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A Day in Helsinki is Happy By Design

Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki Finland behind trees and a park bench.
Uspenski Cathedral, the largest orthodox church in Western Europe.

Helsinki has saunas and gorgeous green spaces (40% of the city is covered by greenery). It’s on a peninsula and has plenty of shoreline—131 kilometers of it, in fact. The capital of the world’s happiest country is also known for its exceptional design and fantastic food scene. Chris and I had only one full day to spend together in Helsinki. With a bit of help from a local*, we put together an itinerary that kept us both quite happy.

Good Morning Helsinki

Vegan donuts at Round Cafe in Helsinki.
Vegan Peanut Fudge Chocolate Donut.

In Finland, more coffee is consumed per person than in any other country in the world. A fact that makes me feel a fond affinity for the country and its capital. Here, you can enjoy a great cup of coffee at your hotel, at one of the three Starbucks in the city, or a fun specialty version at one of the city’s local cafés, like Round Café, ranked 19th best café in Finland. Round Café is a vegan café with “round food for every mood.” They serve bagels and donuts, coffee, tea, and smoothies. They have a half dozen locations in Helsinki.

Chris and I aren’t vegans, but we love donuts. We heard Round has some of the best in town, so we tried them. I had a Peanut Butter Fudge Chocolate Donut, and Chris tried the Pineapple Coconut. We can taste why they were declared the best donuts in the city during Helsinki Coffee Week.

Culture Break: Design Museum + Museum of Finnish Architecture

The Design Museum and the Museum of Finnish Architecture adjacent to it have merged. With the same admission ticket, you can visit both museums, located in the heart of Helsinki’s Design District. 

We’ve visited several museums around the world over the past few years. Our enjoyment of one is rarely equal. I enjoy art museums more than Chris. He favors history museums, especially when they have ancient objects in them. The Design Museum, especially its Utopia Now exhibition, delighted us both completely. 

Utopia Now showcases, among several Finnish and international designers, Marimekko’s iconic textile prints and apparel designs and Alvar and Aino Aalto’s modernist designs. The Aaltos, a married couple, were architects, interior designers, and furniture designers of considerable fame.  

If you’ve ever played Angry Birds, you’ve engaged with Finnish design. The game, along with a virtual reality display, is part of the Utopia Now exhibition. The Angry Birds app burst onto the scene in late 2009. It’s the most downloaded freemium game series of all time—according to Chris, it’s very thoughtfully designed.  

The Museum of Finnish Architecture focuses on architecture from the 1900s on. When we visited, the Concrete Dreams exhibition took us on a tour of Finnish homes in the 1970s. On the top floor, you can see how Finnish architecture has changed through the decades. It was interesting to see how economic realities and goals for equality have shaped Finnish architecture over the years.

I loved the gift shop at the Design Museum. There, I found the perfect bag to keep in my purse. It’s a German-designed, original Notabag in the Green Sprinkle print. It’s perfect for carrying heavier purchases, especially when you have to carry them over a long distance.

Support our content by purchasing your Notabag using the following link: Notabag 2-in-1 Convertible Backpack.

Part of the Boss Girl Brunch at Relove's Töölöntori location in Helsinki.

As I write this, Relove has four locations in Helsinki and one in Tampere, Finland. We reserved a table for two at their Töölö Café, located inside the very first Relove store. I ordered the Boss Girl Brunch (acai bowl, gluten-free dark bread, avocado and hummus, fresh fruits, and ginger shot. It also comes with your choice of organic coffee or tea. I went for the rose tea and added a glass of sparkling wine. Chris ate a sandwich and a Finnish-style cinnamon roll. 

After I finished my brunch, I shopped Relove’s high-quality second-hand items while Chris relaxed. Their selection is well-curated and displayed, which makes it a joy to shop. I’m happy to report that I found a cute Burberry polo and a fabulous pair of Marimekko pants.

The Garden Cocktail and the Sailors Gin and Tonic at Tislaamo in the Helsinki Distilling Company.
The Garden Cocktail and the Sailors Gin and Tonic at Tislaamo in the Helsinki Distilling Company.

Gin and vodka are Finland’s spirits of choice. Thanks to the popularity of Long Drink (Lonkero), the national alcoholic drink of Finland, gin might be number one. In its traditional form, the Long Drink is a mix of gin and grapefruit soda. It’s been sold in cans since 1952 before canned cocktails were cool. 

Helsinki Distilling Company makes Long Drinks, award-winning gins and whiskies, and other spirits, like sea buckthorn moonshine. They also make their own excellent Muteman tonic and mixers. You can visit for a tour and tasting. Or, if you can’t take part in a tour,  you can still try their spirits at Tislaamo Bar, located in the distillery. 

When we went, the tour timing didn’t work out for us, but having a beverage at their bar did. Chris tried Helsinki Sailor’s Gin mixed with Muteman tonic and garnished with lime and raspberry. I had the Gin Garden Cocktail garnished with thin slices of cucumber and an olive. It tasted like a lovely garden. 

Boon Nam: A Taste of Happiness with Modern Thai Cuisine

Michelin calls modern Thai restaurant Boon Nam “the perfect place for a night out with friends.” Located in the basement of the 5-star St. George Helsinki hotel, its mix of exciting dishes and drinks and spot-on attentive service also make Boon Nam ideal for date night – in our humble opinion.

If you’re feeling indecisive, you may want to opt for one of their tasting menus. Or, you can personalize your culinary adventure with a mix of snacks, salads, mains, and desserts. Snack on Boon Nam’s Thai Sausage on a Skewer, topped with peanuts and rhubarb relish, or for a vegan option, give their Eggplant Cha Plu a try. We did and loved every bite. Their snack selection includes items like Beef Tartar Cracker, Southern Curry Chicken, and Monkfish Cha Plu. 

Chris and I shared a Crispy Enoki Mushroom salad. For mains, Chris ate the Iberico Secreto Five Spice Grilled Iberico Pork, and I devoured the Chili Jam Sweetheart Cabbage. 

Note: A couple of months prior to this trip, I was inaccurately diagnosed with multiple food allergies (dairy, gluten, and eggs) while living in Portugal. Both Chris and I have crustacean allergies. Boon Nam offered a myriad of allergy-friendly options. I did not feel as if I were missing out on a thing.

Where to Stay in Helsinki

We loved our stay at 4-star Hotel Katajanokka, a former jail, in the quiet harborside neighborhood of the same name. The hotel is part of the Tribute Portfolio collection of Marriot Bonvoy hotels. Check out our Hotel Review: Hotel Katajanokka Helsinki, Finland

The only sad thing about Helsinki, Finland, was the limited time we had to explore it. We hope to return sooner than later. To see what spending a day in Helsinki looks like, have a look at our video, A Happy Day in Helsinki.  For more places to explore in Finland, check out our Finnish Lakeland: The Ultimate R+R Romantic Summer Getaway and All Aboard Finland’s Santa Express: Train Journey to Rovaniemi posts.

*While in Finnish Lakeland, I met Taina Snellman-Langenskiöld, a local interior and lifestyle designer and founder of Tikau and Billnäs Gård. She helped me devise a list of places to see in Helsinki. My only regret is that with just one day, we were only able to make it to a handful of her suggestions.

Visiting Finland during the summertime? Don’t forget to pack this on your Nordic summer vacation

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