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Heading for Helsinki – your recommendations, please!

I have teamed up with American Express to go on a quest for great customer service… and I’m heading for Helsinki. I’ve been to Norway, Sweden, Denmark and even Greenland, but Finland is a first for me so I’m looking forward to the experience. And here’s what it’s all about; earlier this year, American Express set out to prove scientifically that while good customer service feels great, it can also be good for you too. Helsinki The findings went further than that. They also discovered that when we have a great service experience, we want to tell others about it. By sharing these experiences with other people, and thanks to the power of social media, these stories of great customer service can actually end up travelling considerable distances. In fact, the research found that, on average, the stories can travel 3,899 miles. So I’m putting this to the test and travelling to Helsinki – a city where the people are perhaps more renowned for their modesty and reserved nature (or at least that’s what I’ve read) but where I’m told you can be assured of finding some great examples of customer service. I want to track down great service experiences and share them with you, but I’m going to need your help. The flights were only booked this afternoon and I don’t yet know where I’ll be staying, where I’ll eat and drink, what I’ll do, where I’ll visit, where I’ll shop, and so and so forth… I only have a short window of time and need your recommendations! Have you ever been to Helsinki and received really great service somewhere? Where do you recommend I go?  Please, please, please give me your suggestions by adding a comment below… thank you!

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Telegraph.

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  1. Hi, well….it is one of my fav. cities we are talking about. Helsinki is not museum-central or culture-central. You go to Italy for that. Helsinki is to be lived, to be experienced, to be enjoyed. The best thing in Helsinki is the people. They seem distant but they are fantastic. They all speak perfect English (even the bus drivers and cashiers)…and 3-4 other languages. Listen to them. Even if they seem drunk at 9 am. 90% of the time they are harmless and have deep thoughts to convey. Enjoy the weather, go out to the harbor, travel on the subway (the stations are so huge, like cathedrals), try the local food and most importantly, go out. There used to be a great club on top of Kamppi (in the city center, everyone can tell you where Kamppi is). I hope it is style there. Lux – it was my fav. place. If you can get out to the water, do that, too. Nature is more Finnish than anything else. It is an integral part of their phyche. And of course, drink with them. But most important, be with the people. Don’t expect them to be chatty like the Americans or huggy like Italians. But they have great souls.
    Have fun. :-)

  2. Hi Aniko, thank you for your commenting. This is what I’ve heard about the Finnish people as a whole – that they are quite reserved and a little difficult to get to know at first. I know it’s stereotyping but I’ve heard that silences in conversation are quite normal to them and that they don’t tend to bother with small talk, but that when you do get to know them a little, they are very friendly people.

    The forecast for the weekend looks to be good so that’s something to be thankful for. Cool, but dry by the looks of it… that’ll be perfect.

    It’s useful to know that English is well spoken as my Finnish is not up to much (well, non-existent, to be honest!). I do like to at least try and learn a few key phrases before I go.

    Thank you for all your great suggestions.

  3. I’m Finnish so I guess I’ll have to answer!

    -Kiasma art museum for modern art
    – Wanha Kauppahalli -the old covered market for food sampling
    – For Finnish design, check out brands like Marimekko and Ivana Helsinki
    – Finns love chocolate from Fazer, so try some of it with a coffee in Kluuvikatu

    I have not been in Helsinki for a couple of years, so not sure which restaurants or bars are trending now, but the tips I gave you are classics.

  4. Oh, and I forgot something: sauna, of course, the Finnish institution.
    You can experience it in any public swimming pools (covered, of course), for example the one in Yrjönkatu (oldest in Finland, from 1928).
    Have a nice trip!

  5. Thank you, Anna! I have all of Saturday and Sunday to do as I wish… I guess the covered market and shops might be best on the Saturday, and I hope museums will still be open on Sundays…???

    I don’t actually drink coffee, but my arm can be twisted when it comes to chocolate. ;-)

  6. And thanks for the sauna suggestion… great idea!

    I just read that “Before the rise of public healthcare and nursery facilities, almost all Finnish mothers gave birth in saunas.”

