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)

IMG_9670

Linnanmaäki

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)

IMG_9477

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).

IMG_9429

IMG_9676

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).

IMG_8892

IMG_8872

Skiffer

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).

IMG_1037

IMG_8305

Terraces

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).

IMG_7830

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).

IMG_9502

Kiosks

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).

IMG_9403

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.

Porvoo

Porvoo

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.

IMG_8609

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

IMG_8616

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

IMG_8614

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

IMG_8608

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.

IMG_8638

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

IMG_8618

IMG_8639

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.

IMG_8620

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.

IMG_8633

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.

IMG_8640

 

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.

IMG_6151

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.

IMG_6162

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.

IMG_6164

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.

IMG_1229

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.

0b64da5b24a9acf8a5ec34fe9c287b19

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.

IMG_6160

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.

Taidehalli

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.

IMG_9962

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

Cultural

The Rock Church

Chapel of Silence

Lokal – art gallery & cafe

Kiasma – Museum of Contemporary Art

Alvar Aalto House

Markets

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

Dancing in the Shadows – at Annantalo

I’ve walked past Annantalo so many times and never stopped to wonder what it is. Turns out – it’s great is what it is!

IMG_6771

Annantalo is an arts centre for children and young people, housed in a beautiful old school that was built in 1886. Miko and I recently visited with friends on a rainy afternoon after daycare.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the ground floor is the large Kirja Kahvila (book cafe) with loads of space for families and smaller tables set up with paper and colouring pencils. There’s also shelves full of childrens’ books, printed in Finnish and Swedish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cafe is also home to Tutti-tukaani (Pacifier Toucan) who sits atop a large bottle where children put their pacifiers when the time comes to give them up. The idea is based loosely on similar traditions in Finland and was dreamed up by the Office Manager.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cafe is run by a lovely woman called Krista, who told me she loves all the handmade touches around Annantalo.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This includes the warm korvapuustit (cinammon buns) and the woollen covers on the tea glasses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Upstairs in the building, there are art classes, as well as dance and theatre for young people. Miko’s daycare has visited in the past to watch a puppet show, which he still talks about.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are also exhibitions for children, which are really creative and interactive. Miko loved going inside a big teepee and looking at tiny worlds inside boxes with a torch during the last one.

IMG_6331

Although the cafe is family focussed it can be very quiet at times and there’s lots of space to spread out if you need to work. With wheelchair access it’s a great place for anyone to visit, young and old alike.

Annantalo – events and courses

Annankatu 30, Helsinki

Due to a bad dose of the flu there were no Vappu celebrations for me this year. The spring carnival on May Day is one of the biggest events on the Finnish calendar. You can read my post from last year here

Sandwiches in the Snow

A few weeks ago after Finnish class I decided to walk to Töölö where I was headed to interview a young cobbler. It started to snow so intensely it was like being stuck inside a snow dome someone had just shaken up.

With an hour to go until the interview I was relieved to spy this cafe and ducked inside, out of the cold.

IMG_5597

Stepping inside I was taken back by the size. It was tiny! The floor space was about 2m wide by 10m long.

IMG_5582

No one was around but I could understand the sign: ‘Ring bell. We are in the kitchen. Thanks!’

IMG_5590

A young guy came out and took my order from the menu on the wall. He said the store had been open since the 1960’s and his family had bought it fairly recently.

IMG_5587

Most people, he said, phone ahead and take-away. He went back to the kitchen so I took a seat, admiring the retro Danish posters.

IMG_5580

IMG_5589

IMG_5593

It was great, as though the cafe had been decorated in the 1960’s and hadn’t been updated since.

IMG_5583

IMG_5591

IMG_5579

My lunch soon arrived – a delicious open sandwich with fresh salmon and cottage cheese.

IMG_5584

Soon another customer stepped in out of the snow and when his order arrived he made as though to eat it standing up. I invited him to share my table – the only table – and we chatted about a trip he’d made with his wife to Australia a few years before.

IMG_5595

Sated and satisfied I headed back out into the snow, watched by a drummer boy pinned by the front door.

