16 Distinctively Finnish Things to Buy in Helsinki

16 Distinctively Finnish Things to Buy in Helsinki

Shopping in Helsinki for an extraordinary range of tasteful and distinctive products is made simple and easy with the creation of a design district in the heart of the city which has many department stores, shopping centers, and boutique shops bunched together. The Finnish capital is a good city for walking around, browsing and shopping with most stores staying open during weekdays until 8 p.m. and until 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Consider getting yourself a Helsinki City Card which can get you some discounts at various stores beside providing unlimited urban transportation and admission to major tourist sights. Here’s a rundown of 16 items that will provide a great and lasting memory of Finland.

1. Traditional Wall Hangings (Takana and Marimekko)

Traditional Wall Hangings (Takana and Marimekko)
Image Courtesy of: Ralf Roletschek
Marimekko fabrics are internationally famed for their wildly inventive patterns and exuberant designs. They’ve made such an imprint throughout the world that their products can be quickly recognized and, sometimes, as quite a compliment, said to be their work while it really is the work of their competitors. Marimekko’s wall hangings come in different sizes. They can be as much as eight feet wide and five feet high, thus occupying a good part of a wall. Smaller wall hangings can brighten a kitchen nook, while some wall hangings are specially made for children’s bed and playrooms. As with ryijas, they make excellent gifts.

A takana is a reversible wall hanging with a double weave. One side might have a design with blue as the main color and light red as the secondary color, while the reverse side would feature the same design but now with light red the dominant color and blue secondary. Obviously, this can help diversifying room décor from time to time. It’s like having two wall hangings, besides being a considerable conversation piece. Some takanas may have a stitched top which facilitates hanging. Wall hangings of one size or type are sold in most of the department stores (like the one in Marikulina, Puhjoisesplanadi 33) and other shops. Prices can start as low as $15. Look around for one that catches your fancy.
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2. Iittala Glass

Iittala Glass
Image Courtesy of: michael davis-burchat
Iittala glassware is famous throughout the world for their distinctive, carefully crafted and eye-catching shapes which tend to add grace and elegance to dining rooms, living rooms, and dens. The vast roster of products are noted for their functionality and decorative uses. They’re also considered quite sturdy and long-lasting. The many products can be used for eating, drinking and cooking, as well as for dressing up key areas of a household. Dinnerware, cutlery and serving utensils are available, as well as various mugs, casserole dishes, pitchers, mugs, bowls, pans, pots, etc. Fun and playful objects, like whimsical glass birds, are a particularly popular feature. Vases and jewelry boxes are there too along with many other items.

Iittala glassware is sold at many stores throughout Helsinki. Here are the starting prices for three popular items: Glass kivi candles - $20; Glass Aalto mini bowls and votives - $24; and Glass Kart Tumblers (set of two) - $20. If you intend any major purchases, it might be worthwhile to venture a bit out of the design center to the factory outlet for discounted merchandise. Ittala Glassware is located at Pohjoisesplanadi 25.
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3. Sauna Bucket & Ladle

Sauna Bucket & Ladle
Consider that roughly five million Finns own over two million saunas and you get an idea of how popular these units are in Finland. But their popularity is now worldwide. Ancient in use, saunas are virtually sterile environments where one can cleanse their body of impurities, but also use the steamy rooms to prepare food and even give birth. Many visitors to Helsinki try either a wood stove or smoke sauna, experiencing the dry heat, a refreshing shower, and then a repast of sausages with beer.

The wooden buckets and ladles used to throw water over one’s body in the cleansing process are made of birch wood, often with invisible seams, and topped with strips of decorative wood. They can be smooth to the touch. Some will have form-fitting and removable plastic inserts to hold water, which might be for a gallon. The beauty of the wood is retained while the unit has a much longer life. Sauna buckets and ladles are sold in the department stores and other shops. Figure on spending $15 up. Try the Sauna Market Finland at Aleksanterinkatu 26-28.
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4. Puukko

