Falling in love with Helsinki, by Sofie Kinnefors

It’s my first time in Helsinki. Despite growing up in Stockholm, Sweden, I never made it to nearby Finland. My family always vacationed in the US or France. While visiting parents in Stockholm, I decide to take the approximately 450 km flight to Helsinki for a long weekend. Air, however, isn’t the only way to get here. Connections can be made for adventures like mine by train, bus or ferry. Helsinki-Vantaa Airport is located 19 km from Helsinki center. A bus or cab will get you there in about 25 minutes. Cost for cab is 45-50 Euros. (1 EUR= 1.3 USD)
Traveling solo, I take a taxi to my stay headquarters, Original Sokos Hotel Helsinki. I arrive fairly late in the evening so that my room will be ready. I decide to go to bed early so I can have a fresh start to my Helsinki stay tomorrow.
My first stop is the Old Market Hall (Wanha Kauppahalli) on the south quay, a popular tourist attraction built in 1889. The Market Hall is the oldest one in Finland and fascinates with all its colors and smells. Enjoy sushi, Lappish specialties and delicacies such as seafood, cheese, coffee beans and candy. I try a Karelian pie; a type of pirogue made with a rye crust and a rice and egg filling. It tastes good.
Eastern influences are common in Helsinki and can be spotted in the city’s architecture. The Helsinki Cathedral (Helsingin tuomiokirkko, Suurkirkko) is a fine example. Finland was under Russian rule from 1808 to 1917 when it became independent. The cathedral, which stands tall with its great mint green domes in the center of Helsinki, was built from 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.
After walking the streets of Helsinki for awhile I stumble upon another Finish landmark, Temppeliaukio Church (Temppeliaukion kirkko), located in Töölö. This non-traditional looking Lutheran church is built into a cave. Once inside the church, I’m surrounded by walls of rock. It’s rather dark, but sunlight is allowed through the roofs ceiling windows. The church was designed by Finnish architect’s Timo Suomalainen and Tuomo Suomalainen and opened up in 1969. The church offers tours daily.
Once hunger kicks in I head for Kosmos, a Finnish restaurant famous for its traditional Finnish food. The place is usually full of hungry guests, so I’ve made reservations. The restaurant opened in 1924 and offers what’s called a ”Helsinki cuisine”. Once again influences from the east meet influences from the west. The restaurant mixes Finnish, Russian, Swedish and French cooking traditions. Feast on specialties such as Fried Baltic Herrings with mashed Potatoes, Borsch Soup or a Fillet of Reindeer with a Sauce of Shoots of Spruce and Rosemary. This is a popular restaurant for politicians, artists and actors.
I end my day at the 3 storeys high Academic Bookstore (Akateeminen Kirjakauppa.) The bookstore opened up in 1969 and was designed by the famous designer Alvar Aalto. The store is packed with books; everything from cookbooks to history to a great selection of fiction. Many of the books are in English or Swedish. During my stay I meet many Swedish-speaking Finns and most bookstore clerks wear a Swedish flag next to their Finnish flag. Finland was part of Sweden from 1157-1809 and Finland is officially bilingual; Finnish and Swedish being the two main languages. (Lucky for me, as my Finnish is not that great!) Café Aalto is located on the second floor of the bookstore. They serve coffee, pastries and a delicious apple pie with vanilla sauce.
On the second day of my stay I decide to visit the Design Museum, founded in 1873 and located in the Punavuori neighbourhood. An exhibition of Finland’s inventions and designs from 1945-1967 is being shown at the museum. Beautiful patterned garments by Marimekko, glassware, and Nokia telephones are on display.
Helsinki was named World Design Capital of 2012. Textiles by Viola Castlerock and Marimekko, Iittala glassware, ceramics from Arabia and Aalto bentwood furniture have made Finish design worldwide known.
Finnish design label Marimekko, famous for its charismatic colorful large patterns, was started in 1951 by Viljo Ratia and Armi Ratia. Marimekko has a wonderful store on Pohjoisesplanadi 33 (Mikonkatu). The store is filled with garments, textiles, bags, accessories, cups and notebooks – all with the beautiful patterns by Marimekko. Probably the all time most well-known Marimekko design is the Unikko (poppy) print from 1964 by Maija Isola, considered at that time to be very bold.
According to Marimekko's Marketing Director and Head of PR Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko, it is the mix of contrasting stylistic directions that makes Marimekko so unique.
“Marimekko's distinctive design language fuses together functionality and unique aesthetics that reflect Finland’s location in between East and West,” said Alahuhta-Kasko. “On one hand, Marimekko design transmits the Scandinavian influence with the clean, graphic, simple design language, while on the other had it also features a rich, ornamental, surprising style stemming from the Slavic influence,” said she.
When thinking about Finnish Design, architect and designer Alvar Aalto and his bentwood furniture is likely to pop into mind. Alvar Aalto was inspired by nature and he tried to adapt his architecture to the nature around him. Alvar Aalto was also famous for having a great eye for details. Some of his famous works include his chairs with birch legs and plaited webbing seats, brasslamps and the savoy vase from 1936, used by restaurant Savoy in Helsinki, hence the name.
Helsinki is a wonderful city that has much to offer. Design, a great cuisine and an fascinating history. My first time in Helsinki won’t be my last.

Tatty Maclay's picture
Tatty Maclay
Tatty is a half-Swedish, half-English journalist, translator and mother of four. She grew up in London, but spent summers in the Stockholm archipelago. After five years in her husband’s homeland of Scotland, she recently moved her family to Sweden and she writes about their new life for Swedish Press.