Suggestion 1: Helsinki for culture vultures! 4 – 5 hrs
We suggest traditional and modern art, real Finish design and a walk through the design district.
Ateneumin Art Museum (1hr)
An impressive building on the opposite side of the road to the main entrance to the main railway station.
Here you’ll find a number of collections including Finnish art from 1750 to 1960. Well labelled and explained, worth a visit
Kiasma – The Museum of Contemporary Art (45 mins)
A fabulous example of modern art that challenges perceptions and certainly stimulates thinking! Lots of multimedia stuff, good audio guide when we visited – if you consider yourself to be an art fan, then we urge you to visit both Kiasma and Ateneumin to get a rounded picture of Finnish art.
It’s 1.3km from here to the Design Museum. The no 10 tram will do the bulk of that for you. Walk along Mannerheimintie for 2 or 3 minutes to the tram stop called Lasipalatsi. Get off the tram at the 3rd stop – Johanneksen Kirkko – a fabulous church. The design museum is less than a minutes walk from here.
The Design Museum (1 hr)
This is a great example of a design museum – interesting exhibitions with plenty of guides on hand to explain what you’re looking at . Great coffee shop with lovely cake to keep you going.
It’s now a short 5 minute walk from the Design Museum to one of the most densely packed streets of the deisgn destrit. Head along Georgsk until you cross Rooberinkatu. You are now entering the main concentration of the Design District. On both sides of Georgsk there is now a selection of shops and businesses, but turn left into Uudenmaankatu.
The Design District (1 hr)
We suggest you finish off with a walk through the design district. Guided tours are available, or there is a map available from tourist information. Basically this is an area of 25 streets where 190 of the shops, bars and galleries belong to the Design District group. The group proudly state that the Design District is a state of mind – this is an excerpt from their website www.designdistrict.fi
State of Mind is a state within a state. It is Design District’s manifesto for design. We stand united against mediocrity, lack of perspective, amorphousness and hopelessness. Together we defend clarity of thought, bold acts, creativity, community and all that bubbles under the surface. Ordinary states are created from political or geographic motives. State of Mind’s borders enclose a shared attitude and love for design. Our citizens are people with creative fervour and the need to do things that will leave their mark on our era.
How could you resist that??! The biggest concentration is around Uudenmaamakatu between Annankatu and Yrjonkatu
If you’ve had enough, stop when you get to the next crossing (Annakatu) and walk back down the other side of the street. Make your way down Erottajank to the Etelaesplanadi and head for the harbour and market Square – several cafes on the way to revive you.
Suggestion 2: Tram tour (3 hours)
Take the 3T or 3B (same route, but one goes clockwise and the other anticlockwise – these are regular trams that do a figure of 8 around the city, with the route taking about an hour if you stay on the whole time. You can pick up a map of the route at the tourist information.
There is an LED display inside the tram that tells you the next stop & each tram stop has its name written on it.
1 Join at Market Square
2 Stop 8 Sammonkatu – this is the best stop for Temppeliaukion kirkko (Granite Church) (20 mins)
3. Stop 10 Toolontori (Toolo Market Square) – this is the best stop for the Sibelius monument. Just a short walk through the park. (30 mins)
4. Stop 12 Toolon hall – get off here for the Sports Museum. Surprisingly interesting, with various interactive elements. There’s a big focus on Parvo Nurmi, the Finnish Olympic hero, plus an interesting display about the ‘Marching Match’ of 1941 when Sweden challenged Finland to a great march – a tale of national pride! (1 hour – including trip up the Olympic tower)
5. Return to Market Square
Suggestion 3: The Sights for free (or nearly!) (4-5 hrs inc walking time)
Old Market Hall (20 mins); Market Square (20 mins); Uspenski Cathedral (15 mins); Helsinki Cathedral (15 mins); City Museum (1 hour); Havis Amanda Statue (10 mins); Design District & Stockmann Department Store (1 – 2hrs)
Start at the harbourside
Old Market Hall – old fashioned covered market. Good coffee, local specialities including fabulous cakes and – for the adventurous – reindeer kebabs! (20 mins)
Market Square: open air market – watch the locals buy fish and gorgeous looking fruit. Lots of local crafts – hats, knitwear, fur and wooden artefacts. (20mins)
Stand with your back to the market & the water – to your right you’ll see a huge brown cathedral. It’s not as far as it looks! Beautiful, Russian orthodox, built in 1868 it is still the largest Russian orthodox temple in western Europe. Inside it is breathtaking. Sometimes you’ll be lucky and find a choir rehearsing in there – acoustics are fabulous.
