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Things to Do in Helsinki

Harborside Helsinki, the capital of Scandinavia’s less-touristy Finland, rewards visitors who make the trek with a flourishing arts scene, innovative restaurants, and plentiful island and inlets along the Baltic. Strolling through downtown reveals an untouched Art Nouveau building on virtually every corner, as well as landmarks such as the Alvar Aalto–designed Finlandia Hall and the Temppeliaukion Kirkko, a church hewn into solid stone. Mannerheim Street is the city’s major artery, lined with cafes, galleries, and boutiques where visitors can find Scandinavian-design wares. Helsinki is also home base for day trips bound for the medieval town of Porvoo, Suomenlinna Fortress, or outdoor adventures in the Finnish wilderness.
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Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Kirkko)
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Hewn into solid rock in the middle of a residential square, Helsinki’s Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Kirkko) features a circular ceiling covered entirely with copper stripping. Natural light streams in through 180 window panes, while an ice age crevice in the natural rock serves as the altar.

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Suomenlinna Fortress
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Spread over six islands in the Helsinki archipelago, Suomenlinna Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular destination for picnicking and leisure activities. The fortress is an important historic site with multiple on-site museums, as well as a living community with roughly 900 permanent residents.

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Parliament House of Finland (Eduskuntatalo)
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An impressive architectural landmark, Finland’s Parliament House (Eduskuntatalo) is home to the nation’s governing body. The imposing building looms over Helsinki on Arcadia Hill, making it both the political and geographical heart of the Finnish capital.

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Sibelius Monument
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Nestled among the trees of Sibelius Park, the contemporary Sibelius Monument commemorates the life of acclaimed Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. 600 hollow, silver-steel pipes hover above the ground and evoke a range of creative interpretations. Initially, the abstract sculpture caused controversy with its modern design, so a bronze Sibelius bust was installed nearby to appease critics.

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Helsinki Cathedral (Tuomiokirkko)
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The Helsinki Cathedral is also known as Tuomiokirkko. Built from 1830 to 1852, it replaced a smaller 18th-century church and was originally called St. Nicholas' Church in homage to Russian Czar. After Finland gained independence from Russia, the church was renamed, and in 1959 it became an Evangelical Lutheran cathedral.

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Helsinki Senate Square (Senaatintori)
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Senate Square (Senaatintori) symbolizes the cultural heart of Helsinki. Among the many landmarks surrounding the square are the Government Palace, National Library, Lutheran Cathedral, City Museum, and Helsinki’s oldest building, which make Senate Square an essential stop on any first-time visitor’s itinerary.

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Helsinki Central Station
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For thousands of commuters, Helsinki’s Central Railway Station is the main traffic hub from which buses, the metro and numerous local and long distance trains arrive and depart. In fact, with roughly 200,000 daily visitors, it is Finland’s most visited structure. The building also happens to be one of the landmarks of the city and looks back on over 100 years of history. Designed in 1909 by Eliel Saarinen and opened in 1919, the Railway Station’s most distinctive features are the big clock tower and the two towering figures of two heavily muscled, half-naked men holding big globes of light.

Another notable feature is the red Finnish granite that was used to clad the façades of the Central Railway Station. The granite originated in Hanko, the southernmost region of Finland and is believed to be over 400 million years old. A more curious addition to the station, which is also unique in the world, is the presidential lounge. It was originally supposed to be reserved for the private use of the Emperor of Russia, but since Finland’s independence, the waiting area has been dedicated to the sole use of the Finnish President and his guests.

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National Museum of Finland (Suomen Kansallismuseo)
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The impressive National Museum of Finland (or Suomen Kansallismuseo) looks a bit like a Gothic church with its stonework and tower. Built in 1916 and extensively renovated in 2000, the museum's rooms cover different periods of Finnish history. The Treasure Trove has coins, silver, weaponry, medals and jewelery. The Prehistory of Finland is a large, permanent exhibition of prehistory and archaeological finds. A Land and its People shows life in Finland before industrialization. The Realm covers the history of Finland in the 13th - 17th centuries when it was under Swedish rule and an independent duchy of the Russian empire. The permanent exhibition, "Suomi Finland 1900", explores 20th-century Finland and was opened in April 2012. There are also changing displays of church relics, ethnography and cultural exhibitions.

