Helsinki: A City of Design

Helsinki is the 2012 Design Capital of the world, and it’s not hard to see why. By taking a short stroll through this Northern city, you will see everything from edgy fashion, to modern product design, and timeless architecture.

Helsinki doesn’t even have to push their creative success on tourists, or locals, the city simply oozes with beautiful interiors and exteriors alike.

The city is well deserving of the prestigious title, and I discovered why on a design walk around the city centre.

We started out by taking a brief city tour by town car around the outskirts and the outer suburbs of Helsinki.

I saw the all important waterfront and harbour, a few of the many bridges and islands, and even the Nokia Headquarters. We also passed upscale dog parks, high end condos, and countless international embassies.

I explored an indoor market, called Kauppahalli, which houses vendor booths of every kind. They sold meats, vegetables, cheeses, baked goods, candies, clothing, souvenirs, and more. It was full of people of all ages, from old to young.

The little market had a friendly atmosphere and great deals on local items. It was a blended mixture of kitschy and traditional, and young and trendy.

Helsinki is a city of colliding styles; as seen in the overall theme of the city structure. It’s Scandinavian meets Eastern European, with a hint of Baltic and Russian influences.

My guide said it perfectly; the design in Helskinki is not just simply in the buildings, or in the products–it is everywhere. Design can be seen everywhere you look in the city.

Design can be seen in the lampposts, the trash cans, the benches and the sewer grates. It is present in the window displays, the stores, the malls and the residences. Each person walking on the street contributes to Helsinki’s design, and it is a very eclectic one.

You cannot fully experience design in Helsinki by keeping your eyes at street level. You need to look up, and see everything around you to enjoy it all. No two building tops are alike, and each one is more beautiful and elaborate than the last.

Venturing into the stores is a whole other experience. A shop can mislead with a bland entrance, and then have a full on visual explosion when you walk inside the doors. Colorful glasses line the shelves and ornate dishes on the walls.

Many display windows were decked out in their best gear. Decadent curtained draped the sides and luxurious cloths lined the floors. Various materials were used, from twigs and branches to diamonds and jewels.

The most special of displays hid in the basement of a common mattress retailer. Confused, as we walked through the showroom and down a dark staircase, I was quite surprised when we walked into a bright and vibrant basement room.

We had entered the studio of Finnish designer, Eero Aarnio. I can almost promise you that you have seen his work in your lifetime. He is the man who invented the hanging ball chair, that was so popular in the 1960’s.

Having always been a fan of his designs, without actually knowing who he was, I was excited to be in his work space.

It was pretty cool to see many of his new designs around the room. There seemed to be a theme of the color green, and different sized dog structures.

As the tour was ending, my guide let me in on a well kept secret; the best view of the city. The Sokos Hotel Torni. Located near the train station and city centre, it is in the perfect location. I entered the main doors and took the elevator to the top floor.

Exiting the elevator, I entered a narrow spiral staircase that took me to an unexpected cafe on the roof. Walking through the cafe, I stepped out onto the balcony. Suddenly, I could see all of Helsinki. The city stretched out in all directions around me, from the sea to the North.

Rooftops speckled the distance for miles, because there were no taller buildings than the one that I was standing on to obstruct my view. I could see all of the buildings and monuments that I had seen earlier in the day, and this time I was getting a whole new perspective.

Knowing that I would be returning to Canada the next day made me feel a little sad as I looked out over the city. It really was a beautiful place, and I wished that I could have spent some more time there.

I don’t often make return trips to each country or city that I visit, but I have a feeling that I will be making an exception for Helsinki.

This trip was made possible by Visit Finland.
All thoughts and opinions are my own. 


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12 Responses to “Helsinki: A City of Design”

  1. Jackie D
    May 3, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

    I really want that bear head thing. And the red hanging chair. Let me know if you want some company on your return trip to Helsinki someday? I am inviting myself in advance.
    Jackie D recently posted..books & travel

    • Seattle
      May 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

      @Jackie – Haha–I will let you know as soon as I decide to head back!

  2. Danielle
    May 4, 2012 at 2:06 am #

    I’m so jealous! One of my top areas to travel to are the Scandinavian countries and the Baltic’s! Helsinki looks awesome 🙂 I seriously envy all the traveling you do!
    Danielle recently posted..Two obsessions, one trip!

    • Seattle
      May 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

      @Danielle — I hope that you make it to all of them 😀

  3. Ayngelina
    May 4, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    That bear head is kinda scary!
    Ayngelina recently posted..Food Friday: How to make poke

    • Seattle
      May 9, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

      @Ayngelina — haha! I know.. but I was more scared to run into a live one when I was up in Lapland

  4. dani
    May 10, 2012 at 7:11 am #

    What a wonderful city to wander about. Definitely my next destination for vacation!
    dani recently posted..Kitchen island tables

  5. Cam
    May 14, 2012 at 12:54 am #

    You’ve captured the city very well! I must confess, I know very little about Finland. It’s never been on my travel wish list, but I may need to take a closer look…

    • Seattle
      May 14, 2012 at 8:19 am #

      It’s definitely worth the trip! Especially if you get the chance to head up to Lapland :]

  6. Jenna
    December 16, 2013 at 2:39 am #

    Nice to hear that you liked Helsinki! Helsinki as a capital is very beautiful and even quiet. Next time you should visit Finnish lake district (lake Saimaa for example) with these views:

  7. Reema Marquez
    December 17, 2014 at 2:47 am #

    I agree with what you said that Helsinki represents timeless architecture with the beautiful and amazing structures. It shows the modern designs yet show also the classic look of the city.


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