Curiosities of Helsinki
Been to Helsinki several times and seen enough of the white Cathedral? Or just want to take a sneak peak beneath the surface or experience something a bit odd and local? In that case, here’s a few tips for you from the friends of Helsinki This Week!
You must have heard about the traditional Finnish sauna culture and the fact that most Finnish families have a sauna of their own in their apartments (no matter how small!). Well besides that, we have numerous public saunas around the city where you can stop by for a nice “löyly”, as we say. Whip yourself with a traditional “vihta”, that is a bunch of fresh-leafed birch branches to really get the blood flowing. It doesn’t get more original than this.
If you wish to relax after a long day in town you can pop by the Kotiharjun Sauna in the Kallio district which is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 14 pm to 20 pm (12€). Towels and other accessories are available for hire on the spot. There is also a traditional washer on the premises on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays if you wish to get a complete body wash. Other services like a masseur need to be booked in advance. You can rent a private sauna or go on the public side (men and women sauna separately).
Also see other public saunas: Arlan Sauna on Kaarlenkatu 15 (www.arlansauna.net) from Wed-Sun 14-20 (12€). Kulttuurisauna (“Culture Sauna”) is a very stylish and Scandinavian facility designed by architect couple Tsuboi-Toivonen (www.kulttuurisauna.fi) on Hakaniemenranta 17 Wed-Sun 16-20 (15€).
Yrjönkatu Public Swimming Pool
Bathe like a roman in this art nouveau public swimming pool built in 1928! Till 2001 one wasn’t allowed to wear a swimsuit in this public swimming pool. Nowadays it is permitted but many people still prefer to go without. Leave your comfort zone and take a skinny dip and enjoy the sauna amongst the weekly, local swimmers. Upgrade your experience and go to the second floor where you will be given a bathrobe and get the chance to order some mint soda or whipped lingonberry porridge while watching the other swimmers.
Go on the right day! Men and women swim on separate days:
Women: Mondays 1. floor 12.00 – 20.00 Wednesdays 1. floor 6.30 – 20.00, 2. floor 14.00 – 20.00 Fridays 1. floor 6.30 – 20.00, 2. floor 14.00 – 20.00 Sundays 1. floor 12.00 – 20.00, 2. floor 14.00 – 20.00
Men: Tuesdays 1. floor 6.30 – 20.00, 2. floor 14.00 – 20.00 Thursdays 1. floor 6.30 – 20.00, 2. floor 14.00 – 20.00 Saturdays 1. floor 8.00 – 20.00, 2. floor 14.00 – 20.00.
The swimming pool is open until 26th of May, after which the swimmers crusade to the outdoor Swiming Stadium in Töölö (oldest outdoor swimming facility in Finland). You’ll find the atmospheric and super-cool, retro and local pool at Hammarskjöldintie 5. We suggest you rent a bike and take a daytrip here and have a tour of the Kallio district while you’re at it.
phone: +358 (0)9 310 87401
Carpet washing piers (“mattolaiturit”in Finnish)
Come and wonder at this age-long tradition of local residents washing their carpets and rugs at small wooden piers right on the shore, on top of the sea! This characterizes Helsinki throughout history and is still a practice in use. We sure do love those piers (“mattolaituri” in Finnish). They are also good for sunbathing, having a cold drink during the hottest summer days and generally socializing with your neighbors and other like-minded people. Easily accessible “carpet-piers” from the city center are to be found around the Kaivopuisto park, right by the sea. There is also a very chic café/bar called Mattolaituri definitely worth a visit on a sunny day.
These small, cheerful (usually yellow) kiosks with a fun canopy at the front are under great love and protection by helsinkians. These kiosks, built in the late 1930’s, represent late functionalism in architecture and are a humble symbol of Helsinki. There was a threat of them being bulldozed because of their reparation costs, but are now under the watchful eyes of those entrepreneurs, who want to rent one out for the summer season to serve drinks and snacks. A special Helsinki-vibe is definitely to be felt here, don’t bypass them if you stumble upon one.
One of these canopy-kiosks is the popular Salmiakki kiosk in Töölö. This particular individual is also acknowledged by the BBC, and is situated in the Töölö district to promote salmiakki-, as well as, kiosk-culture. What is salmiakki you ask? Salmiakki is the black, salty liquorice only us Finns seem to like. You can get this not-so-sweet candy at any store in Finland. There are fine nuances between salmiakki and the guys at the kiosk would sure be happy to give you a hand in choosing the right kind to start out with.
Follow them on Facebook:
Runeberginkatu 43, Töölö.
