Surrounded by the Baltic Sea and a vast archipelago, Helsinki, dubbed the “”Daughter of the Baltic,” is the largest and capital city of Finland located atop the tip of a peninsula, and on 315 islands connected by bridges.
Not surprisingly, the city bears a striking resemblance St. Petersburg of Russia as it was rebuilt by the Russian Tsars in 1812 and has been the Finnish capital ever since.
The best time to visit this great Nordic city of churches and museums, and much more, are the summer months when the sun hardly sets and the city is in perfect harmony with nature. It is as good a destination in winter if you love the snow and are a winter sports fanatic.
Helsinki boasts 11000 berths for boats and has vast expanses of fishing waters, home to more than sixty species of fish as well as other marine life. No wonder, recreational fishing is one of the favorite pastimes of young and old alike.
Some of the important islands that make up Helsinki are:
Korkeasaari – This Island is home to Finland’s biggest zoo
Suomenlinna (Sveaborg) – Site of 18th-century fortress and a UNESCO’s World Heritage site
Santahamina – The military island
Pihlajasaari – Summer spot for naturists and gays.
Landmarks and Tourist Attractions in Helsinki
Ateneum – Finnish National Museum of Art
The National Museum of Art, also known as Anteneum, is located in central Helsinki near the Helsinki Central Railway Station.
Formerly the Ateneum was also home to the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Art and Design Helsinki.
Designed by the Finnish architect, Carl Theodor Höijer, the awe-inspiring Ateneum was completed in 1887. It houses Finland’s finest and largest collections, by far, of historic and contemporary works of art by Finnish and foreign masters alike.
Hours: Open Tues- Fri 10 am to 6 pm, Sat & Sun 11 am to 5 pm, closed Mondays.
Admission: Adults 12 €, students & seniors 10 €, children under 18 years free
Address: Kaivotaku 2, Helsinki
Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Church)
Designed by architect brothers Timo Suomalainen and Tuomo Suomalainen, the Rock Church, as the name suggests, was shaped by hewing directly into solid rock on the Helsinki peninsula.
The underground interior of the church is lit by natural light entering through the glazed dome. The 13-meter-high dome is made of glass and copper sheets supported by concrete rib-like beams.
Admission: Free, except during concerts
Address: Lutherinkatu 3, 00100 Helsinki
Market Square (Kauppatori)
Market Square, located in the heart of Helsinki, is one of the most popular outdoor markets in northern Europe. It is a seasonal market bustling with frenzied activity from spring to fall.
During these months the square is choc-a-bloc with thronging shoppers, vendors selling their wares, and crowded outdoor cafés famous for local delicacies like “lihapiirakka,” Finnish for meat pastries, and a variety of other delectable treats.
There is a round-the-year ferry service linking the square to the fortress island, Suomenlinna, courtesy the Helsinki City Transport.
However, during the season even private players offer ferry cruises to Suomenlinna and other neighboring islands.
On the first Friday of every month, there is a display of American cars of yesteryears at the square. It is long standing tradition and anyone with an interest in old American cars can participate.
However, Market Square is most popular in early October as it marks the beginning of the annual Helsinki herring market or “silakkamarkkinat,” as the Finns call it.
The Gallen-Kallela Museum was formerly the Gallen-Kallela house built in 1911-13 and was the residence and studio of the famous Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela.
The house was converted into the Gallen-Kallela Museum in 1961 and opened to the public in honor of the celebrated painter whose works, including paintings, graphics, and tools, are on display at the site.
The museum is located in Laajalahti Bay area in the eastern part of Helsinki and is easily accessible by car or on foot.
Hours: Open May 15 through August 31, 11 am to 6 pm; Sept 1 through May 14, Tues-Sat, 11 am to 4 pm; Sundays 11 am to 5 pm.
Admission: Adults 8€, seniors 6€, students and unemployed people 4€, under 18 free
Address: Gallen-Kallelan tie 27, FIN-02600 Espoo
Designed by architect Alvar Aalto and by completed in 1971, the Finlandia Hall is a congress and event venue on the Töölö (Töölönlahti) Bay in central Helsinki.
Although the designs were completed in 1962, construction of the Finlandia Hall started in 1967 and lasted till 1971.
The formal inauguration took place on December 2, 1971, with performances by Aulis Sallinen’s Symphony (Opus 24), Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Meren tytär (‘Daughter of the Sea’), Sibelius’s violin concerto with Isaac Stern as the violin soloist of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Congress Wing was built in 1973-1975 with the design having been finalized in 1970 with further additions to the structure in 2011 to accommodate new exhibition and meeting facilities.
The building is owned by the City of Helsinki and in addition to being a venue for several world congresses and as a forum for the world’s top economic and political leaders, it is a popular attraction for tourists with thousands visiting the Hall every year.
The flexibility and versatility of the Finlandia Hall facilities make it an ideal venue for all types of events including small meetings, large international economic and political conferences, and concerts and other entertainment and public events.
Notable attractions of the Hietaniemi Area are:
Hietaniemi beach – it is the most popular beach in central Helsinki.
Hietaniemi Cemetery – Houses a large military section (military cemetery) for soldiers killed in action in the wars with the then Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany including the tomb of the “unknown soldier” and Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim in the center of the military space.
The Artist’s Hill, the Finnish Guard cemetery and the Statesman’s Grove are the other sections of the Hietaniemi cemetery worthy of a mention – not to forget two Lutheran funerary chapels and a crematorium.
Rowing Stadium – built for the 1952 Olympics
Kayak and canoe rentals
Restaurants, soccer parks, and a public sauna
The island district of Seurasaari in Helsinki lies east of the city center and is connected to the mainland by a footbridge.
The island mostly known for its Open-Air Museum has a good variety of wildlife, as well, mainly birds, but red squirrels and hares also flourish in the area.
Other places and landmarks deserving a visit if you happen to be touring Helsinki:
Mannerheimintie (Mannerheim Street)
Finnish National Museum (Kansallismuseo)
Helsinki Olympic Stadium
Central Park (Keskuspuisto)
Linnanmäki Amusement Park