Finland’s capital city of Helsinki is often bypassed in favour of other European cities, which is both a shame and a blessing … a shame because it offers a lot for visitors, and a blessing because it means that those who do make the trip can enjoy the city without huge crowds!
Filled with interesting and eye-catching architecture, the historic city is often compared to the elegant and aristocratic St Petersburg in Russia. Known as the Daughter of the Baltic, there are many great sights to see around Helsinki.
Here are some highlights of Helsinki:
1. Uspenski Cathedral
A vision of striking red brick topped with green roof tiles and golden domes, Uspenski Cathedral manages to appear somewhat austere and attractive at the same time. The largest Orthodox Christian building in all of Western Europe, it boasts 13 gleaming domes, which are said to represent Jesus Christ and the 12 Apostles. One of the city’s most prominent reminders of Russian influences in times gone by, the interior is filled with religious pictures, statues, and other impressive objects. Gaze up and admire the mighty chandeliers and climb to the top of the soaring tower to peer down on the bustling streets below. It is free to look around inside, although donations are gratefully received. Remember that it is an active place of worship and a sacred site, so do dress fairly modestly for a visit.
2. Lutheran Cathedral
Often referred to as Helsinki Cathedral, the dazzling white façade of the city’s large Lutheran Cathedral is one of Helsinki’s most recognizable sights. Standing at the heart of the sweeping Senate Square, it has a history that dates back to the mid-1800s. The neoclassical building was originally constructed to honour the Russian Tsar Nicolas I, who was also the Grand Duke of Finland. Large statues of the Apostles stare down from the roof and inside, you can see a variety of religious art. An active place of worship, it is also one of the city’s most popular tourist spots. Admission is free, although donations are appreciated.
3. Olympic Stadium and Tower
Helsinki was the host of the 1952 Summer Olympic Games and visitors today can enjoy the extensive facilities and excellent panoramic views from the tall tower. The enormous outdoor swimming pool complex is ideal for some fun on a hot summer’s day, with three different pools and a cool selection of fun slides and chutes. Sports fans will enjoy the Museum of Sport and the sparkling white Olympic Tower provides sweeping city views from its 72 metres high observation platform. It costs 5 EUR (approximately 5.50 USD) to go up the tower.
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4. Suomenlinna Island
Helsinki’s location on a peninsula right next to the Gulf of Finland means that there are many islands close to hand. One of the most popular island groups for tourists is the UNESCO-protected former fortress islands of Suomenlinna. Connected to the mainland by regular ferry services, make sure that you wrap up warm for the trip – even if the sun is shining, the chilly wind across the waves can really make you shiver! Once on the islands, you can enjoy wandering around the peaceful leafy tracks and enjoying the incredible views from the walls of the once-mighty fortress. Old cannons still line the walls, waiting for an invasion, and there are also quaint homes and a delightfully charming church. Other attractions on the inter-connected islands of Suomenlinna include catacombs, museums, shops, cafes, and old war boats.
5. Sibelius Monument
Jean Sibelius was a talented world-renowned composer who hailed from Finland, and there is a gleaming and unusual monument in his honour within Helsinki. Designed to look like organ pipes, there are many silver tubes in an assortment of lengths and circumferences. There is also a silver-coloured bust of the famous composer to the side of the large monument and it is surrounded by a pretty and peaceful leafy park.
6. Traditional Finnish Sauna
A popular place for locals to relax and socialise, the Finnish sauna is a big part of everyday life for many Finns. Indulge in an invigorating Finnish sauna … though do make sure that you embrace the experience with gusto and do everything that you are supposed to! Pour a little bit of water onto the hot blocks to make the room really hot and toasty, sit and sweat, hop under an icy jet of water, and repeat. Birch twigs are provided to lightly whip your skin to improve circulation. Whilst many public saunas prohibit the wearing of clothes, including bathing suits, if you feel shy you can always enjoy a private room within a large hotel or similar.
Other great things to enjoy when in Helsinki
Helsinki has a number of captivating museums and art galleries, such as the National Museum of Finland, the Helsinki City Museum, and the Ateneum Art Museum. Temple Square Church is quite unusual; it was hewn into a large block of rocks! Chill out in pretty parks, cut loose and have fun at Linnanmaki Amusement Park, see the impressive Finlandia Hall, and more!
Book your trip to Helsinki and enjoy city life with a small town vibe as you explore the city’s many interesting attractions.
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