Most of us sort our household rubbish and put paper, plastic, and glass in their appropriate bins. That kind of recycling is great, and we should definitely keep doing it (or start, if you haven’t yet!). But this is recycling on a whole different level. Helsinki knows how to recycle whole buildings! Well, technically “repurpose” would be a better word. There are several old buildings and industrial areas in Helsinki which have been repurposed to create centres of culture. We can transform any kind of space, from the sterile hallways of a hospital to the gritty machinery of an electrical plant. And theatres, art galleries and working spaces rise from the ashes like cultural phoenixes.
I can’t completely explain why I’m so attracted to these areas. Maybe it’s the concept of creating something new and flourishing out of a cold and abandoned space. Maybe it’s the intriguing juxtaposition of factory buildings and collections of fine art. But I really do love these locations. They’ve got an indescribable but infectious vibe. They may not look like much at first glance, but once you’ve spent some time exploring them, these places will draw you in.
I love fine art. I studied it for years, starting in high school. I’ve spent countless hours of my life covered in charcoal and paint, trying to remember the major “-isms” of the past few centuries. That being said, no one can deny that fine art is very well represented in the gallery scene already. The majority of art on display, from huge prestigious museums to indie galleries, is fine art. This is no different in Helsinki. For that reason, I’d like to shine a light on some galleries which showcase art not considered “fine”.
A working definition of “fine art” is necessary here. It’s a pretty fuzzy definition, so bear with me! The traditional definition of fine art is art which is made simply for the sake of having something beautiful. That is, art which does not serve a practical purpose. “Fine art” can be used in a contemporary sense as a foil to “commercial art”, or art which is made to sell something. This definition basically takes the traditional definition and expands on it in a specific way.
There is obviously a lot of overlap between fine art and commercial art, but things like graphic design and illustration are usually considered commercial instead of fine. Some curators of fine art might be – well, let’s be frank – a bit pretentious. So, unfortunately, they might exclude this kind of art from gallery exhibitions. But I’ve taken a good look through Helsinki’s art scene and gathered a few places where you can see this kind of art. It’s SO worth seeing!
Admittedly, I’ve never really celebrated Valentine’s Day myself. Also, it’s one of those holidays that isn’t very big in Finland, so it’s pretty easy to avoid floods of pink hearts and teddy bears in February. That being said, there’s one aspect of Valentine’s Day that I love: chocolate. Like a great many people, chocolate has me all atwitter, especially a lovely high-quality bonbon. I don’t eat chocolate all that often though, so when I do, it’s even more exciting and irresistible.
For this post, I decided to focus on shops or cafes that specialise in chocolate. All of these places have a glass case of chocolate bonbons and truffles as their crowning glory. Try not to salivate!
There are many places in Helsinki for families with children, from Children’s Town in the Helsinki City Museum to a few locations of the Moomin Cafe. In the summer kids can play in the numerous public playgrounds, and in the winter there are indoor playgrounds of all kinds to check out.
But what if you’re a kid at heart, stuck in the body of an adult who wouldn’t fit on the playground equipment? I know exactly how that feels. Luckily there are places that are perfect for some wholesome fun, whether you’re ten years old or thirty!
I said I would talk about street art again, and I’m keeping that promise! This is not the last time either.
This “mural hopping” trek started in Sörnäinen, and took me through Vallila to Arabianranta. Northeastern Helsinki is filled with pockets of hipster heaven, with art students, vintage stores, and graffiti everywhere. My own first year of graduate school was spent at Aalto University’s Arabia campus! This campus has now (sadly) been mostly abandoned and classes moved to Otaniemi, Espoo, but the art in the neighbourhood remains.
Here are five large-scale murals worth checking out in this corner of town. All are directly on tram and bus lines, so they’re easily accessible. Northeastern Helsinki is like a huge free art museum!
Hamburgers may have risen to fame in the States, but these days you’d be hard-pressed to find a country without a hamburger restaurant. Finland, and especially Helsinki, are no exception. International chains like McDonald’s and Burger King are well known here, as are Finnish chains and smaller independent restaurants. But having a good basic hamburger is only the first hurdle. What about vegetarian options – and not just ones that taste like wallpaper paste on a bun?
I’m not fully vegetarian, but I rarely eat meat. I won’t refuse a regular hamburger every now and then, but I have a soft spot for a great meatless patty. And here’s a confession: even though I’m mostly vegetarian, I don’t particularly like tofu! So I seek out choices made of other proteins such as beans and grains. I did some restaurant hopping in Helsinki to find a few choices that I can wholeheartedly recommend for someone who wants to do the same.
I touched on the topic of self-service flea markets (itsepalvelukirpputorit) in my last post with Töölö’s Relove. I’m not sure how common these kinds of establishments are outside of Finland, but in Helsinki at least they are very popular. If you’re not familiar with the concept, self-service flea markets are basically a crossbreed of second-hand stores and garage sales. You rent shelf space at a store for a weekly price and bring your clothing, shoes, accessories, household goods, toys, etc. there. You price your items and leave, then customers browse your items alongside other sellers’ items. The shopkeepers ring up your items and check which shelf they came from, giving the money earned to you at the end of your rental period.
Helsinki is full of self-service flea markets, but these three stood out to me. All of them were full of great merchandise that hit the sweet spot of high-quality but affordable. All of them also have an inviting vibe and take you far away from the world of sterile commercial stores.
If there’s one type of place I like to frequent, it’s cafes. I’m an extremely active purveyor of everything related to coffee- and tea culture, and there are few things that make me happier than finding a great new cafe in Helsinki. In an effort to go a bit further than just listing my three favourite cafes in Helsinki, I thought I’d focus on a specific type of establishment: a concept cafe.
A concept cafe, at least for the purposes of this post, is one that goes a step further than just serving coffee, tea, baked goods and sandwiches. It might combine the cafe with some other kind of business, or maybe just immerse every aspect of the cafe with some sort of theme or style. Below are three places in Helsinki which fit this bill, and are definitely worth the visit if you’re looking for a memorable coffee time experience.
What do you expect from a museum with free entry? Maybe a few pieces of mediocre art? Perhaps some boring artefacts which you try to be interested in but completely forget once you leave the museum. There are definitely some free museums which suffer from these downfalls, but it doesn’t have to be that way!
Even if you’re down to your last euro, you can still see some interesting museums in Helsinki. The three below are free at all times and are definitely worth the visit. If you’re hungry for more, try to be in Helsinki in the first week of any given month. That’s when many museums offer free entry on a specific day of the week. Here are some examples:
LUOMUS natural history museum: month’s first friday
Kiasma contemporary art museum: month’s first friday
Sinebrychoff art museum: month’s first wednesday
Helsinki has its share of traditional graffiti, both legal and decidedly less so. There are grand masterpieces covering entire walls of buildings, commissioned by the city or neighbourhood to brighten up a boring stretch of grey cement. There are also tags and crude sketches on whatever surface was accessible, out of sight of law enforcement. I pay constant attention to street art out of curiosity and have come across some awesome finds this way. I will undoubtedly talk about street art more than once on this blog, starting with these discoveries: two stretches of road in Helsinki’s central neighbourhoods with a bunch of painted electrical network boxes.