Love design? Time to make a beeline for Helsinki

Helsinki isn’t a newly-minted design destination – it is, after all, the land of Alvar Aalto – but the creative renaissance spanning food, fashion, art and more has brought about a renewed energy to the city. Make the most of your visit with our edit of six things to include in your design itinerary.

Scope: Architectural Heritage

From afar, Helsinki’s cityscape seems humble, even somewhat quaint. But the real beauty and diversity of the city’s architecture reveals itself on street level. On foot, one can closely appreciate the myriad architectural styles that dot the metropolis – from Jugend to Neoclassical to the largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings – making it the ideal place for a day of flânerie. After visiting landmarks such as the Senate Square and Uspenski Cathedral, head to the Helsinki Railway Station and Post Office, both of which have distinct, stunning typography adorning their facades.

Image courtesy of Hotel Lilla Roberts

Stay: Hotel Lilla Roberts

Housed in a former power plant designed by architect Selim A. Lindqvist in 1909, Hotel Lilla Roberts is a prime example of adaptive reuse. Situated in the city’s design district, it’s the perfect base to explore museums, visit boutiques, and get a feel for Helsinki’s creative pulse. Glamourous art deco touches define the interiors – as seen in the checkerboard flooring and the subtle use of metallic detailing – but the sleek style doesn’t overshadow the convivial atmosphere.

Relax: Löyly

Sauna has the distinction of being the only Finnish word to become part of everyday vernacular as well as a mainstay of any type of wellness retreat. With about 3 million saunas in the country (an average of one per household), it can be hard to stand out from the crowd, but this is precisely what Löyly has achieved since it opened last May. The public sauna is noted for its modern architecture – especially its slatted facade crafted from FSC certified wood. While its design is contemporary, Löyly offers the rare luxury of a traditional wood-burning sauna.

Image courtesy of Spis

Dine: Spis
Lauded restaurant Spis features a wide array of fresh Nordic produce served up in delicious, delicately put-together plates. The intimate, sparsely styled dining room echoes its commitment to going back to basics, highlighting small producers and brands in their food offerings as well as drink selections. Start off with an expertly mixed G&T made with the local, multi-awarded Napue gin, then choose from a short or long tasting menu made up of four or six courses respectively. A must-visit for vegetable-loving gastronomes.

See: Academic Bookshop

A design itinerary wouldn’t be complete without at least one Alvar Aalto pilgrimage. If time is on your side, his well-maintained suburban home is well worth a visit to experience how the legendary architect lived as well as to get a better understanding of his design philosophy. Should a trip to the Aalto House and Aalto Museum be out of reach, drop by the airy Akateeminen Kirjakauppa (Academic Bookshop) for an introduction to his legacy, noted for its timeless quality that reinforces the power of simplicity.

Photography: Ken Wu