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Articles

Helsinki: Sightseeing & Attractions

 

  Sibelius Monument, Helsinki

 

Helsinki is the capital of Finland.

It is thoroughly a Nordic capital, and it also reflects influences gained from the Western and Eastern cultures. 


Founded in 1550, t
he 'Daughter of the Baltic' has been the Finnish capital since 1812. This is when it was rebuilt by the czars of Russia along the lines of miniature St. Petersburg.

 

 Today Helsinki pulls off the trick of being something of an international metropolis while still retaining a small town feel.
   
The best time to visit is in summer, when Finns peel off their overcoats and flock to outdoor bars and cafes to enjoy the sunshine



An Overview: 


Helsinki is among the world's northernmost capitals. 

Lutheran Cathedral, downtown Helsinki

 

The city is also known for the lengthy winter, from November all the way up to March, - this is when it is pretty dark and freezing. 


Winter temperatures average -5°C, but the wind chill makes it feel even colder and the mercury can plunge below -20°C on a particularly cold day.

Snow falls only intermittently and often melts into gray slush.



 

The Summer is pleasant, but short, lasting from early June until late-August.

Highs are usually around 22°C and sometimes climb above 27°C, with lows usually ranging between 10 to 20°C. Parks burst into green and sunbathers dot the city's beaches.
   

 


Daylight Hours:

Due to the northern latitude, the daylight hours are unusually long in summer, with sunsets very late in the evening, and virtually no darkness at night from early June until mid-July.

 

Language:
The city is officially bilingual, with an 86% Finnish-speaking majority and a visible 6% Swedish-speaking minority. 
Street names and many signs in Helsinki are in both Finnish and Swedish.

 

Population:
Helsinki's population is approx. 604,380, but the Greater Helsinki region including the suburbs of the neighboring administrative areas has a population of over 1.3 million.

 

Thoroughly a Nordic capital, Helsinki today reflects the influences from

the Western and Eastern cultures


Within Helsinki itself, the city center is on the southern peninsula at the end of the city's main thoroughfare Mannerheimintie.

Both the central railway station and the main bus Terminal are in the city center.

Major shopping streets in Helsinki are Aleksanterinkatu and Esplanadi that connect to Senate Square, the historical center of the city. 


Helsinki is located at the Finnish Gulf, and several cruise liners arrange trips out to the archipelago ranging from short hops lasting only an hour or two to trips ranging a full day. 

Helsinki is well connected with ferry services to Tallinn, Estonia, and Stockholm, Sweden. Ferries arrive at three harbors with five terminals.



Festivals:


Helsinki's celebrations are among the most exciting in the country.

 

  • Lux Helsinki: the festival is an annual event that is held in early January.
    It features light installations to cheer residents' and visitors' minds during the darkest time of the year.
    They are on display over several nights. Lux Helsinki can also be enjoyed as part of a guided walking tour

  • Vappu (Walpurgis Night): April 30-May 1.
    Originally a North European pagan carnival, Vappu is an excuse for students to wear brightly colored overalls and for everybody to drink vast amounts of alcohol.

    At 6 pm on April 30, the statue of Havis Amanda at the Market Square is crowned with a student's cap and the revelry begins in the streets. Things can get a little ugly outside as the night wears on, so it's wiser to head indoors to the bars, clubs and restaurants, all of which have massive Vappu parties.

    The following morning, the party heads to the Kaivopuisto park for a champagne picnic, regardless of the weather.

    If the weather is good, up to 70,000 people will show up. Left-wing parties hold rallies and speeches (Labor Day, May 1), but the event is increasingly non-political

  • Helsinki Day: June 12, the birthday of the city.
    Traditionally it starts with the mayor's morning coffee and is celebrated throughout the day with a variety of concerts, performances, exhibitions and guided tours around the city

  • Midsummer Festival: Friday between June 19 and June 25. Although a large bonfire is lit in Seurasaari, the celebration is low key as the tradition is to celebrate "the nightless night" at summer cottages in the countryside.
    Although some celebrate Juhannus in Helsinki as well, the streets are often eerily empty and the doors of the shops closed

