The Finnish capital is awash with understated Art Nouveau
buildings, centenarian cafés and harbourside heritage, but it’s also at the
heart of the country’s modern design, from its art galleries to shops selling
Museums and galleries
Designed by American architect Steven Holl, the quirky and curvaceous
metallic Museum of Contemporary Art, or Kiasma,
has been here for 15 years but is still a symbol of the city’s modernisation.
Inside are cross-media installations and exhibitions of kinetic sculpture,
alongside Finnish and worldwide art from the 1960s to the present
(Mannerheiminaukio 2; closed Mon; £7).
The Finns’ almost-mystical closeness to nature has always
underpinned their design. The Designmuseo
is home to a permanent collection entitled Finnish Form, which looks at the
uniqueness of Finnish design since the late 19th century. The museum’s shop
offers the chance to stock up on design classics and new products from emerging
designers (Korkeavuorenkatu 23; closed Mon, except Jun–Sep; £8.50).
Just north of the city centre, the restored Arabia factory
is home to the Arabia
Museum, which showcases the legendary Finnish ceramics company’s creations
of the past 140 years. The factory is still producing Arabia products and
Iittala glassware, which can be viewed by taking an organised tour, plus there
is an outlet store selling specials (Hämeentie 135; closed Mon–Tue in winter,
Mon in summer; guided tours £3.40).
Bars and restaurants
Ring the doorbell to enter the swanky A21
Cocktail Lounge. The interior is sumptuous in gold and there are cushioned
booths curtained off with silk. Innovative cocktails are the biggest draw, in
particular the Finnish blends that include lakka (cloudberry liqueur) and
rhubarb (Annankatu 21; 6pm–2am Wed–Thu, until 3am Fri–Sat; cocktails from £11).
Owned by Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki and designed by
local rock band the Leningrad Cowboys, Zetor
is a fun restaurant and pub with a kitsch Czech tractor theme. Kitted out as a
barn, complete with stuffed animals and plenty of tractors, it’s a shrine to
rural nostalgia. Hearty dishes, such as sautéed reindeer and hotpot, are
complemented by Finnish booze including sahti – a traditional ale flavoured
with juniper berries (Mannerheimintie 3–5; open daily; mains from £13.50).
Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino created the 1930s design for Savoy’s standout dining room with
blonde wood and Artek furniture throughout, and some of the city’s best views.
The Nordic tasting menus have a strong emphasis on foraging, with flowers and
berries featuring in all plates. Sample dishes include cold smoked white fish
with malt bread pudding (Eteläesplanadi 14; lunch and dinner Mon–Fri, dinner
Sat; threecourse lunch menus from £57).
Design Forum Finland promotes
the work of Finnish designers and runs a shop that hosts their work. It’s a
good starting point to get an idea of the array of fashion, jewellery, ceramics
and furniture on offer in the city – such as Sami Rinne’s quirky cups with
reindeer antlers, skulls or angel wings as handles (Erottajankatu 7; closed
Sun; Sami Rinne cup £30).
Founded in 1951, Marimekko
has created Finland’s most celebrated designer fabrics, having bucked trends to
focus on bright, colourful patterns and florals. The retro appeal of its
classic shirts, bags, curtains and fabrics fills homes with flowers once again,
but there are also newer designs, including a range of Converse shoes sporting
Marimekko’s graphic prints (Pohjoisesplanadi 33; closed Sun; Converse shoes
The prolific Alvar and Aino Aalto set up Artek – a homeware, glassware and furniture
store – in 1935, and it maintains the simple design principles of its founders.
Classic products include the threelegged birch Stool 60, along with works from
other Finnish brands such as Woodnotes, which sells carpets and blinds. The
store also houses exhibitions from time to time (Eteläesplanadi 18; closed Sun;
Stool 60 £140).
The article 'Mini guide to design in Helsinki' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.