Helsinki has Heaps to Offer the City Break Visitor.
Tomorrow – June 12th – marks Helsinki Day, an annual celebration in honour of the Finnish capital. The event first came about in 1959 and the day itself marks the anniversary of the founding of Helsinki, with the Helsinki Medal awarded to recognised citizens of note by the city council as well as a wealth of other events and celebrations taking place across the city, from urban street parties and dancing to children’s entertainers and tall ships in the harbour.
If you’re planning a city break to Helsinki any time soon, the Finnish capital offers a large number of attractions for all to enjoy. And whilst the city has gained a reputation for its cutting-edge design scene and contemporary hipster vibe, Helsinki’s heritage remains firmly in the fore, too. Here’s a selection of our favourites…
One of Helsinki’s most popular landmarks, the Temppeliaukio Church is a stunning ecclesiastical edifice that breaks all the traditional conventions. Set deep in the city’s natural bedrock with its interior walls created naturally by solid stone quarried from the site itself, the church was designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen in 1969 and sits spiritually amidst a stunning natural backdrop. With excellent acoustics and its distinctive copper-plated domed roof, it also serves as a fabulous concert venue.
Dating back to 1852 meanwhile, Helsinki Cathedral is a much more traditional offering when it comes to religious monuments. Set on the north side of Senate Square (Senaatintori), this imposing ice-white cathedral is considered by many to be the symbol of Helsinki and whilst built for worship by the Lutheran church, its design has a distinct Russian Orthodox flavour, too. On that very subject, another must-see monument is the Uspenski Cathedral, the largest Orthodox Church in Western Europe and a very visual reminder of the immense impact of Russia upon Finnish history.
Whilst you’re in Senate Square you’ll also get to see some of Helsinki’s other striking buildings of neoclassical architectural design, namely the Government Palace, the National Library of Finland and the main building serving the University of Finland. It’s also home to the oldest stone building in Helsinki and provides a lovely backdrop for the city’s annual Christmas Market which takes place here in the winter months. If you can, come here as afternoon turns to evening as at 17.49 precisely, there’s a special sound installation – the Sound of the Senate Square – which travels from one building to the next.
On Mannerheimintie meanwhile, you’ll find a couple of interesting buildings worth ticking off your sightseeing itinerary: Finlandia Hall, home to the Finnish Philharmonic Orchestra, is a distinctive Modernist building and one of Helsinki’s most iconic landmarks. Across the way meanwhile is the National Museum of Finland, presenting a comprehensive overview of Finnish history from prehistoric times to the present day.
From an art perspective, the Ateneum Art Museum, part of the Finnish National Gallery, is a Helsinki essential. Home to more than 20,000 works dating back to the mid-18th century as well as a rolling programme of temporary exhibitions (look out for Rodin’s sculptures coming to the museum in February next year), the museum offers more of a classical complement to the more modern institutions such as the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Taide Halli and the Designmuseo, not to mention to planned Guggenheim Museum.
This year sees Finland celebrate the 150th anniversary of its most famous composer Jean Sibelius, and where better to pay homage to this man of music than the striking Sibelius Monument, a monument consisting of over 600 steel pipes with a bust of the composer on one side. A definite photo-stop and verdant picnic spot. The Esplanade Park meanwhile is also another popular park for both Helsinkians and tourists alike, particularly during the month of July when a series of jazz concerts take place. It’s here you’ll also find waterside Market Square, Helsinki’s most famous international market, as well as the Helsinki Baltic Herring Fair and Sailing Ship Day, both in October.
Last but not least, about a mile off the Helsinki shoreline is the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, founded in 1748 to protect the coast from the Russian attack and as one of the largest in the world, was once considered the bastion of the Swedish empire. Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fortress buildings today play host to a number of the city’s museums, as well as cafes, restaurants and other attractions. Definitely worth a day trip if you’ve got the time.