An absolute must-see in Helsinki is Vanha Kauppahalli, also known as Helsinki Old Market Hall. The old covered market, housed in a striking European-inspired structure, opened in 1889. Its stalls host tasty Finnish gastronomic delights, from classic smoked fish to curious canned game meats. I recommend visiting Helsinki’s covered market for the best gourmet souvenirs and a delicious lunch in a unique and lively setting.
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Helsinki Old Market Hall: what’s on
The Helsinki Market Hall is a must-visit destination in the Finnish capital. Although it is popular among tourists, locals also frequent the market for a quick meal. During midday, lunchtime workers fill up the market’s restaurants and cafés.
If you visit before lunch, you can stroll back and forth between the market stalls to discover the various types of fish and fish dishes. Fish is a significant highlight of the indoor market in Helsinki; it is available fresh, smoked, and cooked in various ways to make your mouth water.
The market also offers a range of seasonal vegetables, fruit, mushrooms, berries, and fresh herbs that are abundant in Finnish cuisine. You can also find many canned preparations that make great souvenirs to take home.
What to buy at Helsinki Old Market Hall
When you visit Helsinki’s covered market, you can taste a wide range of Finnish specialities. I highly recommend trying the handmade rye bread and the various spelt and nut breads available at the market. You can find several bread stalls, each offering more tempting options than the other. One of the must-visit bakeries at the market is Hongiston leipämyymälä, which has been open continuously since 1903 and has a rich history.
Apart from bread, the market is also known for its diverse fish offerings. You can find a variety of fish, such as smoked, cured, and fresh fish of Finnish origin, along with imported shellfish and oysters.
You’ll be satisfied if you’re looking for cold meats and cheeses. Locally produced Finnish hams, smoked over a wood fire using traditional methods, are delicious. You can find fresh and canned meat and game products. Remember that canned reindeer, bear, moose, and other animals retain intense flavour.
For vegetarians, Finnish honey is a popular souvenir item. If you plan on buying food as a souvenir, pack it in your check-in luggage to avoid throwing it away at the airport. Canned meat is also at risk because it contains gelatin, considered a liquid during airport security checks.
Where to eat in Helsinki Old Market Hall
Helsinki has many restaurants and cafes, but the covered market near the harbour is famous for its gastronomic delights. Despite being a tourist attraction, the Vanha Kauppahalli market is also a popular food spot among locals. I suggest arriving before or after lunch to avoid the rush hour and have ample time to choose where to eat.
If you’re looking for a restaurant and prefer soups, I highly recommend Soppakeittiö, which is always bustling with customers. There, sitting on a stool overlooking the market, I had one of the best salmon soups ever tried.
About the cafeterias, Story, a Nordic-style cafe located in the central gallery of Helsinki’s Old Market Hall, and Robert’s Coffee, a local chain that originated in this market, are both great options. Additionally, Scandinavia Cafe is a traditional cafe that serves alcoholic beverages.
Helsinki Market Hall also has many deli counters where you can grab a sandwich to-go. There are so many delicious Finnish specialities to try, so it’s worth trying as many as possible.
About the Helsinki Old Market Hall
Vanha Kauppahalli has an interesting history. In the 19th century, Helsinki primarily featured open-air markets for food sales. The concept of enclosing stalls within a building emerged due to a heightened awareness of food hygiene and the necessity to organise the chaotic market trade.
Construction of the Old Market Hall’s first hall began in 1888, opening to the public only the following year due to construction delays. Designed by Gustaf Nyström, the building drew inspiration from covered markets in major European cities.
Helsinki indoor market’s challenges
The Helsinki indoor market has faced various challenges, such as wars and rationing, but it has remained open throughout. However, its biggest challenge emerged after Finland became a member of the European Union in 1995. This brought significant changes and introduced a new cheese culture, which posed a major obstacle for the market.
Before EU accession, importing cheese and sausages from abroad was not possible. Since then, EU membership has significantly altered the landscape for many market traders, leading to innovations in the production methods of Finnish dairy farms. In particular, introducing unpasteurised cheese from France and other Central European countries has had a significant impact.
Practical information for visiting the Vanha Kauppahalli
The Helsinki Old Market Hall is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm and on Sundays from 10 am to 5 pm. If you are interested in a particular stall, check its opening hours, as not all traders are open the whole day. The same applies to specific holidays.
You can reach the Vanha Kauppahalli indoor market comfortably on foot or by bus from Helsinki Central Station. The Finnish capital is quite small, and the tourist attractions are all in the city centre, as I explain in the article on what to see in Helsinki in a day. Remember that on Google Maps and several tourist guides, you will find the covered market under the English name Helsinki Old Market Hall instead of Vanha Kauppahalli.
Around the covered market, there are many open-air stalls near the harbour, from where you can take the ferry to Suomelinna Island every half hour. You can then combine a visit to the market with a boat ride to discover the ancient fortress of Suomelinna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Or stop for lunch and then walk to the Design District to discover independent Finnish design boutiques.
Vanha Kauppahalli – Old Market Hall
Where to stay in Helsinki
Helsinki boasts of several Scandinavian-style hotels that offer exceptional services and experiences. I recommend staying in the city centre to explore the entire city on foot. Among the best hotels, you’ll find the Hotel F6, which serves a delicious Finnish breakfast and offers a bar, 24-hour reception, laundry services, and free bicycles. Alternatively, consider the charming Hotel Bastian near the Helsinki Cathedral and Helsinki Central Station. Another great option near the city’s popular attractions is the Aparthotel Bob W Koti Ullanlinna, which has a garden and stunning city views.
The Old Market Hall is an iconic landmark situated in the heart of Helsinki. This vibrant hub is a treasure trove of rich flavours and history, offering a plethora of stalls filled with fresh produce and local delicacies. Feel free to share your thoughts about this culinary treasure in the comments.