  • Night of the Arts: late August. The peak of the multi-week Helsinki Festival called "littlevappu" by many as the streets are full of revelers. The official event is marked by performing arts throughout the night. The Night of the Arts was originally organized by local bookstores in the 1990s.
    It is now organized by the city. During the last few years, the event has slightly returned to its origin as an Arts & Culture event

  • Christmas: In the weeks before Christmas, Aleksanterinkatu is festively lit up.
    It starts on the last Sunday of November when the Esplanadi hosts an open-air Christmas market.
    Christmas itself is a family event. On the December 24 everything shuts down and stays closed until December 26

     

    Helsinki International Film Festival: Also known as Rakkautta & Anarkiaa (Love & Anarchy) and held annually in September, HIFF features a wide selection of films from all over the world. Asian films have been a special focus in the history of the festival. In 2012 the festival marked its 25th anniversary

     

    Central Railway Station, Helsinki:

Central Railway Station, Helsinki


All long-distance trains throughout Finland and the Russian cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg terminate in the heart of the city at the Central rail station (Rautatieasema).

  

This station also provides easy interchange to the metro and tram lines


 

 

 


What To See: 


Surrounded by sea and a vast archipelago, Helsinki is at its best in the summer when the dialogue between the city and nature is at its fullest.

Classical Helsinki's sights can be divided into an eclectic set of churches and a wide variety of museums. For a coastal amble past some of Helsinki's minor and major sights


Senate Square and the Lutheran Church designed by Carl Ludwig Engel

 

If you are limited in time in Helsinki, you may wish to follow the recommended Helsinki itineraries, which begin at the Saarinen-designed Central Railway Station and move on to the Senate Square and the Lutheran Cathedral 



Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna fortress as seen from a passing ferry
 

 

If you see only one place in Helsinki in the summer, make it Suomenlinna.


The 'Gibraltar of the North' was once the greatest sea fortress in the Baltic, built by the Swedish in the mid-1700s at great expense to protect their eastern flank.

 

But when the Russians invaded in February 1808, the bulk of the unprepared and bankrupt Swedish army hastily withdrew, allowing the Russians to conquer Helsinki without a fight and besiege the fortress.


With no reinforcements in sight, commander Carl Olof Cronstedt surrendered unconditionally two months later, and Finland was ceded to the Russians.

Cronstedt's actions probably saved countless civilian lives, but King Gustav IV needed a scapegoat and sentenced him to death for treason; fortunately, the losing king was himself soon overthrown, and Cronstedt lived out his years gardening.

 

Today's Suomenlinna is still living in its own time with only old buildings, few cars, fewer than a thousand inhabitants and lots of old fortifications, catacombs and cast iron cannons.

But it is not just a museum: 
the sprawling complex houses restaurants, cafes, theaters and museums, and is a very popular place for a picnic on a fine summer day, watching the vast passenger ferries drift by on their way to Estonia and St. Petersburg.

It was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1991 as a unique monument to European military architecture.

Entry to the island itself is free, but you need to pay for the ferry ride.

The HSL ferry from Market Square is the cheapest and most convenient way of getting there. The ferry is a part of the Helsinki local traffic, so if you have an HSL Day Ticket it includes ferry travel. The ferry runs approximately every half hour. You can also use the normal single-HSL tickets, you can transfer to the ferry if validated within the transfer time window.

On summer weekends the island is a popular picnic destination and you may have to wait for a long time as hundreds of people crowd the ferry terminal

 

Other islands


A beautiful archipelago surrounds the Helsinki city center.
 
In addition to the major islands, there are scheduled services to many smaller islands, and you can also tour them by sightseeing cruise.
 
Most of the cruises depart from the Western corner of the Market Square and last from one to several hours. Note most ferries and cruises operate only in the summer high season

 

  • Seurasaari Open Air Museum: 
    A pleasant little island to the north of the center, filled with walking trails and authentic old Finnish houses collected from all over the country. An excellent half-day trip, especially in the summer, when many buildings have guides practising crafts in traditional dress. There's a very pleasant if somewhat pricey summer cafe/restaurant atop a small hill at the center of the island

  • Korkeasaari: a large island in central Helsinki best known for Helsinki Zoo, with approx. 200 different animal species. Connected to the mainland by bridge (bus 11 from Central Railway Station), in summer you can also opt for a 15-min ferry ride from Hakaniemi and Market Square

 

