Sunny, summery Helsinki
Story and photos by Nikko Lencek-Inagaki
Although Helsinki's weekend gay nightlife might keep you up (and sleeping in) late, the days in between can afford a useful opportunity for sight-seeing and sampling the amazing restaurants that have popped up in the last few years.
The best way to spend a morning is at the open-air produce, knick-knack, flower and antique markets. They're impromptu, weather-dependant affairs but thankfully dependable if you have a clear-skied day to bring the local farmers, fishermen and attic-cleaners out in force.
Just west of the Design District, at the end of Boulevardi street, you can unearth occasional gems at the lively, ragtag flea market known as Hietalahti. The main show, though, is the adjacent indoor antique market where you can pick up anything from a 19th century English birdcage to vintage Iittala glassware.
Nearby, No. 9 is a relaxing gay-friendly café that serves a popular, tasty lunch. The Atkins salad is recommended, but make sure you want a whole steak with your greens.
Catering more to souvenir needs is Kauppatori market, located at the small harbor at the end of the Esplanade. Weekends are packed with stalls, but you'll find deliciously fresh seasonal produce, local fish and a variety of kitschy Lapland Reindeer-based handicrafts every day.
From Kauppatori, it's easy to take an afternoon trip to Suomenlinna, a small UNESCO heritage-classified island 15 minutes from the market by hourly ferries. This hilly former fortress has plenty of history -- some Finnish, some Swedish, some Russian -- but its chief appeal is picnic-ing amid grassy knolls and sea breezes. Cafés dot Suomenlinna, in case you don't port around lunch yourself, and there's a cute shop selling works by the Finnish artists who inhabit it if you need a souvenir.
Back on the mainland, don’t miss Kiasma, Helsinki's Museum of Contemporary Art. The institution's stunning permanent collection of Scandinavian and Nordic artists is full of clever, often funny and surprisingly edgy work -- like this neon, flaccid Darth Vader.
To 'finnish' -- pun! -- off the day, I recommend Juuri, a five-year old restaurant run by two women chefs who are as warm with their patrons as they are talented in their profession. Mid-range by price thanks to their stellar seasonal 'Sapas' or tapas menu, Juury is decidedly top tier by taste.
Modern riffs on traditional Finnish cuisines combined with intimate, unpretentious décor make Juuri popular with small dinner parties and dates alike. Dress decently, make a reservation and take the chefs' recommendations -- it's a dinner you won't regret.
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.