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Breakfast in Helsinki Finland

Navigating the Helsinki Food Scene

In Europe, Finland by Daryl & Mindi Hirsch32 Comments

We were skeptical about visiting Finland in the winter… until we arrived and discovered the exciting Helsinki food scene. Who cares about a bit of cold weather when the food is so good!

Helsinki Cocktail - Navigating the Helsinki Food Scene

Before we arrived in Helsinki we were full of questions. Would the holiday season weather be too cold for us to explore the city? Would a week be too long for our visit? And, most importantly, what would we eat???

We pictured ourselves snuggled up inside, hesitant to leave the warm hotel. We weren’t sure that there would be enough to do to keep us occupied for seven days after reading online articles about how to spend one day in Helsinki.

As much as we like smoked salmon and salty licorice, we also were unsure about the Helsinki food scene. To be honest, we wondered if Helsinki even had a food scene beyond these iconic food staples.

Smoked Salmon in Helsinki Finland

We expected to find good smoked salmon in Helsinki Finland, and that’s exactly what we found all over the food focused city.

Long story short, our concerns about visiting Finland were a complete and utter waste of time.

Perhaps we got lucky -- the weather was cold but not freezing. In fact, it was warm enough that Daryl even took a dip in the Baltic Sea as part of our Christmas Day sauna experience at Kulttuurisauna without freezing to death.

Though we had wondered about what to do in Helsinki prior to our arrival, we didn’t get bored for a moment as we ran around the deceptively compact city checking out the bustling Christmas markets, stylish shops, amazing churches and fabulous museums. We especially enjoyed the Yayoi Kusama In Infinity exhibit at the Helsinki Art Museum.

However, as much as we loved all of the Helsinki attractions, it was the food scene that impressed us the most.

Yayoi Kusama In Infinity exhibit at the HAM in Helsinki Finland

We couldn’t help but ham it up a bit at the HAM. We adored the interactive Yayoi Kusama In Infinity exhibit.

Check Helsinki Hotel Rates ➜

Helsinki Food Scene -- Emergence of a Sleeping Giant

As soon as we arrived, we started navigating our way through the clean, organized city. Though we enjoyed working our way through the grocery bag stuffed with local Helsinki treats like Nord-T tea and Goodio chocolate bars in our hotel room at Aallonkoti Hotel Apartments, we wanted to experience Helsinki restaurants.

But where to go?

The more we talked to people, the more we learned about the previously mysterious Helsinki food scene. It turns out that Helsinki has four Michelin starred restaurants and a range of additional restaurants at every price point.

Nha Truc from Papu Cafe in Helsinki Finland

It’s not difficult to find good coffee in Helsinki. Here, Nha Truc from Papu Cafe, brews up a Vietnamese coffee with beans from Kaffa Roastery.

Luckily for us, we met Alan Grosvenor on our first day in Helsinki soon after we walked into Kaffa Roastery, our favorite Helsinki coffee shop. As we sipped our perfectly crafted pour over coffees, Grosvenor filled us in on why he left Portland, Oregon to work and live in Helsinki, Finland.

“Helsinki has a really young and exciting coffee scene, food scene, craft brew scene and distillery scene,” Grosvenor advised us, pointing out that the city is experiencing a “kick-ass revolution of delicious things to do.” His excitement was contagious.

Based on Kaffa Roastery’s coffee, we knew that the Helsinki coffee scene is for real. But we were still skeptical about the food despite Grosvenor’s enthusiasm for the city’s culinary offerings. Sure, it may be easy to find authentic Finnish food if you

Sure, it may be easy to find authentic Finnish food if you visit Åland or another rustic spot in Finland, but what about the Helsinki food scene?

Korvapuusti at Fleuriste in Helsinki Finland

We fell in love with Korvapuusti in Portland and solidified this love at Fleuriste in Helsinki. Eija Limnel bakes the Finnish cinnamon buns with a family recipe. The result is magical.

Curious to learn more, we proceeded to eat a variety of Helsinki food from traditional Finnish treats like Korvapuusti (cinnamon buns) to global foods like hamburgers, pizza and barbecue. Yes, barbecue.

When the Helsinki food made us thirsty, we were happy to drink ultra-fresh water right out of the tap. True confession -- sometimes we skipped the water and instead opted for fine Finnish beers at Bier Bier and creative cocktails at A21.

A21 Cocktails in Helsinki Finland

The vibe at A21 is almost too cool for school, but the cocktails made with locally sourced Finnish ingredients are divine.

