Senate Square gears up for socially-distant summer reinvention

One of Helsinki's most famous landmarks is turning into an urban garden of restaurants and bars, to try an boost local businesses impacted by a lack of tourists.

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File picture of Senate Square urban garden, summer 2020 / Credit: News Now Finland

Helsinki’s Senate Square, usually the focal point of tourist activity in the capital during summer, is getting a socially-distant reinvention.

On 1st July the square will become a summer urban garden with bars, restaurants and music, in a bid to bring in locals and domestic visitors and give the city centre an economic boost.

“It’s going to be a really nice set up of restaurants, cafes and bars. We’re going to have 16 restaurants and cafes, and as a starting point we’re going to have 480 seats. We will most definitely have music and maybe later live concerts as well” explains Peggy Bauer the manager from Tori Quarters who is putting the Senate Square event together.

At this time of year thousands of tourists each day are usually disgorged by their cruise ships and driven the short distance by bus to Senate Square for sightseeing. The coaches, often parked a dozen deep, are frankly an eyesore, but this year they’re nowhere to be seen as the impact of the coronavirus crisis decimates the international tourist industry.

File picture of Senate Square urban garden, summer 2020 / Credit: News Now Finland

The reinvented Senate Square that’s shaping up ahead of Wednesday’s opening could be a blueprint for what to do with the space in future – especially if it helps generate extra revenue for local businesses which would normally be busy with a tourist influx.

“This summer will be a critical time for many entrepreneurs in Helsinki. The Senate Square market will benefit the companies and people that do business there, but we also trust it will function as a catalyst for renewed activity, business and domestic tourism in the city centre” says Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori (NCP).

The city is making use of the wooden huts which usually come out for the Christmas Market in December, but they’re getting a summery makeover for the new bar and restaurant hotspot.

“We’re really putting all this together for the local tourists and Helsinki people. This summer is going to be totally different, and we don’t have tourists, Finnish people won’t be traveling perhaps that much during the vacation so we are trying to make a really beautiful destination to come and visit Helsinki, the capital” Peggy Bauer explains to News Now Finland.

File picture of Senate Square urban garden, summer 2020 / Credit: News Now Finland

Local bars and restaurants

Organisers at the City of Helsinki received more than a hundred applications from different bars and restaurants for a space in the square, and Peggy Bauer says it was not an easy choice trying to make sure there are options which appeal to a broad range of people.

“We were trying to choose that the mixture would have many possibilities to choose so that everybody can find something they really like” she says.

Many of the brands are familiar to local residents including Bryggeri; Paisano; Muru & Pastis; Ravintola Sunn and Pizzeria Via Tribunali – serving breakfasts; lunches; cocktails and craft beer; as well as a wide range of dishes from burgers and pizza to traditional fried Baltic herring, Spanish tapas and fine dining options too.

But the new urban garden comes with some restrictions, and groups of visitors will be kept apart with planters using the grid pattern of Senate Square to form natural boundaries.

“Social distancing was the core thing when we were planning this whole area. When we were starting we were measuring the whole square and one of the reasons why it is becoming an urban garden as well is because we can line up different areas and we are making walking routes between places so we can be able to avoid crowd, if possible” Bauer explains.

The Senate Square venue opens on Wednesday 1st July, daily until the end of August, from 09:00 to 23:00.

File picture of Senate Square urban garden, summer 2020 / Credit: News Now Finland