Puukko
Image Courtesy of: Henry Hagnäs
The Finnish hunting knife is both decorative and utilitarian. Most visitors, of course, would just use the potent blade as a decorative item and as an excellent souvenir. The knife comes with a scabbard having a loop so it can be hung from hooks and nails as well as attached to belts. Many puukkos, though, are just placed lying flat in bookcases and other furniture. The knives visitors are likely to see and possibly buy are about six inches in length. The blade itself is around three inches long, about the same length as the pommel or handle, and about an inch wide. The sturdy blade is made from well tempered steel. The attractive, eye-catching scabbards have traditional Finnish designs. While formidable looking weapons their uses are more for preparing food, carving, and cutting wood and other substances. Some puukkos are handmade, but ones you’re likely to find in stores are factory-made. A popular item, puukkos are sold at many locations including the major department stores as well as some supermarkets even. Try the Kamppi Shopping Complex where the shops are arranged by theme at Pohjoisesplandadi 33 and Kiseleff House for unique and handmade goods at Aleksanerinkatu 26-28 (opposite Helsinki Cathedral at the Senate Square 60. Figure around $30-40 up.
Where to find it:
Kamppi Shopping Complex
Urho Kekkosen katu 1, 00100 Helsinki, Finland

Kiseleff House
Aleksanerinkatu 26-28, Helsinki, Finland
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5. Kalevala Jewelry

Kalevala Jewelry
Image Courtesy of: joan!ta
The majority of Kalevala jewelry designs, renowned for their vivid and bold shapes, derive from Kalevala, the colorful national folk epic. Some models are also replicas of ancient Iron Age jewelry discovered by archaeologists. The jewelry items are all quite striking and likely to attract attention due to their distinctive look. They make excellent gifts, especially for occasions like anniversaries and birthdays. Among the many items on offer there are necklaces, pendants, earrings, brooches, bracelets, charms, etc. Tie pins and cuff-links are also available for men. Gold, silver and bronze are the basic materials used. Hooks in bronze earrings are made of gold-plated silver. The jewelry is free of nickel and other allergenic materials. You can find Kalevala jewelry and items at many stores throughout Helsinki, with prices ranging from $40-50 up. Some of the stores particularly worth checking out are: Kalevala Koru at Unionkatu 25 and Strombergintie 4; and Figaro at Lauttasaarentie 28-30.

6. Fazer Candies

Fazer Candies
Image Courtesy of: Northsky71
Fazer, a very popular brand name in Finland, is just as well known internationally for making rather tasty confectionery items - candies, chocolates, pastries, breads, liquorish, pastilles, toffee, pies, chewing gums, etc. If you have a sweet tooth, you’re likely to be impressed with their roster of appealing sweets. At Fazer, you can get milk chocolate as well as peppermint chocolate, raisin/hazelnut chocolate, and even vodka chocolate. Gourmet chocolate candies filled with Arctic liqueurs, like lingonberry and cloudberry, are popular items. Raspberry and yogurt are among the other creative fillings. Bulla, a sweet bread eaten with coffee or tea, is commonplace at cafes and homes. Rye and wheat bread and a crisp flat bread are some of the most popular breads. Various packages of assorted candies are available at many stores. Particularly recommended is the Itakeskus City Market, located at Kauppakartanonkatu 3. A box of Fazer candies makes a great gift and, as a flat object, it fits well into the luggage. Figure the price to be at least $10–15 for the assorted packages.
Where to find it:
Itakeskus City Market
Kauppakartanonkatu 3, 00930 Helsinki, Finland
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7. Kuksa Drinking Cup

Kuksa Drinking Cup
Image Courtesy of: Vestman
Kuksas are a type of wooden drinking cup made by the Lapps or Sami people in northern Finland. The Lapps have their own culture and language. Usually, birch bark or burl has been used in traditional kuksas, which made them quite sturdy and not likely to crack. They can last for a lifetime. Non-Lapp artists have replicated kuksas, as souvenirs, making them of ceramics or glass. Be sure which of these are strictly for decorative purposes and which can be used for hot/cold beverages or soups. They can be washed with soap and water, but don’t you ever put them in a dish washer!

Some kuksas have loops so they can be hung on walls. One or two finger openings will be available for easy gripping. Decorations can be of various animal heads and rustic designs, such as reindeer antlers. Reindeer leather straps would be part of a traditional Kuksa, but not the more modern versions. Even more than a puukko, a kuksa is likely to be a conversation piece. Traditional kuksas, harder to find, are also more expensive, going for over $50 perhaps. More conventional versions sell for substantially less, perhaps in the range of $25-30. Many stores carry kuksas, including the department stores and shopping malls. Two of the better bets again are the Kamppi Shopping Complex, where the shops are arranged by theme, at Pohjoisesplandadi 33 and Kiseleff House, for unique and handmade goods, at Aleksanerinkatu 26-28 by the Helsinki Cathedral in Senate Square.
Where to find it:
Kamppi Shopping Complex
Urho Kekkosen katu 1, 00100 Helsinki, Finland

