Never mind the hipsters: The complete guide to Kallio, Helsinki’s coolest district

Kallio Block Party in 2013

Kallio Block Party in 2013. Photo by Kallu.

Oh, Kallio, where would Finland be without you?

By Kallio, we refer to a wider district in Helsinki, the name of which literally translates to “rock” or “hill”.  It’s also a place you might want to experience.

This hilly area on the northeastern outskirts of Helsinki’s urban core has a mystique and romanticism to it: tales of brawls, wild student life and for outsiders, the obvious subject for tired weed jokes. Kallio is an extremely dense urban neighborhood by Nordic standards, explained in part by its cramped apartments, which where typical for working class settings in Finland even after WWII.

Finland, which is mostly suburban sprawl, is lucky to have a dense and culturally rich place like Kallio. These days, the district has an almost obnoxious, hipsterish role to play in defining trends and culture for a Finland that tends to cling to cartoonish versions of its agrarian past.

In celebration of citizenship: Piritori from a distance

A photo posted by Thomas Nybergh (@apecat) on

 

In this article, we’ve done all the hard work of listing some of the things and places to experience in the Kallio at large. In addition to Kallio proper, our guide includes the neighborhoods of Harju, Sörnäinen, Torkkelinmäki and Alppila, even Vallila. We’ve included links to Google Maps in most of our tips, to make this guide usable on the go!


 

Landmarks to look out for

To navigate, the Kallio Church’s distinct granite tower can be a good landmark (see map above). It’s in the center of Kallio proper, but not the larger district, when we include Alppila, Vallila and Sörnäinen etc. Looking at the map above, starting with the church, it’s also evident that Kallio isn’t a huge area. Count the blocks: Helsinki isn’t a very big city. This means you probably don’t have to worry too much about getting lost. If you do get lost, you can ask pretty much anyone for directions in English.




Kallio, like the rest of Helsinki, can also be considered a safe area to walk in, by almost any standard. You might want to avoid too much contact with aggressive sounding drunk people on weekends. But since Kallio is densely populated you are around people at almost any time of the day. However, if you visit venues in the industrial district of Vallila, like Ääniwalli, be prepared to not have as many people around during odd hours.

Kallio 2013 by Petteri Sulhonen

Flea market in Kallio. Notice the tower of Kallio Church in the background, it’s a good landmark. Photo by Petteri Sulhonen.

 

Getting around

Kallio has good public transit. For getting to and from the area, two Metro stations are worth keeping in mind: Sörnäinen in the east, Hakaniemi in the Southwest.

Trams 1, 6, 7, 8 and 9 let you travel around the area. A route planner app lets you easily get an idea of how to get around.

Places worth keeping in mind are the areas surrounding the Hakaniemi and Sörnäinen Metro stations.

For Hakaniemi, that’s a massive market square and tram stops, or a block around Siltasaarenkatu. Either way, you should be able to see the Kallio Church easily from this transit hub. From Hakeniemi, Hämeentie is the major road leading east. From Hakaniemi, trams 1, 3 and 9 will take you through the heart of Kallio. 7B heads to Sörnäinen.

For Sörnäinen, the surrounding area is sometimes called Kurvi, which refers to the turning of Hämeentie as the ending of Helsinginkatu. Kurvi is a massive transit hub too, with tram and bus stops. From Sörnäinen/Kurvi, Helsinginkatu will take you in the direction of Alppila, and eventually Töölö. Tram 8 follows this route. Tram 7B takes you through the Vallila district to Pasila via Mäkelänkatu, 7A goes downtown. Tram 6 heads either downtown or to Arabia through Vallila.

View of a Kallio Courtyard.

View of a Kallio Courtyard. Photo by Kallu.

 

Food, glorious food

Vaasankatu (while technically located in Harju) used to be the culmination of everything Kallio with its rough bars and seedy massage joints. However, during the past few years, Vaasankatu has turned into quite the place to get good vegetarian and vegan fast food. While the street is lined up with legendary bars such as Kustaa Vaasa, you can now get nice veggie fast food at Just Vege and Soi Soi.

If you find yourself in the Kurvi area of Hämeentie, you can get good burgers and barbeque-style pizzas at Bar Loosister. Slightly cheaper Pizzas can be found just around the corner at Mäkikupla. Fafas, which also is next by, is renowned for their falafel, and so is Metro Fast Food in Hakaniemi. If you get the urge for Pizza in Hakaniemi, American Pizzeria is a good choice.