“A lot of new restaurants are coming all the time, ” Katja Hagelstam said when we asked her about the Helsinki food scene. Hagelstam, photographer and owner of Lokal in Helsinki’s hipster neighborhood of Punavuori, plied us with local artisan ice cream as she shared her thoughts about the best Helsinki restaurants.

She wasn’t exaggerating about the abundance of Helsinki restaurants. In just one week, we dined at exciting newcomers like Shelter on the city’s waterfront as well as established eateries like Café Ekberg, an institution that dates back to 1852.

We did not have a bad meal. Not one. And coffee. We drank a lot of coffee. Again, we did not have one bad cup of Joe. Not one. This shouldn’t be a surprise -- Helsinki residents drink an average of 12 kg of coffee each year, more than anywhere else in the world.

Shelter in Helsinki Finland

Chef Hanne Honkanen is cooking exciting food at Shelter, one of the many new restaurants redefining the Helsinki food scene.

We quickly discovered that the Helsinki food culture is both local and seasonal. While we indulged in foods typical to the season, like root vegetable casseroles, beetroot salad and gingerbread, we also ate innovative food as well as some of the best seafood we’ve ever encountered.

It all came together during our Christmas Eve dinner at Hotel Katajanokka where we got to taste a full range of foods like reindeer, herring and ham. Buffet meals are often disappointing; however, this meal was a delightful “best of” smorgasbord that exceeded our expectations.

Christmas dinner at Hotel Katajanokka in Helsinki Finland

This plate showcases the range of Finnish food, both traditional and modern, that we ate during our Christmas dinner at Hotel Katajanokka.

“The Helsinki secret is bubbling over,” said Markus Veikkolainen, Co-Owner & Founder of Heleats and a proponent of fun dining. Veikkolainen summed the Helsinki food scene up best -- with just one word -- passion.

We broke bread with him at the new Fisken på Disken in the centrally located Kamppi Center. As Veikkolainen shared his insight with us, the room buzzed around us with diners and servers reveling in the restaurant’s menu featuring inspired seafood dishes and local craft beer. There was not one empty seat in the restaurant.

Food Scene in Helsinki Finland

The Helsinki food scene is an emerging powerhouse thanks to people like the ones we met during our week in the city.

As it turns out, we didn’t have to look hard to find Helsinki’s food scene. It permeates in every corner of Finland’s capital city, and it tastes good.

Getting Naughty with our Helsinki Burger Video

Watch our video for more inside scoop about the Helsinki food scene. In the video, we eat some of the best burgers in Helsinki at NAUGHTY BRGR and share our thoughts about the food in Helsinki.

We sin at Naughty Brgr and check out other Helsinki Restaurants

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more meals and conversation with the 2foodtrippers.

Hungry for more? Check out our Helsinki Food Guide!

Research Helsinki Hotels

We stayed at two awesome hotels during our week in Helsinki and loved both of them.

The Aallonkoti Hotel Apartments, an apartment style hotel with an on-site sauna, is just a short walk from the central train station. Solo Hotel Albert is a stylish hotel located just a hop, skip and jump from Kaffa Roastery.

Click here to find the best rates for these and other hotels in Helsinki.

Book a Tour

There’s more to do in Helsinki beyond the food scene. Click here to find an awesome Helsinki tour or try one of these tours:

Buy a Travel Guide

We thank Visit Helsinki for hosting us at the #HelsinkiSecret Residence and supporting our visit to Helsinki.

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About the Author

Saveur Magazine's BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

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  1. I’ve never been to Finland, but my daughter went on an exchange last year to Argentina and her host sister had gone on one to Finland a few years before that. That salmon looks amazing.

    1. Author

      It sounds like you need to add Finland to your travel plans. When you go, be sure to spend time in Helsinki. You won’t regret it.

  2. I really want a bite of the Helsinki Burger. I love Finland because it is introvert friendly and I am hoping to visit the country some day.

    1. Author

      We found the people in Helsinki to be welcoming but not overbearing. You will feel very comfortable when you visit.

  3. We’ve only been to Helsinki once and our visit was brief – we flew in to spend a night and then moved on to Tallinn in Estonia via a fast ferry crossing. We flew home from Tallinn. I’d love to go back and see more of Helsinki actually, as the food we had even during that brief visit, was good and it looks like the food scene has really exploded since then!