A very social-democratic characteristic in Helsinki are the small allotment gardens dotted in the outskirts of central Helsinki. You can rent or buy a piece of land with a small wooden cabin with garden space for any kind of horticulture you like. The idea in history is that everyone has the right to own some land and grow their own food if desired. These cabins and gardens have become a huge hit amongst young adults with the recent boom for organic food and eco-friendly living. Anyone can go wonder around these gardens, but entering someones plot is accepted only by invitation.
See allotment gardens in Helsinki at: www.siirtolapuutarhat.net
Market coffee & bun
A very Finnish concept called “torikahvit” (a coffee at the market) is something you must do, although it’s not exactly that exotic or extreme. What it is, is that you simply find a cozy nook at a market square and have a coffee and a deep-fried sugar bun without any hurry in the world. You’d sit under the sky and look idly at by-passers while maybe pondering on the price of the fish or possible rains further on in the week. This little stop will get you in the Helsinki state of mind for sure. Don’t forget: do not try to squeeze and experience out of this. You must just lay back and even get a bit bored. The moment you wonder off again, is when the true experience will hit you!
Good market squares for this: Hakaniemi Market, Hietalahti Market, the Market Square (Kauppatori).
The sea is never far in Helsinki. In Café Regatta it is extremely close as you can rent a kayak and take a little detour (past the nudist beach on Seurasaari, for example!). Café Regatta is also probably the most warm-hearted café in the whole of Helsinki. First of all, it’s a little red cabin by the sea with the most amazing cinnamon buns and a small bonfire outside where you can grill your own sausages if you wish (sometimes you can also buy them there). Second of all everytime you want a refill for your coffee you get 5cents back. So, if you get 40 refills, you’ll have earned your coffee for free (your stomach will probably disagree though).
Café Regatta, Merikannontie 10. +358 400 760049
What!? Yes, have a taste of the king of the Finnish forests at Savotta restaurant. They serve you a bear patty on rye bread, root vegetables with honey, pickled salad of pumpkin and lingonberries and forest mushroom sauce. Bear is a rare delicacy as there is only a certain amount of bears to be hunted each year. The restaurant also serves reindeer from Lapland and for dessert of course traditional blueberry pie and liquorice ice cream.
Restaurant Savotta, Aleksanterinkatu 22. www.asrestaurants.com
Flavours from Ostrobotnia
Not a fan of bear? Well, there is always the choice of an easily-approachable dish of sautéed reindeer with mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce at restaurant Manala. Manala is an exceptional restaurant in Helsinki as it serves food until the very wee hours of the early morning. It represents the style and flavours of north-western Finland where the nature is harsh and wild.
Museokatu 10. +358 (0)9 5807 7707. www.botta.fi/en/manala
Folk Dancing for all
Next to Café Regatta, you’ll find this extremely Finnish event organized every Wednesday from June till late August. Put on your dancing shoes at the “Merimelojien maja” (Searafting cabin) and take your date for a spin! Join the local fun as a participant or an observer – the vibe is very friendly and open.
Follow them on Facebook (Merimelojien lavatanssit) for up-to-date information! Merikannontie 10, Töölö.
Sing karaoke with the locals
Strangely enough, the Finns and the Japanese have a natural interest to singing karaoke. Does talent have anything to do with it? Well, we don’t know but it sure is fun – also to look at. Dive into the world of underground mystique and tango-rhythms by popping into one of the many karaoke bars of the city center. Better yet – get a karaoke taxi for that mundane moment when your travel party needs a lift-me-up.
Contact Iiro for a karaoke-Mercedes minivan at +358 (0)600 05 06 07 or check: www.karaoketaxi.fi.
A Russian evening
Helsinki is a good place to experience a bit of Russia while you’re in these corners of the world. Start your evening off with a long and late dinner at one of the Russian restaurants in Helsinki. There are quite a few and some have Russian performers to really get you into that special Slavic mood. For example Saslik has Russian troubadours from Wed-Sat. Remember to ask for a vodka tasting after dinner! End your evening at Kafe Mockba (owned by film director Aki Kaurismäki) for some proper Soviet spirit and décor – and notoriously the coldest, Slavic service in town!
Saslik, Neitsytpolku 12, www.asrestaurants.com. Kafe Mockba, Eerikinkatu 11.
Koff beer tram
SpåraKOFF is a historic, bright red tram with a new life as a pub. Once again from 13.5. onwards this cheerful ride will take tourists and locals around the main sights and attractions while giving the divine option of enjoying a cold one – beer, cider and other refreshments. Jump on board – you don’t need a reservation.
The ride is about 40 mins and leaves from the Railway Station’s Square at the Mikonkatu stop (Mikonkatu 17) in front of Fennia. Rides operate from 13.5 to 30.8: Tue-Sat at 14.00, 15.00, 17.00, 18.00, 19.00, 20.00. Adults: 9 €, Children: 4 €. See more info at: www.koff.fi/sparakoff