Smart Cities: Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki isn't just a smart city—it's artsy, cool, and edgy. Understated swank make this European city a must-visit.

Finland is celebrating a century of independence. Some credit kalsarikännit, the Finnish concept of drinking at home alone in your underwear, for this milestone, but the World Economic Forum has another notion. The 2017 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report names Finland as the world’s safest destination. The Nordic nation is also the world’s fifth happiest country, according to the World Happiness Report. Helsinki, the coastal capital, seems to have turned native son Eero Saarinen’s futuristic outlook into a blueprint for urban innovation that benefits locals and visitors alike. The city is collaborating with think tanks and philanthropies to plan for the rollout of self-driving vehicles. Kalasatama, the old harbor area, is now a revitalized district brought back to life through public-private partnerships. There and throughout the city, creative incubators are at work, growing global acclaim for sustainable cuisine, environmental preservation, and Scandinavian style, making for a walkable city well worth exploring now.

Food Halls and Dining Feasts

Located next to Market Square, the 19th-century Old Market Hall has two dozen gleaming stalls offering options like Finnish beef, smoked fish, pho, and jelly doughnuts in the shape of pigs. In the Ullanlinna district, Chef & Sommelier has been Michelin-starred since 2014. The five-to-seven course menu features items such as arctic char, pork neck and beets, and a juniper and blueberry dessert. Restaurant Grön uses seasonal Scandinavian ingredients to create dishes such as cod with gratinated leek and grilled buckwheat bread with preserved forest mushrooms.

Sleek Sleepovers

Plant yourself smack-dab in the city center at the minimalist GLO Hotel Kluuvi, located steps from shopping oasis Galleria Esplanad. The modern Hotel Haven is adjacent to the South Harbour, where ferries depart to Stockholm and Tallinn, Estonia. Art deco enthusiasts should stay at Hotel Lilla Roberts, which was originally designed in 1908 by one of Finland’s top architects and was formerly the headquarters of Helsinki Energy. The building opened in 2015 as a hotel with 130 stylish rooms and a swanky restaurant that serves traditional Nordic dishes such as smørrebrød and lingonberry porridge.

Soak Up the City

Built of leftover materials from the country’s plywood industry, Löyly is a supersize public sauna and restaurant complex that debuted last year. Here guests can relax in a traditional smoke sauna or a wood-burning sauna. The vaulted-roof Tennis Palace, constructed for the 1940 Olympic Games that were canceled, now houses a cultural complex that includes the Helsinki Art Museum, which reopened in 2015 after renovations. Iittala & Arabia Design Centre offers an in-depth look at Finland’s beloved design and lifestyle brands, Iittala and Arabia, and showcases limited-edition products, to commemorate the country’s centennial.

Avant-Garde Arts and Crafts

Finnish photographer Katja Hagelstam created Lokal in 2012 with the aim to combine a shopping and gallery experience. Visitors can catch revolving exhibitions like the recent “Black Lake,” which features custom furniture by Nikari, and “Bloom,” a collection of art by designers under 30. Visit CraftCorner to stock up on goods made by local artisans, or stop at Artek Helsinki to get a classic custom-made Alvar Aalto stool that you can ship back home.