IMG_5596

I felt a bit like him as I tightened my coat and set off once more into the swirling snow, my hat and hood piled high upon my head.

IMG_5572

Dansk Smørrebrød – Cygnaeuksenkatu 5, Helsinki

Creating Helsinki – interview with cobbler, Juho Erving

The Horse and the Beaver

Most of our holidays are centred around walking and eating and walking some more so we are hungry again. Riga was no exception. Not knowing what to expect we were really pleased to get off to a good start by visiting Garage, a tapas bar where I had a delicious ceviche salad and Jonny had a small platter of local cheese.

IMG_6578

IMG_6585

On the prowl that night for some vegetarian fast food we went to Street Burgers, open on Good Friday and serving a hearty portobello burger with a side order of fries.

IMG_6590

IMG_6592

The next morning, in search of good coffee we headed for Innocent Cafe and found it was brunch time. The table was laden with strips of smoked cheese, pickled vegetables, potatoes, salads and fish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 To be honest my stomach was not ready for some of these savoury treats but I happily had a couple of rounds of olives, potatoes and cheese on toast.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_6602

Later, in the Old Town, I popped into Black Magic cafe. They specialise in serving Riga Black Balsam, a herbal liqueur served in coffee or neat. It wasn’t quite balsam-o-clock yet so some more walking was called for before our next stop.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking for lunch we were nearly invited into this den by the Latvian Russell Crowe but pushed on to find restaurant 1221 of which we’d read good things.

IMG_6627

1221 was as lovely as described with lots of people stopping to take photos of the painted exterior.

IMG_6632

Unfortunately however, the menu was not a good fit for a vegetarian and his vege-quarian companions.

IMG_6629

Although for the carnivores there was something for everyone.

IMG_6628

We dined that night at our hotel restaurant, which we never do but it was cold and raining so we allowed ourselves the luxury of going downstairs. The food was delicious and came with glasses of birch water, compliments of the chef.

So we managed to eat our way around Riga without resorting to pork knuckles and cabbage as some guide books would suggest. The euro goes a lot further outside of Finland too and we were very grateful to leave feeling so well fed.

Seems the only thing going hungry on our trip were these poor little guys at the airport.

IMG_6649

The island you never leave

There’s a joke in Helsinki that the residents of Katajanokka are so content with life they never leave the island. Which is particularly funny because this island is connected to the city by a short bridge and is two minutes walk from bustling Market Square.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a great place to walk around because you really do feel as though you are away from the city, despite the proximity. Your tour begins once you find yourself looking up at the Orthodox church of Uspenski Cathedral.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s some beautiful housing to see on your walk. Katajanokka is described as one of the ‘most distinguished’ suburbs of Helsinki and used to be home to Finland’s former president.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s also home to wonderful examples of Art Noveau architecture, or Jugendstil as it is known here. (Kataja means juniper).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The details on the window frames and arches are incredible. (I had a bizarre experience this day, in that every time I photographed a door to a building, it would open and someone would walk out).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not being too tall can be an asset on this island. I had to crouch quite low to get into this store, where entry is only available through the window.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Any hobbits visiting from New Zealand would feel quite at home, I’m sure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As well as being home to a major port for cruise ships, Katajanokka is also home to the huge ice breaker ships that churn up the Baltic Sea during the colder months.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The red-brick style of architecture is more evident on this side of the island too and some official maritime offices are housed here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Katajanokka is also home to one of Helsinki’s best cafes: Johan & Nyström. It was in their Stockholm branch that current Finnish Barista Champion Kalle Freese honed his craft, after discovering coffee culture while living in New Zealand. You can read my interview for Creating Helsinki with him here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just outside you can often watch hardy Finns walking from the sauna to the frozen water for avanto (ice swimming). From the cafe it’s just a short walk back to the base of Uspenski Cathedral and over the bridge to the city.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unless of course, like the residents, you also decide that you never want to leave. In that case, the island’s former prison has been converted into a hotel where you can sleep in a renovated cell.