Kiseleff House
Aleksanerinkatu 26-28, Helsinki, Finland
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8. Lapp Hat

Lapp Hat
Image Courtesy of: Morten Oddvik
Colorful Lapp hats, worn by the Sami people in northern Finland but sold widely in Helsinki as souvenirs, are distinctive material for decorations and gifts. It’s not for personal attire, but many visitors have had memorabilia photos taken of themselves wearing a Lapp hat. The high-topped hats, made of wool and perhaps cotton or silk now, often feature rich hues of royal or navy blue cloth, but other colors may also be used. More traditional hats may be of leather or fur. The headband has multiple rows of brightly colored braided patterns with felt streamers hanging down over the shoulders. The top might be a beaded cloth clown. Lapp hats aren’t as widely found as some other items. Two locations worth going to are the Kamppi Shopping Complex, where the shops are arranged by theme, at Pohjoisesplandadi 33 and Kiseleff House, for unique and handmade goods, at Aleksanerinkatu 26-28 by the Helsinki Cathedral in Senate Square. Figure on a tab of at least $15-20.
Where to find it:
Kamppi Shopping Complex
Urho Kekkosen katu 1, 00100 Helsinki, Finland

Kiseleff House
Aleksanerinkatu 26-28, Helsinki, Finland

9. Moomin Trolls/Placemats

Moomin Trolls/Placemats
Image Courtesy of: Spixey
Moomins are the charming fairy-tale/storybook-like family of forest-living characters portrayed in a series of books and comic strips that have taken off to become central aspects of a wide ranging roster of popular products that are both practical and decorative. This extensive and pervasive group includes glasses, coffee cups, handbags, placemats, t-shirts, towels, bed liners, pillow cases, email cards, puzzles, bookstands, etc. There is even a Moomin theme park, but it’s in Naantali and not in Helsinki. The trolls, unmistakable in appearance, convey an aura of fun and serenity at the same time, despite their eccentric and odd shapes. They tend to be white and roundish with distinctively large snouts that give them a hippopotamus-like appearance. Many pithy sayings emanate from them, and you can buy books for children in English about the assorted adventures of the Moomins.

The placemats, which make a fine gift, are among the most popular items. They’re sold at virtually all the stores across Helsinki, but it’s worth looking around for what catches your eye. Try the Kamppi Shopping Centre, found at Urho Kekkosenkatu 1. Figure on paying $8-10 up for a placemat. Pillows and blankets from $20 up. A Moomin book might go for $7-10.
Where to find it:
Kamppi Shopping Complex
Urho Kekkosen katu 1, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
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10. Finnish Vodka

Finnish Vodka
Image Courtesy of: ya po guille
Some Finnish vodkas come in eye-catching bottles that you may want to keep for decorative purposes after the potent liquor is consumed. Be on the lookout for such bottles which aren’t available at all stores. Note that Koskenkorva Vodka may be made without sugar and be higher on alcohol. Finlandia Vodka, perhaps a more famous brand, can have sugar added. Both use rye or barley. Figure on spending around $10-12 for a fairly ordinary looking bottle of vodka, but there are many intriguing flavor innovations. Finlandia, for example, has vodka flavored with cranberries, mangos, grapefruit and lime. Blueberry, pineapple, tangerine, green apple, and black currant are other possibilities. They all have distinctive tastes as well as bracing alcoholic content. There’s even a vanilla vodka. The cost of special brands is higher. Some prices: Cranberry Fusion Vodka and Lime Fusion Vodka, each around $20; and Mango Fusion Vodka, $24/25.
Where to find it:
Alko
Helsinginkatu 15, 00500 Helsinki, Finland

11. Ryija Rugs

Ryija Rugs
Image Courtesy of: SeppVei
A ryija rug is an art form unique to Finland. While there is some similarity to Persian carpets, the ryija knots are farther apart and much larger and longer. Slices and splashes of vibrant colors are used in dyes which add great color intensity and variation. Yellow, green, red and blue are popular colors employed in different patterns but there are many other colors available, too. Geometric shapes are often used along with figures of humans, animals, and birds.

