There’s something so intriguing about vintage and antique shops that just draws me in. Of course, my love of history and retro aesthetics contributes to this intrigue. But even still, there’s something about seeing items that have existed for far longer than you have, undoubtedly connected to hundreds of stories from their many past owners. I love looking at vintage photographs – such as this collection from the Helsinki City Museum – and I enjoy listening to my father’s stories about his adventures from decades ago. Going into a vintage shop with this kind of mindset prepares you for a brilliant experience.
There are quite a few antique shops in Helsinki. Many of them are small, owned and operated by one person or family. You can also find some great retro and vintage items at Helsinki’s flea markets if you shop around! The basement of one of my favourite self-service flea markets, Punavuoren Patina, is a wonderland of antiques. Even chain thrift stores such as UFF stock vintage garments. UFF’s vintage pieces are conveniently separated from the contemporary stock in every store, often taking up their own room.
But if you’re keen to see stores full of decades-old merchandise of all kinds, the three below are amazing places to start.
Address: Fredrikinkatu 35, Helsinki
I’ve walked down Fredrikinkatu so many times, including past this inconspicuous place. From the outside, C. Hagelstam’s looks like the average vintage bookshop: quiet and a bit dusty, akin to a classical university library. A place where you might see a man with a trimmed white beard and spectacles behind the till, reading a leatherbound textbook with peeling gold letters on the spine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that picture, but C. Hagelstam’s is even better. It’s like a shop out of a storybook.
This is the first bookstore where I’ve ever seen a ladder propped up against the shelves like in the movies. I honestly wanted to see if I could sweep along the wall like Belle in Prince Adam’s library in Beauty and the Beast. I managed to quell that urge, but I did take a good long time to look around every corner of the store. Every wall is lined with stacks and stacks of books, ranging in subject from fiction to history to photography. There is even a glass cabinet with valuable tomes on display, including a version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit with a cover illustration by Tove Jansson. Right between it and Alice’s Adventure’s In Wonderland is a skull from some small mammal. The Cheshire Cat maybe?
Address: Korkeavuorenkatu 5, Helsinki
These two stores share a huge ground-floor space in a building in ritzy Ullanlinna. Right next door is yet another vintage store called Les Belles which specialises in chandeliers. You could deck out every fancy ballroom in the country with lighting from here! But Fasaani and Helsinki Second Hand are more about furniture and small housewares, as well as random retro knickknacks.
Fasaani/Helsinki Second Hand has a huge selection of antique furniture, including a multitude of bureaus and chairs. I even found a gold brocade L-shaped sofa that was pretty comfortable! There were radios and record players, hanging lamps and area rugs. Then, stacked from the floor to shelves too high to reach (for me, at least…) were dishes and vases made of ceramic and glass. Other kitchenware was available as well, including a cabinet full of silver showpieces. There were teapots and teacups galore. I wasn’t expecting to find a selection of clothing, accessories and household linens, but I found those too!
I brought my Father along with me to Fasaani/Helsinki Second Hand to look for a gift for my Mum’s birthday. We found one, but my ulterior motive was hearing my Dad tell stories about items he came across that brought back memories for him. He spent much of his youth in Helsinki, so he has amazing stories about the city in the mid-20th century. This time he showed me a metal jug like the one he used as a kid to bring home milk, and bottles of ink that teachers rationed out to students to use with their dip pens. Then he reminisced with the shopkeeper about 1970s telephones as our glass vase was being wrapped up.
Address: Tyynenmerenkatu 6, Helsinki
Weird Antiques is exactly what it promises and more. It’s totally worth waiting for a Friday or Saturday (the only days Weird Antiques is open) to check out this store in an old industrial building on Jätkäsaari. The door has a sign declaring “Welcome, freaks”, and the first things you see when you enter are motorbikes, a big propeller and taxidermy animals. Weird and wonderful indeed.
There are many motor-vehicle-related things, from actual vintage bikes to old petrol pumps. Then there’s a whole room full of instruments (Called “Rytmi Salonki”, or “Rhythm Salon”) and many jukeboxes. If you’d rather have a bit more control over your music choices, Weird Antiques also stocks a large collection of vinyl records.
There are a mock bar and barber shop, and a 1950s style living room with a working retro TV. There are clothes hanging from the ceiling in one corner, making it feel a bit like you’re in a fabric cave. I also came across a rocket-shaped ride like the ones outside of grocery stores that kids can pop a coin into to ride. If all of this excitement makes you feel lightheaded, don’t worry: there’s a skeleton doctor next to a cabinet full of medical paraphernalia. And one of the owners of Weird Antiques assured me that yes, everything is for sale.
The world is constantly changing, and that’s a good thing. Helsinki and all of Finland are at the forefront of amazing technological innovations. But there’s something to be said for spending time with items and stories from ages past, making sure we never forget them. If you’re eager to do just that, these stores are where you should be heading.