Helsinki – Two

Helsinki is a joy to explore on foot. It offers the tourist a delightful combination of museums, theaters and music plus bustling markets and quiet shorelines. Even if you visit just for the day, you will soon sense why Helsinki has been ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world.

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1 Introduction to Helsinki, the Capitol City of Finland

If you sail through the Baltic Sea into the Gulf of Finland and through the South Harbour, this will be your first view of Finland’s capitol city. Since Helsinki was founded in the mid-16th century, it has struggled with a devastating plague, foreign invasions, a civil war and the rule of Sweden and Russia. But since the country’s independence in 1917, Helsingfors has prospered, thrived and become the country’s largest metropolitan area with over one million people.

Eteläranta, 00170 Helsinki, Finland
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2 Stairs Leading to Helsinki Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland

When this stunning landmark in Helsinki was built in 1852, it was named St. Nicholas’ Cathedral and dedicated by Nicholas I while he was the Emperor of Russia and the Grand Duke of Finland. It is patterned after the Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg. After Finland declared its independence on December 6, 1917, it was renamed the Great Cathedral and then the Helsinki Cathedral in 1959. This granite staircase leading up to the front portal from Senate Square is almost 200 feet wide.

Unioninkatu 29, 00170 Helsinki, Finland
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3 Alexander II Statue in Senate Square in Helsinki, Finland

The Russians destroyed most of Helsinki during the Great Northern War in the early 1700s and then Finland became part of Russia nearly one hundred years later in 1812. Soon afterwards, the cathedral and several surrounding buildings were constructed like the University of Helsinki Main Building in the background. In 1894, this statue by Walter Runeberg of Alexander II was erected in the center of Senate Square (Senaatintori). He was the Emperor of Russia and Grand Duke of Finland from 1855 until his assassination in 1881. Although Alexander the Liberator did support Finland’s autonomy, I am surprised this monument remained standing after the country’s independence in 1917.

Senate Square 00170 Helsinki, Finland
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4 Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland

High on a hill in the Katajanokka neighborhood of Helsinki is the stunning Uspenski Cathedral. This Byzantine-Russian church was built in 1868 using bricks from the Bomarsund Fortress after it was destroyed during the Crimean War. The church’s best architectural feature is a dozen gilded onion domes representing the Apostles. They surround the larger central dome symbolizing Christ. Uspenskin Katedraali was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is Western Europe’s largest Orthodox church and is the seat of the Archdiocese of Helsinki.

Kanavakatu 1, 00160 Helsinki, Finland
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5 Altar of Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland

Behind the altar of the Uspenski Cathedral stands an iconostasis which is a panel of religious paintings characteristic of Byzantine design in Eastern Christianity. Above the nave, and supported from the high dome, is an enormous chandelier. And behind the sanctuary along the vaulted ceiling are gorgeous frescos that include images that appear to be the Apostles.

Kanavakatu 1, 00160 Helsinki, Finland
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6 Padlocks on the Bridge of Love in Helsinki, Finland

A growing global tradition is for romantic couples to place a love lock on a bridge and, while warmly embracing, throw the key into the water below. Most European cities consider this a nuisance yet Helsinki legally approved this expression of everlasting devotion. The most popular spot is at the Bridge of Love. This is a nickname for Rakkauden Silta or Kärlekens Bro. It is a small pedestrian bridge crossing over the Vantaa River from center city to the islet of Katajanokka.

Kanavaranta 5, 00170 Helsinki, Finland
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7 City Hall in Helsinki, Finland

This regal white building with columns and pilasters was the Hotel Seurahuone when it opened in 1833 adjacent to the Market Square. It was designed by Carl Ludvig Engel. He was also responsible for several other Helsinki landmarks constructed during the first half of the 19th century. When the hotel moved out in 1913, it was converted into the Helsinki City Hall. Despite a series of renovations, Heisingfors Stadshus remains the headquarters for the mayor, city council and other administrative functions.

Pohjoisesplanadi 11-13, 00170 Helsinki, Finland
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8 J. L. Runeberg Memorial in Esplande Park in Helsinki, Finland

Johan Ludwig Runeberg was a 19th century Finnish poet who also authored the country’s national anthem. This monument in Esplanade Park was cast in bronze by his son, Walter Runeberg. When the 26 foot statue was unveiled in 1885, an estimated 20,000 people attended the ceremony. The figure below holding a laurel wreath is the Maiden of Finland. Around the marble pedestal is a flowerbed which is replanted three times a year.

