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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!