WDC Helsinki 2012 Pavillion

Hip Helsinki: The Design District (Photo Essay)

John always professed a preference for Finland among all the Nordic countries but I was not prepared  for how much I was going to love it. Not only are the people incredibly friendly and hospitable, it's also just a cool and interesting place to be. If you want to experience what I'm talking about, head down to the Design District in Helsinki.

helsinki design district

'Scandinavian design' is popular throughout the world, but I had no idea that Finland isn't technically considered part of Scandinavia until this trip. Never mind the classifications because Finland has amazing designers and Helsinki is World Design Capital 2012. This part of the city is the perfect place to explore what they have to offer because within a very small area you'll find tons of shops, galleries, museums, showrooms, agencies and antiques stores. Exploring is easy with the mobile app available at designdistrict.fi or a paper map from the tourist office.

Freud Helsinki

helsinki design district

While we always planned to visit Helsinki, our motivation for this particular trip came from our visiting friend, the uber-talented Kyle Hepp. She's an amazing international wedding photographer who is so good that I've considered planning some kind of vow renewal just to have her shoot our wedding (we met her after we got married). Here she is at work on the streets of Helsinki:

kyle hepp helsinki

So the title of this post could just as easily have been "Some Friends Having Too Much Fun In Helsinki" because that's what we did. It's pretty satisfying just to walk the streets of the Design District and take in all the strange odds and ends that are collected there. The entire area is perfectly curated with this strange mix of old and new. You kind of don't get why the old stuff is there and are just as easily confused by some of the newer things you come across (see a later post to come on Finland's quirks).

But we also wanted to do some shopping and one of our first stops was the independent music store Stupido Shop (Iso Roobertinkatu 23, stupido.fi), where John and Kyle picked up some new tunes.

stupido shop helsinki

Back onto the streets we hit up a few more shops. One can find anything in the Design District, from clothing to furniture to jewellery to food.

helsinki design district

Marimekko (Pohjoisesplanadi 33) is  one of the larger Finnish design chains but they still keep a small shop in the Design District and we had a lot of fun with their giant iPhone...before I picked up a new autumn coat.

marimekko helsinki design district

After lunch we poked around in a few more shops and also checked out a couple of galleries, including Laboratory (Erottajankatu 9B, courtyard, laboratory.fi / helsinkistreet.fi), a collective made up of award-winning photojournalists. The entire exhibit featured their street photography, my favourite type.

Finland cider

The Finns love their cider, as well as something called a long drink, which is similar and was created for the crowds expected at the 1952 Summer Olympics.

Laboratory Helsinki

at Laboratory

Everywhere I looked there was an exhibition or gallery tucked away in a courtyard or even downstairs within a shop. We could have spent much more time browsing but torrential rains came and we found ourselves cozying into the awesome bar, Latva (Korkeavuorenkatu 25, latva.fi). This became "our bar" for our few days in Helsinki.

latva helsinki

bitters variety

I had no idea there were so many different types of bitters.

This photo is blurry from the timed shutter but I still love it.

Another cool place to check out is the WDC Helsinki 2012 Pavillion (between the Design Museum and the Museum of Finnish Architecture, wdchelsinki2012.fi), which is a public meeting place hosting free workshops, classes, flea markets and film screenings. It's only open until 16 September so hurry over.

WDC Helsinki 2012 Pavillion

Er, almost.

Our last stop was Funky Burger (Annankatu 31-33) for a burger and last drink of the night. Even the sports bars in Helsinki are hip.

funky burger helsinki

funky burger burger Helsinki

The place to stay in the Design District is the very chic Klaus K Hotel, which offers boutique luxury in unique design rooms and suites inspired by Finland's national epic. 


  1. Constance 27 January, 2013 at 04:35 Reply

    Helsinki is a fantastic city. It’s a great walking city, and the public transit is quite good too. The city center is among the most vibrant I’ve experienced in northern, western and eastern Europe. Having family there, I’ve visited a lot over the years. My first time there as an adult, we stayed at the Klaus K (but it was the Klaus Kurki then), and my cousin was the “baarimesteri” of the hotel bar (and the reason we got a sweet rate for a two week stay). I’ve never had a bad time in Helsinki, not even in the middle of winter (but, brrr!). Oh, now I want to be there again.

  2. Cherina 24 October, 2012 at 10:35 Reply

    Ooh, now I’m excited – I am heading to Finland later next year and I was already looking forward to all the design, amongst about a million other things. Iceland is the only other Nordic country I have been to so looking forward to seeing Finland also. That burger is a work of art in itself!

    • inspiringtravellers 24 October, 2012 at 10:39

      I have not been to Iceland so I can’t compare the two, but I’m sure you’ll love Finland. We found it to be such a special country – enjoy! =)

    • inspiringtravellers 27 September, 2012 at 19:25

      Thank you so much! I’m curious as to what you didn’t like about it? I feel like we didn’t see enough…I wanted to take one of those cruises around…

  3. Kyle 25 September, 2012 at 12:09 Reply

    we need to go back ASAP! I had so much fun with you guys!!! And yes, Helsinki is pretty much the coolest place ever. I just loved how all the stores and shops were SO random.

    • Andrea 25 September, 2012 at 13:03

      I SO want to go back!! Or just meet you somewhere else and maybe we’ll have just as much fun =) You would have loved Turku too – even more interesting shops and some really beautiful buildings.

    • Andrea 25 September, 2012 at 13:04

      ps. funny and random – someone on Twitter just messaged me that there are lots of Nepalese restaurants in Finland. How good was that dinner?

  4. Tom @ Waegook Tom 18 September, 2012 at 19:54 Reply

    This looks like EXACTLY my kind of place – especially with that burger on the end. Although I did notice that one of the magazines in the shot said, “humid, hot and horny”. The words humid and horny should NEVER go together in the same sentence. Eurgh.

    • inspiringtravellers 18 September, 2012 at 12:59

      You just have to knock it down, Ali, haha – the ingredients were tasty (I had the single) =) Andrea.

    • inspiringtravellers 14 September, 2012 at 19:38

      When you find a cool spot it’s easy to get sucked in. We spent most of our time in this area.

  5. Andi 13 September, 2012 at 14:52 Reply

    OMG these are the best photos you’ve ever taken! LOVE them!!! Loved seeing Kyle and that shot of you and John’s reflection in the mirror is incredible.

    • inspiringtravellers 14 September, 2012 at 19:37

      Thanks so much, babe! I’m really happy with the photos from our time in Finland – can’t wait to share more…I think my skills are improving =)

  6. Megan 13 September, 2012 at 00:06 Reply

    this looks like a district i belong in. havent made it to helsinki yet but i really look forward to seeing places and areas like this.

    and i wouldnt mind checking out funky burger :)

    • Megan 13 September, 2012 at 10:15

      i seem to always get the ‘let’s go to finland!’ urge in the middle of winter. and temperatures aside, the reason we never go is because of the daylight hours problem (which is typically the reason we flee norway anyways!) maybe i can sweet talk andre into a late fall trip.

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