Kalle Freese’s spirit animal

We used to love having brunch at Freese cafe – home to some of Helsinki’s best coffee, made by Finnish Barista Champion, Kalle Freese.


Freese cafe – December 2014

Kalle first fell in love with coffee while living in New Zealand and sadly for us, his cafe closed a while ago due to his other commitments – but we found his legacy last weekend when we visited summer cafe Kahvila Siili.


Siili means hedgehog in Finnish and the cafe is found in the lovely suburb of Puu-Käpylä, just 20 mins from central Helsinki.


Puu means wood or wooden and the area is unique for its colourful houses, which were built in the 1920s.


Red ochre features heavily in the local scheme as it does in many traditional Finnish neighbourhoods.


We even saw a cat on a lead, not an unusual sight in Helsinki, enjoying the sun outside.


It was a lovely walk that was made even better once we arrived at our destination.


The brunch menu, we found, was the same as Kalle Freese’s – delicious crunchy granola with creamy yoghurt, served with seasonal fruit, fresh apple juice and your choice of tea or coffee.


It also includes tasty avocado on toast and an egg, cooked to 63 degrees celsius and served with thinly sliced fennel.


There’s also a great selection of freshly baked treats for those looking to have dessert.


And to top it all off on our way home we came across the cafe’s very own namesake! Not Freese but siili! – a gorgeous neighbourhood hedgehog.


Kahvila Siili – open only in summer



I love you – & inanimate objects

While Finnish people do feel emotions, they don’t tend to express them as often as we do in New Zealand or other parts of the world.


Finnish Nightmares by Karoliina Korhonen

In fact, my Finnish friend told me she finds it over the top when foreigners express their love for inanimate objects like coffee, or a town they have only visited once.

sarjakuva matti finnish nightmares.jpg

Finnish Nightmares by Karoliina Korhonen

So, I’ve already told you that I love Kiasma and I’m sorry, but I’m going to say it again.


Miko and I visited Helsinki’s museum of contemporary art on a cool and wet summers day recently and really enjoyed (loved?) the interactive exhibitions.

IMG_5331Happy Together by Choi Jeong Hwa runs until September and features colourful, tactile pieces for adults and kids to enjoy.



The works of Brazilian artist Ernesto Noa are so big you are encouraged to move inside them and to lie down in his giant crocheted hammocks.


There’s also a room of scents, held in beautiful earthen jars. We had fun guessing and recoiling as we sniffed our way down the row.


We spent a couple of hours looking around, which is quite good for my four-year old companion, before descending to the cafe on level one.


I had my usual favourite, the Moroccan haloumi salad, but not before gushing to the waitress, ‘I love this salad. I think about it all the time when I’m not here.’


To which she returned a small polite smile and no doubt wondered at my over the top confession of feelings for these inanimate objects.


I was gifted a Museum Card a while back and recommend it for anyone interested in visiting museums. Pay 59€ once and receive free entry to 200 museums in Finland for one year. 



Helsinki – People Make the City

As many of you know, I have been working on a side project for the past year with local photographer Laura Iisalo.


Photo: Viola Vertimo

Our book, Helsinki – People Make the City – was launched early May and is available in stores around the city.

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 16.20.20.png

It’s an insiders’ guide to the city and contains interviews with local creative people, sharing insights into Helsinki and the local way of life.

Helsinki People Make the City_Kirsikka Simberg_photo by Laura Iisalo_LOW RES

Kirsikka Simberg at the Winter Gardens – Photo: Laura Iisalo

I wrote the text and Laura took all the photos. She also did a fantastic job with the concept, creating six sections we are very happy to share with you.


Photo: Viola Vertimo

My Helsinki

We interviewed six creative people about their neighbourhoods and they’ve each shared a ‘Day in the Life’ so that you too can explore each area like a local. Neighbourhoods covered are Punavuori, Kruununhaka, Töölö, Kallio, Vallila and Suomenlinna.


Dorit in Suomenlinna – Photo: Viola Vertimo


Alba and Thomas in Kallio & Vallila – Photo: Viola Vertimo


Kirsikka in Töölö – Photo: Viola Vertimo


Three lovely women have given tips on creative projects you can try at home. These include making your own wildflower bouquet, how to turn a traditional Finnish heirloom into a magnetic keep-safe and harvesting pine sap from the forest to create natural incense.


Justine harvesting pine sap – Photo: Viola Vertimo


Hennamari foraging for wild flowers – Photo: Viola Vertimo


Some of our favourite local shopkeepers share their love of what they do and what’s special about the neighbourhoods they work in.