During Friday and Saturday nights, you will likely also run into a fleet of food trucks on Vaasanaukio, the square at the end of Vaasankatu. That’s a welcome gentrifying addition to a square that only a few short years ago seemed to always smell of urine as a marking of a territory for brawls among troubled elements of society.




Sadly, Food in Helsinki isn’t exactly cheap. If you’re on a budget, authentically Egyptian newcomer Hum Hum at the intersection of Helsinginkatu and Pengerkatu has a super nice chicken Shawarma for five euros during lunch hours.

 

Bars – here, there and everywhere

So: Kallio is known as a bar district. It’s what Kallio is supposed to do well, and everyone has an opinion. If you want to feel trendy, Siltanen on Hämeentie and Solmu on Vaasankatu are good first stops.

For a good look into pre-gentrification Kallio culture, Molotov and Kultapalmu on Vaasankatu have all the characteristics of how much rougher Kallio used to look like. So do Roskapankki on Helsinginkatu. That’s not to say these bars aren’t nice places: Kultapalmu, in particular, stands out as a fairly cool place to have a beer and a chat.

Vaasankadun tilapäissävy

A photo posted by Thomas Nybergh (@apecat) on

If you’re out for decent beer experiences, there’s a number of places to drop by. William K is a chain joint, but you can’t beat its location as a meeting spot at Kurvi, at the corner or Helsinginkatu and Hämeentie, the Kallio region’s true transit hub. More inspired choices include Cella and Sivukirjasto on Fleminginkatu and Toveri (at the intersection of “Kolmas linjan ja Castréninkatu”).

If you’re a local and you’re offended by us leaving out your favorite or the undisputed new best bar: don’t just sit there and bang hour head against the keyboard or yell at the wall: Please inform us in the comment section.

 

Cherry Blossoms in Alppipuisto. Photo by Kallu.

Cherry Blossoms in Alppipuisto. Photo by Kallu.

 

If it’s warm outside, get to the park

The Kallio region may seem like a concrete jungle. However, there’s a good ratio of parks. And summer is short in Finland. Understand what we’re hinting at? If you’re in Kallio on a semi-warm day, realize that you’re wasting precious minutes before it’s windy and cold.

If you’d like to consume an alcoholic beverage in a park, you don’t need need to be neurotic about brown paper bags or similar tools of concealment. Just bring a symbolic bag of salted nuts or something to make it a minimum viable picnic.

#helsinki #urbanism #parks

A photo posted by Thomas Nybergh (@apecat) on

Karhupuisto, next to the Kallio library can be a safe bet when shoreside Tokoinranta in Hakaniemi is too windy. Pengerpuisto and the smaller Torkkelinpuistikko on Torkkelinmäki feel like oasises, and so do the likevise elavated Katri Valan puisto next to Sörnäinen.

For a day-long summer hang-out, few things can beat the atmosphere of valley-like Alppipuisto next to the Linnanmäki amusement park in Alppila, especially if you drop by on a day when there happens to be a free open-air concert.

For a nice view, like the one in the snapshot below, check out Lenininpuisto, also next to Linnanmäki.

#latergram #lenininpuisto #helsinki #cityscape

A photo posted by Thomas Nybergh (@apecat) on

If you feel too chilly to sit on the ground, we don’t blame you. However, we still recommend taking a stroll: during fall, winter, and spring, you can always get some fuel for your quest for a blue sky from the cafés listed below.

 

Kick back with coffee

Along with the slight gentrification comes cafes. Opening hours tend to service business hours and mid-day weekend strolls, but you can get some truly nice coffee around Kallio. On Aleksis Kiven katu, next to the Dallapénpuisto park, there’s Sävy, with locally roasted variants. If your stroll takes you to the stunning old wooden neighborhood in Vallila, Helsingin Kahvipaahtimo lets you have your cup in a surreal, early 20th-century Nordic small town setting.




The photo below is from a hilly park in the center of the wooden, Puu-Vallila area. Notice the tower of Kallio Church in the center.

Springtime Vallila cityscape

A photo posted by Thomas Nybergh (@apecat) on

If you’re in the heart of Kallio proper and want your coffee experience to be engineered beyond belief, Good Life Coffee on Kolmas linja is a fantastic choice. Next to Karhupuisto park, you can find Bergga. For breakfast and a true living room feel, Ipi Kulmakuppila on Porthaninkatu 13 will serve you well.

For inspiring aesthetics,  look for the design shop/café combinations in Rupla (Helsinginkatu) and Made in Kallio (Vaasankatu).

