Long Weekend in Helsinki
The Allas Sea Pool is open all year round. Afterwards, enjoy a drink with a wonderful view over the harbour and old town.
© Eetu Ahanen
In the elegant Savoy on Esplanade Park, which opened in 1937, the furnishings were all designed by legendary architect Alvar Aalto.
In most people's minds Saturday is market day – but that's nonsense. As a rule, you are crushed by crowds of people, so we say: Friday is market day.
There is no other place where Finns enjoy their breakfast as sumptuously as at Kauppatori, the large market place at the harbour, where excellent coffee and the national dessert Korvapuusti (cinnamon buns) are served. When the weather is fine, there is hardly a more delightful start to the day: you sit under parasols, enjoy the view of the sea and move along with the friendly composure of the Finns. This charming trait will continue for the next 72 hours.
In bad weather, the listed historic Kauppahalli (market hall) right next to it offers shelter. Here you can treat yourself to a Toast Skagen – a classic snack with crab, sour cream and dill; you will find the most delicious salmon and herring here as well as caviar filled large glass jars. Rapu is the name given to the small freshwater crabs that are enjoyed mainly between Juhannus, the midsummer festival in June, and early autumn. It's a pity that you can't take any of them home with you, only the special rye bread (Ruisleipä) or the hard cheese (Turunmaa) are suitable for culinary transport. For more solid, not too opulent food, the gastro bar Emo, a few minutes walk away, offers the ideal lunch. The menu includes a dozen dishes (Baltic herring, dwarf whitefish, venison fillet) and prices are moderate. In the evening the first obligatory culinary visit – The Savoy. The cuisine is upscale and traditional; what's really iconic is the interior. The Savoy opened in 1937 and was completely furnished with furniture and accessories by the legendary architect, Alvar Aalto. For design lovers, it's a trip to paradise! The cuisine is Finnish-French with a slight Russion twist. Every table is decorated with Alvar Aalto's famous wave-shaped vase, which is also called a savoy, just like the restaurant and for vinophiles the Savoy has one of the largest wine cellars in Finland.
The Helsinkian manages to transform even a green meadow into a hip place with few but carefully chosen means.
His approach to pleasure is as unpretentious as the Helsinkian himself. Design is omnipresent in the city anyway – back in 2012 Helsinki was named World Design Capital, there is a design museum worth seeing and a design district. The inhabitants of this city are privileged to walk through such stylish places. When the weather is nice, one can prepare a picnic basket, filled with Champagne, cured salmon and fresh strawberries at the Kauppahalli. Then take the waterbus to the Suomenlinna fortress, one of the most popular destinations in the city. The motto is: When in Helsinki, do as the Helsinkians do!
In the evening at the latest, this down-to-earth attitude demands a counter-programme: Olo holds one Michelin star and is one of the best, most innovative (and most expensive) addresses in the city – another player in this league is Demo. With both, you should definitely book in advance. Head chef of Olo, Tuomas Vierelä, believes whole-heartedly in fresh and raw Scandinavian produce. His touch is light and his wish is simple to cook food that, "brightens up everyday life." Sommelier Sami Ulmanen ensures wines are selected and paired beautifully, whether for the connoisseur or the less experienced wine drinker.
The Elite is a Nordic counterpart to places like the Colombe d'Or in southern France or the Kronenhalle in Zürich.
Every city has its magical places – in Helsinki, the Lutheran Temppeliaukio Church is one of them. You don't have to be religious to feel the magic of this unusual place of worship which was carved into the middle of a bare rock in the 1960s. Daylight streams in through 180 narrow, elongated windows placed like sunbeams around a gigantic copper dome.
After such an illumination from above, solid ground is covered during the 15-minute walk to Farang, the best Asian restaurant in town. Fortunately, it is open until 5pm and so is suitable for a late lunch. In terms of flavour, the cuisine of Farang is based on Southeast Asia. Vegetarians in particular will be delighted here, as there is a remarkable selection of fish- and meat-free dishes. Another goodie: Farang is located in the Helsinki Art Hall – so after leaving on a light stomach, there is still enough energy left for a tour of the exhibitions.
As in almost all European metropolises, Sunday evenings in Helsinki are not easy. But the Elite is the perfect place to end a culturally rich day. Musicians, writers and actors feast on traditional salmon soup served with coarse pieces of potato and dill, or on pyttipannu, a meal of potatoes, sausage, carrots and onions, or on a sirloin steak with creamy onions in the 1930s ambience. The Elite is a Nordic counterpart to places like the Colombe d'Or in southern France or the Kronenhalle in Zürich – paintings by famous Scandinavian artists hang on the walls, which contribute significantly to the unique atmosphere of this place.
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