    Well, I never… as they say, you learn something new every day! :)

  7. I agree with the first commenter. Helsinki is a city to be lived & wander like a local. Recommend Sokos Hotel Torni – very central.

    Also the reserved stereotype is a misconception… friendliest country I’ve been to!

  8. Check out Juuri Keittio & Baari and Grotesk for restaurants and the Iitala flagship store on Esplanadi.

  9. For a tour of (nearly) all the main sights in the city jump on the 3T tram which starts and finish at the Market Square; on my visit I stayed at the Katajanokka Hotel in the docks area, a former prison transformed into a hotel. Have fun!

  10. Thrilled to know you will be going to Helsinki! Here are my recommendations:

    In Hotel Haven or in Hotel Fabian

    In Olo, Farang and Emo

    If you go in the summer time, make sure to taste the berries – Finland has the world’s best strawberries & blueberries!

    – Walk along the south shore of Helsinki, by the sea
    – Visit the old market hall, with all its’ delicacies
    – Have a stroll around Helsinki’s design district
    – If you happen to be in Finland during the Restaurant Day (held 4 times a year), be brave and go around from one home-made-kitchen to the next one – you will be amazed!

    In La Torrefazione and in Marikahvila

    The newly opened Kulttuurisauna! And if you like a swim, visit the beautiful Yrjönkadun uimahalli (they have saunas, too)

    In the lobby bar of Hotel Kämp. In the summertime, on the dock of Relandersgrund, a red boat in the harbor close to Katajanokka AND in Mattolaituri, southern tip of Helsinki.

    Wishing you a lovely time in Helsinki, enjoy!

  11. Hello

    You can count me as typical Finn. Not born in Helsinki but lived already 15 years.

    There are all kind of old stereotypes where Finns are introvert and hostile, but lately the change has been dramatic. Sure the main difference between winter and summer is still the same; at the wintertime the darkness is almost overwhelming and at the summertime the feeling of optimism is just as powerful.

    Few tips here, in my website more:

    1. Hotel Klaus K is excellent boutique and if you are not staying there, their breakfast brunch is the best. Cheaper hotel option is Jail Hotel Best Western Katajanokka, which is build for centuries old state jail. Very exciting!

    2. Cafe culture in Helsinki is vibrant, Traditional and good ones are Karl Fazer Cafe at Kluuvikatu and Cafe Esplanad at Pohjois-Esplanadi.

    3. New Nordic Cousine is very fashionable nowadays, there are interesting gourmet pop-up restaurants which are not permanent. Juuri is a good one as well as Street Gastro at Vaasankatu in a trendy district of Kallio.

    4. Kallio is just district just outside the city. Just ten years ago it was a dangerous and gloomy area, but nowadays a blooming area with restaurants and cafes.

  12. Since you don´t have time to go outside of the city to enjoy our beautiful nature, take a walk in the Kaivopuisto Park, not far from the city center and by the sea, can be reached with tram 3. During the summer it is often bustling with people, during the winter more quite.Suomenlinna is the Fortress Island just in front of the city, can be reached by the ferry, also interesting place to visit if you just have time. Can be windy during the winter.

  13. Welcome to Helsinki!

    Couple of tips for your visit:

    Stockmann, the high-end department store of Finland, is know for good customer service. Galleria Esplanad (https://www.galleriaesplanad.fi/en_US/) is a good place for shopping. If you have time, you might also want to see the “new old city “, Tori Quartes” https://www.torikorttelit.fi/en/.

    Breakfast at hotels (I’d stay at Klaus K) is really good, but if you are looking for good service, you should do breakfast at Cafe Engel (https://cafeengel.fi/en/). Not only is the place pretty and location wonderful, their service is also really really good. Try get a window table.

    For dinner there are so many good options that it’s difficult to choose one or even two. Juuri https://juuri.fi/, Demo https://www.restaurantdemo.fi/ – and my favorite and the pearl of Helsinki, Chef & Sommelier https://chefetsommelier.fi/en/

    Enjoy you stay!