Good Life Coffee 2013 Kallio by kallu

Good Life Coffee in Kallio. Photo by Kallu.

 

Hit the clubs

Nightclubs and Helsinki is an annoying affair where the lowest common denominator tends to rule after 2 am thanks to stringent overregulation.

But things have quickly gotten so much better around Kallio, largely thanks to places like the Siltanen/Kuudes Linja/Kaiku complex on Hämeentie. Kaiku has in fact just now been named as one of Europe’s best clubs by Resident Advisor, a big name in the electronic music scene.

If you get a bit further away to the industrial area of Vallila, Ääniwalli has established itself as one of the most interesting places for electronic music in Helsinki. For a more mainstream experience, Stadin Tähti has a terrible reputation but according to rumours, a renewed clientel. Musta Härkä in Vallila is also popular. You can go there to see what nightclubs look like elsewhere in Finland.

Girls Kallio 2014 by kallu

Girls hanging out in a Kallio apartment window. Photo by kallu.

 

Live music lovers

Some of the main music venues have been mentioned already: Kuudes Linja, Ääniwalli, and Lepakkomies. Sadly, Club Liberte went bankrupt in 2014, but new cultural spaces like Teurastamo and Konepajan Bruno offer nice experiences as well.

View of Kallio from Linnamäki Water Tower. Photo my megapolis.

View of Kallio from Linnamäki Water Tower. Notice the Kallio Church tower. Photo my megapolis.

 

Shop till you drop

For shopping in Kallio, your best bet is a mindset focused on the arts, design, and fashion. And food markets!

For records, on vinyl and optical media alike, there are a few choices: Levykauppa Äx in Hakaniemi (Torikatu 2), Black and White (Toinen Linja 1) and Hippie Shake Records (Hämeentie 1) and Goofin’ Records (Hämeentie 46).

Friends of interesting foods should head to Hakaniemi Market Hall (map) as soon as possible because it will be closed for renovation in early 2017, though merchants will be offered temporary venues nearby.

If you’re into odd finds, Kallio has a bunch of must-try vintage stores. Kallio Second Hand on Hämeentie sports a hand-picked selection of vintage fashion, plus some design. At around Kahupuisto you will find a whole cluster of shops: Hoochie Mama Jane  and Ansa Second Hand. Fargo is also worth a look.

Similar urges can be met at self-service flea markets like Zirppari (Kolmas linja 28) and Konepajan Bruno (Aleksis Kiven katu 17A), which also features a café and cultural space with live music. Similarly, on Sturenkatu 36, there is Vallilan Stoori.

 

And then shop some more

At the moment of writing, pretty much the only mainstream chain stores you find in Kallio are a few fast food restaurants, kiosks and the almighty grocery duopoly of K and S-branded stores. For noticeably cheaper groceries, Lidl in Sörnäinen/Kurvi can be a wise choice. Oh, and if you happen to sit on your sunglasses, you can get eyewear in Hakaniemi.

For vegetarian foods, Vegekauppa (Vaasankatu 15) specializes in just that. For organic products, Ekolo is available at Toinen linja 5.

Asian foods can be found at Viivoan and Aseanic Trading in Hakaniemi.

You will have to do your typical chains store shopping of clothes, electronics etc elsewhere, but that’s easy to do. You can hop on the Metro to Kamppi or any number of other places where you’re surrounded by the generic mall experience.

 

Enjoy the community vibe

If you know someone who’s gone all in on the urban lifestyle, one thing that oftentimes gets mentioned is community and being close to places that matter. This is what Kallio is all about, too, with a blooming culture of active participation.

If you’re in Kallio this summer and like live music, one thing to check out is the schedule for free events in Alppipuisto. The park, which we mentioned before, becomes a world of its own, sometimes attracting hundreds of people seeking a quick hit of urban escapism on summer days.

Siivouspäivä/Cleaning Day is a recurring, internet organized fleamarket type event where people bring out stuff they don’t need and sell on the streets. It’s the same stock of Helsinki-ran community participation that made Restaurant Day a global phenomenon. On a smaller scale, something similar takes place every Sunday on Aleksis Kiven katu.

Vaasankatu dwellers outside the Sorbus art gallery. Photo by Sorbus.

Vaasankatu dwellers outside the Sorbus art gallery. Photo by Sorbus.

For the everyday trade of used goods, there is Kallio Kierättää, a very busy flea market group on Facebook that facilitates exchanges in the Kallio region.

