There’s shopping and then there’s shopping. As it’s getting colder over here in the northern hemisphere I’m starting to pull out my cosy knits, beanies and coats and looking for ways to stay warm inside. Trickier at the moment due to COVID-19 but if you live somewhere where you can still venture into stores while wearing a mask and you’re starting to move away from having a wardrobe mostly full of fast fashion towards more sustainable slow fashion (and homewares and knickknacks) like I am then I’d highly recommend scoping out your local op shops! (I’ve only just realised that op shops are apparently a very Aussie way of describing flea market shops/thrift stores etc. It stands for Opportunity Shops. It’s also National Op shop week in Australia making this post even more timely!).
Even better if you’re allowed to travel, make that a focus of your trip to a new city. You’ll discover the local fashion and I’m pretty sure you’ll find a few gems (make sure you leave some room in your suitcase!).
Last May/June I travelled over to Helsinki in Finland with a friend who is an avid flea market and op-shopper and wow what a cool way to see a new city.
So if you love op-shopping or ‘flea market shopping’ as they call it over there then this one is for you! But beyond that Helsinki is just a vibey little city. The other shops are just so cool and their architecture is eclectic and just has marvellous range.
*side note: we combined Tallin, Estonia with Helsinki, Finland and I’d highly recommend the same trip! Fly into one and home from the other, and use the ferry to travel between. I’ll be following up with a separate blog about Tallinn but for now you can check out my love letters to the doors of Tallinn which is already up!
The couple of days that I was there it was pretty cold and blustery. But to be honest that was kind of perfect. I know when I travel I often feel like I have to run around trying to see as much as possible of the sights. Being Australian that feeling is exacerbated for me when I travel in Europe because I’m used to my destinations being so far away from where I live and who knows when I’ll come back. Now I live in London so it’s a dream being able to almost literally hop over to Europe for a mini break (but it’s hard to shift your mindset)! Anyway I digress. Because it was cold and rainy we spent the whole time in Helsinki ducking from shop to shop window shopping or actual shopping in the flea markets, alternated with breaks in coffee shops for snacks. THE BEST kind of day. Found some new treasures and honestly could have spent all day in some of these places. They’re like treasure caves. I have no idea how the Fins are such stylish shoppers in the first place but even the things they sell on/ donate are super cool.
Some of our favourite cafe finds were Cafe Regatta for homemade blueberry pie with custard, mugs of tea, and even roasting your own hotdogs over the open fire outside while the rain falls around you. Cafe Success in the Ullanlinna neighbourhood dates back to the 50’s and has the biggest cinnamon rolls you’ve ever seen (pictured with bite for scale!). We were hoping to try the salmon soup there too but sadly missed out.
Flea markets and Op shops.
Too many to count and half the fun is in wandering around to find your favourites by chance. There are a ton of blogs and sites that go into much more detail about all of them and which we found really handy for our own explorations. Some of my favourites were Helsinki Flea Market (also conveniently up the road from Regatta Cafe if you want to combine the two like us), Heitalahti fleamarket (this one is outdoors so weather dependent, Kaivarin Kanuuna and UFF Runebergsgatan. Even in researching this blog I found a couple more that I’m dying to go back to noses around in such as Frida Marina, Relove, the Hietalahti flea market and Hakaniemi flea market.
Churches are a pretty big part of the city and some of them have been designed in the most innovative and interesting styles and ways so we tried to stick our heads into them where we passed by one. Because I’m not religious or Christian I tend to treat churches more like art galleries and beautiful museums where I see them. I’m thinking of some if the amazing baroque ones I saw in southern Italy for example. But here, because the current city is still quite new the styles of the buildings including the churches reflect this. Temppeliaukion Church also known as the Church of the Rock was insane. So so cool and once you visit you’ll see how it gets it’s other name it’s literally built into the rock that around it. Definitely check it out as a piece of art if nothing else. The other building I was keen to see was Kamppi Chapel (also known as the Chapel of Silence) which you may or may not have heard about before. It was designed as place to go for a moment of calm in the busy city, which lets be honest I think every city could benefit from. It’s tiny, smaller than I expected. A really lovely architectural expression too.
Other than op shops Helsinki also has a really vibe-y contemporary design scene and we window shopped our way around a lot of beautiful homeware and furniture stores wishing that one day we’ll be able to actually shop in them for real. Finland is also home to the design house Marimekko and one of their stores is well worth a visit. Known for its bright colours and bold patterns all of the designs are hand painted/created by local artists which I love.
The only other thing we did was visit a Finnish Sauna (which oh my god please do if only for the experience – so worth it). The best part about the one we tried, Löyly Sauna, was that the cold water emersion bit involved actually diving (or gingerly climbing down into as was the case with us) the Gulf of Finland! Absolutely freezing but wow. We finished off the evening with hanging out at a cool wine bar nearby with a friend. So hardly a jam packed schedule. But you know what? I came back with a few treasures and feeling so relaxed. And of course a camera full of memories.
I was nearly put off going to Helsinki because I’ve heard such mixed reviews from others who have been. Seems like it inspires quite polarising opinions. Personally I loved it. I’d say if you’re considering it, go for sure. Maybe just don’t have expectations, and expect that it’s expensive, because yes, it is eek.
I’d love to know you pr favourite flea markets, op shops and vintage shops. Please leave me a comment below so I can keep building my travel itineraries around them!