Helsinki’s Kallio district has undergone a massive transformation in recent years. What was once a working-class area is now home to a young and varied crowd, who are attracted by its lower rents, bohemian character and ever-growing number of cool boutiques, restaurants, cafés and bars. It’s also just a short ride from the city centre on tram route 3 – said to be Helsinki’s best line for sightseeing – making it an easy choice for anyone looking to see a different side of the city.
Start your exploration
Kallio, whose name means ‘the rock’, is connected to downtown Helsinki by Pitkäsilta bridge, which leads almost immediately to Hakaniemi. This square is renowned for its century-old market hall and outdoor stalls. The market hall is the place to find everything from organic food and handicrafts to jewellery, clothing and even vintage collectables. It is also a popular lunch spot. Soppakeittiö (‘soup kitchen’), for instance, is a local favourite; its signature bouillabaisse (a classic French fish soup) is highly recommended, whether eaten on the spot amid the market bustle, or as a takeaway for those in more of a rush.
From the north-eastern end of the square, it’s a short walk to the shore and to three interconnecting green spaces – ideal for a picnic with provisions picked up at the market. From the waterside Tokoinranta park, a footpath over the railway line leads to Linnunlaulu, worth a detour for its elegant wooden villas and the views across the bay. Back on the Kallio side of the tracks, beyond Ilolan park, Tarja Halosen park and the Helsinki city theatre building, the next major landmark is the striking Kallio church, built in 1912 in a style known as National Romantic, with art nouveau-influenced murals inside. Almost next door is Karhupuisto, the ‘bear park’, with its statue of a brown bear – Finland’s national animal.
Karhupuisto lies at the south-western edge of Torkkelinmäki, the central part of Kallio, bounded by Hämeentie to the east, Helsinginkatu to the north, Kaarlenkatu to the west and Viides linja to the south. Its atmospheric narrow streets are lined with neo-classical buildings, many of which are now home to inviting cafés and boutiques, and it’s a joy to stroll round.
The area is known for its vintage stores, and one of the oldest is Ansa, on Fleminginkatu, which specialises in dresses from the 1950s and 60s and has an extremely loyal set of customers. Also on Fleminginkatu, Olo-huone (Finnish for ‘living room’) offers an imaginative range of second-hand and recycled items, including one-of-a-kind furniture, interior design items and clothing. Among the many highlights are the Anna Nygård Design boxes made from recycled venetian blinds, but there are plenty of other covetable design items that would make perfect gifts. There’s also an in-house café where visitors can sample teas made from local wild herbs, as well as top-quality coffee and snacks.
Healthy and delicious
At the north-western corner of Torkkelinmäki, Oma Maa is much loved for its fresher-than-fresh organic vegan food. The café sources all of its fresh produce from a family-run farm 30km away, and its soups, salads and more are deservedly popular. People can also sign up for a weekly organic box, filled with the best of whatever is in season. The café’s founder Ulla Pulkka describes its unique concept: ‘All of our food is produced by friends, people we know – and we work in the coffee house as well. In the future our vision is to develop a completely self-supporting farm and co-operative.’
There’s another cluster of fascinating places on Vaasankatu, to the north of Torkkelinmäki. Made in Kallio, for instance, is a café, gallery and design store all in one. Co-founder Mia Lehti describes the space as ‘a place filled with surprises and a sense of community our projects generate’. It is a workspace for designers from various creative fields, founded by local producers. In conceiving the project, Lehti felt that ‘getting a lot of creative people under one roof would produce great synergies and generate projects that would otherwise not spring up. This space has become a great headquarters to stage all our projects from.’ It often has events that are open to the public, and is a great place to pick up souvenirs from up-and–coming designers, stay on top of the latest design scene and take a break with a latte and lunch in the café.
Kallio is full of surprises, so it’s easy to stumble across something new and exciting to discover. Thanks to its vibrant and intoxicating atmosphere, visitors will come away with the feeling of a genuine Helsinki experience.