Pre-EU, Finnish food was notoriously bland. A culinary revolution followed the country’s entrance to the union, although there has recently been an explosion in the number of upscale dining experiences that use local ingredients to their advantage. Potatoes and bread are the main staples of cuisine in Finland, followed by fresh seafood. In addition, lohi (salmon), silakka (Baltic herring), graavilohi, (gravlax or raw salted salmon), savulohi (smoked salmon), and muikku (heavily-salted fried fish served with mashed potatoes), are all very popular. Meat is more expensive, but there are many delicious dishes to try, such as the Karelian stew, loop sausage, reindeer or poro dishes, liver casserole, and makkara (traditional Finnish sausage).
Visitors have plenty of choice when it comes to eating out in the cities. Most restaurants specialize in Scandinavian fare and Russian-style cuisine. However, the number of Asian and European inspired venues is growing rapidly. In Helsinki, the wealth of restaurants can be found around the Central Railway Station, as well as in areas like Itatuulenkuja, Aleksanterinkatu, Yliopistonkatu, Keskuskatu, and Mikonkatu. If it is cheap eats, vibrant nightlife and youthful bars you are after, head to the Kamppi area, which is known for its lively nightlife. Pub-style restaurants serving local fare are abundant in the Hakaniemi-Kallio area too. For upscale dining, the go-to places are Kruununhaka and Katajanokka.
Bars and Pubbing in Finland
In Helsinki, visitors will find everything from beer gardens, chic lounges and dance clubs to enjoy after hours. Rymy Eetu (Erottajankatu 15-17, Helsinki) is a popular beer hall that serves authentic German pilsner along with a wide range of other brews. They serve dumplings, sauerkraut and bread, which can be enjoyed against a backdrop of free-flowing booze and Finnish humppa dancing (jazz-based). Lost and Found (Annankatu 6, Helsinki) is a gay-friendly club with a grotto-like dance floor, complete with luminescent interiors. There is a bar upstairs, but all the action takes place downstairs. Helsinki Club (Yliopistonkatu 8, Helsinki) is ideal for night owls that love partying ‘til late. Big-name DJs spin tracks on the weekends, and various local acts play throughout the week. For a quieter night out, A21 Cocktail Lounge (Annankatu 21, Helsinki) features an artsy interior and a laidback atmosphere. However, the real draw is its beautifully blended cocktails.
Lapland also boasts a happening nightlife scene. The Rovaniemi area is the place to go if you are looking for live music, dance clubs and karaoke bars. The Irish Times (Valtakatu 33, Rovaniemi) is known for its distinct Finnish air, despite the misleading name. It features a heated terrace and downstairs pool tables. Other draws of this fine club include karaoke and quality live music. Zoomit (Koskikatu, Rovaniemi) is a modern café/bar right in the heart of the city. It is a nice place for relaxing after work and late night people watching. Roy Club (Maakuntakatu 24, Rovaniemi) is a friendly and cozy bar with a hip, young crowd and a very popular karaoke night on Mondays. Hard and Heavy (Koskikatu 25, Rovaniemi) is the brainchild of the band Lordi. Fondly called a "horror-rocktaurant," this bar is a great place to enjoy hard drinks and heavy tunes.
Different towns in Lakeland also have their fair share of trendy bars and pubs. Woodoo (Jukankatu 50, Imatra) is an excellent hangout with a young clientele. It has a club in the back playing hard beats and a pleasant bar for enjoying drinks over a game of pool. Do not miss Visa Grande (Storgatan 20, Jakobstad) while in Jakobstad, known for its lovely food and drinks. Olutravintola Sillansuu (Verkkosaarenkatu 1, Savonlinna) is one of the best bars in Savonlinna, offering international beers and a superb whisky collection. Downstairs is a pool table and a small corner where live acts perform, especially during the festival season. Jetset Bar (Kauppakatu 35, Joensuu) is a trendy nightspot in Joensuu that attracts the younger crowd. While in Kuopio head to the Kauppakatu area along the market square, where all the best bars can be found. Ale Pupi (Kauppakatu 16, Kuopio) is known for its classy interiors, lively karaoke and cheap beer.
Towns in North Central Finland also offer good nightlife, mostly in the cities of Oulu and Kemi. Never Grow Old (Hallituskatu 17, Oulu) is a popular spot with dancing on a tightly packed floor, quality booze and hip DJs. Kaarlenholvi Jumpru Pub (Kauppurienkatu 6, Oulu) is a cheery and well-known Oulu institution and an excellent place to meet the locals. Makasiini (Kauppatori, Oulu) is a classic wooden café with a beautiful terrace to enjoy the summer evening sun. In Kemi, lively pubs that brew their own beer are popular. Try Kemin Panimo (Keskuspuistokatu, Kemi), which also serves a range of international drafts.
Dining and Cuisine in Finland
If you want a unique culinary experience in Finland, ditch downtown and head to the island restaurants in Helsinki. Thanks to the city’s seaside location, it’s easy to get to Luoto Island’s Klippan (Ehrenstrominti, Luoto), which is best known for its crayfish parties and festive society weddings. Don't miss local favorites like Zetor (Mannerheiminti 3-5, Helsinki), known for its whacky-themed atmosphere, traditional dishes and the classy Finnish ale called sahti, made from juniper berries. Café Engel (Aleksanterinkatu 26, Senaatintori, Helsinki) is another trendy spot frequented by students, travers and locals alike. The place is known for its vegetarian specialties and enticing cakes, and often serves as a venue for irregular piano recitals and courtyard film showings. Tori (Punavuorenkatu 2, Helsinki) is a bohemian restaurant and an all-time favorite thanks to its funky 1950's vibe. Specialties include meatballs with brandy sauce, and beetroot and blue cheese pasta.
Lakeland restaurants have their own distinct flair. Kenkavero (central Mikkeli) offers a cozy café atmosphere and serves a much-praised lunch buffet. Huvila (Puistokatu 4, Savonlinna) is known for its unique history, as it stands in what was once a hospital and mental asylum. Today, the wooden building is a microbrewery and restaurant, overlooking the harbor and serving fresh catches, rich desserts and home brews. In Kuopio, Musta Lammas (Satamakatu 4, Kuopio) is the go to place for gourmet Finnish cuisine with a twist of French. Specialties include roast reindeer garnished with morel mushrooms, duck breast, monkfish, oysters, and lamb.
A good selection of restaurants can also be found on the south coast, especially in the historic town of Turku. If it's Scandinavian food you're after, head to the Svenska Klubben 5th Floor Restaurant (Aurakatu 1B, Turku), which offers excellent three-course lunches and sumptuous set menus. The whitefish with pickled lime is worth a try. Viikinkiravintola Harald (Aurakatu 3, Turku) is another top treat. This Viking-themed restaurant serves sinfully delicious barbarian ribs and other samplers.
Lapland restaurants are equally drool-worthy. Rovaniemi’s Gaissa (Koskikatu, Rovaniemi) is the in-house restaurant of Hotel Santa Claus, best known for its slow-roasted lamb and reindeer rillette, salads, steaks, and pastas. Pankkil (Ivalo) is a stylish wooden restaurant offering excellent recipes like the Master of Cheese’s Bovine dish, a popular specialty. Tiikun Tii Pii (Katkantie, Levi, Sirkka) is the place to enjoy traditional Lapland cuisine and Sámi storytelling.