You can get a few odd looks when you tell people you’re off to Finland for your family summer holiday. But they’ve obviously never tried it. As a family who aren’t naturally drawn to hot beach destinations, we’ve found ourselves taking holidays in Scandinavia quite a bit over the past few years. Finland is a twice-visited firm favourite that we hanker to return to as soon as time allows. Our Finnish trips always start with a few days in Helsinki followed by some much-needed relaxation in a summerhouse in the woods. For further recommendations I highly recommend purchasing the guide book Helsinki – People Make the City, which is written by the local people who run the shops, make the food and create the vibes that make this city such a worthwhile place to visit. (IG: @peoplemakethecity)
Alfons Pizza – We stumbled upon Alfons on our first evening in the city. A little weary and with two hungry children in tow, we just wanted something quick and easy to eat. Alfons ticked all the boxes with their reasonable prices (for Finland) and delicious pizzas. We sat in to eat, but it seemed to be a busy spot for those wishing to take-away too. Simple food done well.
Fleuriste – As soon as you arrive at Helsinki airport, you can indulge in a pretty good quality cinnamon bun should you wish, but I prefer to make that ‘first one’ something special. So with that in mind, we headed to Fleuriste in Punavuori, a french-style cafe renowned for their top-notch cinnamon buns. Owner Eija Limnell recreates childhood moments with the baking she learnt from her mother. A favourite with locals, her buns are packed full of cinnamon and cardamom. Simply the best.
Design Museo – Finland does museums well. Each time we’ve visited the city, we have always made a point of visiting the Design Museo. It’s a doable size to navigate around and there is always an engaging exhibition on. Currently showing is California – Designing Freedom, an exhibition from our very own London Design Museum. However, if it’s Finnish design you’re after, Utopia Now – The Story of Finnish Design is the exhibit for you. We love this museum for its beautifully curated content, good coffee and unrivalled kids entertainment. There’s a workshop room in the basement where children can create their own masterpieces. It even manages to win over children who think they’re too big for ‘kids stuff’.
Cafe Regatta – An absolute favourite of ours, Cafe Regatta can be found close to the Sibelius monument in the Töölö district. Housed in an 1887 traditional red cottage, the cafe is famous for its fresh cinnamon buns and blueberry pie. The interior is dolls-house tiny and snug, so consider yourself lucky to get a seat inside at busy times. Luckily though there are plenty of seats outside with blankets to borrow if it’s a little chilly. There’s an outdoor fire too that you can sit round and cook sausages that can be purchased from the cafe.
Marimekko – This Finnish design company have been producing their vibrant graphic prints since 1951. No trip to the city is complete until you’ve made a visit to one of their stores. A piece of Marimekko, whether a dress, purse or tea towel is a perfect souvenir to bring home. Wherever you are in the city, you’re never too far from a Marimekko store, but it’s worth making the short journey just outside the city centre to their outlet store at Kirvesmiehenkatu 7. Here you’ll find an excellent range of clothing, ceramics, fabrics, childrenswear and homewares from both past collections at reduced prices as well as the current range. There’s also a Marimekko cafe there too should you want to stop for lunch or refuel with a snack.
Nuuksio National Park – If you fancy a day out of the city you can easily escape to Nuuksio National Park. Within easy reach of the capital you can take in the typically Finnish scenery of huge lakes, lush forests and rugged crags. Pack your backpack with a picnic and some food to cook at the many firepits that can be found. There are three marked trails for hiking and locations for grilling, camping, skiing, and berry and mushroom picking. In addition to four camping sites it is also possible to rent a cabin at Wild North. If you’re lucky you may even spot an elk or flying squirrel.
Ateneum – Much like the UK, Helsinki’s weather can be unpredictable. If you do have a rainy day another good museum is the Ateneum Art Museum – one of the three museums that form the Finnish National Gallery. Located in the centre of the city, close to Helsinki Central railway station, it has the country’s oldest and largest art collection. The new collections exhibition presents well-loved classics alongside seldom-exhibited works of art. There’s a good shop there too, perfect for picking up a bit of Finnish design. The museum offers workshops that range from silk-screen printing to ceramics, as well as drawing and painting, for all ages on Saturdays between 11am and 2pm. Participation in the workshops is included in the price of admission (free for under 18s).
IPI Kulmakuppila – We visited this large, light-filled cafe in the Kallio district for lunch when it’s mainly vegetarian menu drew us in. We opted for the buffet lunch where, for a fixed price, you help yourself to the daily specials of soup, breads and an array of hearty salads. The cafe describes itself as ‘a shared living room in the neighbourhood that’s a cosy place for starting the day or stopping for lunch’, which pretty much sums up the friendly relaxed atmosphere of the place. There is an underlying harmony to this cafe with its use of sustainable products, Scandi design and practice in employing mentally handicapped adults who are trained in the art of brewing their delicious coffee.
A Finnish Summerhouse – Helsinki isn’t a huge city, so if carefully planned you can get a good feel for it over three or four days. If time allows, extend your visit and rent a summerhouse. We’re lucky enough to be able to stay at a friend’s family summerhouse in Kirrkonummi, located just outside the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, bordering the city of Espoo in the east. A quick search on Airbnb will provide you with a plethora of these pretty wooden houses for rent. For us, time at the summerhouse is all about relaxation; lake swimming, saunas, alfresco eating, walks in the woods and short visits out to explore local towns and villages.
Thanks Louise! We are now itching to visit Finland and experience the mix of design and wilderness! Check out more of Louise’s work on her blog Buttercup Days. She works as an independent food stylist and writer & is also the wish list editor of slow-life magazine, The Simple Things.