Interested in knowing some more about Finnish history? Want to see some amazing frescos and interesting romantic style building? Wanting to buy some Finnish souvenirs? Rainy day and you don’t know what to do with kids? Answer for all these questions is: visit Finnish National Museum! This wonderful museum is located in centre of Helsinki, it is less than 1 kilometre from Railway Station. Address is Mannerheimintie 34. Trams 4, 7A, 7B and 10 goes past the museum if you don’t feel like walking. There are good English texts all over museum so it is understandable even not understanding Finnish! Building itself is really amazing. First thing to notice when entering from main doors are the bullet holes. They are also part of Finnish history since they were made during Finnish Civil War in 1918.
After bullet holes you see the amazing ceiling frescos by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. They present Kalevala theme (Kalevala is the Finnish national epic). Frescos were first made for Paris World Fair in 1900. These frescos you can see without paying entrance fee. In one fresco you can see many snakes disturbing the farmer when trying to start farming in rocky soil. I think that fresco presents Finnish history pretty well – it hasn’t been easy to start life here in north. But then – look how beautiful Finland is nowadays and how awesome city Helsinki is! But back to history – I have to mention that there is a pretty new prehistory section right in the first floor – very interesting to see how life started when first people arrived to Finland 10 000 years ago.
Of course there a many other exhibitions as well – you can learn a lot about Finnish history about the time Finland was part of Sweden and Russia. Right now (until 14.1.2018) there is also pretty interesting exhibition called The Public and the Hidden Finland presenting photos taken during Finnish 100 year old independency.
I promised also something for kids for rainy days. Answer for this is Vintti in the top floor. For my eyes there is nothing THAT special but all kids seem to love it! You can play with old shop, weave a mat, build a “log house” etc… many things kids love to play with!
Final thing I want to mention is the museum shop. You can buy good quality and quite stylish Finnish souvenirs there. Recommend to visit that as well. For visiting museum shop you don’t need to pay admission fee (so the final tip – if you don’t want to pay entrance fee or you are very busy, you get taste of the museum just admiring the ceiling frescos and visiting the museum shop).
It seems to take quite a long time for spring to arrive to Helsinki this year – even though the sun is shining, the temperature seems to be just a few degrees above zero. But since it was Easter just this week and to me Easter is a definite sign of spring, we decided to get a kick start for the season and visit Kaisaniemi Bothanic Garden.
The Bothanic Garden is a part of Finnish museum of natural history, Luomus of which I wrote about some time ago when thinking about what to do with kids on a rainy afternoon in Helsinki. Bothanic Garden is situated in Kaisaniemi so it’s a short walk or two tram stops from central railway station. Like most museums, it’s closed on Mondays but exceptionally they kept their doors open for Easter also on Monday. Tickets for adults cost 9 € for evergreen glasshouses but if you are a proud owner of a Museum Card you can access the garden for free. However, outside gardens are free to everyone all year round.
I haven’t really visited that many bothanic gardens outside of Helsinki so I can’t really compare much to other gardens – and to most people the plants in the garden are probably very common outside of Finland. However, I think it’s an excellent way for a quick getaway from a cold winter’s day and it gives you the opportunity to learn more about exotic plants. Some of them are also very popular houseplants in Finland (for example snake plants and saintpaulias).
One of the bothanic gardens attractions is their Waterlily Room’s Santa Cruz waterlily which, according to the museum, has survived the bombings of World War II. They don’t usually survive our dark winter so the new plants rise again after March.
During the summer this is a nice area just to walk around the outside gardens or have a cup of coffee at next door cafe Viola. At least I added this to my to do -list for next summer!
One place everyone should absolutely see in Helsinki is Suomenlinna Fortress. It is perfect combination of history, nature and picturesque village situated in the island next to downtown Helsinki. It is very easy to reach – just take a ferry from Kauppatori (opposite to President Castle). It takes only 15 minutes by ferry and there are several ferries every hour. Tickets can be bought in ferry station. It is also good to know that normal Helsinki transportation tickets (the ones you use when travelling by bus or tram) are valid for the ferry. There is no entrance fee for the island and it is always open. There are living approximately 800 people in the island. More information you find here.
But what is this Suomenlinna Forstress? Well, it used to be fortress protecting Finland. The fortification work begin in 1748 (back the Finland was part of Sweden). However, it took many years to finish and even when finished the fortress was actually never completed as planned. Nowadays Suomenlinna is a beautiful place and marked as UNESCO World Heritage Site. This tiny island is perfect place to spend a day – you can walk around and admire see, old buildings, fortress and nature. I suggest to have picnic there (you can find a grocery store from the island, it is very near the ferry stop), another option is to visit some of islands cafes and restaurants. It is also possible to swim in Suomenlinna but there are no long sandy beaches – however you will have feeling of nature when swimming there. You can also walk tunnels within fortification – some of them are open for visitors. Since the streets of Suomenlinna are old you should not wear high heels. Also it is not place for people having difficulties to walk.
I’ve just spend two great days in Suomenlinna – Saturday I spent a great day there with my husband. When arriving we headed to Länsi-Mustasaari part of Suomenlinna (when arriving by ferry, you go right). It is not as touristy as other parts – if you want to have a feeling “being alone” then you should go that way. You can also admire beautiful Helsinki skyline from Länsi-Mustasaari. We were reading books and having picnic whole day. My husband also swam (but I didn’t since the day wasn’t too hot). Yesterday I visited Suomenlinna Summer Theatre (unfortunately the play is in Finnish) and had a picnic again. This time we headed towards Kustaanmiekka. When going to that direction you see first old church (which is also a light house) and after that many other old buildings. This way is more touristy but also you see more beautiful buildings than in Länsi-Mustasaari (where it is more aboug quietness and nature). You’ll find easily guideposts so it is easy to see which way to go.
