Come As You Are

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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

Helsinki Second Hand

Miko and I spent hours recently at the playground near Kaivopuisto. He was so tired when we left he fell fast asleep in the stroller. I took a new way home and was pleased to come across Ravintola Sea Horse and its little kiosk across the road. People were enjoying cool beverages in the late-afternoon sun and I decided to join them and read a few pages of my book while I had the chance.

Ravintola Sea Horse kiosk

Ravintola Sea Horse kiosk

After a pleasant half-hour I wandered up towards the city centre and came across Helsinki Second Hand, a huge warehouse with a ramp leading down to just below street-level.

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The store was full of antiques and furniture, some familiar and some that seemed very nordic. It reminded me of Junk & Disorderly, a second-hand store we really like back in Auckland.

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The markets and second-hand stores here are full of glassware and crockery with the two big names being Arabia and Iittala. Arabia has been making ceramics, porcelain and other forms of pottery in Finland since 1874. Iittala has been making glassware since a factory was opened in the town of the same name in 1881.

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Large pieces of industrial furniture are as popular here as they are at home, with old farming items from traditional Finnish life featuring too.

NOT Miko's new bed

NOT Miko’s new bed

Now that summer is here, huge cruise ships frequently come and go from the nearby ports of Tallinn, Stockholm and St Petersburg. There are some great vintage posters you can get and the booming horns of boats can be heard across the city as they slowly pull out of Helsinki’s various ports.

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Thankfully they’re not enough to wake a sleeping child and Miko slept soundly until we got home, giving me a good amount of time to navigate the store without having to say once, ‘don’t touch!’

Helsinki Secondhand

Arabia

Iittala

A Little Island Paradise – in Helsinki

Saturday morning was spent buying paint and supplies for our new apartment. With no car and a two-year-old in tow we felt we deserved a slice of pizza and a drink in the sun once our mission was complete.

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Ravintola Skiffer on Liuskaluoto

We walked down to Meripuisto which looks out onto a few small islands in the Gulf of Finland. You could almost swim across if you had to but its a busy waterway and still pretty cold. We saw loads of boats go by, including a large wooden one with a sauna and benches on the back deck to sit on while you cool down.

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We caught a small ferry across to an island where there are a few jetties, a shop for boaties and 24-hour diesel pumps. Just further along is Skiffer, an outdoor bar with a menu specialising in wood-fired pizza.

The bar and outdoor seating at Skiffer

The bar and outdoor seating at Skiffer

It felt so good to be outside, sitting in the sun and enjoying the atmosphere which was not unlike that of an Australian beer garden. The music was good, Miko played happily, it was the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

I'm glad I spent it with you...

We stayed a few hours before catching a ferry back. They seem to run every ten minutes or so with the last one on a Saturday being at midnight.

I think this is a floating wood-fired sauna

A floating wood-fired sauna

The next day the temperatures plummeted and we bussed to Ikea in freezing rain, only to realise on arrival that it didn’t open for another hour. With temperatures lately forecast to reach a ‘high’ of 12 degrees we have learnt to savour moments like we had at Skiffer and to make the most of the nordic sun while it’s here.

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Looking back to the city

Skiffer