The green guide to visiting Helsinki
FFor the fifth year in a row, Finns have officially been ranked among the happiest people in the world.
For city dwellers, the capital’s abundance of nature, space and calm is certainly a boost – from parks and housing estates that add to its 40% green space, to the almost unrivaled quality of air and water and the infallible presence of the sea. Because Helsinki is in fact a peninsula – surrounded on three sides by a mosaic of 300 islands, 130 km of coastline and 25 public beaches (winter swimming is highly encouraged) – where every resident lives within 10 km of the water.
Perhaps born out of this unique natural setting, Helsinki has long stood at the frontier of environmental responsibility and innovation. The city is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2035 and is making steady progress towards its goal. But for all the big names, the capital is above all a place of grassroots experimental green thinking, from conscientious food sourcing to low-impact design.
Helsinki’s ‘Think Sustainably’ platform helps steer locals and visitors to the city’s most sustainable features and activities, with blogs such as ‘Tips for Breathing Good Times’ and ‘Urban Adventures via public transport “. Indeed, visitors may be surprised to discover how much climate responsibility permeates the daily life of the city: just languish in an eco-designed sauna, settle down in a zero-waste dinner, or to stroll among his “favorites”. » shops to experience the joy, warmth and inspiration that can come from environmentalism.
Here’s how to get the most out of a trip to this forward-looking city with a focus on enjoying the present.
Traditional Finnish fishing lodge meets patented off-grid technology at MajaMaja, which has become an overnight phenomenon for its eco-retreat in the inner archipelago of Helsinki.
Designed by architect Pekka Littow, the “little house” is equipped with a mezzanine bedroom, a solar-powered kitchenette, a closed-loop water system using collected rainwater and furniture custom foldable for maximum space efficiency.
A ten-minute boat ride from Helsinki Harbour, Majamaja is the perfect synthesis of the city’s history of radical design and its forward-looking environmental spirit. “People don’t just come for another hotel experience,” says CEO Tuomas Autio. “In the morning, you can empty everything and create this little zen space.”
Majamaja: nights from €230, for 1 to 3 people. Four new homes available for summer 2022, with a sauna coming in 2023. majamaja.com
Meanwhile, in the heart of Helsinki’s downtown design district, “it all started with disposable bath slippers,” says Hotel St George’s wellness manager, Linda Ekholm. The small step of introducing durable, washable alternatives (“which may not look as pretty, but last up to four times longer”), paved the way for sustainability for the most stylish hotel in the city: a reimagined former printing press, with 300-collection of contemporary art, glass-ceiling Wintergarden cocktail bar and mosaic-tiled swimming pool.
Besides its eco-certified renovation, daily efforts include reusing leftover fruit from the bar to make snacks; collaborating with the ResQ app to minimize waste from its wonderful in-house bakery; and equip customers with SodaStream machines. If anywhere can pull off a reusable slipper, it’s the St George.
Hotel St George: rooms from £240, B&B. stgeorgehelsinki.com
Far from being empty buzzwords, the notions of seasonal, local and zero-waste cuisine are deeply rooted philosophies in the Finnish capital.
“Walk the walk” has never been more appropriate than at Nolla, Helsinki’s first zero-waste restaurant, run by a team committed to reinventing the industry. No detail has been overlooked: citrus zest is collected from local juice bars, kitchen waste is given to “Lauri”, the dining room composter (whose production is donated to the restaurant’s suppliers ), and the serving plates are made from waste clay, while the water glasses are cut from bottles salvaged from the presidential palace.
The surprising menu, meanwhile, reveals the majestic confluence of the three founding chefs of Nolla. Southern European meets modern Serbian, with an evolving menu that could include sourdough gnocchi with blue cheese and wild herb chimichurri, followed by buckwheat milk ice cream, carrot compote and buckwheat cake . And above all, conscience rhymes with conviviality – starting with a half-pint of the house brew.
Other eco-friendly options in town include gourmet restaurant Ora, by chef Sasu Laukkonen, whose finnish ingredients without exception have usually only traveled a few miles to reach the kitchen. And then there’s Way Bakery, a go-to coffee shop-bakery-restaurant in the booming Kallio district, driven by local produce and sustainability.
