The Best Of Helsinki, Finland Report with Lawrence Lui
I red-eyed over to Helsinki during the dog days of summer, trading NYC heat for bright days with bracing breezes off the sea, late sunsets and stir-crazy locals making the most of their outdoor #partytime before the Arctic chill of the Nordic winter set in. Here are some cool spots to stumble upon if you ever find yourself in this unique corner of the world.
Best End Of Summer Celebration: Flow Festival
Situated in a striking industrial park in the hip Kallio section of Helsinki, the carnivalesque Flow Festival has something for every taste: from the experimental drones of William Basinski to the soaring pop of Sia, from a bar serving only champagne to a foodie’s paradise of vegan options. The festival is compact yet filled with an eclectic range of activity and music. Highlights this year included a pummeling and precise warehouse set from techno legend Jeff Mills, the arena-sized art rock of M83, the electro-prog of Floating Points and the incandescent jazz of Kamasi Washington.
Best Modern Art Museum That’s Not Kiasma: HAM (Helsinki Art Museum)
Somewhat bizarrely tucked away above a multiplex film theater across the street from the Kamppi metro station, HAM is a gem of a museum is filled with fascinating and thought provoking exhibits with an emphasis on overviewing modernist and contemporary Finnish artists.
Best Newly-Accessible Island: Vallisaari
A short and picturesque ferry ride from Helsinki harbor, Vallisaari Island was until recently an off-limits military base. Now opened to the public, the place is filled with ghosts and history, woodsy hiking trails, rocky fortifications and breathtaking vistas of sea and land. All in all, a detoxifying experience for the soul and well worth a visit.
Best Lunch: Holiday Bar
Newly opened foodie hotspot Holiday delivered everything fresh and inventively prepared. Highlights include sweet potato fries with mayo dip, oysters and a raw veggie plate. Plus co-owner Richard McCormick DJed some cool tunes to cleanse the palate.
Best Block Party: Kallio Block Party
Well actually this was the only block party I went to, straight off the plane and into a jetlagged haze. Finns will use any excuse to celebrate decent weather and the Kallio Block Party is an example of this: just a constant rotation of DJs on a makeshift stage playing to a friendly crowd unwinding, smoking, sitting, dancing, drinking and chatting on the street.
Best Day Trip: Porvoo
Just an hour from Helsinki by bus is the quaint riverside village of Porvoo. The second oldest town in Finland, Porvoo is nicely preserved with cobblestoned streets lined with charming shops and restaurants. Make sure you walk up the hill to the rough-hewn and imposing cathedral that dominates the landscape. With not many tourists around, the windy courtyard is a great spot for a meditative moment, as you can imagine the unforgiving wind of the centuries bearing down on the rock of human perseverance. Another highlight: Paahtimo, a docked wooden boat converted into a bar perfect for both people and sunset watching.
Best Sauna That’s Also A Swanky Boîte: Loyly
Loyly photos by Helsinki Feelings
The newly opened Loyly was all the rage during my stay, with many people suggesting I check it out. An ultramodern juggernaut situated right on the water, the wood-infused complex has something for everyone: a posh restaurant bar that could be the setting of a James Bond film, with an expansive outdoor patio and roof. But the centerpiece of the place is a full Finnish-style sauna where locals bake themselves into a stupor before cooling off in the invigorating waters of the Gulf Of Finland.
Best Night Club: Kaiku
An obvious choice: this multiroom wonderland is to Helsinki what Output is to New York or Berghian is to Berlin; Kaiku is the place to be for the international clubbing cognoscenti, and ground zero for nightlife in Helsinki. The music is tastefully thumping techno and house, there’s a main floor for dancing, a bar for socializing, a spacious outdoor rooftop, and huge lines on the weekend, so come early. Yes, the place gets almost uncomfortably packed around 2 AM. But those who enjoy being in the heart of things will have a ball.
Best After Hours: Stidilä
Like most things in Finland, even bleary-eyed after hours joints are civilized and organized (drinks at the bar, not on the dancefloor please). Stidilä is part of the same complex as Kaiku but only open after other clubs close. Great for late night schmoozing for us demimonde insomniacs who just can’t stop partying once the wee hours get a bit more strapping.
Best Club Night For The Younger Set: Wednesdays at Kaivohoue
I stayed about 20 minutes here, but the kids seemed to be having a blast painted in day glo colors and dancing to some breezily cheezy EDM. At Kaivohoue, the space was well laid out with multiple bars and nooks and crannies plus an outdoor area.
Best Candy Store: Karl Fazer
A bit touristy and stodgy, and situated on a main shopping drag in the city center, Karl Fazer is the one stop shop to grab all the gifts you need for friends and family. For who can resist fancy chocolate bars in a variety of weird and delightful flavors from raspberry to saltwater taffy? They also have good coffee and snacks.
Lawrence Lui works in music and goes places. Follow him here on instagram.com/lawrencelui.