Kaisa at Pelago Bicycles – Photo: Viola Vertimo


Linda at Ansa – Photo: Viola Vertimo

Taste Helsinki

We ate a lot of cinnamon buns to bring you the best! And some of our favourite local eateries were kind enough to share their recipes so you can replicate their contemporary takes on traditional Finnish fare. This include how to make porridge, rye bread, cinnamon buns, blini, salmon soup, meatballs with lingonberry sauce and a cocktail made with a Nordic twist.

Helsinki People Make the City_Meatballs at KuuKuu_photo by Laura Iisalo_LOW RES

Meatballs at Ravintola KuuKuu – Photo: Laura Iisalo


Photo: Viola Vertimo

Winter Cosiness

Laura and I worked hard to do all our shoots and interviews during summer while the light was good and then realised we also wanted to showcase the best parts of life in Finland during winter. The Swedes have a word for it and so do the Danes (hygge), so we chose the Finnish word kaamos as our description of winter cosiness and give tips on how to create your own warm winter nest.


Photo: Viola Vertimo

Romany and Juha from Aan Tafel created some beautiful Nordic dishes for this and their recipes are included in the book.

Black Book

Finally, we put together a list of our favourite places in the city including sauna, coffee, design and urban nature.


Photo: Viola Vertimo

The book is currently available in Helsinki in Nide Kirjakauppa, Suomalainen Kirjakauppa, Akateeminen, Moko Market and Adlibris.

Weighing 700 grams, it’s a beautiful hardcover book, but shipping overseas can be expensive and it is not yet available to those living outside Finland. If you would consider paying for postage please do let them know at Cozy Publishing, as we’d love to be able to share the beauty of Helsinki beyond Finnish shores.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 10.16.32

Photo: Viola Vertimo

Helsinki – People Make the City

Concept & Photos: Laura Iisalo

Words: Melanie Dower

Layout: Viola Vertimo




November Reign

I read recently that Finland has five seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and November.  While it’s true this month is dark and wet, here are a few reasons it’s not all bad…

Warm weekend breakfasts at our favourite cafe


Galleria Keidas

Practising the art of Christmas ginger biscuits


Taking the shot before Miko steals the dough…

Discovering ‘new’ bars that are old favourites of friends


Just a spritz of alcohol behind the ears….@Strindberg

Buying Norwegian salmon cooked over hot coals outside work



Enjoying wine tasting and dinner on a wet Thursday night



Photo: Angela Lee

Still getting around without full winter gear


Anticipating the best parts of a good Finnish winter


Natural History Museum

Remembering that Santa will soon be on his way (on a bicycle powered by oars)


Talivisirkus (Winter Circus)

The chance to wear my favourite boots to work


Having to use Miko’s umbrella when I can’t find mine


Seasonal office attire

New winter socks

New winter socks

Finding out my bank thinks I’m a dame

Bathroom door at my bank

My bank’s bathroom door

….and waking up to a ground cover like sugar on cornflakes.

First snow of the season

First snow of the season


101 reasons to visit Helsinki

  1. There is a pub tram

    Helsinki's pub tram

    Helsinki’s pub tram

  2. Visit Estonia & be home for dinner

  3. Loads of personal space

  4. These changing sheds

  5. Mushroom season

    Market Square

    Market Square

  6. Pop over to Russia

    St Petersburg

    St Petersburg

  7. Inspiring interiors

    Helsingin Yliopisto Kirjasto

    Helsingin Yliopisto Kirjasto (Helsinki University Library)

