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    Spirit of the city: Helsinki

    What to see

    Uspenski Cathedral

    Uspenski Cathedral (Uspenskin Katedraali) was built by the St.Petersburg architect Aleksei Gornostayev at the end of the 19th century. The area was under the control of Russia until 1919, and the building still carries the splendor of that era. The cathedral is dominated by red brickwork, is in the Byzantine architectural style and was originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Usually a characteristic of Russian churches, you’ll notice the gold-plated domes of the church – that gold is 22 karat, so Uspenski Cathedral is easy to spot, even from far away.

    Helsinki Cathedral

    Helsinki Cathedral (Helsingin Tuomiokirkko) was built between 1830 and 1852, and named after the Russian Tzar Nicholas I (who was also the Grand Duke of Finland at the time), and that name, St. Nicholas Church, stuck until Finland gained independence in 1917. The famous German architect Carl Ludvig Engel began designing the building, but he died halfway through construction – it was completed by Ernst Bernhard Lohrmann. Right in the middle of Helsinki’s most important square, Senaatintori, the cathedral is one of the first stops for visitors to the city.

    Temppeliaukio Church

    Temppeliaukio Church (Temppeliaukion Kirkko) is located in the middle of Helsinki. It was first conceived in 1932, and a competition was held to find a designer. Unhappy with the results, the competition committee held a second in 1936, but this time it was the Second World War that postponed construction. After the war, one last competition was held in 1961, and it was the design of the architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen which won, with construction starting in 1969. When looking at it from the top, the church looks like a grounded UFO, but the fact it’s actually been built into the rock bed makes it an architectural marvel. The harmony between the natural rock blocks and stone walls of the interior creates a unique atmosphere, while the large glass dome immediately catches the eye. The dome itself is 24 meters in diameter and 17 meters off the ground. Even the alter section has been made using natural rock, but today the church is used to host cultural and arts events. If you take a look at Helsinki’s events program during your visit, you might be lucky enough to catch a concert in the church, and experience the outstanding acoustics of this remarkable space for yourself.

    Suomenlinnan Church

    Originally built by the Swedish king in the 18th century, Suomenlinnan Church (Suomenlinnan Kirkko) is one of the most important tourist destinations in Helsinki. Over the centuries, the church tower has been used as a lookout point by the armed forces of three different nations, and while it retains many of its original architectural qualities, it holds many clues which indicate its military history. While it was under control of the Swedes between 1748 and 1808, the Russians took the building and used it to monitor shipping traffic going through the Gulf of Finland between 1808 and 1918. Since 1918 it has been under Finnish control, and today is also home to the Suomenlinna Museum. You can reach Suomenlinnan Church using the ferries which leave from Market Square every 15 to 20 minutes.

    Senate Square

    Senate Square (Senaatintori) is surely one of Helsinki’s most important locations, and is surrounded by several historically important buildings. These include the Helsinki Cathedral, Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki, and the National Library of Finland, each with its own stunning architectural appeal. Helsinki Cathedral saw its 160th anniversary in 2012, and is known as the most photographed building in the city. As you walk around the square, you’ll see the city’s oldest stone building, Sederholm House, while in the center of the square stands a statue erected in 1894 of the Russian Tzar Alexander II, who was known for his support of Finland’s independence from Russia.

    Helsinki Olympic Stadium

    2 km outside the city center, Helsinki Olympic Stadium (Helsingin Olympiastadion) is in the Töölö district of Helsinki and has a capacity of 40,000. Today, it is the main venue for many important sports fixtures, but its Olympic history is also significant. Even though the 1940 Summer Olympics due to take place here were called off because of World War II, the stadium was able to host the 1952 games instead. If you go to the top of the stadium’s 72-meter-high tower, you’ll see some of the best views of the city. You’ll also find the Sports Museum of Finland here, which exhibits the country’s sporting history.


    Built as a result of an architectural design competition held by Finland’s government, Kiasma is the work of American architect Steven Holl. The museum was opened in 1998, and by following developments in artistic trends, it has become an art gallery famous for delighting its visitors. Helsinki’s most famous gallery is home to a collection of over 8,500 pieces, as well as painting, theater, music and cinematic exhibitions. With Finland’s National Gallery being part of the museum, it’s considered to be the city’s cultural and events center. So be sure to set enough time aside to experience the cultural and artistic events Kiasma has to offer.


    With its doors opening to art lovers in 1990 as a section of Finland’s National Gallery, Ateneum is one of the most esteemed museums in Helsinki, and is as popular with the locals as it is with tourists. The museum displays Finnish artwork from between 1750 and 1960, but you’ll also find a large collection of Western art which extends from the end of the 19th century to the 1950s. Works by famous Finnish artists such as Albert Edelfelt, Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Helene Schjerfbeck are on display here, all of whom contributed to Finland’s golden age of art and modernism movement. Pieces from international artist like Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, Fernand Leger and Marc Chagall are also on display.

    What to eat


    While preparing this sweet, dough is curled in a round pan, covered lightly with oil, cinnamon and sugar, and baked into a bun. Sometimes flavored with raisins, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a steaming hot coffee. While korvapuustit may resemble the cinnamon rolls you’ve seen in Europe and America, the ones made in Finland are significantly larger!


    The secret to Finland’s stuffed cabbage leaves is to cook the meat filling with onion, garlic and spices. While rolling the leaves, rice, mushrooms, vegetables and even eggs can be added to the filling. Only the largest leaves are used to make the rolls, with the smaller leaves sometimes being added to the filling. While many other countries serve this kind of dish with a tomato sauce or yogurt, Finnish stuffed cabbage leaves usually come with a fruity chutney.

    Perunamuusi and Viili

    The grilled fish and seafood harvested from the Baltic Sea, and the county’s hearty game stews and hotpots are among the most traditional, and still most popular dishes of Helsinki’s cuisine. These main dishes are generally served with perunamuusi, a Finnish take on mashed potatoes, and viili, a traditionally-made yoghurt. In the traditional dish of perunamuusi, the potatoes are often boiled with onions or garlic. After adding oil to the potatoes, yogurt or milk is mixed in until the consitency is thick and creamy. Viili on the other hand, is a traditional, light yogurt, with a runny consistency, consumed all over the Nordic nations. It’s made by fermenting milk at ambient temperatures, and you’ll find it served all over Helsinki.