9 sights to visit in Helsinki

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Helsinki

As a destination, the Finnish capital offers some interesting places not to be missed. In this overview, we look at the places you should see as a tourist in any case.

Helsinki is not exactly the cheapest city in the world (I reported how to make an affordable holiday when traveling to Finland). The tourist attractions that I am going to show you here, however, do not charge an entrance fee. In the center of Helsinki, everything is within walking distance. For other places, however, a ticket for train, bus or ferry is needed, as you can see on the map (especially the beautiful National Park is a little off – so much that you have to zoom out a little to see the mark). The places mentioned in the guide are marked in the text.

This post was originally produced for mmi.fm. There is an audio linked to the German version of this article.

Since it is a transport hub, we start at the main station, which is already beautiful to look at. From here you can easily walk south through the Keskuskatu and reach the main shopping street Alexanterinkatu. Here is a little more going on and there are also a few important tram lines that take you to other sights, to the port and the ship terminals in the east or also to the western parts of the city. If you follow your way east, you reach the Senate Square and Cathedral of Helsinki.

The Helsinki Cathedral

This classical building was built from 1830 to 1852 according to the plans of the German-Finnish architect and painter Johann Carl Ludwig Engel. The Senate square, the main building of the university and the University Library were also constructed by him. However, Engel did not live to see the completed construction. He died in 1840, before the completion of many of his designs. Engel was the son of a Berlin bricklayer and general manager of the building industry for the Grand Duchy of Finland, which at that time belonged to Russia but was placed under a large autonomous administration until independence was gained. Previously, Finland was also not independent. Since the Middle Ages, the country was ruled by the Swedish crown. In the Napoleonic Coalition wars, Russia was in war with Sweden supported by the United Kingdom, and Finland was occupied three times (from 1714 to 1721, 1741 to 1743 and again in 1808) by the Russians. Little by Little Sweden had to assign areas of Finland. After the Russo-Swedish War from 1808 to 1809, the Grand Duchy of Finland became an autonomous part of Russia, in which Carl Ludwig Engel worked as a builder. At that time the cathedral was dedicated to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. In 1917, Finland gained independence as a result of the Russian revolutions and the “Church of St. Nicholas” was renamed “Suurkirkko”, which means great church. It was only in 1959 that the cathedral got its present name when the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Helsinki was founded in the city. From the Senate Square, you can orient yourself to the south to come to the market square at the port at the end of the Boulevard Esplanade. Here you will find several tourist articles as well as a few artisans and a few delicacies from the grill. In the middle stretches the “stone of the Empress” to the sky. This obelisk is Helsinki’s oldest monument, built to commemorate the first visit of Tsar Nicholas I and his wife Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna of Russia (born Charlotte of Prussia).

“Stone of the Empress” in the Market square of Helsinki (Creative Commons by Paramecium)

The Old Market Hall

Nearby the market square, you will find the Old Market Hall (Vanha Kauppahalli). It is a red brick building dating from the year 1888, which is located directly at the South port. Today it is a place of attraction for the culinary lovers of the city and for many tourists. It is worth to visit it in the morning so that you can stroll between the wooden stalls with all sorts of delicacies or grab a table in one of the restaurants and cafes. In the afternoon, the market is very crowded.

The Uspensky-Cathedral

From the south port, you can reach the east-located island of Katajanokka via a bridge. The time of the Grand Duchy and the strong influence of Russia on Finland has left a very prominently placed building. On a rock, the Russian Orthodox Uspensky Cathedral,  built in 1868 to mark the power of Russia. The church building is the largest Orthodox cathedral in Europe, whose red façade and the numerous domes are a prominent part of the city image of Helsinki. The interior design is equally striking and magnificent. The Orthodox Church is in addition to the Evangelical Lutheran one of the two popular religions of the country. However, only 1.1 percent of the population are members of the Orthodox Church. That’s only 60,000 people. The majority of the population, 77 percent, are evangelic. But let’s travel a little further into the past and visit a place that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. We’re leaving the 19th. century and return to the time when Finland was still a member of Sweden. At that time, Peter the great built in 1703 the port city of St. Petersburg and began to expand the Russian maritime power in the Baltic Sea. Helsinki had to protect itself from attacks from the lakeside and equipped the islands in front of the city to a fortress.

Suomenlinna

Today, Suomenlinna is one of the most popular excursion destinations, as the historic fortress with its 80 hectares invites you to take a leisurely stroll and visit its museums. The island can be reached from the southern port of Helsinki by ferry. In the past, the crossing between the fortress islands was made through bridges or raising the ground. All areas are freely accessible except for a small part of the island, which is still used by the military today. Between 1748 and 1973 the still standing 105 cannons and 200 buildings under the name Sveaborg were used for defense. As we already know, at the beginning of the 19th century, the Russian invaders could no longer be stopped. However, the fortress Island caused great resistance and played a key role in the defense of the land. In fact, it stood longer than Helsinki itself. It was only when the Commander Carl von Cronstedt surrendered that Tsar Nicholas of Romanov was able to take the whole of Finland. However, the history of the Fortress Island has not yet ended, because under Russian rule it was further expanded and used in wars such as the Crimean War and the First World War to defend against France, England and Germany, in which the island suffered severe damage. With the independence of Finland, Sveaborg, used as a prisoner of war camp, went back into Finnish hands and was ultimately renamed Suomenlinna. The fortress was actively used again in the Second World War until it became uninteresting for the military. Today Suomenlinna is a district of Helsinki with 800 inhabitants. The fortifications are now used as flats, shops, event spaces, restaurants and museums.

Off to the green: the Nuuksio National Park invites you every season

Nuuksio National Park is located northwest of the capital and worth a trip. The woods in the municipality of Espoo can be easily reached by train and bus and offers the best feel-good atmosphere for fresh air fanatics. Here you can explore the nature with its rocks, lakes and swamps either on paved or cross-country hiking routes. You can also go on a search for the rare Hörnchenart (flying squirrels), which can be often seen in this park. If you want, you can pitch your tent here at night or stay in one of the cottages. A visit is a must for every Natur fan.

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