashed fresh salmon with dill and olives. Café Esplanad is conveniently located a couple of doors down from the Marimekko shop.
4. Wander around the design district
Helsinki is gearing up for its year in the spotlight by promoting the bejeezus out of its design district. Populated with flagship stores of local creatives as well as curated collections like the Design Forum, art hungry visitors can stock up on pieces of flair with a distinctly Scandinavian aesthetic (think handmade felt creations, fox, reindeer and bear motifs and artisan jewellery). Helsinki is the design capital of the world in 2012.
5. Eat at Market Square
Finland is a fish fiend’s paradise. Everywhere you turn, someone is grilling salmon and selling it dirt cheap. Down at Market Square on the harbour, you can buy touristy knick-knacks, try on fur hats that impart a Russian accent to the wearer and tuck into a healthy fish meal for about 12€. If you’ve had enough Omega 3s to last you until next century, chow down on a reindeer meatball or snack on a punnet of fresh raspberries.
Tell me, Good Looking People, have you been to Helsinki? If so, what did you think? Did you notice how freakishly enormous the seagulls are?