The superb frescoes on the ceiling arches (by Akseli Gallen-Kallela) depict scenes from the epic Kalevala, including one of the hero Väinämöinen plunging a stake into the giant pike. You can visit the cafeteria at the end of your day to rest and absorb what you've learned about the history of Finland.

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Helsinki Olympic Stadium
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Located a mile from the city center in the Töölö district, Helsinki Olympic Stadium (Helsingin Olympiastadion) is the biggest arena in Finland, with 40,600 spectator spots.

Finland was originally meant to host the 1940 Summer Olympics, but the outbreak of World War II delayed the games until 1952, when the country finally got to host the big event. Today, the stadium is home to the national soccer team and houses big-name concerts and sports events every year.

For views of all of Helsinki and its downtown, take the elevator to the top of the 72.21-meter Stadium Tower. Why the idiosyncratic height? Well, that was the gold-medal winning result of Finnish athlete Matti Järvinen’s javelin throw in the 1932 Summer Olympics, of course!

Aside from its 14-story viewing tower, the Helsinki Olympic Stadium also has a restaurant, an Olympics museum and, quirkily enough, a youth hostel.

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Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
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Helsinki’s Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma contemporary art museum is part of the wider Finnish National Gallery, and showcases both national and international art from across a broad creative spectrum. The museum exhibits more than 8,500 works, including and has a permanent collection that includes pieces by iconic Finnish artists Tom of Finland and Kalervo Palsa, as well as international names such as Andy Warhol.

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More Things to Do in Helsinki

Helsinki Zoo (Korkeasaari)

Helsinki Zoo (Korkeasaari)

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Located on Korkeasaari island, Helsinki Zoo is home to 150 animal species and more than 1,000 species of plant. Opened in 1889, the zoo is geographically divided into three sections that house bears, tigers, and lions. Today, the zoo is best known for its conservation work, particularly with endangered snow leopards.

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Market Square (Kauppatori)

Market Square (Kauppatori)

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Helsinki’s Market Square (Kauppatori) has served as the center of city trading for more than 200 years. Located on the harbor, just a short walk from Senate Square, the open-air market takes place year-round and attracts tourists and locals alike with its range of clothing, crafts, and fresh produce.

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Finlandia Hall (Finlandiatalo)

Finlandia Hall (Finlandiatalo)

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Helsinki’s Finlandia Hall is an architectural masterpiece designed by famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. Its exterior complements the local landscape and nearby park, while the inside features asymmetrical and curvy structural details, along with natural materials and colors. The multipurpose venue hosts concerts, meetings, other events, and a gallery.

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HAM Helsinki Art Museum

HAM Helsinki Art Museum

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HAM Helsinki Art Museum is one of the largest museums in all of Finland, featuring its main venue in Helsinki's historic Tennis Palace complex; a regional outpost in Uusimaa; the HAM Gallery (formerly known as the Kluuvi Gallery); and much of the city's public domain art. All in all, the art museum has a collection of nearly 9,000 pieces, most of which are of the modern Finnish variety.

Both contemporary and modern works are displayed at the museum, and pieces are often brought in on exchange from partners in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere in Europe. The works cover a wide variety of regions, genres and history.

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Helsinki City Museum

Helsinki City Museum

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One of the largest museums in all of Finland, the Helsinki Art Museum, is located within the Tennis Palace complex in central Helsinki. However, the museum also has a regional art museum in Uusimaa, keeps the Kluuvi Gallery, and also maintains much of the city's public domain art. The main museum itself has been located in the historic Tennis Palace space since 1999 and hosts one of the largest collections of art anywhere in all the Nordic countries. All in all, the art museum has a collection of nearly 9,000 pieces, most of which come from modern era Finland.

The vast majority of the museums exhibitions are temporary, and the works found within the museum are not necessarily locked into any particular region, history, or genre. Both contemporary and modern works are displayed at the museum and art is often brought in on exchange from partners in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere in Europe.