    1. Author

      We loved Helsinki and Tallinn and hope to visit both again. The food in both cities is exciting for different reasons. Definitely worth a return visit for you and us!

  4. Some great looking plates of food. The cocktails from A21 look seriously tasty.

    1. Author

      Oh yes, the food in Helsinki looks and tastes really good. Also, you would really like these cocktails – they’re crafted to order with local ingredients.

  5. This post is making me miss Helsinki! Missing their coffee and salmon baguette!

    1. Author

      We miss the coffee and salmon in Helsinki too.

  6. I’ve never thought of Finland as a food destination, but I guess I’m wrong! That burger looks really good! And that buffet meal has got me drooling!

    1. Author

      There’s a lot to do in Finland, and eating great food is one of the things.

  7. Sounds so interesting. I love how regional and seasonal the dishes are. That they are so unique shouldn’t be a surprise either. Had no idea there were so many Michelin star places there! Coffee and great coffee too – how wonderful. Glad you got out of the hotel!

    1. Author

      The food in Helsinki is diverse and exciting. I hope you get there to experience it yourself. When you do, you will surely also enjoy the coffee.

  8. This post is making me salivate! Korvapuusti sounds yummy, especially with a coffee! We were surprised by the food scene there too. They really seem to love their produce and cook it with PASSION. We had a delicious reindeer burger when we were in Helsinki and it was so rich and delicious!

    1. Author

      We ate reindeer. We ate burgers. But we didn’t eat reindeer burgers. Yet another reason for us to return to Helsinki!

  9. I was totally amazed by the Helsinki food scene when I was there back in 2012. My favourite dish was reindeer mince with mashed potato. Couldnt beat it! 😀

    1. Author

      After five years, you should definitely return to Helsinki. When you do, let us know how it has changed.

  10. Your post brought some good memories (and some bad ones too). It’s been more than three years since our visit to Helsinki, so some memories are gone or faded. However, there is one that would stay with me forever. I love meringues, so I try to smaple them anywhere we go. The one I tried at Aschan Coffee&Deli (they are on the other side of Esplanadi from Savoy) was so humongous that for the first time in my life I had some difficulties finishing it. It was tasty, but it felt like a sizable meal instead of dessert.

    1. Author

      Meringue as a meal? Sounds divine. Also, we hope we brought back more good memories than bad.

  11. I’ve never thought about Helsinki as a foodie destination, but I guess I was so wrong. From your experiences it appears that the food scene in Helsinki does exist and is definitely worth checking out. I think the plate you had on Christmas day showcasing the different Finnish food is the ideal way to get an idea of the traditional as well as the modern cuisine of Finland.

    1. Author

      Oh yes, the Helsinki food scene is for real. You should check it out sooner than later.

  12. This was my baptism into the Helsinki food scene. I can see there is variety on the table. Given my vegetarian leanings, I would be happy to settle down with a Korvapuusti and a cup of hot and freshly brewed Vietnamese coffee.

    1. Author

      There are loads of vegetarian and vegan options in Helsinki. When you visit, you will find plenty of delicious food to eat. Then again, you could just eat Korvapuustis with coffee all day. We won’t judge you.

  13. Interesting to know that the food scene is so cool in Helsinki! I am not a food lover like you but a good restaurant ( and its food) can be the perfect shelter when the weather is freezing outside

    1. Author

      Whether you love food like we do or not, you will surely enjoy the food in Helsinki.

  14. Oh yum, that food and coffee all looks divine! I really need to visit this part of Europe as I’ve tended to stick to the warmer places like Italy, Spain and France. Perhaps Helsinki will be right for a city break later in the year when we’re back home in the UK.

    Thanks for the tips, will definitely make sure we check them all out!

    1. Author

      You should visit Helsinki in the summer if you like warm weather. The days are long and sunny, so you’d be able to enjoy the outdoors quite a bit. Plus we hear that there are lots of fun festivals during the summer. That being said, there is a certain charm about visiting Helsinki during the winter when it’s cold and there are fewer tourists.

  15. I’ve never been to Finland but I want too now! Your photos looks fantastic too. Loved the video as well – great fun. Gary x

    1. Author

      We have just tipped the Finland iceberg, pun intended, with his visit. We can’t wait to return and see more of the country ourselves.

  16. Helsinki, in winter? Brrr The food porn looks delicious, but I’m waiting until summer. 🙂

    1. Author

      We would love to return to Helsinki in summertime ourselves. In addition to warmer weather, the days are so long and sunny.

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