Photo: Anna Watson

Directly across from it is the Enso-Gutzeit Building (1962), which was built by Alvar Aalto, the most famous Finnish architect and a twentieth-century modernist legend. Yet one of the most legendary projects by Aalto in the Finnish capital is undoubtedly the Helsinki concert hall Finlandia Hall (1967-72), which Aalto designed while symbolically thinking of the new city center. While on the “Aalto route” it’s worth checking out the Academic Bookshop and the restaurant Savoy (1937). While working on the restaurant’s interior, Aalto created the legendary Savoy vase, whose source of inspiration was supposedly “young Eskimo girls in leather pants.” The vase is still a symbol of Finnish design, and is among the most-sold design objects.

If Finnish design was still only recently associated with history—Marimekko designs and Aalto furniture—then design in Helsinki today is obviously undergoing a second wave of expasion. Next year, Helsinki will be honored with the title of World Design Capital 2012. A section of the city center where art galleries, style boutiques, restoraurants, cafes, and the Design Museum are concentrated, was officially named the Design District in 2005. The district consists of twenty-five streets, and the special Design District map, which can be found in almost every shop and eatery in the neighborhood, includes more than one hundred and seventy places that are worth checking out. Beginning with Artek, established by Alvar Aalto and his peers in 1935, to the textile industry classic Marimekko, to vintage design stores, restaurants, and cafes. Definitely stop by the Design Forum Finland—a unique, alive, and dynamic space that is completely devoted to Finnish design, representing both classic and new names in design.

Where to Eat

Have breakfast at Cafe Engel, which is not only one of the most charming Helsinki cafes, but is also located in one of the oldest stone buildings in the city. Take a seat by the window; Senate Square and Helsinki Cathedral are right across the street. On the warmest days of the year, the cathedral’s monumental steps become the city’s favorite place to celebrate the sun. One of the most charming cafés in Helsinki!

Have lunch at Gran Delicato Cafe. A great café, with a slightly kitschy bohemian atmosphere, wonderful sandwiches, and excellent salads. Plus, at prices that are incredibly friendly for Helsinki.

Have afternoon coffee at Ursula Cafe. The location itself is fantastic: the very end of Kaivopuisto Park, with a direct view of Suomenlinna island and sea fortress.