  8. Reindeer pate

  9. A new kind of hopscotch

    Lauttasaari bridge

    Lauttasaari bridge

  10. Forest sauna

  11. Beautiful tramways



  12. Really old festivals


    Baltic Herring Festival – 270 years old

  13. Rum bars

     Navy Jerry's

    Navy Jerry’s

  14. Exotic creatures

  15. Picnics in summer



  16.  Historical spaces

  17. Growing cafe scene



  18. Art nouveau suburbs

  19. Island pizza bars

  20. Beautiful sculptures

  21. Summer cabins in winter

  22. Blini



  23. Nude public swimming

  24. Foggy nights



  25. Galleries for children

  26. Design pilgrimage

  27. Coffee and doughnuts are pretty much staple

    Kahvi ja munkki

    Kahvi ja munkki

  28. Oases of Silence

  29. Tropical landscapes

  30. Sand sculptures just two hours east

    Lappeenranta annual sand sculpture event

    Lappeenranta annual sand sculpture event

  31. Frozen harbours in winter

  32. Midsummer bonfires

  33. Modern Art

  34. Great public libraries

  35. Saunas for hire

  36. Fun at the fun park

  37. An old island fortress

  38. Death penalty themed cocktails


    Liberty or Death

  39. Finding local treasures

  40. Huge indoor playgrounds

  41. Long summer evenings

  42. Pop over to Stockholm

  43. Find good falafel

  44. Walk over to islands

  45. Wooden bicycles

    Helsinki bicycles

    Helsinki bicycles

  46. Central Station



  47. Rye bread sandwiches

  48. Neo gothic architecture

  49. City sunsets



  50. Finnish products

    Juuri Rye Whiskey

    Juuri Rye Whiskey

  51. Views from great heights

    Torni bar - on the 13th floor

    Torni bar – on the 13th floor

  52. Seaside cafes

  53. Moomin & friends live just two hours west

  54. World class festivals

    Flow Festival

    Flow Festival

  55. These at every cafe

  56. Wild flowers in summer

  57. Iconic design

    Design Museum

    Design Museum

  58. Soviet bars

  59. Wild animals

  60. Long golden autumn



  61. An artist village only 2 hours away

  62. Dedicated cycle-ways

  63. A church carved from rock

  64. Summer kiosks

    Seahorse kioski

    Seahorse kioski

  65. Colourful festivals

  66. An island dedicated to sauna and hot tubs

  67. Days where the city becomes a restaurant

  68. Moomin at the library

  69. Summer cafes

  70. Cute locals

  71. Cavorting seals

    Havis Amanda

    Havis Amanda

  72. Danish sandwiches

  73. Wonderful book stores

  74. Less than an hour to Latvia

  75. New ways of commuting

  76. Santa Lucia

  77. Thousands of chocolates

    Fazer Cafe

    Fazer Cafe

  78. Forest walks in the city

  79. Boat shed cafes

  80. Oases of green

  81. Sauna boats

    Sauna boats

    Sauna boats

  82. Christmas shopping



  83. So many cakes

  84. A cafe named Fanny

  85. Loads of antique stores

  86. Sauna cosmetics

  87. A day trip to Porvoo

  88. Boat cafes


    Relandersgrund – open in summer

  89. Streets that are heated

  90. You can meet Santa

  91. Summer time cruises

    The archipelago

    The archipelago

  92. Blueberry pies

  93. Moss graffiti

  94. Meat in a can

  95. Beautiful islands

  96. Fish n’ chips by the water

  97. Boating canals



  98. Finnish cocktails

    A21 Cocktails

    A21 Cocktails

  99. The porridge truck

    Porridge truck

    Porridge truck

  100. Spring blossoms



  101. ..and it’s not Vegas
    View from Cafe IPI

    View from Cafe IPI




Helsinki’s best cafes to meet with kids in autumn

I met a lovely Finnish family today who were looking for some tips for their upcoming visit to NZ. While they admitted I am the first New Zealander they have ever met (I hope I did us proud) there is a small community of us here and there is a meet up planned for tomorrow afternoon.

With a high forecast of just five degrees, it got me thinking of the best cafes in Helsinki to meet at when you have kids & the weather is cool. These are my top three & I’d love to hear any other ideas (because we all know it ain’t getting warmer any time soon….)

Moko Market

This homewares store has a great cafe as well as one of the best roasters in the city housed out the back (Kaffa Roastery). There is a room you can reserve, as well as a playhouse, making it popular for baby showers.



Book Cafe at Annantalo

This grand old building is a children’s arts centre and the cafe is spacious and comfortable. As well as tables there is a curved couch and loads of children’s books in Finnish and Swedish. There are also exhibitions for children and art workshops.


Children can leave their pacifier with this toucan when it’s time to give them up



Cafe Koket

This spacious cafe has a play area and you can reserve tables for groups. There’s Babies Brunch every Monday for parents with young kids and they serve a cake made out of cinnamon buns! See the website for details of their Father’s Day brunch.


Baby Brunch on Mondays

Baby Brunch on Mondays

Things to do in Helsinki while the sun shines…

Summer has arrived in Helsinki so it’s the perfect time to be out making the most of the city. Being a very seasonal place, what visitors may not realise is that many things will close for winter.

While there are many things to do here over winter, these are the ones you should be sure to do before summer ends….