During winter time Suomenlinna is different – very windy and not touristy at all. However, I recommend to visit Suomenlinna whatever the season is – it really is very lovely and special place!
Yrjönkatu swimming hall entrance
In stead of traditional after work and drinks we decided to do something different with a couple of my friends last Friday and rented out a cabin from Yrjönkatu swimming hall. It’s the oldest public swimming hall in Helsinki and with a bit of googling apparently it’s also the oldest public swimming hall in Finland! It’s located to Yrjönkatu just behind Forum mall.
You’re not allowed to take photos at the swimming pool (that’s why there’s only one in this post) but I recommend doing an image search for Yrjönkadun uimahalli to see what the swimming hall looks like inside to see what all the fuss is about.
I made a list of things that differ Yrjönkatu swimming hall from other public pools:
- Amazingly nice architecture
- Swimming with women only / men only
- You can swim naked if you want to
- Having drinks and snack with your friends on the balcony
- 4 different kinds of saunas, one of them a wooden one
Yrjönkatu swimming hall isn’t the largest public swimming pools in Helsinki, I think it only has 5 or 6 lanes of which 2 are reserved for water runners and the rest for swimmers. The pool is in the 1st floor with wardrobes around it and an electric sauna and showers at one side. And since all the wardrobes can be seen to the pool, Yrjönkatu swimming hall has separate swimming times and dates for men and women. Separate swimming times also allow you to swim naked if you want to, and many people do. One visit costs 5 € for the 1st floor.
The 2nd floor is a bit more expensive but definitely worth a try. With 14 €/2 hours you can rent a changing cabin from the 2nd floor balcony. Besides the cabin it also includes the possibility to swim at the pool, towel and a bathrobe and the possibility to use 3 different saunas upstairs (infrared sauna, steam sauna and a traditional wooden heated sauna, which I personally loved the most). After the swim or sauna you can relax at the balcony and order snacks and drinks from Cafe Yrjö. If you’re tired you could have a little nap in you changing cabin since there’s a small bed in each cabin.
Yrjönkatu swimming hall isn’t a spa but it does have a touch of old spa feeling to it. The atmosphere is very relaxed and calm and to me drinking gin and tonic at the balcony with my friends after a short swim and sauna felt quite luxurious. You can’t reserve the cabins so be prepared to wait – at least on a Friday evening.
I definitely recommend trying this out with your friends or after a long day at the office on your own, too!
Olo n:o 22 steel spheres in Hietalahti
Sibelius monument in Töölö is probably the most well-known outdoor sculpture in Helsinki, but actually I quite enjoy another one more. It’s called Olo n:o 22 and it is scattered around Hietalahti. It consists of around 50 polished steel spheres of different sizes and the easiest way to see the spheres is to walk around Hietalahti area for example when visiting Hietalahti flea market Anna wrote about a couple of weeks ago.
In order to show the difference in sizes I took a couple of photos with a matchbox on top of the spheres. It didn’t really give anything extra to the photos but I ended up using one of them (just to explain why there’s a small box in the photo above).
Another Olo n:o 22 sphere in Hietalahti
What I love about Olo n:o 22 is that your’re quite not sure how many spheres there are and where to find them. For instance I discovered a new sphere just a few weeks ago when walking towards Eiranranta. It’s the smallest sphere I’ve found so far and even though I have walked pass it for years probably every week, I haven’t noticed it earlier. It’s just next to Nosturi concert venue:
Small Olo n:o 22 sphere I just found
I tried to find a map that would have all the steel spheres marked but couldn’t find one with a quick googling. I think it would actually ruin the excitement and joy from discovering new spheres from the surrounding area. Many of the spheres can be seen when walking along Hietalahdenranta (<– see map), but some of them are also inside buildings and courtyards. At least there’s one inside Salve Restaurant and another one in Shubha Kamana Nepalese restaurant. Enjoy the treasure hunt!
P.S. There’s at least 2 other Olo outdoor sculptures in Finland: Olo n:o 39 at Karosen Koulu (a school in Tampre) and Olo n:o 44 at Turku University Educarium and Publicum in Turku.
3rd floor at Finnish Museum of Natural History Luomus
I’ve got a couple of favorite museums in Helsinki which I visit on regular basis but then there are those I’ve actually never visited. For some reason they’re too close to visit and not on top of my mind when thinking about what to do on a rainy September afternoon.
This Saturday I made an exception and decided to visit Finnish Museum of Natural History Luomus – the one that’s right in the city center with giraffes drinking coffee at the museum balcony, just behind the Parliament building. I took my boyfriend as a guide since he has, unlike me, visited Luomus frequently. And to be honest, I can see why.
Reindeer diorama at Finnish Museum of Natural History
The museum has three floors and a balcony filled with bones, animals, birds, plants, rocks and sounds – everything and anything that has to do with nature. I’d say this is a perfect museum to visit with children in Helsinki and I’ll definitely take my 8 year old godson there some day. The kids in the museum were excited about the dioramas representing nature from African savanna to Australian bush and Arctic Circle. The third floor is dedicated to Finland’s nature and this was probably the first time I’ve seen Saimaa ringed seal for the first time in real size – even not an alive one.
Saimaa ringed seal diorama at Finnish Museum of Natural History
All the dioramas are very well planned and executed and offer plenty to see also for grown-ups even though most of the visitors at that time were smaller children. Trying to see everything in 2 hours prove out to be nearly impossible, so I think I’ll go back and concentrate on one thing at a time. We’ve had a museum card in Helsinki for some time which allows you to visit almost 200 museums as often as you want (one museum per day) within a year for just 54 €. My birthday’s coming up so I’ll definitely add the museum card to my wish list.