Places to visit in Helsinki in 2 days. Visiting museums, the cathedrals and the islands of Helsinki.
3 August 2022
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Helsinki – the capital of Finland, is a dynamic and modern city that amazes with its architecture and design. In two days, of course, I could not see everything, there is still so much left to discover.
Helsinki, and Finland in general, is best to visit in summer, unless, of course, you are going skiing. Long days and bright nights await you in summer offering you amazing summer landscapes to take unique photos.
You can buy a public transport pass directly at the airport from the ticket machine. Unlimited trips for 2 days cost me 16 €. The pass also includes a ferry to Savonlinna (not Lonna). I never met an inspector in the subway or buses. If you want to take a risk, you can ride as a hare once. Everything in Finland is built on a system of trust.
Let’s start our Helsinki tour with an architectural pearl – this lovely wooden chapel. There is absolutely nothing superfluous in it, it is minimalistically perfect.
The Kamppi Chapel is one of the World Design Capital’s projects, designed by the architect Mikko Summanen. Helsinki was the World Design Capital in 2012.
Not far from the chapel you can find an extravagant modern art museum called Amos Rex. Entrance costs 20 euros. Under 30 years old persons will be charged 5 euros.
The museum is small, but bright and memorable. Amos Rex continues the work of the Amos Anderson Art Museum (1965–2017), which was founded as a heritage of Amos Anderson (1878–1961), a respected Finnish philanthropist, art collector and businessman.
Entrance to Amos Rex and Lasipalatsi square.
Exhibition of Amos Rex
National Museum of Finland
The National Museum of Finland is worth approaching only because of its unusual architecture. The architectural style of the museum building reflects different eras of Finland’s history, it looks like a medieval castle, representing national romanticism and art nouveau.
The museum was built between 1905 and 1910 and was opened to the public in 1916. The museum was officially named the National Museum of Finland after the country obtained its independence in 1917. I strongly advise you to visit the museum and get to know Finland in its different moments of history. Entrance fee is 15 €.
The National Museum of Finland
Exhibits of The National Museum of Finland
One of the most interesting architectural projects in Helsinki is the Oodi Library. The library perfectly represents the Finnish approach to life “Everything for the people”. When you are in the library you begin to understand why the Finns are considered one of the happiest nations in the world.
So, what makes the Oodi library so special? Here is a list of things you can do there for free:
- Play the electronic piano
- Print projects on a 3D printer
- Record podcasts
- Print photos
- Use a recording studio (!)
- Use the studio to digitize old videos and audios
- Work with electronics in a special studio
- Play video games
- Sew clothes and much more.
Now the residents of Helsinki clearly have no more arguments why they can’t reveal their talent!
If you are interested, you can book time for any of these activities by clicking on this link.
While climbing these extraordinary stairs, we can verify the words of the architects who designed this library. It is unlikely that they forgot to mention someone there. In two words, this place was created for: enthusiastic, quiet, depressed, childless, pensioners, strange, lost, hungry … for PEOPLE!
You will find here a place to play chess, a cozy cafe, a roof terrace, a lot of space where you can sit and even lie down. I completely forgot to mention that you will find a plenty of books in different languages in this library. You can choose any posture in which you want to read books, as you like!
The port of Helsinki is undoubtedly one of the most colorful places in the city in summer time. Many ships depart from there in different directions, life is in full swing in the market, people eat and drink, buy things, in general, live and enjoy life.
We will go to the island of Lonna from here. Visiting this island is probably not a typical thing a tourist does when being for the first time in Helsinki, but we will go there for a gastronomic experience. There is a Scandinavian restaurant on the island where you can enjoy Finnish cuisine at its best. Freshly salted perch caught from a local lake by the owner of the restaurant, freshly baked Finnish black bread with a hint of honey and served with homemade airy butter, spring lamb melting in your mouth with boiled new potatoes …. Already salivating? Then don’t miss your ferry to the Lonna Island when you’re in Helsinki! The average bill per person is 50 euros, but it’s worth all the money!
By the way, you can also go to the sauna on the island of Lonna.
Lonna restaurant. Photos: Google Maps.
You can find such a tram bar on the streets of Helsinki. This is an unusual way to get a sightseeing tour of the city – with a glass of cold beer. Entrance 12 € per person. You can catch the tram at this stop. The duration of the tour is a bit less than an hour.
Cathedral of Helsinki
This cathedral is an impressive symbol of the city of Helsinki. The construction of the cathedral was carried out according to the project of Karl Ludwig Engel in 1830-1852, simultaneously with the construction of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, with which the Helsinki Cathedral has much in common, expressing architectural features of the five-domed cathedrals of old Russia.
After the signing by Alexander I in 1812 the decree of recognizing Helsinki as the capital of the Principality of Finland, the emperor ordered a project to expand the square in the old city center and to build a new church. Only in 1818 Carl Ludwig Engel was commissioned to design the church. To build this church a loan for construction was issued by the Russian Emperor Nicholas I. The construction of the cathedral began in 1830.