Hernesaaren ranta

I’m not sure when this beachside mecca will close but I can’t imagine it operating over winter. Part of the magic is you can arrive by boat, so get there before the water freezes. (What it is:  beachside location offering a good range of food & drink, deck chairs, tables & dance floor)



Even if it’s years since you’ve been, you’ve got to go before it closes for winter. Helsinki’s amusement park has rides for everyone and the view from the Panorama is spectacular. Closing night is usually in October and is worth attending for live music and light shows. (What it is: amusement park with free entry & some free rides)


On the ferris wheel

On the ferris wheel

Kahvila Tyyni

This cafe at Töölönlahti will stay open as long as the weather stays good, which they hope will be until the end of September. (Many places will close even if the weather is good, because they are bound by licensing restrictions and timetables). So grab a spot in the sun or a stand-up paddle board from the shed next door. (What it is: bayside cafe selling coffee, cold drinks, pastries and sandwiches).



Visit Pihlajasaari

Just a short boat ride from Helsinki, this island is beautiful to walk around. As well as 1950s changing sheds there are lovely old buildings that are great to photograph. The last ferry from Ruoholahti has run this season but the one from Merisatama goes for two more weeks. Check the JT Line website for details. (What it is: an island with swimming beaches, playgrounds, grills and sauna).




This island is one my favourite places in summer. The 30-second boat ride will cost you six euro but once on land, the pizza is delicious. It’s also a great place for a drink in the sun and great views back to Helsinki. (What it is: outdoor pizza bar on a small island. Open till mid-late September but they do have a city venue too).




Before the chairs are pulled in and the tables folded make the most of eating & drinking outdoors at the various terraces around the city. Some places, such as Matto Laituri,  close entirely, as all their seating is outdoors. We love Cafe Birgitta to be near the water and if we are in the city, we like to go to M Bar.  (What it is: cafes and bars made entirely of or including large areas of outdoor seating).


Picnic in Kaivopuisto

Kaivopuisto is beautiful in winter and a great place for sledding. Last year, we even saw a one-horse open sleigh. I couldn’t stop singing Jingle Bells all day. But a picnic last weekend reminded me how beautiful it is in summer. Just look out for squirrels trying to sneak your food. (What it is: a large parkland near the water not far from the city centre).



Although you can eat ice cream all year round in Finland, the little kiosks that sell coffee and ice cream in the parks will close for winter and it will be BYO. Take advantage of the chance to visit places like Karhupuisto (Bear Park) or Espalanadi for ice cream in the sun. There’s even one that only sells salmiakki (Finnish salty liquorice). (What it is: various kiosks open in summer selling ice cream, coffee, cold drinks).


Visit the Old Towns of Porvoo (Finland) or Tallinn (Estonia)

You can visit both these places in winter but they are especially lovely in the summer months. Porvoo is one-hour by bus from Helsinki, while Tallinn takes around two hours by ferry. Either way  you can go for lunch and still be home for dinner.



Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

There are so many more things to do in Helsinki and some great new opportunities will open up in winter. Just remember that anything to do with cycling, boating or eating outdoors however will soon become harder due to the change in season and opening hours. In the meantime, I feel like I could keep adding to this post but we are heading outdoors ourselves to make the most of summer in the city.

Come As You Are

With the sun hardly setting in Helsinki these days, we are taking every opportunity to enjoy dinner outdoors.


Our favourite places Skiffer and Cafe Birgitta only open in summer and they are now in good company with the opening of Hernesaaren Ranta.


Hernesareen Ranta (Hernesaari Beach) is located south-west of the city, in the redeveloping area of Hernesaari (Pea Island).


Bus number 14 will take you almost to the door, but as always there’s also plenty of parking for bikes.


The area is home to a range of eateries, including Piece & Love Pizza and Mexican Chalupa. There’s also a venelaituri (boat pier) for those arriving by boat.


Once ashore there’s many areas to sit and you don’t all have to order food from the same place.



Unfortunately, some food providers are still learning how to run food events efficiently. The night we visited, the Champagne Bar ran out of champagne and the sushi bar was hand-rolling sushi to order, meaning a 25-minute wait for food after a 20-minute wait to order.


Luckily there’s another bar where you can grab a drink while you wait and there’s also a dance floor for those who stay late.


These guys knew how to kill time, turning up for dinner in a boat equipped with a sauna and sofa up on top.

And we’ll be back. With the area measuring 2000m² and open all week from 10am-2am, there’s something for every man and his dog.



Hernesaaren Ranta

It’s a bit hard to find – continue west from Cafe Birgitta, past the public sauna building site until you feel sure you must be lost. Hernesaaren Ranta will appear as if a mirage in the distance, just as you are about to turn back. 