Ryijas can be used as handsome wall hangings or as couch or bed spreads. Basically, they are a decorative feature that isn't used on floors. Wool is the basic material used to make a ryija, but new fibers have come into play recently. This is a question one can ask. Ryijas are sold at all the department stores, such as the Helsinki Forum at Mannerheimintie 20, as well as other shops. You can shop both by price, size and color variation, often depending on what the planned use is for. They make excellent gift items. Figure on around $20 up. It’s easy to find a size, color and pattern that fits your purpose.
Where to find it:
Helsinki Forum
Mannerheimintie 14–20, 00100 Helsinki, Finland

12. Traditional Finnish Knitwear

Traditional Finnish Knitwear
Image Courtesy of: Nils R. Barth
Finland is justly famous for its outstanding knitwear which are both warm and sporty, and often marked by attractive use of colors and color patterns. Original prints are bold in design and invariably eye-catching. Sweaters are very popular items and they come in different forms with hoods, buttons, pull-over, v-necks, etc. Wool is the usual material. Finland, of course, has a generally cold climate though the summer days can have short-sleeve weather. There are also jerseys and tank tops. Other items include scarves, shawls, blankets, dresses and skirts, trousers, etc. Virtually any kind of men’s and women’s apparel can be found.

Marimekko designs are often sold at many emporiums. Some stores to check out are: Marikulina, Pohjoisesplanadi 33; Marikiska, Uudenmaaankatu 13 and the factory outlet at Marimekko-Herttoniemi, Kirvesmiehenkatu 7. Aino at Fredrikinkatu 33A is another good place to explore. Visit the Cloth Gallery at Punavuorenkatu 1 and Boutique 18 at Merimiehenkatu 18. Prices for items vary considerably. Figure $30—40 for a sweater.
Where to find it:
Marimekko-Herttoniemi
Kirvesmiehenkatu 7, 00880 Helsinki, Finland

Aino
Fredrikinkatu 33 A, 00101 Helsinki, Finland

13. Arabia Ceramics

Arabia Ceramics
Image Courtesy of: Museokeskus Vapriikki
Arabia ceramics is a brand name recognized throughout the world. One can choose from among a highly popular range of well-made and innovative products that feature both functionality and decorative style. The various items are made to be both used and displayed. They withstand wear well and are likely to last a long time. Coffee cups and mugs with Moomin (troll) designs are especially popular.

The inventory includes tea pots, dishes, cups, ovenware, custom dishes, jugs, tableware/trays, salad bowl, candle holders, hors d’oeuvre dishes etc. Anything you find in most kitchens, probably, has an Arabia prototype or version. Exquisite pottery and vases, as well as lanterns, are among many other products, all showing the same high degree of artistry. Arabia products are sold at many stores throughout Helsinki. Find a great variety of products at Kluuvi Shopping Centre in Aleksaninkatu 9. Some representative prices: $50 up for a coffee pot; cups and sauces, $20 up; dinner plates, $25-30 up. In the heart of the city Arabia products are commonplace without a significant shift in prices. The best bet, of course, is at the factory outlet.
Where to find it:
Kluuvi Shopping Centre
Aleksanterinkatu 9, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
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14. Kantele

Kantele
Image Courtesy of: Osteria Del Curaro
Kantele is a traditional string instrument native to Finland. Its roots go back to antiquity and has been often compared to a zither or lap harp. Made of wood it has a triangular shape with the strings running across the top of the instrument. The older types might have five or six horsehair strings, with the instrument carved from one piece of wood. More modern versions have metal strings and often a body made from several blocks of wood. Kanteles are used in concerts, and those instruments tend to have more strings. The ones visitors are likely to buy have 15 or fewer strings, perhaps five to 10. Listen for a bell-like sound. One can learn to play a kantele if they’re so inclined, but it's also quite useful as a decoration piece and a surefire conversation starter. Kanteles aren’t sold at many stores. Try the Kamppi Shopping Complex where the shops are arranged by theme (Pohjoisesplandadi 33) and Kiseleff House for unique and handmade goods at Aleksanerinkatu 26-28 by the Helsinki Cathedral in Senate Square. Figure on a tab of at least $75-100.
Where to find it:
Kamppi Shopping Complex
Urho Kekkosen katu 1, 00100 Helsinki, Finland

