Tourist attractions in Helsinki

 

Attraction

Notes

Details & rating

Architect museum

Why go?

Helsinki is made up of striking examples of architectural styles – Engels buildings in and around Senate Square, the traditional Atenuem and train station, the ultra modern Kiasma and Kampii centre – so an architecture museum must be a winner?

How to make the best of it?

This is strictly for students of architecture – it is basically a library of architecture with small exhibitions of pictures and models.

We were very underwhelmed – expecting lots on Nordic architecture, we got a very academic collection – frankly neither our understanding of Finnish nor architecture was up to this!Low rating from us.Closed Mondays

€5

Ateneum Art Museum

Why go?

Main art collection in Finland. Finnish art from 750 – 1960’s with Western art from 1st half of 20th century.

Regular visiting exhibitions.

How to make the best of it?

There is no audio guide but there is a map in English that gives you a good idea of what’s available. Huge building with lots of stairs, but there are lifts that make it wheelchair friendly. Start at the top and work your way down.

Sue liked this – the exhibitions were thoughtfully put together in a way that helped the layman to understand art and artists. Top rating from her.Russell isn’t so keen on traditional art, but found enough variety here to keep his interest – mid rating from him.€8 during exhibitions, €7 at other times.

Closed Mondays

Design Museum

Why go?

Most of us have an image of Scandinavian design fixed in our heads. This museum charts the development of design in a very accessible way. Temporary exhibitions supplement the permanent collection really well. This Design Museum is large enough to do both well.

How to make the best of it?

Make use of the attendants in each area. When we visited they were very willing to talk about the exhibits and were very knowledgeable. Don’t miss the basement & have a coffee and cake in the café which is right amongst the shop – lovely!

We liked this – Sue more than Russell, but there was plenty to look at and it really helped being able to ask the attendants to explain the exhibits.Top rating from Sue – who thinks it’s important to seek out something specific to the country being visited, mid-rating from Russell – enough to keep him interested, but not a first choice visit for him.€8

Open every day in the summer, closed Mondays in winter.

Kampii

Why go?

This is a modern shopping centre (opened 2006) that is remarkable because it is a main bus station, metro stop, restaurant and nightclub complex, office and apartment complex as well as shops.

How to make the best of it?

It’s a shopping centre! You know what to do – look at the shops! There is an area outside behind the restaurant section where you can sit in the fresh air – but it’s very crowded!

Low rating from us – we love shopping, but this could be anywhere in the world! We prefer to be at Stockmann or the Design District – sorry!

Kiasma

Why go?

Very quirky modern art gallery! The Finns are very proud of this cutting edge gallery, which uses its space creatively to include installations from a huge variety of media and disciplines.

How to make the best of it?

Use the audio guide – it really does help to make sense of it all & then just surrender yourself to the madness!

Top rating from both of us! This is a fabulous gallery – you never know what you’re going to find around the next corner. We’ve been twice now and the second time all the exhibits were completely different.€8Closed Mondays

Lutheran Cathedral

Why go?

Two large cathedrals dominate the skyline of Helsinki and this is one of them! Designed by Engel, this is the most important building in Senate Square. Very austere inside, it is a Lutheran church.

How to make the best of it?

You don’t have to walk up the steps – you can access the front via the side of the church – but approaching it via the steps gives you a real sense of the splendour. When you get inside, sit down and admire the huge organ and the simple interior. You won’t need long inside – spend spare time outside!

Top rating from us – although we think it’s better from outside than inside! We were really surprised by how very simple it is inside – but that’s probably because we don’t know that much about all the varieties of Protestantism!Open every day, but closed during services.

Market Square

Why go?

Along with Senate Square this is the most important square in Helsinki and a must for orientating yourself. Home of the outdoor and indoor markets as well as the Havis Amanda fountain.

How to make the best of it?

Start by looking around the outdoor market – there are souvenirs, but most of it is a proper market used by the locals. Look out for the fish stalls on boats. Then walk down to Market Hall – an undercover traditional market – stop here for coffee. Then walk back up to admire the Havis Amanda fountain – Helsinki rising from the sea.

Reindeer kebabs in the Market hall, real fur hats for the Finnish winter in Market Square – it’s all just a bit different! Top rating from both of us! (Well it’s shopping – what else did you expect?!)

Olympic museum and tower

Why go?

Finland hosted the Olympics in 1952 and this museum is a quirky collection of triumphs and defeats.

How to make the best of it?

Go up the tower for fabulous views across the whole of Helsinki – you go up in a tiny lift – very cosy! Then visit the museum – there’s a lot about Finnish sport and pride & some great history. Browse until something catches your eye.

€2 for the tower, €5 for the museum

Open every day.

To be honest – we went here because we were on the 3T tram and we’d bought a Helsinki Card and were determined to visit everything! It was surprisingly interesting – but probably not something that should be top of your list if you just have a day – mid rating from us.The tower is great – and has high enough walls around the viewing area to make Russell – hopeless with heights – feel quite safe and didn’t have to be peeled off the wall when we’d finished!

Senate Square

Why go?

Hard to avoid it actually! This is the main square in Helsinki. Most of the buildings around it were designed by Carl Ludvig Engel, and it looks like a mini St Petersburg! The Lutheran Cathedral dominates.

How to make the best of it?