A great new way to see old things

I went to Taidehalli (art gallery) for the first time recently. Yes, I had heard their cafe was housed in my favourite restaurant Farang, but I am interested in other things too, like you know, art.


I had a nice time looking around but was a bit rushed to ensure I had enough time left to visit the gift shop before I had to pick up Miko.


I was a bit puffed as I left, but happy that I’d managed some shop time as well as seeing everything on exhibition, leaving me feeling I had achieved value for money from the price of the entry fee.


Many of Helsinki’s museums have a day a month where entry is free. It’s such a good offer and yet when I took Miko along yesterday with his grandparents to the Natural History Museum, it turns out lots of other people think so too. It was super busy.


Which is why the new Museum Card ( museokortti ) launched by the Finnish Museums Association is such a great idea. For €54 you get entry into nearly 200 museums in Finland for an entire year, meaning you can pop into your favourites again and again without feeling you should stay all day.


I’m not sure I’ll get to all 200 this year but there are loads I’d like to visit and I’m grateful to have been given a Museum Card to see as many as I can. Which ironically will allow me to turn my free time into more time by spending less time on each visit – while still having time to visit each museum’s gift shop and cafe.


Special thanks to The Finnish Museums Association for my museokortti and also to regular reader Urmas who leaves great comments and brought the Museum Card to my attention in the first place. 

Museum Card (Finnish) – You can buy your museokortti here or at participating museums. Use the details on your temporary card to register online and a plastic card with your name on it will be sent to your address. Registration of your card happens from your first visit, not just when you buy online, and is valid for 12 months. It would make a great gift for someone, including those who visit Finland regularly.


A Quick Guide to Helsinki

I get lots of emails from people visiting Helsinki, asking what to do while they are here. So here’s a list of ideas to get you started, which I will add to and update. You can also check out my City Guide to Helsinki, which I wrote for Design*Sponge.


Many museums in Helsinki have one day a month where entry is free. Many places also have different opening hours during summer and winter, so always visit the relevant website before you head out.

City walks

Katajanokka – a suburb of beautiful architecture and great coffee

Töölönlahti – frozen in winter and beautiful in summer, this bay has coffee shops dotted around it’s edge. More photos here.

Uunisaari – an island connected by bridge during winter

Lauttasaari – lovely coastal walk and summer cabins

Baana – a converted freight line is now a cycle and walking path

Five things to do on Fredrikinkatu

Five things to do on Korkeavuorenkatu

Places to visit – outdoors

Linnanmäki – amusement park, free entry, open during summer

Korkeasaari – Helsinki’s island zoo, ferry runs only in summer, bus access otherwise

Seurasaari – outdoor museum on an island, bus access

Pihlajasaari – summer island for swimming

Suomenlinna – fortress island and UNESCO World Heritage Site

Places to visit – indoors

Sea Life – great option for a rainy or cold day in Helsinki

Annantalo – arts centre with exhibitions for children with family friendly book cafe

Yrjönkatu Uimahalli – swimming hall with sauna, men & women separate, only open during winter

Natural History Museum – displays of Nordic and other animals over a few floors

Botanical Gardens – beautiful gardens in glasshouses, good option for a rainy day


The Rock Church

Chapel of Silence

Lokal – art gallery & cafe

Kiasma – Museum of Contemporary Art

Alvar Aalto House


Hietalahti Market Square – summer time flea market & antiques

Old Market Hall – Vanhakauppahalli is a great place for lunch

Christmas Markets

Market Square

Day Trips

Tallinn, Estonia

Porvoo, Finland

Tips for Visiting in Winter & Getting Around

How to walk on ice without dying

How to walk under ice without dying

How to dress a child for Finnish winter

Using Helsinki’s Metro

Cultural Events

Saint Lucia – December

Christmas Path – December

Vappu – May

Samba Carnival – June

Baltic Herring Festival – October

All Saint’s Day – November

Cleaning Day – a giant yard sale throughout the city, held various times a year

Restaurant Day – a street food carnival where anyone can open a restaurant for the day, held four times a year

Places to eat & drink

Cafe Regatta – traditional Finnish cafe by the water, for coffee and cinnamon buns

Mockbar – Soviet style bar specialising in vodka and bad service

Moko Market & Kaffa Roastery – cafe and homewares, great for buying gifts and very family friendly.

Freese – owned by Finnish barista champion Kalle Freese, check Facebook for opening times as can be closed if busy elsewhere

Good Life Coffee – great coffee and delicious almond croissants

Skiffer – pizza bar on an island, only open during summer months. City venue during winter

Fafa’s – good falafel and vegetarian takeaway