Esplanadi Pohjoisesplanadi, 00101 Helsinki, Finland
60.167495, 24.947882
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9 Finlandia Hall Conference Center Helsinki, Finland

Finlandia Hall has been Helsinki’s major conference center since it opened in 1971. On the building’s eastern side is an awesome view of Töölönlahti Bay. This western, marble façade faces Mannerheim Street where many of the city’s cultural venues are located. This facility by architect Alvar Aalto features numerous rooms ranging up to a 1,700 seat auditorium. It annually hosts countless meetings, events and concerts.

Mannerheimintie 13e, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
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10 Finnair SkyWheel and Cruise Ship in Helsinki, Finland

The Finnair SkyWheel opened along the harbor at Katajanokka in 2014. The 408 foot Ferris wheel is located where its namesake, Finnair airlines, had their operations back in the 1920s. A 15 minute ride inside one of the 30 enclosed gondolas costs about $16. If you want to enjoy the panoramic view while sipping champagne, then sign up for the VIP cabin. That 25 minute ride costs a mere $225. In the background is the Silver Whisper, a Silverseas Cruises ship that was built in 2001. I made sure to capture her in port because I have sailed on this magnificent ship twice.

Katajanokanlaituri 2, 00160 Helsinki, Finland
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11 German Church Tower in Helsinki, Finland

Of the 625,000 people who live in the city of Helsinki, 79% speak Finnish and 5.7% speak Swedish. Those whose native language is German are a minority with less than .3%. However, this latter community is served by the Deutsche Kirche which was built in the Kaartinkaupunki neighborhood in 1864. Although it is considered to be part of the Finnish Church, it has been affiliated with the Evangelical Church in Germany since 1959. The German Church is a popular venue for weddings.

Bernhardinkatu 4, 00130 Helsinki, Finland
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12 Mermaid Statue Named Havis Amanda in Helsinki, Finland

When Finnish sculptor Carl Wilhelm Vallgren created this 16.5 foot bronze statue in 1906, he named her The Mermaid and explained she represented the rebirth of Helsinki emerging from the sea. It is now commonly called Havis Amanda. This art nouveau ensemble includes four fish spraying water which, according to legend, enhances male potency. Merenneito received extensive criticism from women when it was unveiled in 1908. However, today it is widely accepted as one of the iconic artworks of the city.

Kauppatori, 00130 Helsinki, Finland
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13 Hietalahti Market Hall in Helsinki, Finland

When visiting a foreign city, I have learned it is more rewarding to follow the locals than a tour bus. If you heed this advice in Helsinki, you might be delighted to discover the Hietalahti Market Hall at Lönnrotinkatu 34. Inside the Kauppahalli Saluhall, which was built in 1903, you’ll find family-run stalls filled with fresh seafood, meats and produce. During the summer you can enjoy the outdoor café or, if you’re lucky like I was, you can spend some time and perhaps money at the flea market out front in Red Square.

Lönnrotinkatu 34, 00180 Helsinki, Finland
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14 Louis Vuitton Store in Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki offers several options for the shopaholic but the area I favored is a street named Pohjoiseplanadi which is also called Nora Esplanaden. This boulevard runs parallel to Esplande Park. Here you can window shop at upscale stores you know such as Louis Vuitton or explore boutiques that feature several famous Finnish brands like Aarikka, Arabia and Marimekko. Make sure you also visit the Galleria Esplanad shopping center and the iconic Stockmann department store.

Pohjoisesplanadi 100, 00101 Helsinki, Finland
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15 Mechelininkatu Pedestrian Walkway in Helsinki, Finland

This pedestrian walkway runs parallel to a major avenue on the west side of Helsinki which ends at the West Harbour. Mechelininkatu is named after Leo Mechelin. He was politician and senator who helped champion Finland’s independence from Russia. He also was the co-founder of the Finnish Rubber Works which, in 1868, opened their second wood pulp mill in the town of Nokia. When he became chairman in 1898 until 1914, he moved the company’s focus towards hydro power generation. From those humble beginnings grew the Nokia Corporation, the telecommunications giant that is now Finland’s largest company.

Länsilinkki 00180 Helsinki, Finland
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16 Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki, Finland

On the eastern boarder of the Hietalahti Square is the Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences. Degrees are primarily offered in technology, healthcare and social sciences with additional programs for business and culture. Metropolia has 15 campuses which teach 16,000 students. Metropolia’s main building is this 1870 renaissance structure which was designed by Frans Sjöström.