The big hitter for events is Kallio Block Party, arranged by Kallio-liike. Usually held in early August, the event makes a mass event of occupying the streetscape as a public space with music and entertainment for everyone, in a safe and legitimate manner.

In 2015, the event outdid itself by closing down a large chunk of Hämeentie and the busy Kurvi area, which hasn’t seen many traffic outages since the war. To get a feel for the event, which was attended by tens of thousands, check out the video above. If you’re in Helsinki on August 6, sign up on the Facebook event for Kallio Block Party 2016 to see further announcements!

Vaasankatu during a car-free trial in 2013. Photo by Antti T Nissinen

Vaasankatu during a car-free trial in 2013. Photo by Antti T Nissinen.

 
There: Kallio in a nutshell. If you need more, or if you have tips, feel free to ask or tell us in the comments section below!




Join us on Facebook and Twitter for more stunning stories about super Suomi

10 replies
  1. JK
    JK says:

    For “decent beer experiences” Hilpeä Hauki right across Kultapalmu is more of a beer place than e.g. Toveri. As is Ölhus Oslo.

    Also Molotov has absolutely nothing to do with “pre-gentrification Kallio”. It’s the exact opposite of that, quite new bar in fact. Try Pääsky Pub or Kurvitar for the slightly unnerving old-school touch. 🙂

    Reply
    • Joel Willans
      Joel Willans says:

      Fantastically Finnish last name and a fantastically English first name? 🙂 Are you one of those lucky double culture, Anglo-Finns?

      And yeah, Mr Kallio should definitely visit Kallio

      Reply
  2. Trotts
    Trotts says:

    As a native from kallio i must say its pathetic how they are trying to make kallio like “little berlin” mostly by people who have moved here inside the last 5 years.Only thing the hipsters have really achieved here is that beer costs are projecting upwards.

    Reply
    • LauraP
      LauraP says:

      Yeah, lot better keeping as a place for drunks, junkies, fights and crap bars. Only an idiot would want their district to be like one of the coolest cities on earth.

      Reply
    • Thomas Nybergh
      Thomas Nybergh says:

      Well, consider us refugees. I’ll explain. I’m the author of this article, by the way. And I like cities. By definition, this means I find most living arrangements available in Finland pretty distasteful.

      As far as the gentrification of Kallio is concerned: dunno what you expect from a city, but if your only criteria are cheap booze and beer, we clearly have different priorities.

      I’m not afraid to admit that I moved to Kallio because it probably is as close to the experience of living in a real, European city as you can get in Finland. I’m not kidding myself: Kallio is nothing like Berlin, but it’s at least a proper, somewhat international place.

      Sure, all this hip vegan fast food is a nice touch. But so far, the gentrification of Kallio has mostly produced a minimum viable urban environment, with an unexpectedly strong cultural vibe, maybe as a feedback loop over the pure shock that any of this is possible in Finland.

      There’s not a whole lot of places this could happen in Finland and Helsinki. In the capital specifically, this is due to the way post-war Helsinki was lured into wasting whatever land it could secure rights for, to develop based on low-density, Modernist, car-centric, anti-urban planning schemes.

      That’s an annoying way of saying that most of the post-war human-built landscapes in Helsinki, and indeed Finland, are shitholes with nothing else to offer than being surrounded by a generic form of “nature”. These types of places can look charming and “green” in architectural renderings, and certainly seem exotic to someone who’s new to Finland. But if you ask me, they’re ugly most of the time, and time consuming to commute from. These places carelessly combine and confuse the urban and the rural, combining only the worst properties of the two.

      I grew up in Vuosaari, a typical post-war Helsinki suburb, and I didn’t even understand that my home could be more than a place where I sleep and store my crap, a boring commute away from wherever you spend your day as an active member of society. That is, before I started working in the city and eventually moved to Vallila and Kallio.

      I love forests and all, but I prefer a city street over walking a kilometer through a “park” on an icy pathway covered with dog shit. Just to get some groceries. “Ei talvikunnossapitoa”, right?

      So, on a personal level, I despise the notion that Kallio, and the way it has changed, is of no other consequence than making beer more expensive and killing off a few “massage” parlors on Vaasankatu in favor of food and art. On the contrary, I’m pretty certain this trend reflects the clear choice of people who are tired of living in worthless, civically dead non-places.

      By living in Kallio, I can have the following literally outside the door of my apartment block, or just down the street: a tram stop, a shared office I rent from a co-op, “third places” (cafes, bars, whatever) to meet people, 24/7 groceries, restaurants and parks.

