Helsinki With A Local.
“It’s Nordic, but not Scandinavian, halfway between Stockholm and Saint Petersburg, and only eighteen minutes from Tallinn by helicopter.”
(Louis Vuitton City Guide 2008)
Helsinki lies not only from a geographical perspective between Stockholm and Saint Petersburg, but can also be classified as somewhere in-between. I read this many times and even though I haven’t been to any of them before, I can clearly see something of both, Russian and Scandinavian influence in the architecture and cityscape. When walking through the streets I caught myself many times comparing Helsinki to Copenhagen or Moscow. Scandinavian minimalism meets Russian magnificence. A good mix, that cannot be overlooked when passing some of the countless cafés and interior stores.
While meeting so many lovely and inspiring people during my Erasmus exchange, I realized once more that distance does not matter, as long as you are on the same wavelength. That’s why it was a pleasure to be able to visit my dear friend Nanna only one month after returning from Denmark.
Since Nanna lives in Helsinki we tried to find a good balance between spending quality time, discovering new cafés and restaurants and visiting some of the main sights. That’s why this article is rather non-touristy compared to other travel guides on my blog.
I love spoiling myself every once in a while and sometimes spend more on certain things if they seem to be worth it to me. But I am very stingy when it comes to taxi rides, when public transport is as convenient, but much cheaper.
I flew to Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (HEL), which is around 20 kilometers north of the city center. The easiest way to get to the center is by train. There are trains every 10 minutes. The ride takes about 30 minutes and costs 5€. You can either buy the ticket at the machine or even in some train compartments.
Nice to know
- Many things, such as names, billboards or food labels are written in Finnish and Swedish.
- But (as apparently in every Nordic country) everyone is fluent in English.
- From what I have experienced, things are slightly more expensive compared to Austria.
- The deposit on cans and bottles in supermarkets is already included in the price.
- Same goes for tips, that are included in the price. But of course great service can be rewarded with a little extra.
- In most cafés and bistros they offered free tap water to help yourself.
- There was nowhere I could not pay by card. Super convenient. 🙂
- Looking for a museum with free entry? Helsinki City Museum is your place to be. The current exhibition SMELL (see picture below) is worth-seeing (or should I say worth-smelling?). Aleksanterinkatu 16, 00170 Helsinki
Culinary “must try”
The Finnish cuisine is a little meat- and fish-loaded and a lot of their famous pastries contain milk or eggs. One famous specialty is Riisipiirakka, a pastry filled with a mix of rice and butter surrounded by a thin rye crust. Usually not vegan, but I was happy as a child when finding a vegan version of Riisipiirakka in K-Supermarket. Apparently that vegan Riisipiirakka is “true to taste”.
My favorite spots
Bistros / Cafés / Restaurants
Since my credo is “EAT WELL TRAVEL OFTEN”, here are some places I went to and – most important – liked. A vegan food and drinks guide through Helsinki, so to say. 🙂
Hyvää ruokahalua! (Finnish for enjoy your meal!)
Bar Teos Runeberginkatu 61, 00260 Helsinki
A very nice and casual tapas bar with tapas at a reasonable proce. They also offers some vegan tapas, such as bruschetta, olives, marinated vegetables or vegetable couscous. My personal favorite was the herb bruschetta, definitely a must try! According to my Finnish friends they serve one of the cheapest wines and Sangrias in Helsinki. 😉
Tehtaankatu 13, 00140 Helsinki
When looking for a brunch spot for my last day in Helsinki, I saw a picture of a breakfast at Healthinki on veerabianca’s Instagram and knew we had to go there. And Healthinki did not disappoint us: the food looked and tasted as good as on the pictures. We had an avocado toast and a berry smoothie bowl with dozen of toppings (attention: it contained a bit licorice, but still tasted divine!). The café is rather small, which I personally like a lot and the girl working there was super passionate about the products.
Aleksanterinkatu 9, 00100 Helsinki
Probably the most stylish café in the whole of Helsinki! Paulig Kulma is a café, roastery and barista institute in one. I was amazed by the clean and minimalistic Nordic interior. My personal favorite: the copper painted details and hanging chairs in the first floor. Another plus: Matcha Latte with oat-milk and raw brownies.
Street Gastro – 6K
Kampin kauppakeskus, 00100 Helsinki
Street Gastro is one of six different restaurants in the 6K food court inside the Kamppi commercial center. I opted for the vegan pita bread with seitan and roasted sweet potato wedges with truffle mayo (which could be “veganized” on request). Both were super yummy and filling and gave us enough energy for the long train ride to Lapland.
Zucchini Fabianinkatu 4, 00130 Helsinki
A casual, homy and cozy vegetarian cafeteria-style restaurant, that also offers vegan dishes. We had the “dish of the day” (a plate with curry, rice, corn and a salad) for around 10€.
“We can crawl to a rooftop and inhale the lights below and the stars above as we laugh and forget the world we left on the ground.”
That quote by Victoria Erickson expresses pretty much how I feel about rooftop bars. Seeing every city I visit at least once from above is a must. We went to one bar during daytime and the other one during nighttime, which gave us two completely different views on Helsinki.
Ateljee Bar at Torni Hotel Torni
Yrjönkatu 26, 00100 Helsinki
I was mesmerized by the stunning view from above! Okay, maybe it was also because of the strong mulled wine I had? 🙂 By the way, that was by the way the fanciest (read: most expensive) mulled wine I’ve ever had. Even matching my nail polish. Or was it the other way around? No seriously, that view was just beyond beautiful. 14th floor, open terrace and a 270 degree view… But a picture is worth a thousand words:
Skyroom at Clarion Hotel Helsinki
Tyynenmerenkatu 2, 00220 Helsinki
The newly built Clarion Hotel Helsinki is probably Helinkis trendiest hotel. It reminded me a lot of the 25hours hotel in Vienna due to its lettered door scrapers. Due to its location on the 16th floor, the high ceilings and the glass facade you have what can be called a panoramic view. The location itself is really stylish – major neon sign love above the bar. What a fancy way of overlooking the city!
What I kept for my next visit
HAM – Helsinki Art Museum
For a modern art lover like me definitely a must-see. Unfortunately I missed the In Infinity exhibition of the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama by only a few days, but there is always a next time and most probably another exhibition I fancy. 🙂
A special thanks goes to Nanna for that awesome time in Finland! :-*
Have you been to Helsinki before?
Is there anything else I have to see/try/experience the next time?
Comment below and I’ll put it on my list.