Story: Nikko Lencek-Inagaki; Photos below: Courtesy Companies
Although Helsinki's gay nightlife, restaurants and cultural offerings are well-worth the trip on their own -- at least in summer! -- the city is also an emerging design capital, marked by its current finalist bid to be 2012's World Design Capital.
There are also plans for a new design university to accommodate all the talented young Finns who are building on older international A-listers like Eero Aarnio -- remember this chair? -- and Alvar Aalto.
Of course, the best place to see chic new Finnish design work -- famously simple, eco-friendly and functional, but still statement-worthy -- is at the annual international design fair.
Barring that, downtown Helsinki's Design Forum combines showroom, shop and café into a stylish multi-use space where you can see (and purchase) work by both established and University-fresh designers.
At the top of the rising star list (look for his watch work with Issey Miyake) is Harri Koskinen, whose elegant but pleasantly whimsical glasswork for Iittala is simply beautiful. His furniture can be harder to find -- and transport -- but will be online soon.
Dotting Helsinki's Design District, you'll also find a handful of cool boutiques stocking the wearable version of new Finnish design. IvanaHelsinki, for example, the first label invited to Paris' main catwalk, has their flagship womenswear shop in the heart of the neighborhood. Beam and Tiger are the best places to start for menswear by Scandinavian designers, but neither carry Finnish labels. A few can be found, along with everything else one needs in life, at Stockmann, Helsinki's massive department store.
For something funkier -- but still very Finnish -- check out Secco, a small shop on Fredrikinkatu that specializes in recycled streetwear and accessories by forty or so local designers.
After a long day of the new Finland, unwind with one of the culture's oldest traditions: the dry sauna. A beautiful, central sauna -- and, built in 1926, perhaps Helsinki's oldest -- can be found at Yrjönkatu alongside a huge pool and a Turkish steam room. Check for mens' and womens' days and be comfortable sweating nude with a bunch of Finnish men of all ages.
Nikko will be reporting from his travels in Helsinki, Stockholm, Paris and Berlin this month. If you have a tip on a new place he should visit, e-mail him here.