  14. It depends a lot what you want to experience in Helsinki.
    Start your day with a breakfast/brunch for example at Cafe Tin Tin Tango or Korjaamo.
    After that you could visit Olympic Stadium and its tower, if open. Walking towards downtown via Töölönlahti onwards to see Tuomiokirkko and Uspenski Cathedral. Visiting Suomenlinna is interesting, but be prepared with decent clothing. Sea wind can be freezing.
    Take Tram 3 or 2 and jump off again in Töölö, have afternoon tea at Cafe Regatta and do even BBQ there. See cultural monument Sibelius close to it. Eat dinner at Mamma Rosa in Töölö. Ends a circle.
    Among other restaurants try Lungberg in Punavuori. Helsinki is full of life, in autumn, it is well hidden.

  15. You should definately stay at the Klaus K Hotel http://www.klauskhotel.com which is Finland’s first design hotel + family owned and run. Referring to Tuija Seipell’s comments the breakfast is superb – focussed on organic / local food and “home baked” products.

    EAT: On the same street there are 3 really nice restaurants; Toscanini (Italian), Boulevard Social (Mediterranean) and Gaijin (North Asian)

  16. Dress warm, and be prepared for rain, November is invariably inclement. Customer service is, on the whole, excellent in Helsinki, and unfussy.

    For the best coffee in a relaxed environment, you won’t find better than Johan & Nyström at Kanavaranta 7, which is below the beautiful Uspenski Cathedral facing the harbour.

    For shopping, the city centre is packed with malls. Kluuvi is more upmarket, Forum a lot less so, and Kamppi somewhere in the middle. Stockmanns is fine for browsing, but ridiculously over-priced. You could also take a stroll through the Design District Helsinki to see lots of smaller, more interesting stores.

    I disagree with the poster who said Helsinki isn’t great for museums, as there are dozens. The best art can be found in Kiasma and in the magnificent Ateneum. However, all museums are closed on Mondays.

    There are so many good restaurants that it’s difficult to know where to start. Zetor is unique, serving a large variety of dishes many of them Finnish and Lappish, in a setting that has to be seen to be believed. Both Saaga and Lappi specialise in Lappish cuisine, and although neither are cheap either one offers a great dining experience.

    As I said, November can be a bit drab, with stone grey clouds and not much light, so taking a stroll around the town is best done in the evening under the city lights. A day ticket for the tram is a wise investment, and the 2/3 trams do a nice loop past most of the interesting stuff.

    Enjoy your visit.

  17. Thank you – more wonderful suggestions. How I’m going to pack all this in the short timeframe I have, I have no idea! :)

    Thanks also for the tip on Restaurant Day – I had read about that and it sounds like something not to miss.

  18. First of all WELCOME to Helsinki!

    Where to stay? I sudgest this hotel because of the location but also because it is famous to have a good attitude in service.

    Walk and make it fresh here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Yrj%C3%B6nkadun-Uimahalli/167059745964?fref=ts

    One good restaurant: https://www.gastone.fi/en/index

    Another way to “eat out”: https://streetgastro.fi/index-en.html

    Jump on the ferry, let the wind blow and have a look at the history: https://www.suomenlinna.fi/en

    If you need to get some rest for the feet, take the tram number 2 or 3 and take a ride. https://www.hel.fi/hki/hkl/en/HKL+Tram

    Flea market on Sat an Sun: https://www.stadissa.fi/tapahtumat/34880/jaahallin-kirpputori

    More tips here: https://www.hel.fi/hki/Helsinki/en/Etusivu

    If any help needed just let me know:)

  19. So luxury in Finland? This is a hot topic at the moment here and one which causes much friction between Finns and non-Finns.

    Having just completed my thesis on luxury tourism potential in Finland the main luxury product in Finland has to be the outdoors, the wilderness and space that you can find here. It is very difficult to compare Finland with other destinations in terms of luxury as tbh we dont have the products and services here to truly be considered a luxury destination, however when you come to Finland you dont want to be inside anyhow as there is so much to door outdoors.

    There are several fine dining establishments but I would suggest going to where the hipsters of Helsinki go, dont want to name places on here but email me and I can help you with this.

    As said the outdoors is Finlands luxury so I would suggest heading over to Suomenlinna on the boat and doing the little things such as having a hot chocolate (or something stronger) whilst watching the boats sail by and the sunset in the distance.