      Yes, that’s what a real city street can provide. By a real city street, I refer to the hardscape of mixed-use, usually four to ten-storey houses and frequent street intersections, which together form a semi-enclosed public room. This, internationally and historically often repeated method for producing human habitats, is superior in producing places that feel meaningful to be in, while simultaneously housing a lot of people.

      Historically, cities have something of a yucky vibe: Say, extremely cramped living conditions for the poor, shared toilets in the courtyard and dust storms of dried horse manure.

      But these days: cities don’t even need to smell bad or make you sick, thanks modern sanitation, healthcare, lighting, led free gasoline, heat production in other forms than burning coal in every cellar.

      I could go all Jane Jacobs, but to quickly put an end to this rant: Finland, while having wonderful nature and a functioning society, is a cold, dark place, with a relatively short history of wealth. And sadly, urbanization in Finland has happened through the fucking disaster of suburbanization, through the elitist, Modernist ideals of building apartment houses in the middle of nowhere, so that the simpletons moving from the countryside don’t get confused by the ills and sins of the city.

      So, by just looking at the suburban hellscape that forms the rest of Helsinki outside the core, it should be no surprise that Kallio is attractive. Kallio is also full of fairly cramped flats, so in terms of gentrification, Kallio has a decent chance of not being completely overrun by families or whatever incarnation of the bourgeoisie we feel like loathing.

      The tragedy is just that all these other people who’d prefer to live in a real city have no place else to go. I don’t know where else in Finland I could stand to live. The next best thing is all these new, and from the looks of it, fairly anemic places like Arabia and now, Kalasatama. With some luck, the well-off people buying flats there will bring some of their, say, dining cash to Kallio.

      Reply
  3. Inka
    Inka says:

    This is accurate if somewhat glamorised description. The Kurvi area is usually full of drug addicts and babbling old drunks, walk along Helsinginkatu on a hot summers day and you can have “fun” counting the people passed out and sprawled on the street, possibly after having pissed their pants. I don’t think I have ever had a picnic in kallio without someone who’s off their head on whatever harassing us. I have been sexually assaulted in three occasions in the bars advertised here. So yeah, it’s all “mini Kreutzberg” but the ill-being and substance problems in Finnish society are also really visible among all the gentrification. Just so you’re aware.

    Reply
    • Thomas Nybergh
      Thomas Nybergh says:

      Author of the post here.

      Thanks for taking some time to share your experiences with harassment in Kallio. This is a topic I take rather seriously.

      Firstly: If you have any further comments about the venues I recommended, for example, staff or security personnel ignoring harassment, please feel free to share here or by e-mailing me (thomas [dåt] nybergh [ät] inktank [dåt] fi). I’m not ruling out altering my recommendations based on such information.

      Any other readers with views on the mixed-bag state of Kallio are of course welcome to share as well.

      In the process of writing and editing this article, I was a bit uncertain about the semantics of how to describe the whole safety vibe of Kallio. I leaned towards basing my approach on street crime stats compared to other countries, and maybe doing a bit of future proofing, since the place seems to be tidying up. Except for the ever increasing weed smoking and growing in apartments all over the place, if one counts that as a nuisance. I don’t.

      Especially the Block Party-generation of mass events appear extremely pleasant. It’s noticeable contrast to the general truism of the, weekly old-school Kallio shitshow of general drunkenness on certain streets during weekends. But even that whole circus seems a bit calmer than five years ago.

      However, as you point out, certain problems are visible.

      As for the oftentimes middle-aged or older individuals with drug and alcohol problems, I’m not for forcefully evicting them from public places, as long as they remain calm. I do suspect their presence is a major factor behind lacking improvements in public space, such as passive-aggressive city planning, like minimizing the number of park benches, and that’s sad.

      Concerning problems that may be invisible to me: I acknowledge that my choice of words is based on my own experience of feeling safe in Kallio just because there’s at least some of people around, most of the time. Honestly, I feel much safer in Kallio than in the desolate suburban wastelands I grew up in. I rant on that in another comment.

      The parks I recommended in this article are places I’ve spent time, without interference, alone and in mixed-gender company. It’s terrible that one’s mileage still varies this greatly, due to, I assume, gender. And again, I appreciate that you pointed this out.

      Reply
  4. Ima Hogg
    Ima Hogg says:

    Most of the so called hipsters are just pretentious wankers. Stick to those
    basic drunks and normal clientele and you will be fine.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *