Helsinki is a tale of two cities. Mid-winter it’s a frosty wonderland of snow-caked streets, the residents holed up in cosy, impeccably designed cafés. Come summer, the sun refuses to set and you’ll catch locals partying merrily into the early hours and leaping gleefully into the Baltic Sea. Whatever the season, Helsinki’s streets, forests and islands are ripe for exploring, so join us for a tour of this confident and cultured city.

Need to know

Get to grips with the basics

  1. Social equality: Finland is one of the most progressive countries in the world. Students are paid to study, healthcare is universal, and mothers and fathers can split paternal leave almost equally.
  2. Cashless society: You’re unlikely to need an ATM at all during your visit, as everywhere from the sauna to the street vendor will have a card reader.
  3. Summer homes: Proximity to nature is an essential part of Finnish culture. Many Finns will spend at least a couple of weeks during the summer at their country cottage, by a lake or in the forest.
  4. Alcohol: New laws introduced in 2017 mean bars and restaurants can stay open until 04.00 without needing a licence – so grabbing a nightcap is never an issue.
  5. Sauna etiquette: Although ritualised, the sauna is simple – but there are a few dos and don’ts. Nudity is the norm, though there are venues for more modest types. If you’d like to turn up the heat, be sure to ask those around you first.

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Hotels

Hospitality at its finest

  1. Lilla Roberts, Kaartinkaupunki

    Prison breaks

    130 rooms across two historical 20th-century buildings that were once, among other things, a police station. The chambers are sizeable – even the small category could pass for a deluxe.

  2. Hotel St George, Kamppi

    New heights

    The feel here is of an elegant-home: hardwood floors, walls in soft olive hues and artwork by Finnish artists. A new benchmark for the city. 13 Yrjönkatu, 00120

  3. Hotel Kämp, Kluuvi

    Grande dame

    The 19th century hotel was restored to its fin-de-siècle splendour in the 1990s, after a stint as a bank, with 164 rooms and 15 suites.

Vocabulary

Local lingo

  1. Moi: Hello
  2. Moi moi: Goodbye
  3. Kiitos: Thank you
  4. Kippis!: Cheers!
  5. Joulupukki: Santa Claus (literally “Christmas goat”)

Food and drink

Smart bites and top stops

  1. Werner, Kamppi

    Sear genius

    Werner air-dries and ages its meat in its own cold room – don’t miss the six-week-dry-aged beef entrecôte or the grilled harissa cauliflower with hazelnuts and tahini yoghurt.

  2. Nolla, Kruununhaka

    Waste notwant not

    Nolla is a zero-waste restaurant that changes its menu depending on which high-quality ingredients are at hand: expect local berries and herbs, plus lots of freshwater fish.

  3. Hietalahden Kauppahalli, Kamppi

    Meet and eat

    This market features a medley of international food, from Filipino to Portuguese. Our picks are Fat Ramen and soup specialist Soppakeittiö.

  4. Wino, Kallio

    Come wine with me

    There are over 100 natural wines on offer at this charming bar. Complementing these are small plates such as wild salmon with sour cream or sirloin tataki with apricots.

  5. Tislaamo, Hermanni

    Spirit guides

    The bar of the Helsinki Distilling Company is located in Teurastamo, a former slaughterhouse turned up-and-coming food-and-drink patch. All the spirits are made on-site.

Retail

Shop talk

  1. Frenn, Kamppi

    Wardrobe staples

    Founders and partners Jarkko Kallio and Antti Laitinen design elegant and modern menswear that’s neither formal nor casual – one of their made-to-measure jackets is as suited to the opera as it is to after-work drinks.

  2. M Gummerus, Kluuvi

    Mediterranean influence

    Mina Gummerus’ designs are equal parts homeware and clothing: think soft bathrobes in muted tones, linen towels and airy dresses.

  3. Lokal, Punavuori

    Form and function

    If you’re after Finnish designers before they become international darlings, don’t miss Lokal. Its collection mostly tethers around homeware; ceramics are a particularly strong suit.

  4. Common, Punavuori

    Outside perspective

    Nagasaki-native Kohsuke Nakamura has established a shop for fine Japanese clothing, homeware and accessories, from brands such as Fog Linen Work, Hender Scheme and Postalco.

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