Travel Finland - Helsinki-Guide: Do You Love Design, Books, Food and Equality?

Have you ever been far up in the north of Europe? Finland is bordered by Sweden, Norway and Russia. Helsinki, the capital city of Finland is, compared to other Scandinavian cities, a rather young one. The town was founded only recently … in 1550. Just look at Copenhagen the capital city of Denmark, which was founded in the 10th century and Stockholm the capital city of Sweden soon after in 1252. 

In 2012
Monocle magazine voted Helsinki the most liveable city, and in the same year Helsinki was named World Design Capital by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, and its successor in 2014 was no other than the very wonderful and vibrant city of Cape Town in South Africa.

Helsinki is a town where most things can be reached by foot. The ever-present loud cries of the seagulls and the smell of the Baltic Sea make up for the shower you might experience. The spray can appear seemingly from nowhere, and when the rain just as sudden disappears the sky is of a blue the same colour the Finnish flag has.

Helsinki is surprisingly non-crowded with visitors, to be more precise, there aren’t many signs of tourism, if there are any really. Of course, you hear a few words of Russian or German, but that is pretty much it. Do you know that feeling when you find yourself standing in front of a statue or monument, eager to learn everything about it and then to realize that the plague is in the local language only. Helsinki is this sort of town. It feels wonderful, and very authentic.

The historical centre of Helsinki

Have a walk around the historical centre of town to look at the Esplanade, the market square, the senate square and its cathedral, all built in the Neoclassical style around 1850. It is refreshing, to visit a town in Europe without medieval, roman-, or renaissance buildings and structures. There is actually not even a single piece of this architecture, since unfortunately big parts of town burned down in 1808.

In the very centre of everything is the Helsinki Cathedral. In Finnish it is Helsingin tuomiokirkko. It sits in a prominent position, it is magical, it is massive, and some might say it is kitsch, but it certainly graduated with highest marks from charm school.

Helsinki Cathedral

Akateeminen - the Academic bookstore

Also in the centre, on the corner of Pohjoisesplanadi and Keskusatu you find the three storeys Akateeminen (Academic bookstore). Exciting is the design; the store has been built by Alvar Aalto. The largest bookstore in Scandinavia belongs to Bonnier Books Group. Have a proper browse, don’t stress yourself, the selection of books in the English language is great. On the second floor you find the design, art, and travel section and a pretty Café where Avar Aalto designed the furniture.

Bookshop at night. Days are long, even in early spring.

Market Square Helsinki

On the Market Square, in Finnish Kauppatori, by the harbour, you can grab something to eat. My top tip would be to keep an eye on the hungry seagulls. I know what I am talking about. I got attacked by one which stole my Danish with raspberries (I had just paid EUR 4.20 for the delicacy a moment earlier). This is also the place to buy handmade woollen gloves or a beanie. There is the traditional but newly refurbished market hall at Eteläranta not far from the square. With its many stalls and cafés, it is a true little foodie heaven. Information: Vanha Kauppahalli. Eteläranta, 00130 Helsinki. 

Check out the Marrimekko stores in the city, at the Finnish design store it is all about bright colours and strong patterns. I wish the companies value ”Fairness to everyone and everything” could be adapted by everyone. 

The centre of town has two islands as neighbours: Katajonokka and the other one is where Kaivopuisto is located.

The island of Katajonokka

Walk over to Katajonokka to visit the Eastern Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral and its streets with fantastic buildings in art nouveau architecture. Grab a coffee with a view of the yacht harbour Pohjoissatama Norra Hamnen and later search for the icebreakers a bit further down the pier. If you are into it, bring an engraved lock to put it on the Bridge of Love.

When you stroll up the hill you reach the heritage-listed Katajanokka gaol that has been turned into a hotel. It was built in the second half of the 19th century and served as a juvenile detention centre until its closure in 2002.

The white Carrara marble of the façade of the modernist Enso-Gutzeit Building (a Finnish Forest Industry Company) by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto on Katajanokanlaituri shines exceptionally bright when the sun is shining. 

Shadow of a seagull on the Enso-Gutzeit Building

Kaivopuisto with a view of the Helsinki Archipelago

This is a borough of Helsinki and also the name for a proper piece of countryside in the middle of town. From the Market Square and just behind the market hall you soon walk up a tiny but steep hill and it gets all green and quiet. There is a good view of the harbour and the glistening Baltic Sea. If you go through the park you can walk along the Gulf of Finland and stop for a coffee in the sun at Café Ursula. If it is warm enough a great idea would be to by provisions at the market hall and have a picnic up here in the park or by the sea.

Food: Tried and tested in Helsinki

Café Ekberg 

Old fashioned bakery and Café (in a very good way) with most delicious goods. Order a brioche and you will understand. Café Ekberg. Bulevardi 9, 00120 Helsinki.


This is a Pizza place which serves Pizzas with rather unusual toppings like strawberries, goat cheese and pine nuts or ice cream, figs and blue cheese. Go there now. Skiffer. Erottajankatu 11. 00130 Helsinki.  

SIS Deli Café 

Breakfast comes in the form of a buffet and offers everything from banana porridge, to cheese, berry smoothies, rye bread, croissants, jam, honey, eggs and a smiling and welcoming service. SIS Deli Café. Kalevankatu 4, 00100 Helsinki.

Hymy Raw Food Café 

This one is a bit hidden away but once you find it in a backyard near senate square make yourself comfortable in this café within a store which also sells designy wares, as in shoes and t-shirts. Order a hot chocolate which tastes seriously good. They offer a raw cake which is a chocolate, avocado, banana affair, interesting indeed. Hymy Raw Food Café. Katariinankatu 1, 00170 Helsinki.

Café Bar no 9 

This is a bar/café as some might remember it from days which seem a million of light-years away. This is not one of these mainstream hipster places. There is not a single underground tile, not one Xavier Pauchard Tolix style chair, no concrete or soothing tones or anything like that. This is the place to go if you fancy a no-nonsense stir fry or pasta dish. The staff members welcome you as a regular guest. Cafe Bar no 9. Uudenmaankatu 9, 00120 Helsinki.

Kuppi and Muffini 

Cute is the word that springs to mind first. Breakfast, coffee, imaginatively decorated cupcakes, light lunch, smoothies, go and see for yourself. Kuppi and Muffini. Kalevankatu 17, Helsinki.

Café Ursula 

If the sun is out this is the place to be right at the sea and with a view over the Helsinki Archipelago. It gets busy, but what do you expect with a location this marvellous? Café Ursula. Ehrenströmsvägen 3, 00140 Helsingfors. 


This Cafe is at the market hall, right in the middle of it. Delicious coffee, friendly service, lunch and cakes. Story. ETELÄRANTA · 00130 HELSINKI.

Left: Ekberg. SIS Deli Café / Centre: Kuppi and Muffini / Right: Story. Café Ursula. Hymy Raw Food Café.

How to get to Helsinki

Catch a flight to Helsinki-Vaanta airport (it all depends on where you live really). From the airport take the bus that goes into the city centre to Rautatientori (bus terminal as well as central railway station). It takes approx. 30 minutes, the ticket costs EUR 6,30 and can be bought on the bus. There are two buses, either line 615 or the Finnair City Bus. You can also use the Ring Rail Line, a rail link between Heslinki-Vaanta Airport and Helsinki city centre, the travel time is 30 minutes and costs are EUR 5. For other options please check this page

Have you ever been to Helsinki? Did you know that the Finns found an easy to follow way to lead a sustainable life: Cleaning Day Helsinki. Can’t wait to hear from you. 

From Berlin with love