Helsinki culture
Updated 2 weeks ago

What should one absolutely do in Helsinki? What would be the quintessential Helsinki thing to experience, to try, to eat? Well, first you should take your clothes off, literally.

Saunas in Helsinki

Behind every cliché lies the truth, and that is also the case with sauna and Finland. Helsinki is no exception. The city has many saunas open to the public, some of them dating from way back, some which have opened up just recently. Sauna is hip; the sweaty culture is experiencing a renaissance.

Back then, up to the Second World War and even after, especially the flats and apartments in the poor parts of Helsinki did not have their own bathrooms. So, the place to wash away the dirt and the sins was a public sauna. Therefore, to this day, you can find them, especially in the Kallio district. Nowadays, they are havens of relaxation, but the old ambience remains. To name a few traditional ones, Kotiharjun sauna and Arla are recommendable. Lately, new and slick ones have been built along the Helsinki shores. Check out Löyly and Hakaniemen Kulttuurisauna.

Put on your dancing shoes

Like anywhere, going out and about is the best way to learn about the place. That said, there is a place which is the microcosm of the Finnish soul, a place that tells something essential about it. Remember, Finland experienced urbanisation quite late, and many Helsinki inhabitants have roots in the countryside. That microcosm is the dance hall.

For some reason, old dance music has been hugely popular in Finland ever since the 1920s, ^particularly Argentinian tango, as a Finnish version, has a special place in the Finnish psyche. It manages to hit those right buttons of tragedy, melancholy and lost love. Pathetic, but true. So, if you happen to be in Helsinki between April and October, the place to visit is Pavi (Helsingin Paviljonki) some 18 kilometres north of the city centre. What you see is CEOs and truck drivers dancing the night away in perfect harmony, 80-year-olds as well as 18-year-olds enjoying the live music. Status or age has no significance. Dance and socialising is everything; alcohol is not even sold.

Eating out in Helsinki

After dancing and sauna, it is time for a meal. Completing your very Finnish day in Helsinki is a big portion of sautéed reindeer at Lappi restaurant. Its wooden interior and cuisine were once enjoyed even by one Anthony Bourdain.

Read more on sauna culture and restaurants in our articles "Eating out in Helsinki" and "Things to do on weekdays in Helsinki".

 Useful links:

My Helsinki - Public saunas in Helsinki

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