Kiseleff House
Aleksanerinkatu 26-28, Helsinki, Finland

OKRA Arts, Crafts & Design Gallery
Aleksanterinkatu 26, 00170 Helsinki, Finland

15. Finnish Liqueurs

Finnish Liqueurs
Image Courtesy of: Miia Sample
Made from Arctic-grown berries, Finnish liquors aren’t generally found in the U.S. and they aren’t necessarily sold at all the stores in Helsinki. Try the stores listed above for Finnish vodka. The liquors may come in small, distinctive bottles. The rich and fruity berries used for making them are brambleberries, cloudberries, lingonberries, sea buckthorn, brambleberries, and cranberries. Their taste is distinctive, heavy and sweet and most likely to be appreciated by those with a sweet tooth. But it’s a sample taste everyone should consider trying once. The taste that will stay with you for a while. These different liquors are often served with desserts and as an after-dinner drink in small liqueur glasses.

The alcoholic content fades in the production process and the sweet berries become the dominant taste. Mustikka, a popular brand, is made from blueberries. Lakka refers to clouderry, Puolukka to Lingonberry, and Plar Karpalo to cranberry. But you can easily ask for these liqueurs using the English name of the berry involved. Lapponia is a well known producer of these liqueurs. Find these delights at Alko, Helsinginkatu 15; and figure on paying $15-20 dollars and up.
Where to find it:
Alko
Helsinginkatu 15, 00500 Helsinki, Finland

16. Packed Karelian Pasties

Packed Karelian Pasties
Image Courtesy of: Miia Sample
Karelia is a region in eastern Finland bordering Russia. The area is deservedly famous for its traditional and tasty pasties which are also called Kirelian piirakkas; note, though, that there are other piirakka variations than the Karelian version. A steady consumption of these rich foods, sometimes sold in street stalls, may add some unwelcome weight, but visitors are usually quite ready to try one. They can be habit forming as the pasties are simple, hearty and delicious. They also provide different taste sensations. The pasties feature a thin rye crust with rice filling. Butter, often mixed with a boiled egg, is spread over the heated pastie. Crusty ridges, rising in a small pyramidal shape, can surround the oblong shaped pastie. Variations include toppings with a variety of Finnish cheeses, slices of ham, roast reindeer, shrimp, or Arctic berries, like lingonberry, cloudberry, and blueberry. Trying one kind often leads to trying the others. You can find packed Karelian pasties boxes at many stores, such as the Ruoholahti Shopping Centre, situated at Itanerenkatu 21. They’re easily transported, and make excellent gifts. A basic six-piece package with either rice or potato filling will cost around $6-7.
Where to find it:
Ruoholahti Shopping Centre
Itämerenkatu 21, 00180 Helsinki, Finland

Other Interesting Souvenirs from Finland


If traveling to Finland is not on your immediate agenda, or you simply can't afford an extra space in your luggage, fortunately, these days, you can find a wide selection of authentic and truly interesting Finnish souvenirs online. Presented here are some of the Finnish products sought by foreign visitors, now available online for your convenience.

1. Salmiakki - Salty Liquorice - This confectionery is quite common throughout the Nordic countries; its main ingredients are Salmiak salt and Anise oil. Salty liquorice candy and pastilles are almost always black or dark brown in color and can range in texture from soft candy to hard pastille variety, sometimes tasting more like "salted chocolate" with a liquid licorice center. Unlike real chocolate, that is too sweet if melts in one's mouth, salmiakki creates a nice, mild flavor that almost everyone would appreciate.

2. Fazer Sweets - Fazer is one of Finland's largest food corporations, established since 1891, which owns more than 30 confectionery brands, such as Fazer Blue, Pantteri, Pax, and others. Their product line is enormous and includes, among other popular items, an assortment of gum candies, milk chocolate soft toffees, salty liquorice pastilles, and more.

3. Marimekko - Worldwide celebrated Finnish brand name for home furnishings, textiles and fashion, in place since the 1960s. Distinguished by their brightly colored printed fabrics with bold stripes and large simple flowered prints, used both in women's garments and home furnishings. It is much popular with Finnish women (practically every one in Finland has at least one Marimekko item: shirt, dress, bag, or purse) and households (wrapping paper, napkins, mugs, etc.).

4. Traditional Finnish Rye Bread - Varrasleipa, a traditional crispy bread made of 100% rye, is produced by Linkosuo, a Finnish family-owned company operational for over 75 years. Crispy breads have been part of their product portfolio since the 1960s. The bread contains no preservatives or additives, and is best before 300 days.

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