Updated: Jul 30, 2019
Despite Helsinki covering a whopping area of 715km-squared, the city is extremely walkable. With this in mind, an obvious way to take in its endless sights is to make your way from point to point by foot. Today, Wanderous Affair's editor-in-chief, Emily Fata, lays out her favourite routes for exploring the city.
Despite Helsinki covering a whopping area of 715km-squared, the city is extremely walkable. Where distance is an issue, their incredible public transportation system is a backup method that will get you to and from your destination as quickly as possible. Of course, because of its walkability, I made an effort to take a long stroll around the city each day of my trip, leading me to uncover some amazing sights along the way.
Before I go ahead and break down three of my favourite themed routes, I want to note that each of these 'Walking Adventures' vary in distance, as well as in the time that one may wish to spend at the various locations. Of course, if you're tight on time, any given point can be skipped over in favour of lingering at another. In fact, some of these Adventures may be placed in your back pocked and saved for a second, or even third trip to the beautiful city.
However you decide to slice it, I hope you have an amazing time making Helsinki your own.
The Tove Jansson Adventure
Arguably one of Finland's most world-renowned inhabitants, Tove Jansson was an author, novelist, painter, illustrator and comic strip author. If you've been reading my posts about #Helsinki, you'll have seen her name pop up many times, particularly in my article about Helsinki's art museums.
In addition to her art, the stories of her Moomintrolls (most recently featured in the animated TV show, Moominvalley) have been translated into many languages and enjoyed around the world, by children and adults alike. Fans of Tove would do well to buy the Moomin books, in order to better know the Moomin characters; the Academic Bookstore is home to a large Moomin selection. In addition to the books, the most popular Moomin paraphernalia are mugs by Arabia, as well as one of Finland’s two high fashion brands, Ivana Helsinki (who has made several Moomin collections).
A story I came across on the Visit Finland website really stood out to me; it was told by a shopkeeper of a store in Porvoo that Jansson visited in her adult years, when she lived on the coast, and was about a visit Tove and her niece Sophia once made to the shop. "Sophia, perhaps six years old then, really liked — and wanted — a set of dolls’ porcelain cups and saucers. Tove, very kindly and wisely, said to the little girl: 'You can’t have everything in the world that you like. You should only want things that you love so much you can’t live without them.'
After pondering on her aunt’s words for a while, Sophia said: 'Aunt, I can’t live without that tableware!'
To this, Tove responded: 'In that case, you shall have it dear.'
[The shopkeeper] reckons this story truly illustrates Tove’s attitude to material things and respect for the simplicity of life. It also demonstrates her love and admiration for children."
But I digress! Here are some must-see places while in Helsinki, that will bring you through Jansson's version of the city:
Hietaniemi Cemetery (Hietaniemenkatu 20). Tove's final resting place, within the Jansson family plot. The angel atop the tomb was sculpted by her father, Viktor Jansson. For helping finding her plot, you can find a map of the cemetery (albeit, in Finnish) here.
Helsinki Art Museum (Eteläinen Rautatiekatu 8). Home to the permanent Tove Jansson exhibit, it definitely pays to make a special trip here in order to view their permanent exhibition of her work. You won't be disappointed!
The Moomin Shop (Mannerheimintie 22-24). This is the ideal spot for any fan of Tove and her adorable Moomins to pick up their authentic merchandise.
Design Museum (Korkeavuorenkatu 23). This was once Tove's elementary school, before the museum took over and moved into the building. You can see the interior of it by exploring the museum today.
Tove Jansson's Home and Studio (Ullanlinnankatu 1). Tove's final home; within this building was her studio and living space, from 1944 until her death in 2001. Her partner, Tuulikki Pietilä, had a studio in the very same building. Now owned by Tove's relatives, the studio is not open for the public, but you are able to see the outside, as well as the sculpture of Tove’s face on the surface of the building.
Water Nymph Fountain in Esplanadi Park (Pohjoisesplanadi). The sculpture in question is located near Kappeli restaurant in the park. Tove stood as the model for her sculptor father, Viktor Jansson, for the larger mermaid on the fountain.
Tove Jansson Park (Hamngatan). Originally called 'Katajanokka Park,' this green space located near Uspenski Cathedral, where Tove often played as a young girl, was renamed in her honour in 2014.
Tove Jansson's childhood home (Luotsikatu 4). This is where Tove grew up, as it was the Jansson family home between the years 1914 and 1933. It's situated in the lovely Katajanokka District of Helsinki. Because this is a private home, one may only view the outside of the building, but cannot enter.
Discovering the Design District
Looking at a map of the Design District can be a little overwhelming, with so many places to choose from. "Where do I even start?!" was the only thing that I could think of, at first glance. However, after making my way into the area, I quickly picked out a handful of places that everyone visiting Helsinki must see; along the way, there are countless other visual treasures to uncover, as you make your way from street to street.