Which brings to mind the Eagles song Hotel California every time I think of it. ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave….”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Katajanokka

Uspenski Cathedral

Johan & Nystrom Cafe

Creating Helsinki: Kalle Freese Interview

Warm vodka and cold service – highly recommended

You could walk past Kafe Mockba (Cafe Moscow) a hundred times and never know it’s there. Hidden behind thick draped curtains this bar is said to have been opened as a place for the owners of adjoining Corona Bar to escape.

IMG_6214

Owned by Finnish brothers and film directors, Aki and Mika Kaurismäki, the bar is full of old film props and promises a ‘genuine Soviet experience’.

IMG_6211

When we walked in the bartender reluctantly got up from her seat, ignored our greeting and served us a shotglass each of warm vodka.

IMG_6212

I had heard they sell sandwiches but there’s no way I was going to ask. We were lucky to be given a glass of water. The bartender turned on some Soviet music, cranked it up and left.

IMG_6223

Soon Hanna and I had the place to ourselves and it was about quarter of an hour before another couple arrived and took a seat near the window.

IMG_6222

As we left I could hear them wondering about the lack of service. Kafe Mockba is famous for it and you’d be crazy to expect otherwise. It’s all part of the charm.

Kafe Mockba

Eerikinkatu 1

Aki Kaurismaäki

How to make the best korvapuustit (three treats with one dough)

I had a baking lesson on Sunday with my Finnish sister-in-law Ilona. She baked while I took notes before having a little sample at the end.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This dough can be used to make various sweets. To make enough for korvapuustit, a few munkit (doughnuts) and rahkapiirakat (quark pies), follow these easy steps:

Heat 5 dcl (500ml) of milk until it is slightly warmer than body temperature. You can use water if you are lactose-free. Crumble in one packet of tuorehiiva (fresh yeast) and stir to dissolve.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Add 1 dcl white sugar, 2 teaspoons cardamom, 2 eggs and mix. Stir in 9 dcl of plain flour (unsifted) and a pinch of salt. Once the mixture becomes thick and sticky use your hands to mix. You want a balance between the dough being thick enough to roll and loose enough so it has enough air in it to rise.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Add 100g of melted butter and lightly mix with hands. Don’t knead too much as the dough needs to stretch.  Now it needs to double in size so cover with a tea towel and put aside. A 1950s tea towel printed with Australian birds is always best.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Heat the oven to 200°c. Once the dough has doubled in size scrape it out onto a floured surface. When making korvapuustit you can be quite rough with the dough, it’s okay to push a bit of the air out of it. Divide the dough and put aside the amounts you would like for doughnuts and rahkapiirakat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Roll the dough into a 1cm thick rectangle and brush with 25g of melted butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and then roll lengthways.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cut the dough into triangles with the edge of a spatula. You can freeze uncooked dough at this stage to bake later.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Place the triangles on a tray lined with baking paper. Put them on the bottom edge of the triangle and push down (like you are squashing a pyramid).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Leave a bit of space between them as they will grow. Brush with egg and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake in oven for about 15 minutes or until golden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For rahkapiiraka: These are easier to make if the dough has come from the freezer. Shape dough into little dish shapes with a slight well in the middle. If the dough is fresh poke a couple of little holes in the bottom with a fork. Brush with egg and then mix one tub of rahka (quark) with the leftover raw egg and 1 teaspoon of white sugar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Spoon the mixture into the wells and press in raisins if you like and bake in oven for about 15 minutes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For the doughnuts: Shape dough into small rounds with the side of your hands. Don’t be too rough as you want air in this dough so they will rise.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Take a round of dough and punch a hole in it with your finger. Then stretch a bit by spinning the ring on your fingers. This makes a sturdier doughnut shape than if you were to make a sausage and join two ends. You can freeze the raw dough circles at this stage for later use, or fry in oil and coat with sugar when cooled.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yum! All three of these sweet snacks are best served warm with coffee on the couch while you watch the Men’s 50km cross-country skiing final.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Apologies to Ilona for not getting more photos that included her lovely face. I would have also included more photos of us eating these delicious snacks but some of us were still in our pyjamas…