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.

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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.

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Photo: Viola Vertimo

Helsinki – People Make the City

Concept & Photos: Laura Iisalo

Words: Melanie Dower

Layout: Viola Vertimo



Two Women Practising Everyman’s Right

Nature's supermarket

Nature’s supermarket

I’ve met two talented herbalists in Helsinki lately and their commitment to sourcing herbs that grow wild in Finland is supported by the concept of Everyman’s Right – which is not, as it sounds, some dating manifesto from the Victorian era.



The first herbalist was Justine Cederberg who, among other things, makes a Love Elixir using herbs that grow in the wild. You can read my interview with her here and how she uses the sauna to make her tinctures.


I also had a consultation with Henriette Kress, a herbalist who has created one of the world’s largest online herbal archives. In her consulting room is a large cupboard, full of glass jars. Each jar holds dried herbs she has collected from the wild and from which she made me a tea to take home.


My herbal tea – wild rose, sage root, nettle and (perhaps imported) mandarin peel

To both herbalists it’s important that people are taking herbs that grow around them and Everyman’s Right allows them to do this. It also ensures that Finns can continue to eat according to the seasons as they have traditionally done so.



Basically, Everyman’s Right means that without going into someone’s yard, you can walk, fish, swim, camp and forage on other people’s land in Finland without permission, as long as you don’t disturb protected species.

For those who don't want to get their hands dirty

For those who don’t want to get their hands dirty

It would be really unusual I think for anyone in Australia or New Zealand to be okay with finding someone else on their land, picking their fruit without permission. Being recently colonised countries, land rights and fishing rights can be contentious issues back home.

Although we do have a wonderful culture in NZ of fishing and gathering shellfish, picking wild berries and foraging, I think the main difference here is not needing permission to go onto someone else’s land to do so.



We had a great day out searching for mushrooms and blueberries in the forest during our first trip to Finland four years ago. Although we ate everything we picked, any income people make from selling picked berries or mushrooms is tax-free.


Blueberry bushes (foreground)

Perhaps not this one

Natures way of saying: Do not go there

We used to pick blackberries in New Zealand when I was younger and although I’m sure we had the landowner’s permission, what I remember most is being chased by a big ol’ hairy goat that obviously hadn’t read the memo about our rights at all!


Freedom to Roam

Everyman’s Right – the Finnish Ministry of the Environment

Henriette Kress