Helsinki | ©Mikko Paananen / Wikimedia Commons

Coffee with a local in Helsinki, Finland

This week we’re in the Finnish capital with local Anna Savolainen, chatting to her about some of her favourite things to do in Helsinki, from where to walk across the frozen Baltic, to where to get the best salmon soup.

So, you’ve brought me to your favourite cafe/bar – tell me about it.
Café Regatta is the cutest café in the whole of Helsinki. It’s a tiny red wooden cabin by the sea, and just wait until you see the décor. It also has a huge terrace where you can sit in the summer, or in the winter as well, next to an open fire. In the summer you can rent a canoe at the café, and in the winter you can go for a walk on the frozen Baltic Sea. You might even catch a glimpse someone going for a refreshing winter swim in the icy water. It’s a great place to try the traditional Finnish cinnamon bun too.

Mmm… this is good, what are we drinking?
If it’s cold outside, I definitely recommend having a hot chocolate. It warms you up and gives you lots of energy, especially if you top it off with whipped cream…

What are your favourite local dishes?
You can’t go wrong with salmon soup. It’s a classic that I like to eat all year round. One of my favourite dishes though is kaalikääryleet, minced meat and rice rolled in cabbage leaves. You get great authentically Finnish tastes in reindeer and mushroom dishes as well.

And where would you suggest I go to find these?
Sea Horse in the hip design district is one of the oldest restaurants in Helsinki and serves many of these dishes – dining here is one of the top things to do in Helsinki. Watch out, you’ll probably have trouble walking afterwards as the portions are huge. The best salmon soup in my opinion can be found at Juttutupa, also a classic in the Helsinki restaurant scene.

The sky is blue and the sun is shining, what’s the best thing to do on a day like today?
In the winter you should go for a walk on the Baltic Sea. People from southern countries often haven’t had the chance to do this. Make sure there are local people around you, and then you know it’s safe to walk on the ice. In the summer you should rent a bike and ride to Hietaniemi Beach. Stop by the market square and pick up some strawberries before you go.


And if it rains?
Go and have a look at the Helsinki City Museum. It’s very central, free of charge and even has a downstairs movie theatre where you can see old black & white movies of Helsinki for free too. Afterwards have a coffee at Café Engel or lunch at restaurant Sunn and enjoy the historical view of the Senate Square. You’ll never be short of things to do in Helsinki in the rain.

If there’s one thing I should do while I’m here, what is it?
Go to a sauna. If you wish to add swimming to the experience, I recommend the Yrjönkatu swimming hall which is the oldest swimming hall in Helsinki. Pay attention to the schedules though, women and men go on separate days. For a truly authentic Finnish sauna, go to the Kotiharju sauna in the Kallio district. I especially enjoy cooling myself after the sauna in the street, wearing only a towel, even when the temperature is below zero.

Give me a local tip that other tourists wouldn’t usually know…
Take the boat to Pihlajasaari Island from the Carusel Café in southern Helsinki. It’s only 15 minutes away, the fare is inexpensive and the beach there is great. Bring your own sausages to cook as there are public barbecue places and wood is provided by the municipality. You can even camp there for the night.