“Everything should be done as efficiently as possible and with as little waste as possible,” says co-owner Lauri Kahkonen. Wind your way here for a seasonal laskiaispulla bun (cooked throughout the day), or a generous bowl of homemade saffron tagliatelle and a glass of orange wine.
Explore a neighborhood
On the western side of the peninsula, and just outside Helsinki city center, Toolo is green in both sensibilities and appearance, from its world-class architecture to its sporty coastline and independent cafes. Begin your outing as the sun sets over the spruce bend of Oodi Library – a space founded on environmental as well as community principles (e.g., the library’s “urban workshop” offering services for hire, from sewing machines to 3D printers).
From there, a short hop along the lake will take you to Finlandia Hall, the concert hall designed by the idol of Finnish architecture Alvar Aalto. Recent green tweaks include rooftop solar panels (accounting for 25% of summer energy use) and a climate-friendly coffee offering – the result of several varieties being tested for minimal bio-waste.
After the cyclists and bulrushes that surround Toolonlahti Bay, continue north to the lush rose gardens and conservatory greenhouses of Elaintarha Park – as much a haven for succulents as a shelter for visitors seeking refuge from the northern climate.
Head to the top of Mantymaki Hill for the best views of Helsinki’s iconic Olympic Stadium, before returning to Etu-Toolo (meaning ‘Inner Toolo’), with a coffee break at the Latin roastery -Nordic Cafetoria, dedicated to fair partnerships with its small organic suppliers. Lunch can be picked up at the generous Toolo Village Shop counter or Cafe Regatta – also the launch pad for a kayaking trip to the west shore of Taka-Toolo or a swim at Hietaranta Beach.
End the day rummaging through exceptional second-hand books from Relove Lifestyle and Arkadia International Bookshop, before settling into the peaceful garden of Korjaamo Culture Factory. One of the largest cultural centers in the country, Korjaamo is loved as much for its summer barbecue parties as for its diverse and topical programme, culminating in the IHME Contemporary Arts Festival, which promotes environmental education. through art commissions.
With its modest manner, slow pace and surprising side, Toolo is a capsule of Finnish culture at its best.
Worthy of a category in its own right, the tradition of the public sauna is one that completes a visit to the city and is rapidly reviving, with a coterie of new spaces. Architect-artist duo Tuomas Toivonen and Nene Tsuboi, the eco-designed Kulttuurisauna quickly became a local favorite when it opened in 2017, with opera songs serenading the saunas facing the sunrise, while a simple Japanese-Finnish menu is served.
At the southern tip of the city, Loyly’s striking geometry combines a classic Finnish smoke sauna with two wood-heated saunas, while their expansive roof terrace slopes down to the sea – for the obligatory sea sauna ritual.
And to soak up the city’s unique archipelago setting, hop on the jewel-sized island of Lonna, just a 10-minute boat ride from Helsinki’s harbor market. With a view of the Baltic Sea, a stylish wood-fired sauna and a terrace with lounge chairs await you – ready to sip cans of classic Finnish beer lonkero, a refreshing gin-grapefruit blend. During your stay on the island, don’t miss Lonna’s restaurant, especially its homemade “archipelago” bread (saaristolaisleipa), an irresistible rye-molasses bread, served with smoked fish.
Between the boutiques of the Design District, the second-hand fashion stores of Kallio and the countless stalls of the Hietalahti flea market (known among locals as Hietsu), the city is full of responsible shopping options.
Glasshouse Helsinki assembles its ambitious concept of art, fashion and lifestyle in a historic former department store, with a changing program of contemporary exhibitions, stacks of dynamic independent magazines and ethical brand collaborations, all in one concern for sustainability.
For gourmet souvenirs, head to the Anton&Anton grocery store for its handpicked selection of organic and local produce. Or, for the best of museum shopping, set aside time after a prescribed visit to the spectacular Amos Rex to be inspired by new artistic titles, hand-cast coconut candles or irresistible patchwork of hand-crafted Jouten garments. from 100% recycled textiles. , such as reused hotel towels and bed linen.
Try to fly less?
Travelers can reach Helsinki from London by taking a Eurostar to Paris and a train to Hamburg, followed by a train to Stockholm. From there, a regular ferry service goes to Helsinki.
Good with flying?
Norwegian, Finnair and Ryanair all fly direct from the UK to Helsinki.