Before making your way back down, have a look at the view of Helsinki – wonderful!
Helsinki Cathedral (Tuomiokirkko)
You can see the white cathedral and its green dome from Upenski as well as from the harbourside. Designed by Carl Ludvig Engel it was finally consecrated in 1852. Inside it is very calm and simple. The statues are Luther, Agricola and Melanchthon – the three most influential clerics from the Lutheran movement.
Walk down the main steps and, with the cathedral behind you, go down the road at the right hand side of the square, take the 1st left – Alexandersgatan and then the 1st right to get to The City Museum
Great way to get an insight into Helsinki – a city that still has a 95% Finnish population! This tells the story of Helsinki through 3 eras: Swedish rule from 1550 – 1809, Russian rule from 1809 – 1917 and Independence from 1917 until now. Good levels of information in English. Good loos, comfy seats to have a sit down and museum staff who are happy to answer your questions.
Leave the museum, turn right and walk back towards the harbour and the Havis Amanda statue. The first naked statue in Helsinki, she represents Helsinki rising from the sea and was unveiled in 1908 to a scandalised reception. If you visit just after May 1st, she may still be wearing the white student cap that is placed on her each year – if there is a tassel on it, it means the technology students got there first!
Time for coffee!
Turn so that the market square is behind you and Helsinki cathedral to your right and walk straight ahead to what looks like a little park/avenue. On the left, at the beginning is a café with lots of seating outside and in. Good coffee here, you can help yourself to glasses of water and ice as you buy your drink.
After wards, walk up through the park and around here you’ll find the Design District shops and Stockmann department store at the end of the road – the biggest in the Nordic countries. Go and have a look at the deli in the basement – it’s amazing!
Suggestion 4: Suomenlinna (3 – 4 hrs)
If you have visited Helsinki before, and the weather is fine, you might like to consider taking the short ferry ride over to Suomenlinna to find out more about the history of this part of Scandinavia.
Suomenlinna is a World Heritage Site. It’s a huge historical maritime fortress built across 6 islands. It’s a thriving community with about 850 people living there. There are several museums, a visitors centre, cafes and lovely walks – well worth the 10 minute ferry trip over.
On arrival, follow the signs to the visitors centre. You’ll be walking the blue route, which is the recommended walk that passes all the main sights – the visitor’s centre is half way along. In here, you’ll find really interesting displays that chart the history of the fort and the ebbing and flowing of power between the Swedes, the Russians and the Fins over the centuries. The ticket for the ‘Suomenlinna experience’ is worth buying. This is a 30 minute ‘film’ (actually lots of stills) well narrated telling the story – interesting stuff. The headphones allow you to select your language.
We would then recommend the Ehrensvard Museum and the submarine Vesikko as well as finishing the walk along the blue route, which takes you past the rest of the sights.
There are plenty of places for eating and drinking and admiring the view over the sea.
Cost: The ferry trip across is cheaper on the public ferry – you get a return trip ticket valid for 12 hrs for €3-50. The JT waterbus is €6-50 return. Most of the museums charge a small entrance fee of around €4. The Helsinki card will get you free admission to all plus free travel, but even if you visited everything and did the guided tour – it would be cheaper to pay separately as the card is €31.