Finland lays claim to being the nation with highest literacy rates in the world, so it’s no surprise that a love of books and libraries are an integral part of the country. As well as awe-inspiring libraries, Helsinki is also home to many beautiful antique and international bookstores that will spark the imagination of book lovers the world over. Here’s half a dozen of my favourite go-to places to get lost amidst pages of adventure.
Oodi: Helsinki Central Library
The newest edition to Helsinki’s libraries, Oodi opened on Independence Day in December 2018, as a centenary gift to the citizens of Finland. Not only is the library an unique building, housing an extensive literary collection, but it also serves as a meeting place and space for playing and recording music, crafting and creating and generally relaxing in an interesting, ‘living’ setting with indoor plants and amazing views. “Oodi will function as a living room for residents, located right at the heart of Helsinki.”
Location: Kansalaistori square
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 8am-10pm, Sat-Sun 10am-8pm
The National Library
Located directly across from the Helsinki Cathedral, the National library is like stepping through a time-warp to an era of literary reverence. It’s a truly amazing and humbling experience for any book-lover. Not only are the shelves stacked with every type of book imaginable but the views from windowed reading nooks onto Unionkatu and the cathedral are enchanting.
Location: Unioninkatu 36
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, except Wednesday 9am-8pm. Closed on weekends.
The Kallio library
My first library experience in Helsinki was this library, a mere five minute walk from my apartment and still my favourite place to immerse myself in make-believe worlds. Housed in a huge old redbrick building at the top of Porthaninkatu, the three story library has sweeping staircases and huge widows looking out over Kallio and Bear park. Hiring books is ridiculously easy with an online reservation system and self check out and for residents it’s free, as part of helmet– the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Libraries. There are plenty of books in English and if they don’t have a title you want you can order it and they’ll get it in for you.
Location: Viides linja 11
Opening hours: Mon-Thur 8am-8pm, Fri 8am-6pm, Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 12-6pm
Arkadia International Bookshop
This place is not only a fantastic international bookstore, stocking old favourites and new interesting reads, but there are also several spaces for talks, discussions, games and just generally relaxing in a cosy atmosphere.
Location: Nervanderinkatu 11
Opening hours: Tue-Fri 12-7pm, Sat 12-6pm, Sun-Mon closed
This antique bookstore has shelf upon shelf overflowing with old and rare books, maps and prints. While most are in Finnish it still feels like a treasure trove of hidden, long lost literally gems.
Location: Fredrikinkatu 35
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat 11am-4pm, Sun closed
I stumbled on this store by mistake when I was looking for Hagelstam Antiques. It’s just next door. It reminds me of the State Cinema bookstore in Hobart, full of bright modern books (and classics) that I couldn’t help but touch and flick through. I wanted to buy most of the store and could spend days here. The perfect spot to find a gift for a friend or new read.
Location: Fredrikinkatu 35
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat 10am-5pm, Sun closed
Although most of the book-lined shelves in this Kallio bar contain Finnish titles, there’s something about having a wine amidst old books that soothes my soul. The drinks are also well priced for Helsinki standards.
Location: Fleminginkatu 5
Opening hours: Mon-Thur 2pm-2am, Fri-Sun 12-2am