Welcome to my place . . . Helsinki
‘Finland values nature so highly, you are never far away from a beautiful park’
Helsinki: being a Nordic country, it’s fair to say that food and drink are fairly expensive, says Ann
Ann Griffin-Aaronlahti lives in Finland for six months of the year and in Thailand for six months. She is the managing director of healthcare recruitment agency Professional Connections
Where is the first place you always bring people to when they visit Helsinki?
The first stop is always Tuomiokirkko – the big Lutheran cathedral in the centre of Helsinki. It’s really impressive to see and is a stone’s throw away from Kauppatori – a busy little marketplace by the harbour. There are plenty of cosy restaurants, cafes and bars here so it’s a great introduction to the city.
I also highly recommend paying a visit to Löyly – this is a bar, restaurant and sauna. This is a fairly new and trendy place and very popular among Finns and tourists alike. You can even go there for some morning yoga in the summer.
For visitors who want a city break experience but also a touch of poolside holiday, there is always Allas Sea Pool – an outdoor pool where you can swim, lounge, eat, drink and enjoy the chilled Helsinki atmosphere.
The top three things to do there, that don’t cost money, are . . .
The great thing about Helsinki is that it’s so compact. Within the city centre, you can basically walk to anywhere. There are plenty of impressive buildings and as Finland values nature so highly, you are never far away from a beautiful park. For a little money, you can buy a daily ticket for the public transport system which covers all services within the Helsinki city region. This even includes boats and ferries, meaning you can visit Suomenlinna, a military museum and fortress located on an island about 15 to 20 minutes by ferry from the coast.
Being a Nordic country, it’s fair to say that food and drink are fairly expensive. I’ve heard it’s comparable to current Dublin prices. The food scene has really exploded in recent years, and there are endless choices for excellent and affordable food. Venturing to the trendy Kallio district will guarantee some excellent coffee and even better food.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Helsinki?
Kosmos is a hugely popular restaurant that gives a fine-dining experience with authentic Finnish flavour. For a more casual experience, you can always head to Putte’s for a reindeer pizza.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Helsinki’s place in history?
Located right in the centre, the National Museum of Finland gives an excellent overview. Visitors should set aside an afternoon to learn about the rich history of Finland – all the way back to the first settlers 10,000 years ago. If you go at the right time, you can catch a guided tour in English.
During the summer months, there is the open-air museum of Seurasaari, which is aptly described as ‘Rural Finland in Miniature’. This is a really interesting day out and a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the Finnish nature.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Helsinki?
In Helsinki, you’ll find fine Scandinavian design such as the iconic Marimekko flower print – you’ll know it when you see it even if it doesn’t ring a bell. You’ll want to at least take a tea towel or an umbrella home in this bold design.
Many visitors don’t know that the popular kids cartoon Moomins originates in Finland. The Finns are very proud of this. There are dedicated Moomin stores in the centre and at the airport. It’s unforgivable to leave Finland without a Moomin coffee mug, which is produced by the Finnish ceramics company Arabia. You’ll also see a lot of impressive glassware from Iittala, another high quality Finnish design brand.
These are not simply tourist souvenirs. You will be hard pressed to find a Finnish home without at least one of the above items.