Steeped in history yet always forward-thinking, Finland’s coastal capital, Helsinki, is one of Europe’s travel secrets. And summer—when temperatures hit 67°F and the sun shines well past midnight—is a great time to explore the storied city. To really get to know Helsinki, though, you’ll want to get to know the Finns. Here’s how.
Hit the Sauna
One of the best ways to meet the locals is to step into a sauna, a cornerstone of Finnish culture. Traditionally, it’s where babies were born, hams were cured and Finns would talk about work, romance or politics. Löyly (4 Hernesaarenranta; 011-358-09-6128-6550; two-hour sessions, $24*), named for an untranslatable Finnish word that encapsulates the sound, heat and moisture of splashing water on a hot stove, ranks among the city’s top saunas. Set along the waterfront, the striking building is made from more than 4,000 pieces of pinewood and is open to visitors until late at night. Lonna Island, one of the 300 islands that make up Helsinki’s archipelago, is home to a loft-style public sauna (Lonna Island; two-hour sessions, $20) that sits on a pebbled beach overlooking the Baltic Sea. It opened in the summer of 2017 and can be readily found on the tiny island, which takes about 10 minutes to circle by foot and only a few minutes more than that to reach by ferry from downtown Helsinki.
Order a Cocktail
A couple of beers or craft cocktails can help conversations along. Try redbrick haunt Holiday (7 Kanavaranta; 011-358-09-6128-5121; cocktails for two, $25), where disco balls sparkle over plush velvet couches and inflatable flamingos; chic speakeasy Trillby & Chadwick Detective Agency (Katariinankatu; 011-358-40-180-3199; site in Finnish; cocktails for two, $20); or high-style Why Join the Navy When You Can Be a Pirate (5 Eerikinkatu; 011-358-40-654-3111; cocktails for two, $22) for what some patrons claim is Finland’s most delicious G&T, finished with fresh rosemary sprigs and plump red lingonberries.
Eat Your Fill
Or, to dive into Finland’s culture without striking up conversations, you can simply eat out. Prior to independence, in 1917, Finland was ruled by Sweden and Russia, and its cuisine reflects these influences. The Old Market Hall (Eteläranta; 011-358-09-3102-3550; lunch for two, $15), where hundreds of wood-framed stalls have served regional and international delicacies since 1889, is a great place to survey the city’s stellar food scene. There’s plenty to choose from, but our pick is Story (Old Market Hall, Eteläranta; 011-358-10-666-8461; site in Finnish; lunch for two, $26), a fun spot that offers gourmet café food, wines and fine pastries.
- *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: April 2018