Yes, there are quite a few museums on a map of Helsinki. And, yes, each of them is worth a hasteless tour on Sunday afternoon. However, there are some proven ways to benefit from the museum visit without entering exhibition space. Think of shopping and a hearty lunch.
Contemporary Art Museum Kiasma – attention: products may contain contemporary art
Kiasma is really not just about exhibitions. In fact, the gorgeously curved and light-catching building by Steven Holl is a showpiece on its own. Now add to it the ideal central location, the most popular artsy shop in the town and a café with an exceptional view – you are up to some quality non-conventional museum time.
Kiasma’s museum shop is, arguably, the most-visited in Helsinki. Art, illusion, robots, superheroes, photography, graffiti and illustrations – the number of possible hashtags here is limitless. As curious as Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and as bold as the museum itself, it slowly escalates from the innocent mint pastels to something like the collection of “Hairy underwear”.
The shop’s bookshelves offer an impressive selection of albums and tutorials that will help anyone, who ever wondered how to write/talk/argue or fake an insightful opinion (underline as appropriate) about art. Take your time to browse through cute artsy souvenirs: temporary art tattoos, piles of colorful stationary or the most non-trivial postcards. The price range is from €2 to €200 (if you opt for a design birch bag – the most Nordic haute couture possible).
It is long time proven that trying to understand the contemporary art takes too much mental and physical power – that is why lunch in Café Kiasma (11-14) is never a bad idea. The menu changes weekly but there will always be filling soup and the main course, often as Finnish, as it can get – elk entrecôte, grilled salmon or beetroot risotto with blue cheese.
My personal tip is to complete the experience with a glass of organic Kiasma wine, accompanied with the postcard view from the café window: the imposing Parliament of Finland, the tower of the National Museum of Finland and the equestrian monument to Marshall Mannerheim. Bingo.
Kiasma, Mannerheiminaukio 2, http://www.kiasma.fi/en/
Ateneum – classics to take-away
Ateneum is the museum at its core: the atmospheric permanent collection, engaging exhibitions, and the respectful quietness of look, don’t touch halls. Also, perfectly located a few steps away from Helsinki Central railway station and the Airport bus stop, Ateneum can be the ultimate choice for the last minute gifts.
Ateneum’s museum shop offers you the serenity and beautiful melancholy of Finland to “take-away”. The paintings by Hugo Simberg, Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Albert Edelfelt come in all shapes: magnets, pill boxes, cards, notepads, puzzles, canvas bags (of course, there is a share of Modigliani and Munch, but they are not why you come to Helsinki at first place).
The elegance of the 19th century museum building is captured in Ateneum “Details” collection inspired by the door handles, walls reliefs and stair railings – those memories come in a form of coasters, mugs, suitcase tags and candles.
And, quite predictably, “old school” artists and hip design are nicely mixed with Moomin-related souvenirs – the cutest and the most inevitable of Finnish essentials. How about a mouse mat, recreating one of Tove Jansson’s famous frescos? You just can’t say “no” to that.
Ateneum’s food hub, Café Tablo, gets quite packed during the lunch times (11am-3pm), and not without reason. Firstly, the place is cozy: the full-wall mosaic panel (copy of Italian artwork), and framed paintings on the walls – mostly, Helsinki viewed by contemporary artists. Secondly, with the right seat, you can see the impressive façade of the Finnish National Theatre and a busy skate ring during the winter season.
Thirdly, Tablo offers quite a selection of cakes, buns, quiches, savoury sandwiches and homemade smoothies (apple-ginger one is an energy bomb). As for the lunch options, you can go for the soup buffet or order one of the main courses. Fried herrings with smetana (creme fraiche)? Traditional meatballs in chili sauce? Beetroot lasagna? Fish-bake with mashed cowberry? Those are kind of life choices we all enjoy!
Ateneum, Kaivokatu 2, http://www.ateneum.fi/?lang=en
Design Museum – Helsinki in style
Design Museum shop is located in the heart of Design District Helsinki and offers charmingly bizarre items designed in Finland. Too many “design” words in one sentence? Well, it is Helsinki we are talking about.
Think of all those beautiful lake-shaped vases, poppy-pattern purses and gracious glass birds that you surely spotted during your stay in Helsinki – in this tiny chamber of treasures you can either buy them or learn more about the people behind the idea.
The rows of books on Finnish urban architecture, functional design and the history of fashion share the space with the tableware, textile and souvenirs. Some were created by unquestionable gurus, like Alvar Aalto, Oiva Toikka, or Tapio Wirkkala, others – by young gurus-to-be. Take your time to explore the birch key rings, stylish reflectors (okay, in this shop “stylish” is a default definition, as you can even buy a fire alarm in a shape of a raspberry pink moth), games and pieces of very Nordic silver jewelry: the necklace with a cunning fox or “No Diamond” ring.
In my humble opinion, two absolute marvels of Finnish souvenir industry in Design Museum’s shop are crunchy “Snowball” (€10) and a wooden “Hug puzzle” (€22). Both have stunningly simple ideas behind them, but at instant fill your heart with warmth and some kind of unexplainable childhood euphoria.
Cafe bar Luomus is a cozy cafeteria with stylish wooden stools and a smell of freshly baked croissants.
You can choose from nearly twenty tea varieties or have a cup of coffee with – oh, so Finnish – blueberry pie (vanilla custard on top) and even more Finnish rye bread sandwich. They also serve a light lunch with house quiche, salad on the side and wine. All goes perfectly with the history of Nordic design book opened at random.
Design Museum, Korkeavuorenkatu 23, http://www.designmuseum.fi/en/
Written by Ksenia Kosheleva.