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Helsinki City Hall (Kaupungintalo)

Helsinki City Hall (Kaupungintalo)

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Helsinki City Hall, also called Kaupungintalo, didn’t always have an administrative purpose. In fact, it was originally designed as a cultural entertainment hotel by the famous German architect Carl Ludvig Engel back in 1833. The beautiful white and blue façade in the imperial style has remained, but today, most of the classical interiors have been replaced by more modern glass structures. In 1913, the former grand hotel was turned into Helsinki City Hall and although it has served as a hospital during the First World War, the building has since then hosted the offices of the mayor of Helsinki. There are also several other rooms for City Board and City Council meetings, which take place every other Wednesday in the council chamber.

If you love architecture, you can simply bring your camera and wander, but visitors are also able to attend various events and exhibitions inside the building. Vikra Gallery organizes photography exhibitions, movie screenings and concerts in the lobby and banquet hall. In the lobby you can also find quite a few paintings and sculptures, for example “the Chain,” a sculpture by Kimmo Trench showing the unity of the people of Europe, or Oscar Klineh’s famous painting of Helsinki.

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Helsinki Swedish Theatre

Helsinki Swedish Theatre

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The Helsinki Swedish Theatre, also known as the Svenska Teatern, is the oldest theater in Helsinki and offers performances exclusively in Swedish, the country’s second official language. Going to a theatre performance in a foreign language can seem a bit daunting, but musicals such as the timeless feel-good show “Mamma Mia” or George Orwell’s 1984 can be quite enjoyable even if you don’t have the necessary language skills. The national theatre offers a wider repertoire that caters to everyone and genres range from drama to musicals and children’s theatre. The atmosphere alone is worth the visit.

Established in 1827, the once small wooden theatre used to be a quick road stop for actors en route to Saint Petersburg, but it soon became so popular that a newer and bigger building had to be constructed. The theatre seen today was opened in 1863 and was built in the neoclassical style, although during a renovation in the early 20th century, the richly decorated façade was replaced with a more functional one. It offers room for up to 700 spectators, but also has smaller stages with fewer seats.

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Seurasaari Open-Air Museum

Seurasaari Open-Air Museum

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Not far from the center of Helsinki, Seurasaari Island is an open-air museum of the Finnish traditional way of life. It has 87 buildings, 18th and 19th century traditional houses, manors and outbuildings from around Finland. Guides dressed in traditional costume demonstrate crafts such as spinning, embroidery and troll-making.Shops sell old fashioned treats, and folk-dancing performances are scheduled frequently during the summer. On Midsummer Eve a huge bonfire kicks off the celebrations, and a real wedding takes place in the Karuna Church.

The Seurasaari Open-Air Museum opened in the 1909, when it was only accessible by boat. It's been popular with locals and visitors ever since. On summer nights there are regularly scheduled concerts in Karuna Church. The buildings are closed during the winter, but the park is open for cross-country skiing and invigorating walks.

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SEA LIFE® Helsinki

SEA LIFE® Helsinki

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Located inside of Helsinki’s Linnanmaki Amusement Park, SEA LIFE® Helsinki is an interactive aquarium that proclaims to take visitors on a magical journey through the world’s seas and oceans. Touch crabs and sea urchins under the guidance of trained staff at the interactive rock pool or see a hermit crab change its shell. Immerse yourself inside an ocean tank via a transparent underwater tunnel. Catch a glimpse of sharks, piranhas, stingrays and tropical fish and learn about the need to protect their endangered environments.

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Design Museum (Designmuseo)

Design Museum (Designmuseo)

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The Design Museum, or Designmuseo in Finnish, is a specialized design collection and Finland’s national design museum located in the capital Helsinki. The museum hosts an ever changing array of special exhibitions throughout the year, featuring contemporary as well as historical design from Finland and beyond. It also manages to offer a schedule choke full of various events, workshops and lectures on all things art and design. Accordingly, the art exhibited, from post-modernism to industrial, is constantly changing and with the Design Museum’s constant attention to new trends and designers, the museum is incredibly attractive to first time guests as well as repeat visitors intent on discovering new shapes, forms and perspectives.