There is a monument to Alexander II – Grand Duke of Finland and the Russian emperor – in the center of the square. The monument was built in 1894. Emperor Alexander II was considered a noble ruler who tried to limit the autocracy of the emperor. During the period of repressions caused by the Emperor Nicholas II, grandson of Alexander II, in 1899, the statue was a place for anti-Russian demonstrations in memory of Alexander II, who was known as the “emperor-liberator”. Alexander II was a respected ruler in Finland, significant social reforms were implemented during the years of his reign. He died in 1881 as a victim of a terrorist attack.
There is the City museum just opposite the square, where you can get to know about the old Helsinki and the life of its inhabitants. I definitely recommend you to visit it, especially since the entrance is free and the visit will be quick.
This cathedral of an extraordinary beauty is impossible not to notice if you are in the center of Helsinki. Uspensky cathedral is the largest Orthodox church in Northern and Western Europe. The name of the church comes from the Slavic word “uspenie”, which means falling asleep (death). The cathedral is dedicated to the memory of the death sleep of Virgin Mary.
The cathedral was designed by the famous Russian church architect Alexei Gornostaev. The architecture of the church was strongly influenced by the Russian stone church of the XVI century. Uspensky Cathedral was built between 1862 and 1868 mainly thanks to donations. The cathedral was built of bricks brought from the Åland Islands from the ruined fortress of Bomarsund.
Alvar Aalto architecture
Opposite the cathedral, you can see an interesting building designed by the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. This building is the head office of Stora Enso, one of the world’s largest timber companies. This marshmallow looking white building has caused a lot of controversy and disagreement among the public. Someone admired this project, someone said that it was built out of place, as it covers the views of a beautiful Uspensky Cathedral.
You can find many buildings designed by the architect Aalto in Helsinki. I leave a link to them.
You simply cannot miss visiting an historic island of Suomenlinna if you are in Helsinki! The history of the island-fortress begins from the time when Finland was part of Sweden. The fortress was the military base during the war between Sweden and Russia (1788). After surrendering to the Russian troops in 1808, the fortress served as the base of the Russian fleet (for 110 years). Since 1991, the fortress has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list. You can read more about the history here. Also they offer a virtual tour of this picturesque island on their web page.
In our times (still peaceful), the island is a historical landmark, a place for spending time for residents and visitors of Helsinki, as well as a place of residence for 800 people. You will find museums, cafes and shops here. It is also a perfect place for a summer picnic.
Finnish diesel submarine from 1933, which can be visited for 7 €.
No, this is not New Zealand, this is Suomenlinna!
One absolutely must-do thing if you are in Finland, besides going to the sauna, is, of course, cooking a sausage over a fire. There were special places to make fire in Helsinki as well as in all over Finland, but gradually they began to be removed. Café Regatta offers you an idyllic place where you can buy a sausage for 2.5 € and cook it on fire. Impossible to resist! Come in the evening and you will find amazing sunsets. You can also rent a kayak there by booking it in advance using the link.
Monument to Jean Sibelius
On the way to Cafe Regatta, be sure to take a walk in the park, where an outstanding monument to Jean Sibelius is located. Jean Sibelius was a famous and beloved Finnish composer. Jean Sibelius became the author of an unofficial anthem of Finland, prohibited during the reign of Nicholas II. The creator of the monument, Eila Hiltunen, went through difficult times during its creation. The project was not approved by the city administration, and she had to weld all its pipes with her own hands in a cold barrack for 4 years. Working with welding consumables caused her chronic bronchitis. She constantly received a lot of criticism from Sibelius fans.
Today, we admire this sculpture, but even the worldwide recognition that the sculpture received later, could not alleviate all this mental pain in the soul of the creator. By the way, there is a legend that if you whisper your dream into one of the pipes of the monument, it will surely come true. There is no doubt we did it too!
Finally, another island-museum that you should definitely visit if you are in Helsinki is Seurasaari. Walking around the island itself is free, if you want to go into the buildings, you only need to pay 8€ for a ticket (highly recommended). What will you find on the island? Old wooden buildings (88) were brought here from different parts of Finland: a church, a chapel, houses, a mill etc. The buildings´ interior is ideally preserved so that you can imagine the life of people of different classes in the old days. The oldest buildings date back to the late 1600s. Information about the buildings can be read here.
And don’t forget to have a coffee with a cinnamon roll at the entrance to the island!
Where to go to the sauna in Helsinki
Bonus: unusual saunas in Helsinki.
Sauna is a sacred place for a finn. I offer you a selection of interesting saunas in Helsinki:
1) Sky sauna. Sauna cabin on the Ferris wheel!
Combine business with pleasure, relax in the sauna overlooking the city. You can reserve the sauna cabin here. From 260€ (1-4 people).
2) Allas sea pool. This is a super popular outdoor saltwater pool. Open all year round. Sauna included. 18 € per person.
3) Lonna sauna. Sauna on a cute island we’ve already been to. 19 € per person.
4) Löyly sauna. Sauna with an incredible design, with access to the terrace and restaurant. 21 € per person. Book here.
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