Pop Spots Helsinki

Exploring the Popularity of Helsinki districts

How does popularity of Helsinki districts differ? How can these differences be registered in everyday feed on social media? In this study we used Foursquare and Instagram data to analyze and map trends on social media of the city’s most popular areas.

From travelers and locals, in reality and on the web, we met numerous mentions on how differently neighborhoods are being perceived in Helsinki. We were also intrigued by an article from “Helsingin Sanomat” newspaper which suggest a tourist bubble impacting the city. Thus, the goal was to observe phenomena of Helsinki popularity through available meta-data, analyzing about 160 000 Instagram photos, in a time span of Jul 2014 – Jun 2015, together with Foursquare and GIS information on a region. After initial selection of the most popular and densely populated districts, we were to study them qualitatively in depth, by inherent processes and values.

Coffee was intuitively selected as a basic value to be traced, as Finland is considered to be number one country by coffee consumption with its 9.6 kg per capita (2.64 cups/day, according to Euromonitor report, 2013).  Coffee culture is interesting as it’s diverse and ubiquitous and potentially could be related to some globalization/touristification/gentrification processes by its character/popularity/price. We were particularly interested in its properties as of analogue to the Big Mac index, but of the the Helsinki city scale.

Popular districts of Helsinki

Comparing 60 districts within Helsinki region, in relation to Instagram and Foursquare activity per sq.m (y-axis) and population density (x axis, p/sq.km) we can visually select 16 most popular and most populated districts. Our interest was to take into consideration all the 16: ones that are more popular but less populated, and ones in the opposite corner of the graph, in order to juxtapose them. We can also group them by location and size, thus having 5-7 visually recognizable groups for further study about possible interrelations within them.

Popularity in time

Representation of a social activity on a big time scale gives a possibility to define general trend about life in a given area. During our timeline analysis of Instagram activity we focused on an indicators, such as red-letter days or city scale events that help to denote who are the major social media actors of a different districts. For instance, there are traditional celebrations such as Christmas and open international happenings such as Helsinki Design Week – observing what are the activity records during these events in a certain area, we can guess the level of globalization of an area. Also there are indicator areas, international mobility hubs such as Länsisatama – peaks of social activity in those help to mark global events of an international importance.

Trend A (green)

Present in Kruununhaka, Etu-Töölö, Kallio, Katajanokka, Vallila districts. High social media activity with seasonal increase during the summer. High peaks of activity during the Christmas and New Year. No prevalence of international events, but high peaks of activity at numerous local events. Indicates lively diverse locally popular residential/mixed-function areas.

Trend B (red)

Present in Kaartinkaupunki, Kluuvi, Kamppi and Länsisatama districts. Constantly high level of social media activity throughout the year, as well as on weekly level, with an increase on Fridays/Saturdays. High synchronized peaks of activity during big open international events (e.g. Helsinki Design Week) and comparatively low activity during local holidays (e.g. Christmas). Relates to globally popular areas with a big cultural/social value.

Trend C (blue)

Present in Alppiharju, Taka-Töölö and Toukola districts. Low social media activity on the average, with slight seasonal increase on summer, and high peaks during local events. Corresponds to locally popular mainly residential areas.

Specific trend D (purple)

Present in Punavuori and Ullanlinna. High level of social media activity throughout the year, with strong fall on Christmas, New Year and Midsummer and with no prevalence of international events. Even thou areas are popular and diverse, this pattern can indicate on touristification process, visible by pronounced migration of expats during before-mentioned “family” holidays.

Specific trend E (yellow)

Present in Eira and Kaivopuisto districts. Very low level of social media activity with a strong pronounced seasonal increase during the summer. Can be an indicator of a very touristified area or of an area with specific function (recreation).

Popular spaces

Our research discovers that there are certain types of space that are locally preferred to be presented on social media in different districts of Helsinki. Furthermore we can identify area’s prevailing function or character basing on these observations. Whether it’s outdoor space with popular leisure or sport activities, public indoor spaces full of social events, or private spaces representing casual life, comparing these categories and analyzing their interrelations we better understand characters of the city.

Trend A

Present in Eira, Kaivopuisto, Katajanokka, Kruununhaka, Ullanlinna. Pronounced prevalence of outdoor photos, that can be related to predominant recreational/park function and to high quality urban environments, which are consequently attractive for locals/tourists.

Trend B

Present in Kaartinkaupunki, Kamppi, Kluuvi, Länsisatama. Pronounced prevalence of indoor public spaces and rare private interiors. Can be related to predominance of cultural/social/civic role of the areas.