Always busy, but early morning is quietest. Visit the cathedral, take in the view from the top of the step[s and from the bottom of the steps. Have a coffee break in one of the cafes and enjoy the beauty of the square.

Top rating from both of us!Very beautiful with all Engel’s lovely pastel coloured buildings and then the very stark and grand cathedral. This square, along with Market Square needs to become a landmark in your head for navigation purposes!

Sibelius Monument

Why go?

Jean Sibelius is probably the most famous Finnish composer. This monument in Sibelius Park has been the subject of controversy. The design is vey Scandinavian, but suggests organ pipes – Sibelius didn’t compose music for organs!

How to make the best of it?

You need to go round it and under it in order to really experience it – you will hopefully be able to hear the wind singing through the pipes. Great if you’re into photography – lots of lovely angles to click from!

Russell is a classical music buff and once he’d stopped scoffing about using organ pipes to celebrate someone who didn’t write organ music, he enjoyed this. Sue had only vaguely heard of Sibelius but thought this was great – public art should be about climbing on it, getting up close and interacting. Bit of a trek to locate this, but worth it – very unusual. Top rating from Sue, mid from Russell.

Suomenlinna

Why go?

Unesco World Heritage site, this is the sea fortress off Helsinki that was designed to defend various states at various times (Finland, Russia, Sweden). It’s comprised of 4 islands, joined with bridges. A vital part of Helsinki (and Finland’s) history, there are several museums, shops, cafes and walks that you can enjoy.

How to make the best of it?

Catch the ferry from Market harbour – the municipal one costs the price of a bus ticket. Follow the walking route through to the Visitors centre and watch the ‘Suomenlinna Experience’ that explains the history.

Select a couple of the many museums to visit find a café with a good view & enjoy. The main walking route is marked out with blue signs.

There are guided tours – but our information is that unless you are REALLY interested in this period of history, you might find hem a bit long.

Open every day.

We really liked this! It felt like we were having a walk in the countryside – with labels so that you knew the significance of what you were gazing at.The visitor’s centre was great, and although the film was reminiscent of the Captain Pugwash approach to cinema, it was very informative.If you’ve been to Helsinki before, or you’re a bit fed up with museums – give this a go. Top rating from both of us!

Temppeliaukio Church

Rock Church

Why go?

Fabulous example of modern architecture using natural resources. Hewn out of the bedrock, with superb acoustics.

How to make the best of it?

Always busy, but suffer the crowds as it’s worth it! If you have the opportunity to listen to a concert here then take it up. Otherwise, sit down and take time to look around you and take in the atmosphere. There are guides available. This is a ‘working’ church, so bear this in mind.

We both love this place – it’s so original and strangely beautiful. This is just a quick visit – 15 minutes is all you need – but top rated from both of us.It’s free, although there is a box for donations and a small shop to buy souvenirs.Broadly speaking it’s open 10 – 5pm, later on Thurs and Fri and you need to work round the services on Sundays & Tuesdays.

Tram 3T/3B

Why go?

This is part of the regular tram network but is often known as the Tourist Tram as it does a figure of 8 route and passes by many of the main attractions.

How to make the best of it?

Download our guide, or collect the Tram 3T/B map from tourist information. This is a good way to see Helsinki, but also to reach the Rock church, Sibelius Monument, Ateneum, Olympic tower and the Market Square.

Tram tickets are valid for 1 hour and can be bought from a machine for €2 or the driver for €2.50. There is an all day (24hr) ticket available for 6.80 from machines or the driver – this is valid for all public transport.

Nice to travel with some locals – although I’m not sure that anyone will be fooled that you’re not tourists – all that pointing and gasping gives it away! Also nice to do a tour on the cheap!Russell loved this as he thinks that if we haven’t done public transport, we haven’t experienced the real place (try getting him on a bus in Southampton – doesn’t seem to apply here!) Top rating from him. Sue liked it because she had a sit down and got to the Rock church, Sibelius and the Olympic Tower, which we’d have missed otherwise – so top marks from her too!

Uspenski Cathedral

Why go?

Two large cathedrals dominate the skyline of Helsinki and this is one of them! The largest Orthodox cathedral in western Europe this is a very big reminder of past Russian influence on Finland.

How to make the best of it?

Don’t be put off by its apparent hill top position – it’s not that big a climb! If you’re lucky, there will be a choir rehearsing when you visit – to show off he acoustics to you. Otherwise, give yourself time to look at the very ornate decorations – and remember that as a Russian Orthodox church, there won’t be places to sit!

Top ratings from both of us. Hugely spiritual place, we were there when a choir as rehearsing – that gave you goose bumps it was so lovely!Free to enter, closed on Mondays and during services.

City Museum

Why go?

City museums give you a potted history of where you are and help you to contextualise everything else you see – well they should if they’re good ones and this one is! This one is organised into three sections to chart the journey of Helsinki through 3 empires: Swedish, rule, Russian rule and then Independence.

How to make the best of it?

The layout is a little confusing – so locate the Swedish rule section first and work chronologically from there. Any further questions you have – ask the person at the desk – we asked for information about Finland’s role in WW2 and were given a very interesting fact sheet to read.

Top rating from both of us! It’s sited in a side street off Senate Square and was very quiet when we visited. Really informative and interesting.Free and open every day