    Finns are quite modest when it comes to Finnish design but there are some great products made and designed in Finland. A visit to the design museum would allow you to see this (https://www.designmuseum.fi/)plus here is a link to a great website showcasing Finnish design https://www.finnishdesignshop.com/

    If you fancy meeting up im more than happy to show you around for the afternoon, show you the research findings etc.

  20. Hi there
    I’m a regular traveller to Helsinki so here are a few suggestions…

    Must sees for free –
    The Old Market Hall is situated alongside the Market Square and is an open-air market. It is a great place to shop in a relaxing atmosphere; all the stalls sell traditional fresh foods and treats as well as souvenirs and handcrafts. Each year in October the Market also hosts the Herring Market, the oldest traditional event in Helsinki. Both the Hakaniemi Market and the indoor Hakaniemi Market Hall are very popular amongst locals.

    Helsinki Cathedral & The Rock Church –
    The Helsinki Cathedral is a distinctive landmark in the Helsinki cityscape with its tall, green dome, which is surrounded by smaller domes. The building has a neoclassical style and is a beautiful edition to the Senate Square layout. This is truly an architectural joy. The Rock Church is a modern church, which is carved from rock and has a stunning copper dome. The church often hosts music events, as the acoustics are amazing, this church is definitely something you’ll remember – think Flintstones meets Thunderbirds truly unique!

    Design District –
    As Helsinki was announced the design capital of the world in 2012 it’s only right to visit the amazing design district. The district offers a variety of shops and restaurants, all with amazing Art Deco style architecture and design. The Design Museum is also located here. Visit this area in the summer and it will remind you of a miniature San Francisco – the trams are exactly the same too!

    Top Sees For A Fee –
    Kotiharjun Saunan Hintoja
    When in Finland you must visit a sauna and the best one in Helsinki is by far Kotiharjun Saunan Hintoja. The sauna is very centrally located and there is no need to book in advance. This is a great way of experiencing Finnish culture up close. And because there is no time limit you can spend a whole day here and don’t forget to get the birch rod, which is a Finnish tradition!

    Soumenlinna –
    The Island of Suomenlinna is protected by UNESCO World Heritage and is a popular destination with both tourists and locals. It’s perfect as a picturesque picnic site and if you visit at the weekend in the summer months you are sure to see lots of beautiful wedding parties as it is a very popular spot for local nuptials. Not only is this a fantastic place to visit for the rich culture but also for the lovely beaches. Definitely a hot spot you do not want to miss especially since tickets for the 30 min ferry are only €5 and it offers great views looking back at the Helsinki cityscape and coastline.

    Loviisa –
    If you’d like to enjoy an authentic Finnish small town atmosphere and archipelago lifestyle then Loviisa is only situated one hour from Helsinki and the Russian border. Loviisa offers a wide range of cultural sites, plenty of activates and a rich natural beauty. You can always visit the Malmgård manor, as well as learning about the interesting history of the area.

    Hotels –
    Hotel Haven, Unioninkatu 17, 00130, Helsinki
    Situated conveniently in the attractive setting of Helsinki’s Market Square. This hotel is Finland’s first member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World and is a design heaven. The rooms are individual and contemporary design. From £289
    Sokos Hotel, Yrjonkatu 26, FI 100, Helsinki
    Great hotel located In the city within walking distance of the Cathedral and includes a scenic bar, cocktail bar as well as an Irish pub and a sauna. From £84

    Glow Hotel Kluuvikatu 4, Helsinki 00100, Finland‬
    Situated in the middle of Helsinki, this hotel is a hot spot for everything in the city Centre. The hotel has a HD-TV system and WiFi throughout. With a very friendly staff and chic rooms.

    Eating Out –
    Finnish cuisine generally combines country fare and haute cuisine with contemporary continental cuisine. However, fish and meat play a dominant role in the cuisine. In Helsinki there is a huge mix of classic Scandinavian dishes to new contemporary ones. Resturant Teatteri and Mecca are definitely worth a visit. Sushi here is amazing as the Japanese buy a lot of their salmon from the Finns and seafood is also very fresh.

