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Helsinki, Finland Art and Design Guide

Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki, Finland
Tyson Wintibaugh & Gayle Wheatley

Helsinki, Finland is a design lover’s paradise. Relaxed, clean, and hip, you’ll discover wide tree-lined boulevards filled with decorative buildings and countless stylish shops brimming with well-designed treasures. The museums in Helsinki are filled with dynamic and cutting-edge modern art on par with what you’d find in larger art capitals. Voted the design capital of the world for 2012, this city is a design paradise, a visual art symphony. Here’s a sampling of not to be missed art and design sights in Helsinki:

Finnish Art and Culture
To see some of the country’s best Finnish art, head first to the Finnish National Gallery, which is comprised of several separate museums, the largest being the Ateneum Art Museum. If you love modern art, head straight to Kiasma (The Museum of Contemporary Art), which showcases changing exhibitions by Finnish and international contemporary artists.

Cutting-edge Architecture and Design
Lovers of architecture should be sure to stroll by Helsinki’s central train station, with its iconic art deco statues out front. Also be sure not to miss Helsinki’s Design Museum, showcasing Finnish design highlights spanning ceramics, glass arts and textiles.

For a unique experience, visit Temppeliaukio Church, also known as “the church of the rock”. This Lutheran church in Helsinki’s Töölö neighborhood is built straight into the rocks and crowned with a giant round copper disc roof. It’s a futuristic showcase of glass and stone, and if you time it right you can catch one of the church’s free concerts, which are accentuated by the remarkable acoustics.

In contrast, the ultra modern Kamppi Chapel of Silence in bustling Narinkka Square is a homage to contemporary design. With its skyward-sweeping timber walls and compact egg-like form designed by K2S Architects, it’s a peaceful retreat in the middle of the city.

In contrast, for a taste of traditional Finnish design culture, a visit to the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum is essential. Here you’ll find traditional farmhouses and cottages gathered from all across Finland and transplanted here for historical preservation.

The Finnish Sauna
Of course no trip to Finland would be complete without experiencing a Finnish sauna. You simply must shed your robes and sweat it out in a traditional wooden room with a rock-covered oven that heats up with a hiss when you toss cold water onto it. There are a couple public saunas in town you can visit, but the best way to go is to stay at a hotel with its own sauna.

The Art of Shopping
If you love books, Helsinki’s Academic Bookstore is filled with English titles. Here you can browse art books, learn more about Finland and check out their large selection of travel books to finesse your trip.

For jewelry, art books, trendy postcards and all sorts of goodies, check out the museum shops at both Kiasma and the Ateneum Art Museum. For Finnish textiles check out Marimekko (you might recognize their fabrics from Crate and Barrel), and the endless charming shops that make up the Design District. There are too many of these jewels to list, but design district maps can be found everywhere to lead you to all of them.

Snack Break
Café Esplanade is the perfect spot to grab a pastry, coffee or quick bite and people-watch along the esplanade. Tiki lovers can sip a tropical drink beneath hanging pufferfish sporting sunglasses at Kokomo, and Café Bulevarden has delicious and inexpensive pastries, sandwiches and quiches.

Hotels with Style
In design-friendly Helsinki, why not stay at a design hotel? Inspired by the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, Klaus K hotel has incorporated literal and symbolic references to the Kalevala in almost every aspect of the hotel’s design. Klaus K seamlessly merges luxury, comfort, good service, and visual appeal into one complete package. Sparkling wine on arrival, a private Finnish sauna that is free of charge to guests, and a delicious breakfast in their elegant restaurant beneath pink mirrored lamps—these are a few of the treats awaiting you here.

Hotel Fabian is a small boutique hotel with designer flare and an emphasis on comfort. Centrally located near the harbor and just off the Esplanade, Hotel Fabian has everything you’d expect at home, complete with a house kitchen filled with everything. The lobby is set up like a living room with couches and coffee tables. Rooms follow suit, feeling homey, with fast wifi connections and all the modern amenities.

A City for Creatives
If you're a lover of culture, Helsinki is the place for you. This city pulsates with creative energy. Here you’ll find slight traces of Scandinavia, Russia, and the Baltics alongside a uniquely distinctive Finnish aesthetic, creating the perfect mix of creative flavor.