Parks:

  • Esplanadi Park: 

    Located between Market Square (Kauppatori) and the two Esplanadi boulevards, this small but stately park has a commanding position at the heart of the city. In the summer time it is full of people sitting on the lawn, meeting their friends and quite often also having a drink or two. In the summer there are often free concerts given by local artists on the stage close to Kauppatori, facing restaurant Kappeli. If you're walking around with an ice cream or sandwich, do watch out for the aggressive birds

  • Kaivopuisto:
    A beautiful park by the sea in the southernmost part of the city. In summer you might want to sit down for a cup of coffee in one of the seaside cafes and enjoy the view of sailboats and the people on the promenade. Housing surrounding this area is the most expensive in Helsinki

 

Churches: 

 

 Lutheran Cathedral: 

Helsinkii: Lutheran Cathedral

The unofficial symbol of the city, this striking white cathedral dominates the central Senate Square. 


Based on designs by Carl Ludvig Engel and completed in 1852, the cathedral has recently been refurbished and looks better than ever, with the 12 apostles on the roof once again looking down at the world below


 

 

 

♦ The Church in the Rock:

Helsinki: The Church in the Rock
 
  • This atmospheric church was literally dug out of solid rock.

    From above, it resembles a crashed UFO. The roof is made of 22 km of copper strips.

  • Completed in 1969, this has become one of Helsinki's most popular attractions. 

  • Concerts are often held here thanks to the excellent acoustics. 10 am - 5 pm daily.

    Beware of busloads of obnoxious tourist groups making lots of noise even during performances. English services on Sundays at 2 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 


 Assumption Cathedral:


 
  • A classical onion-domed Russian church prominently located near the Market Square, the Assumption Cathedral serves Finland's small Orthodox minority. 

  • It is the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe.


  • The five domes are topped with 22-carat gold, and some of the icons within are held to be miraculous


 

  

 St. John's Church: 
The largest church in Helsinki and a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture


 
Church of Kallio:
On top of the hill at the end of Siltasaarenkatu. The church is built of grey granite (1912) and its massive looks dominate the view from Hakaniemi. It was designed by Finnish architect Lars Sonck. The church has both baroque and French romantic organs and concerts are organized frequently

 Old Church of Helsinki and Old Church Park 

The oldest existing church in central Helsinki, designed by Carl Ludvig Engel, built between 1824 and 1826. Originally planned as a temporary building before Lutheran Cathedral would be completed in 1852, but remained in use due to the rapid population growth from the early 19th century onwards. The park is sometimes colloquially called Ruttopuisto
 (Plague Park) as over a thousand victims of the 1710 plague are buried next to the park

 

 

Museums & Galleries
 

Helsinki downtown: Alexander II monument & Lutheran Cathedral   
 
 
Many of Helsinki's museums are as interesting from the outside as from the inside.


Architecture buffs will get a kick out of Helsinki's Neo-Classical center, centered around Senate Square where a statue of the liberal Russian czar Alexander II stands guard.

  

Aleksanterinkatu and the Railway Station square also have some beautiful neo-classical buildings — look out for the Romantic Kalevala-esque themes










 
 

 

  Ateneum Art Museum:

Ateneum can be considered the most nationally significant art museum, and it has the largest collection of paintings and sculptures in Finland. Particularly notable is the collection of works by major Finnish artists. Works include renowned interpretations of the national epic Kalevala

♦ Design Museum: 
Exhibitions of modern commercial and industrial design and modern art. The permanent exhibit in the basement showcases the history of consumer-goods design over the course of the 20th century, with a particular focus on the contributions of Finnish designers
 


♦ Helsinki City Museum: 
The museum covers a whole series of old buildings around Helsinki, but the centerpiece is a short street of Sofiankatu itself carefully restored as a replica of the 1930s

 

♦ Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art:
Sometimes unusual collections include works by contemporary Finnish artists and artists from nearby countries. There are also periodical exhibitions. The building itself is arguably a work of art


♦ The National Museum of Finland 
A beautiful classical building houses this old but recently renovated museum. The National Museum illustrates Finnish history from prehistoric times to the present days. Major archaeological finds. Temporary exhibitions.