Trend C

Present in Alppiharju, Etu-Töölö, Taka-Töölö, Toukola, Vallila. Prevalence of public outdoor and indoor spaces on social media. Indicates lively local residential/mixed function districts.

Specific trend D

Punavuori, Kallio. Equal segments, with possible emphasize on the private interior photography. Even presence of different kinds of photos indicates lively and diverse residential/mixed-function districts. Emphasize on the private interior photography can indicate on “touristification” process, related to frequent sub-leasing of a well designed “fancy” apartments by tourists and expats.

Popular activities

Regarding the popular Foursquare activities, districts generally differ by the ratio between necessary activities such as mobility, income or nutrition, and optional as social or civic. Eira, Kaivopuisto, Punavuori, Kamppi and Kaartinkaupunki outstand by dominance of activities centered around social and leisure activities. In Katajanokka, Länsi-Satama and Toukola the distribution of activities is more balanced.

Trend A

Present in Katajanokka, Länsisatama, Toukola, Vallila, where “necessary” type of activities is of a major importance. Katajanokka is generally about mobility, tends to be mono-functional, despite of Länsisatama, that is more diverse, having “income” and “nutrition” categories also present after “mobility”. Toukola has “education” and “nutrition” categories prevailing, while Vallila has “nutrition” and “income” in top. All these areas are of relatively low diversity, which keeps a potential for their further development.

Trend B

Present in Täkä-Töölö, Alppiharju, Kaivopuisto, Ullanlinna, where within prevailing “optional” activity “social” and “leisure” are dominating. Can be related to lively locally popular residential areas.

Trend C

Present in Punavuori, Kaartinkaupunki, Kallio, where within prevailing “optional” activity “social” function is dominating, with a diverse even range of functions presented. Can be related to high quality globally popular residential/mix-function areas.

Trend D

Present in Kruununhaka, Etu-Töölö, where “optional” category prevail, with activities of a high diversity and pronounced “civic” function present. Can indicate on high quality mixed-function districts with an important societal role.

Trend E

Present in Kluuvi and Kamppi, with it’s “optional” activities prevailing and “consumption” category in top. Corresponds to the globalized central city districts of high popularity.

Trend F

Present in Eira, with it’s “social” activities dominating everything. Could be related to its very high cultural/social value, and very globalized character.

Helsinki looks like a coffee

Popular coffee spots

According to the Instagram pictures, Helsinki is full of coffee. Finland has an international reputation as a land of coffee drinkers as Finns drink globally the biggest amount of coffee per person. But how are the annual 160 liters of coffee presented in Instagram and Foursquare?

After studying all the Instagram photos from our selected districts, we analyzed the data spatially and qualitatively. Kluuvi, Kamppi and Kaartinkaupunki had the most of coffee pictures on the Instagram, while we didn’t take into consideration some weighting factor. So we decided to take a number of coffee-serving Foursquare places, such as coffee shop, restaurant, bakery, etc., and estimated a ratio of number of coffee pictures per coffee place. Results happen to be  interesting, as strong hierarchy of the major central districts disappeared, and some places like Kaivopuisto or Katajanokka unexpectedly happened to outstand.

Popular coffee types

Instagram is full of coffee pictures, but they are not alike. In addition to taste, beautiful cappuccinos have different symbolic meaning than cheap take away coffees.

Our way of analyzing coffee culture was to organize the Instagram pictures of coffee into 4 categories. These categories were

  1. Fancy. For example, Cappuccino
  2. Cheap. Take-away coffee that is not in a brand cup
  3. Brand. Starbucks and Robert’s Coffee
  4. Regular. Regular coffee in a coffee house setting.

Fancy coffee was used as a category when the Instagram user wanted to represent the coffee as something different than regular. Cheap coffee can represent mobility or high prices in an area. Brand coffee is probably the most interesting from the globalized point of view in coffee culture. Regular is the traditional Finnish coffee culture and its relation to the other groups holds the most interest in this cultural transformation.

According to our results, Kaartinkaupunki seems to be the capital of brand related coffee pictures, as different coffee or coffee shop brands are often presented in the pictures. On the other hand, in Kamppi and Kluuvi coffee seems to be more often foam decorated cappuccinos than specific brand related products.


Kalle Laakso

Master’s Student in Sociology, University of Tampere

Herman Mitish

Master’s Student of Architecture, Tampere University of Technology

Cristina Montoya

Bachelor Student of Architecture, National University of Colombia & University of Alicante

Hoa Nguyen

University of Turku

Maija Palomäki

Master’s Student in Administrative Sciences, University of Tampere