Marimekko, Artek and Iittala in Helsinki

Perhaps the best place to start to explore design in Helsinki is from Esplanadi. This is a long park or garden running east to west that is lined with shops and hotels. The Cathedral and main government buildings are close but with the harbour, where the main Baltic ferries arrive, at the east end of Esplanadi and with the central railway station (designed by Eliel Saarinen) just three blocks to the north, this is often one of the first places visitors to the city find.

On the north side, at Pohjoisesplanadi 33, is the flagship store of Marimekko. This is on a large corner site, so it has plenty of window display, and the shop is set out over two floors. The displays of textiles and clothing inside the shop are amazing and when you need to rest then Marimekko have their own cafe - Marikahvila - at the back of the store which opens out onto the circular atrium of a large up-market shopping arcade.

On the south side of the gardens, immediately opposite Marimekko is the flag-ship store for Artek at Eteläesplanadi 18. If you can’t make it from one store to the other without a rest then there is an open-air cafe in the middle of the gardens between them. 

Just to the east of Marimekko is the Iittala store and opposite that, to the east of Artek is, appropriately, the Savoy Hotel with the restaurant after which Alvar Aalto named the Savoy Vase . The vase is still made by Iittala and much of the interior of the hotel designed by Aalto survives.