What unique, high-quality, useful things should I buy in Helsinki?
November 8, 2014 5:34 PM   Subscribe

When I travel, I sometimes like to pick up better-quality versions of everyday household objects that I already own -- both because sometimes the quality is much higher than what I can get in the U.S., and also because doing it feeds my desire for a souvenir without adding any clutter to my life. Soon I'll be in Helsinki for a few days, and I'd like to buy some high-quality, packable, practical, useful objects. What are the Finnish people particularly good at making?

I'm especially but not solely interested in things that are unusual/unique to Nordic people, or that Nordic people should or might be particularly good at -- like, cold-weather scarves, blankets or wraps, boots or slippers, things made of silk or wool, maybe things related to the sauna or bathing, any specialty cookware or foods, gadgets to counteract the effects of the short winter days, etc. I'm not particularly interested in things that are hand-crafted or use rare/scarce materials; I am most interested in things that are best-in-class. If they're manufactured through a totally conventional process, that's fine with me. In general, I like stuff that is minimalist and urban in style.

Please recommend any objects, genres or stores/neighbourhoods -- thanks :)
posted by Susan PG to Travel & Transportation around Helsinki, Finland (24 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in Finland I bought a lovely woven woolen blanket. I also wanted very much to buy a reindeer skin for use as a rug. The fur is incredible on those things. But my husband is anti-dead-animal-decor.

Other things Finland is famous for include glass anything. So candle holders, vases, etc.
posted by lollusc at 6:06 PM on November 8, 2014

Oh also really thick warm sleek-looking felted slippers.
posted by lollusc at 6:07 PM on November 8, 2014

One last comment, when you arrive at Helsinki airport, there are a bunch of shops selling exactly these sorts of things. Upmarket homewares by brands famous in Finland. Don't buy there, because you'll find things cheaper elsewhere, but because everything is sort of concentrated into a couple of shops, it's a good opportunity to wander round and make lists of things you want to hunt for elsewhere.
posted by lollusc at 6:09 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

A piece from Iitalla, which runs from the more ornate Taika to the minimalist Teema. I'd say Artek, but their signature pieces are harder to pack (furniture) or won't work in the US (light fittings).

Via Dan Hill's excellent essay on modern Finnish design for Out of the Blue, a book that would make for a nice souvenir all by itself.
posted by holgate at 6:24 PM on November 8, 2014

I brought home Arabia and Iittala (porcelain and glassware), but that's as much as I can offer since I was a student at the time and broke. I also bought a ton of salty licorice, yum....
posted by chocotaco at 6:26 PM on November 8, 2014

Marimekko housewares and fabric. I don't think it's all online? It's gorgeous.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:31 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used to travel a lot for work and would buy splurge-type clothing someplace I had never been before. I still remember where I got this scarf or that shirt ten years ago.
posted by shothotbot at 6:32 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: can you cite examples from other places you've been?

Sure! Previously I asked this question about Japan, which got me awesome answers and where I ended up buying wrapping cloths, a bento box, a small bucket for the bath, and a sesame seed grinder. I've also bought stuff like a salt dish and a boot tray in Copenhagen, a bunch of super-precise nailcare tools in Berlin, and a cast iron Staub dutch oven in Paris. So, it's all basic household stuff --- just really, really well made and hard/impossible to find elsewhere.

Thank you everybody for the answers so far -- they're great :)
posted by Susan PG at 6:33 PM on November 8, 2014

I order tin horseshoes from Finland, if you'd like to take up molybdomancy. Maybe not the urban aesthetic you're looking for, but very Finnish and not easily found elsewhere.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:27 PM on November 8, 2014

I was in Helsinki and I bought a set of juniper trivets, which I've never seen in the USA and they smell amazing. I also bought a leather fly swatter with a handle made from reindeer antler… might seem weird but it sure is the nicest fly swatter I've ever seen (the antler handle is a little over the top, of course). Both purchased from local artisans at the craft market on the waterfront.

I received a marimekko baby bib as my secret quonsar gift back in 2012 and I'm still using it - so that speaks to its durability considering the severe wear and tear that bibs get (I'll admit it doesn't look as good now, but it is a great bib). Cute brand.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:27 PM on November 8, 2014

I should add that if $ grew on trees, I would always buy a hand knitted sweater every time I visit any Scandinavian country. The patterns are simply gorgeous and they certainly are extremely well made. Be careful though as I have paid a lot for a beautiful sweater without really trying it on thoroughly and the wool can be very scratchy.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:30 PM on November 8, 2014

Not sure if Finland does cheese slicers ("cheese plane/plain?") as well as Norway, where I'm from, but as a Norwegian living in the US, that's the most important household item I've got from back home. I gave up on American ones, as they seem to all be manufactured "wrong", ie the angle of the slot is not effective or its otherwise too flimsy.
posted by edlundart at 9:39 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes to the cheese slicers / cheese planes. Don't go for the "best" in Stockmann; just get something basic. My Finnish sister-in-law, who now lives in the US, agrees with edlundart: she insists that run-of-the-mill Finnish cheese planes are effective and reliable, whereas she's never used an American cheese plane that she found satisfactory at all.

Those juniper trivets are wonderful, too.