Embark a time-trip through the history of Finland, with unique exhibits from a period of over 10,000 years

 

♦ Museum of Cultures: 
The exhibitions provide perspectives into both past and present and the everyday life of peoples throughout the world, as well as in multicultural Finland. The aim of the exhibitions is to provide alternative ways of reviewing the development of the world and also to remind of the existence of small, nearly extinct or repressed peoples and groups. The Museum of Cultures is closed in Tennis Palace and will move to the National Museum's premises in 2013 - with a new exhibition on the world's religions scheduled for spring 2014

 

♦ Museum of Finnish Architecture: 
Temporary exhibitions on Finnish and international architecture. Permanent exhibition on the 20th c. Finnish architecture. Bookshop and Library

 


♦ Gallery Forum Box: A Contemporary Art Gallery, with changing exhibitions and various cultural events
 

♦ Heureka Science Centre: 
This is a great place for a day trip, especially with kids. Hands-on science tests and exhibitions plus Verne super-cinema. There's also a Heureka Shop, where you can buy unique science related memorabilia


♦ 
Mannerheim Museum: Finnish Marshall Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim lived in this villa 1924-51. The museum contains his personal home and his vast array of items acquired during his life and during his long travels

 


Olympic Sights:


Helsinki is an Olympic city, the host of the 1952 Olympic Games
 

 

1952 Olympic Stadium's modernistic Tower, Helsinki

Olympic Stadium: originally built for the Olympics and renovated for the 2005 World Athletic Championships. Next to the stadium are soccer fields.
 
 
There is Museum of Sport in the stadium building. Another stadium called Sonera stadium is not far from the Olympic site. 
 

The most popular building in the complex though is the Uimastadion, Helsinki's largest outdoor pool (open May-Sept), whose three pools and water slides draw around 5,000 visitors a day in the summer

 

 

♦ Olympic Tower: the stadium features 72 m high tower (14 floors) that offers a great view over the city

 

 

 Parliament House: 

The House of the 200-seat Parliament of Finland was designed by J.S. Sirén in the classic style of the 1920s and officially inaugurated in 1931. The interior is classical with a touch of functionalism and art deco. Under extensive renovation

 

♦ Finlandia Hall

 

Must-See: Finlandia Hall, Helsinki Finland

 
The famous Finlandia Hall is designed by Finland's best known architect Alvar Aalto and located across the street from the National Museum.

 

Marble Finlandia Hall is a popular congress and concert venue in Helsinki.

 

The building itself is worth a visit particularly for architecture buffs, with guided tours available.

Be sure to view the building also from across the Töölönlahti bay in the evening when floodlit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   ♦ Must-See: Sibelius Monument in Sibelius Park, Helsinki:  

Most well-known sight, Helsinki: Sibelius Monument in Helsinki's Sibelius Park
 

The world-famous composer Jean Sibelius' monument was designed by sculptress Eila Hiltunen and unveiled in 1967.

It is one of the most well-known tourist attractions in Helsinki as nearly every guided tourist tour is brought to Sibelius Park to marvel at this unique work of art resembling organ pipes, welded together from 600 pipes and weighing over 24 metric tons

 

 

 

 

 

♦ Korjaamo Cultural Factory: 
Situated in the old tram depot, Korjaamo is made up of galleries, a café, bar, club space, a theatre, shop, and even the Tram Museum is still here. Since the Vaunuhalli was opened in the summer of 2008, Korjaamo is now the biggest cultural center in the country. While the work is diverse, you could say that the kind of art on offer at Korjaamo is independent, different, and worth keeping an eye on

 

 

Try This:

Vintage tram rideHavis Amanda fountain at Market squareEnjoy a ride on a century-old tram! If the weather is warm, sit in the open trailer car. The driver takes you on a 20-minute loop tour around the city centre area (there is no commentary but photo opportunities are plenty as there are no windows in the open tram from 1909!). The service operates from mid May till late August

 

Concerts:

Helsinki has an active cultural life and tickets are generally inexpensive. Important performing groups include:

  • National Opera: Lavishly subsidized, but it is still easy to get good seats

  • Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra: performances have recently moved to the Music House, a brand new visually questionable but accustically excellent concert hall

  • UMO Jazz Orchestra: an important part of Finnish jazz life, known for performing new Finnish music alongside interesting shows, such as with new circus