FIRST IMPRESSION: Karen Burshtein
“They say Helsinki is a city of attractions rather than sites. Yes, there is the Cathedral, a landmark gleaming white against a blue sky. And the Olympic Stadium. And the Rock Church that looks like a crashed UFO. Yes, you will see a magical skyline with its layers of architecture as your ferry leaves the harbor.
But it’s just an added bonus of the ferry ride to a wild island where there’s shoreline to walk, or a new sauna to try out. So yes, tourist-y sites are a little beside the point in Helsinki. What elsewhere they call ‘lifestyle’ here is just a way of life, never something self-consciously trendy. A way of life that means always feeling close to nature, literally and figuratively – what city can match Helsinki’s access to shoreline, forests, islands and sea minutes from downtown?
And of appreciating space and time, and quiet and friends and family, and play. And food. (Oh, the fantastic food. Berries. Rye bread. Salmon soup. Fresh fish and autumn mushrooms. And salmiakki ice cream, which I became addicted to!) Within that lifestyle, too, is a high sense of the aesthetic. Kindergarten students are introduced to Alvar Aalto’s three legged stools so they can learn to appreciate good, functional design.
But what really makes Helsinki special are the people: Locals, for all their so-called reserve, are as warm and approachable as any I’ve met. Sure they like their space and don’t waste time on small talk, but when there is talk, you feel people are really engaged in what you are saying. All these things add up to one of the most enchanting, but calming cities I’ve seen.”
Karen Burshtein is a travel, style and design writer and contributes to Vogue.com, Conde Nast Traveller and Wallpaper.