    Going Out –
    Helsinki is home to many contemporary cocktail bars, bars such as Bar Mattolaituri that is a must visit in the summer months and Grotesk serves amazing cocktails. People watching in the cocktail bar at Hotel Kamp (home from home for the rich & famous) or admire the city views from the roof top bar in Hotel Torni the tallest building in Helsinki. The Finns are known for their vodka so definitely give both Finlandia and Kosenkorva a chance.

  21. I live in the US, but go back to Finland and Helsinki every summer. These are the places I keep returning to:

    Stay: Kämp. Great spacious rooms and you can’t beat the location.
    Experience: Restaurant Luomo. That’s right, dinner at Luomo isn’t just a fantastic meal with delicious nouveu Nordic Cuisine, it’s an experience.
    Lunch: Kauppatori. Again, convenient central location. Modern, sophisticated decor, historic building and great food. Definitely a haven in a middle of Helsinki. Remember to visit the bathroom, it’s an old vault.

    And tons more. Feel free to email me with questions.

  22. HOTEL HAVEN is the best hotel in Helsinki!!!!

    -Great Location = 1 block from market square, tourism office, and main park. A couple blocks from Senate Square, shopping district (marimekko, iitala), and Seppala department store.
    -Exceptional Customer Service = from the moment we booked via email the hotel blew my mind with their professionalism. We used the tripadvisor free upgrade and they even accommodated with our request for a view of the harbor. Also, they immediately came to show us how the TV worked when we couldn’t figure it out. This boutique hotel definitely knows how to cater to Americans and to business people. We would 100% stay here again!
    -Hotel bar = very cool with the largest collection of whiskeys in the city.
    -Free Breakfast at Havis = AMAZING! Don’t miss the breakfast, it was outstanding. Lots of selection and champagne!
    -Room =VERY clean and beautifully decorated. I loved the lighting. Also, they give real glassware to use. Always a plus!
    -Bikes = They have two bikes to use for free. We biked all the way down the harbor and to the senate square. The bikes also have a small basket in front.
    -Bathroom = the bathroom TV was a fun perk to watch while brushing my teeth.

  23. Wow, there’s so much detail here, thank you. I am at the airport now, about to board a flight to Heathrow, from where I’ll be flying to Helsinki.

    It looks like I may have a lot of reading to do this evening, so that I can best plan the days that follow.

    Thank you all so much… if there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that Finnish people are of a very helpful nature! :)

  24. Hei Paul,

    I was the whole day in backwoods. Nice to hear you; great stuff in my mind that you have time to visit Helsinki. Why not Lapland? Jerisjärvi, Rauhala Winterdream villas? Maybe next time. Lake is frozen, snow aprx 20 cm. Levi has world cup. Magic but still relaxing atmoshphere….

    Helsinki best hotel surely (my opinion) Hotel Haven.

    Restaurants and cafes nearby: Aleksanterinkatu 22

    ‘Cafe Engel, downstairs. Best regards to owner Harri my mate.

    , Upstairs Restaurant Sunni, Best regards to UMA and Mika my mates too.

    Have a pleasant stay and see you soon in Lapland,

    Lauri Temmes

  25. Thanks, Lauri… I have arrived in Helsinki now. I haven’t enough time to explore places much beyond the city this time, but I suppose that’s a good excuse to come back soon.

    I have had so many great suggestions so far, so thank you everyone. And thank you also to Helsinki City Tourist Information who emailed me and to the two Finnish gentlemen (I know you said you were going to look at the blog, so hopefully you’ll see this!) I sat next to on the plane.

    You have all given me so many ideas that my main problem is deciding what I must miss out!

  26. So great you come to Helsinki because it’s very cozy and despite all you can hear, Finns are great!
    About the food, have a nice dinner at Ateljé Finne or in Kuurna. Those are lovely small reataurants where you can eat local modern food for a decent price. I personally prefer the atmosphere of Ateljé Finne for a candle light dinner but there are both great (and it´s the same owner).
    For a nice brunch you can go to Kulma; the food is fantastic and so is the owner.
    Hope you enjoy your stay!

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