Formverk Living (Annankatu 23). In this showroom, interior designers work with customers to fulfill the company's vision of beautiful homes. With them, it is possible to design anything from the whole of a home, an office, or even one single piece of furniture. Though you probably won't be bringing any large pieces of furniture in your carry-on, it's the ideal place to get a true taste of Finnish interior design.
Kimmo Halme (Eerikinkatu 12). Drawing on the traditional craftsmanship of hat making, each hat is handmade with the finest ethically sourced materials, and is made to last a lifetime. Combining classic designs with contemporary elements, Kimmo Halme offers both ready-to-wear models and unique custom pieces designed to be a natural extension of each customer.
Katri Niskanen (Bulevardi 15). Founded in 2010 by the designer of the same name, this is one of Finland’s most popular fashion labels for womenswear. They're famous for their versatile and multi-purpose designs, bringing timeless elegance to everyday life.
Raaka Rå (Iso Roobertinkatu 43). Eeva Rinne's pottery studio and shop turns out pieces of pottery that are true works of art. Handmade right in Finland, this would be a perfect place to acquire an authentic piece of Helsinki to bring home with you, as a memento of your time in this design-rich city.
Finarte (Telakkakatu 6). Thirty years ago, a business man met a talented designer. Coupled with love and some brilliant ideas, Finarte has grown into a beautiful family business of two generations, creating stunning collections of handwoven wool and jute rugs. If that's not a start-up story you can't get behind, I don't know what is!
Armas Design (Vuorimiehenkatu 16). Often utilizing recycled materials, Armas Design has a wide range of seasonal eclectic furniture, lamps, textiles and other design items. In addition to Scandinavian design, they offer customers products from small manufacturers across the globe. The world, sized down to one Finnish shop. What's not to love?
Design Museum (Korkeavuorenkatu 23). You're in the Design District, so what better way to learn about Helsinki's, than through the eyes of the Design Museum?
*In addition to my Design District route, there are also guided walking tours that one can take.
Stand-Out Finnish Architecture, Through the Ages
Regardless of the fact that Finland is such a young country (only becoming a nation in 1917), it is one brimming with a rich design and architecture culture; this manifests before the naked eye right on the city streets, with layers to every building’s façade. The combination and contrast of varying designs — from the Neoclassicism of Senate Square, to the Byzantine-Russian style of Uspenski Cathedral, and the Modernism of Finlandia Hall — all complement one another in the loveliest way. That is, these façades are never in competition, but rather work together to give viewers the true feel of ‘Helsinki’.
Temppeliaukion Church (Lutherinkatu 3). This Lutheran church, opened in 1969, was designed by architects and brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. This incredible piece of architecture and design has been built directly into solid rock, leading to its nickname of the "Church of the Rock" or "Rock Church". There is a €3 entry fee for adults, but is absolutely free if you use your Helsinki Card!
The National Museum of Finland (Mannerheimintie 34). Though the National Museum of Finland presents Finnish history from the Stone Age to the present day, the museum itself is built in the Art Nouveau style (reflected in its interior), with the outside specifically reflecting Finland's medieval churches and castles.
Finlandia Hall (Mannerheimintie 13e). Situated right on Töölönlahti Bay, this modern building was designed entirely by Alvar Aalto and opened in December of 1971. Aalto, a Finnish master in architecture, celebrated nature and light in this monumental Helsinki concert hall and event space, made with white Italian marble.
Lasipalatsi (Mannerheimintie 22-24). A subdued Art Deco style building, it was built in the 1930s in preparation for the Olympics (which were cancelled due to the Second World War). If you decide to dine at Ravintola Lasipalatsi, a restaurant within the building, you can enjoy the interior of the structure, as well; it's currently furnished with a modern design, reminiscent of the 1970s.
Senate Square. Carl Ludvig Engel's architecture shines as an analogy for the political, religious, scientific, and commercial powers in central Helsinki. Senate Square is surrounded by some of the city's oldest buildings, including landmarks such as Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki, and Sederholm House (see below).
Helsinki City Museum (Aleksanterinkatu 16). The Helsinki City Museum is the world’s only museum focusing on Helsinki. It's located next to the Senate Square in the oldest blocks of the city, and is home to the oldest building in the city; this two storey blue-façade building, called 'Sederholm House', was constructed in 1757.
Uspenski Cathedral (Kanavakatu 1). This Katajanokka District cathedral was completed in 1868, and is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. With its golden cupolas and redbrick façade, the church is one of the clearest symbols of Russia's impact on Finnish history and, in turn, its architecture.
Regardless of which of these walks you embark on, you're bound to discover some of Helsinki's fascinating history and culture. Each of these points along the maps are one stitch in the tapestry that makes up the city as a whole, a colourful masterpiece that you will remember for years to come. If you want to venture on even more walking adventures, you can do so with one of the pre-planned maps My Helsinki offers!
Indeed, it is a city that will pull you back to it time and time again, always eager to unearth more of its magic.
To read more of our posts on Helsinki, click here.