Bulevardi 31, 00180 Helsinki, Finland
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17 Olympic Stadium Tower in Helsinki, Finland

This Olympic stadium was built in the functionalistic style in 1938 with the intent of hosting the 1940 Summer Games but they were cancelled after the outbreak of World War II. Subsequently in the summer of 1952, 850,000 spectators attended the XVth Olympic Games at Helsingfors Olympiastadion. The stadium, still the country’s largest, is now home field for the Finland National Football Team, other events and a youth hostel. There is an observation deck on the top of the 235 foot tower which provides amazing views of Helsinki.

Paavo Nurmen tie 1, 00250 Helsinki, Finland
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18 Church of the Rock’s Dome in Helsinki, Finland

Barely elevated above this rock wall is the green copper dome of Temppeliaukio Church. Planning for this Lutheran church began in the 1930s but was halted because of World War II. After a second design was submitted nearly 30 years later, those plans were also scaled back significantly. The results? Temppeliaukion Kirkko was carved out of solid bedrock and, similar to a bunker, it is mostly underground. Since it opened in 1969, it earned the nickname Church of the Rock.

Lutherinkatu 3, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
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19 Church of the Rock Interior in Helsinki, Finland

The interior of the Church of the Rock is an architectural oddity. Above the nave is this massive orange dome made from copper that looks like a Chinese wok. The skylight along the edges bathes the Temppeliaukio Church with natural light. The walls are exposed stone which give it the appearance of a fresh excavation site. And the altar is an ice-age crevice. Perhaps most surprising about this design by the Suomalainen brothers are the wonderful acoustics which makes it a great venue for concerts. It is a treat to behold!

Lutherinkatu 3, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
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20 Urho Kekkonen Memorial in Helsinki, Finland

These four bronze hands that are suspended on 26 foot poles were erected in 2000 on the centennial of Urho Kekkonen’s birth. This politician was the Speaker of the Parliament, the Minister of Justice and the Interior, the Prime Minister five times and the longest serving President of the Republic of Finland from 1956 until 1981. This tribute in Hakasalmi Park was created by Pekka Jylhä.

Mannerheimintie 36, 00101 Helsinki, Finland
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21 Finnish National Opera in Helsinki, Finland

Opera was not considered a cultural priority in Helsinki until the formation of the Domestic Opera in 1911. It was renamed three years later. Then, in 1956, it was given its current name of the Finish National Opera. Suomen Kansallisooppera moved into this building along Töölönlahti Bay in 1993. It provides two auditoriums for performances of opera and ballet.

Helsinginkatu 58, 00250 Helsinki, Finland
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22 Railway Square in Helsinki, Finland

Winters in Helsinki are not exceptionally cold with an average high temperature that hovers around 30°F. Nor are they exceptionally snowy: the average accumulation is about 28 inches. But at the winter solstice the Finns have less than six hours of daylight which are made gloomier by frequent cloudy conditions. Perhaps this is why the locals flock to the skating rink that floods Rautatientori square. During the other months, Railway Square serves as an auxiliary bus station.

Railway Square Rautatientori, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
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23 Aleksis Kivi Statue in Helsinki, Finland

Aleksis Kivi was a 19th century author who, until his death in 1872 at the age of 32, was most respected for his plays. His only novel called “Seven Brothers” was heavily criticized for its unsavory portrayal of Finns when it was published in 1870. Since then, however, Seitsemän Veljestä has been acclaimed as perhaps the first, if not the most important novel written in the Finnish language. This bronze statue of the author sitting on a pedestal was created by Wäinö Aaltonen. It was erected in front of the Finnish National Theater in 1939.

Läntinen Teatterikuja 1, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
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24 Moored Sailing Ships in Helsinki, Finland

The waterfront along the North Harbor is beautiful for two reasons. First, there are exquisite residences along Pohjoisranta that were built in the late 19th and early 20th century. Just as beautiful are all of the old wooden sailing ships that moor at the pier named Halkolaituri. Both the homes and the boats are lovingly maintained.

Halkolaituri 00170 Helsinki, Finland
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25 Stone Men Statues at Entry of Central Railway Station in Helsinki, Finland

These are two of four massive granite statues that flank the entrance of Helsinki Central Railway Station. The “Stone Men” hold spherical lanterns that are lite at night. They are the work of a Finnish sculptor named Emil Wikström. He was a prolific and influential sculptor of monuments throughout Finland during the first half of the 20th century. Many of his works were inspired by local mythodology and heritage.

Helsingin päärautatieasema Kaivokatu 1, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
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