Smart Cities: Innovation and Happiness in Helsinki

Innovative design, sustainable cuisine and quintessential Scandinavian style in the Finnish capital.  
Smart Cities: Innovation and Happiness in Helsinki 4
Helsinki’s year-old sauna complex, Löyly, has expansive sea-view terraces and a restaurant. Photo by: Sof A Ruzo

Finland is celebrating a century of independence. Some credit kalsarikännit, the Finnish concept of drinking at home alone in your underwear, for this milestone, but the World Economic Forum has another notion. The 2017 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report names Finland as the world’s safest destination. The Nordic nation is also the world’s fifth happiest country, according to the World Happiness Report. Helsinki, the coastal capital, seems to have turned native son and industrial designer Eero Saarinen’s futuristic outlook into a blueprint for urban innovation that benefits locals and visitors alike. The city is collaborating with think tanks and philanthropies to plan for the rollout of self-driving vehicles. Kalasatama, the old harbour area, is now a revitalised district brought back to life through public-private partnerships. There and throughout the city, creative incubators are at work, growing global acclaim for sustainable cuisine, environmental preservation, and—always—Scandinavian style, making for a walkable city well worth exploring now. —Adrienne Jordan

 

Eat

Food Halls and Dining Feasts

Restaurant Grön. Photo by: Alanna Hale

Restaurant Grön. Photo by: Alanna Hale

Located next to Market Square, the 19th-century Old Market Hall has two dozen gleaming stalls offering options like Finnish beef, smoked fish, pho, and jelly doughnuts in the shape of pigs (vanhakauppahalli.fi; Mon-Sat 8 a.m.- 6 p.m., Sun 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.). Restaurant Grön uses seasonal Scandinavian ingredients to create dishes such as cod with gratinated leek and grilled buckwheat bread with preserved forest mushrooms (www.restaurantgron.com; Tue-Sat 5 p.m.-midnight).

 

 

 

 

Stay

Sleek Sleepovers

Löyly sauna complex. Photo by: Alanna Hale

Löyly sauna complex. Photo by: Alanna Hale

Plant yourself smack-dab in the city centre at the minimalist GLO Hotel Kluuvi located steps from shopping oasis Galleria Esplanad (www.glohotels.fi; doubles from €221/Rs16,400). The modern Hotel Haven is adjacent to the South Harbour, where ferries depart to Stockholm and Tallinn, Estonia (www.hotelhaven.fi; doubles from €224/Rs16,600). Art deco enthusiasts should stay at Hotel Lilla Roberts, which was originally designed in 1908 by one of Finland’s top architects and was formerly the headquarters of Helsinki Energy. The building opened in 2015 as a hotel with 130 rooms and a restaurant that serves traditional Nordic dishes such as smørrebrød and lingonberry porridge (www.lillaroberts.com; doubles from €197/Rs14,600).

 

Esplanade Park. Photo by: Alanna Hale

Esplanade Park. Photo by: Alanna Hale

Play

Soak Up the City

Built of leftover materials from the country’s plywood industry, Löyly is a supersize public sauna and restaurant complex that debuted last year. Here guests can relax in a traditional smoke sauna or a wood-burning sauna (www.loylyhelsinki.fi; check website for timings; sauna sessions from €19/Rs1,400). The vaulted-roof Tennis Palace, constructed for the 1940 Olympic Games that were cancelled, now houses  a cultural complex that includes the Helsinki Art Museum which reopened in 2015 after renovations (www.hamhelsinki.fi; open Tue-Sun 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; entry €10/Rs740). Iittala& Arabia Design Centre offers an in-depth look at Finland’s beloved design and lifestyle brands, Iittala and Arabia, and showcases limited-edition products, to commemorate the country’s centennial (www.designcentrehelsinki.com; check website for timings; guided tour €40/Rs2,960).

 

 

 

Shop

Kamppi Chapel. Photo by: Alanna Hale

Kamppi Chapel. Photo by: Alanna Hale

Avant-garde Arts and crafts

Finnish photographer Katja Hagelstam created Lokal in 2012 with the aim to combine a shopping and gallery experience. Visitors can catch revolving exhibitions like the recent “Black Lake,” which features custom furniture by Nikari, a Finnish manufacturer of sustainable wood design products, and “Bloom,” a collection of art by designers under 30 (lokalhelsinki.com; check website for timings). Visit CraftCorner to stock up on goods made by local artisans, or stop at Artek Helsinki to get a classic custom-made Alvar Aalto stool that you can ship back home (CraftCorner craftcorner.fi; open Mon-Fri 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Artek Helsinki www.artek.fi; open Mon-Fri 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat 10 a.m.-6 p.m.).

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