Kattinatt dishcloths are a Swedish product but probably easier to find in Finland than in the US, and they're very packable. I really think they're superior to any other dishcloth I've used although it's hard to explain why; something about the texture is pleasing. They also come in very cute prints. I found a mail-order source for them in the US recently but if you happen to come across them in Finland, grab a couple. (This only applies if you're of the dishcloth school of dishwashing. If you're loyal to the sponge or the scrub brush, never mind.)

Pedestrian reflectors are very common in Finland, where they come in a variety of designs, but I have never seen them for sale in the US. They're very practical and being small and lightweight should be easy to pack. My sister-in-law has given a couple to me and I use them in the winter when it gets dark early and I'm wearing a dark-colored coat. The idea is that you put the reflector on a string and attach it to your coat so that it dangles around car-headlight-level, I think. I use a safety pin to attach the string on mine to the inside of my coat pocket. When I'm walking around in broad daylight I stow the reflector in my pocket; when it gets dark I pull it out.
posted by Orinda at 10:19 PM on November 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

When I was in Sweden I went to a thrift store. I bought a pair of pants made of out a lovely material and that had a great print. I wear them every week - some of my favorite clothing.

I'd recommend (for eveveryone traveling anywhere) if you have a data plan to type in 'thrift shop' into google maps in whatever neighborhood your in (or make a special trip to one); you may find some unique treasure (ideally awesome clothing) that you'd never find at a retail shop (and it'll be cheap!).
posted by el io at 10:36 PM on November 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ruskovilla wool sweaters and long underwear. (Mine comes from Finnish Santa, who orders it in the mail, but there are also retailers who carry it in Helsinki.)
posted by ktkt at 11:18 PM on November 8, 2014

Hah, seconding the reflectors Orinda mentions! Haven't thought about them in ages, but they are an essential ingredient of my childhood and of the Scandinavian (dark) landscape.
posted by edlundart at 12:33 AM on November 9, 2014

Here is a short list of range of specialist shops in Helsinki. The hunting shop that is mentioned there, Schröder, is particularly interesting - since hunting (and fishing) in this part of the world involve rather different gear than is needed further south.

The large Stockman store in central Helsinki offers a huge range of stuff - and their kitchenware department might interest you, in particular.
posted by rongorongo at 1:13 AM on November 9, 2014

Fiskars scissors. Outdoors knives: 'puukko' of any brand (a sturdy evolution of utility knife for woodworking, hunting and fishing. Usually they have a wooden handle and simple aesthetics where the balance between handle and blade is prettier than with knives that try to look dangerous, outdoors stores may be best to explain these). 5 of these small tin openers (non-foldable), 50¢ in any store and being small and everywhere, you'll always find one nearby and they'll last forever.

Trams 6 and 8 going eastward have their terminus next to Arabia factory stores (quite far, some 6km from center, but simple tram travel). There is a small cluster of design stores and factory outlets in one huge building shared with art & design school. In weekdays, if you walk to the opposite side of the large building where the stores are, you'll find the student-owned cafeteria Kipsari (the entrance is below ground level) where you'll may get more contemporary recommendations, an atmosphere very different from the stores, and a cheap vegetarian meal.
posted by Free word order! at 2:59 AM on November 9, 2014

Rather than Stockmanns, I'd recommend browsing at Antilla and also Clas Ohlson for all the products mentioned above. There's a convenient location in the Kamppi mall/bus station that has not only these two within walking distance but also a Marimekko outlet, Iitala shop and also Pentik.

Accessorize does very nice hat and glove combo's with Thinsulate linings, if you're from a winter location.

I also like Tiger, which is a Danish brand I think, and while its got a sense of "dollar store" pricing the colours, designs and product choices really set it apart for "stuff you didn't even think there'd be something for" ... i.e. a lovely neck cushion that's soft and packable for long distance travel yet cost only 4e.
posted by infini at 3:29 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

> Hah, seconding the reflectors Orinda mentions! Haven't thought about them in ages, but they are an essential ingredient of my childhood and of the Scandinavian (dark) landscape

Thirding them! They're so very Finnish and I don't remember seeing them anywhere else. Mine were shaped like snowflakes, and my mom now uses them as Christmas decorations.

Also: square birch-bark baskets.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:25 AM on November 9, 2014

We went to the Marimekko factory outlet, a short train ride out of city center and found some beautiful printed fabric. Later we used it to make a lovely duvet cover. Best useful souvenir.
posted by garethspor at 9:47 AM on November 9, 2014

I have just come back from Helsinki so I can warn you - the airport duty free shopping area is a construction zone right now - what is open tends to be the general big name non-specific to Finland brands. Aside from the moomin shop. (There wasn't even a decent selection of Lakerols for snacking on. :( )
posted by halcyonday at 5:09 AM on November 10, 2014

Helsiniki is expensive, so be prepared. Accessorize is a British chain - you will get more bang for your buck ordering from their website.

I really wanted to go to Taito when I was there - that sells various small scale crafts.

There are some thrift stores in Helsinki - the chain is called UFF. I bought some very warm knitted socks there.
posted by mippy at 6:49 AM on November 10, 2014

I don't know if this counts as practical, but when my mom spent several months in Finland she brought back a couple of pieces of jewelry for me — a brooch and a pair of earrings. They were (are) lovely and aesthetically different from similar artisan-level jewelry available locally.

To this day, 20+ years later, I get compliments on the brooch.
posted by Lexica at 8:23 PM on November 11, 2014

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