Especially interesting for visitors from abroad might be the Design Museum’s Collections Exhibition called “Finnish Form,” which focuses on the uniquely Finnish styles influenced by Nordic functionalism, the harsh seasons and the cold Arctic environment. All in all, the museum hosts over 75,000 objects that date from the mid-19th century all the way to the present day.

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Mannerheim Museum

Mannerheim Museum

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The Mannerheim Museum is dedicated to the life and times of Finland’s national hero, Gustaf Mannerheim. As the country’s commander-in-chief during World War II, Mannerheim saved Finland from the clutches of Russia, and as the post-war president, he also managed to successfully negotiate Finland’s peace agreements with the United Kingdom and Soviet Union. Also on his impressive resume is the fact that during this lifetime, he managed to traverse 14,000 kilometers along the Silk Road from Samarkand to Beijing.

The Mannerheim Museum is housed in what was once honoree’s home, which he rented from chocolate magnate Karl Fazer from 1924 until his death in 1951. The home has been preserved in its original state, and most of the furnishings date back to the 1940s. A great place to visit for anyone interested in 20th-century European history and the Finnish psyche, the museum houses Mannerheim’s basic bedroom, a collection of hundreds of medals and other honors he received from different countries, his prized book collection, Asian art and portraits of his ancestors.

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Museum of Finnish Architecture

Museum of Finnish Architecture

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Helsinki’s Museum of Finnish Architecture dedicates three stories to design, with a special focus on Finnish architecture from 1900-1970 in its permanent collection on the second floor. The Finnish collection is especially interesting for those interested in Modernism and renowned Finnish architects like Alvar Aalto.

Located in Helsinki’s design district, first floor temporary exhibits showcase both international and Finnish architecture.

As the second-oldest museum of architecture in the world, a visit to the small museum is an interesting way to learn about Finnish culture and Scandinavian style. Located in a beautiful neo-renaissance building dating back to 1899, the archives on the second floor are open to the public and feature over 50,000 drawings, many of which are originals. The archives also include an extensive selection of photographs, slides, and models. On the ground floor there’s a bookshop and library.

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Finnish Museum of Photography

Finnish Museum of Photography

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Located in the Cable Factory building in Helsinki, the Finnish Museum of Photography is the largest collection of photographic art material in Finland. The museum, which is operated and maintained by The Foundation for the Finnish Museum of Photography, holds a collection of some 3.7 million photographs submitted by artists over several decades. Established in 1969, the museum has a floor space of 900 square meters and is constantly showcasing an array of photographer's works – past and present. The museum's oldest displayed images date back as far as the 1840s.

At any given time, at the Finnish Museum of Photography, there can be a variety of different exhibitions on display. There is no necessary genre that the museum focuses on and works come from both Finnish and international sources. There are exhibitions relating to fine art, photojournalism, as well as the history of photography. Moreover, the museum contains a massive collection of achieves that include newspaper clippings, videos, posters, and recordings. There is also a 350-plus piece collection of historical photography materials such as old cameras, film, and other photography instruments.

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Urho Kekkonen Museum (Tamminiemi)

Urho Kekkonen Museum (Tamminiemi)

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Found in the Meilahti district of Helsinki, Tamminiemi is a villa that served as the official residences for former Fininsh president Urho Kekkonen between 1940 and 1981. The house was originally designed by Sigurd Frosterus and Gustaf Strengell for a Danish man by the name of Jorgen Nissen. The building was completed in 1903 and housed a number of residents before finally becoming the home of Urho Kekkonen. Today, the villa is open to the eyes of the public as a museum. It's located next to Seurasaari Museum Island within a beautiful park.

Kekkonen held the office of president in Finland from 1956 to 1981, and Tamminiemi was the official residence, the center of political affairs, and was often used to entertain foreign guests and dignitaries. It is said that Kekkonen would often treat his important guest to a visit to his personal Turkish baths found within the complex. After Kekkonen left office in 1981, it remained his personal home until his death in 1986. Much of the residence has been left as it was during the years it was occupied by the Finnish President. Visitors can step back in time and wander through the house via guided tours. Guests also have the chance to see the living quarters, various art works, and the kitchen area. There is also a cafe and shop on site.

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