We finally got out to see Helsinki today! Well, I say finally – it’s not like we’ve been here that long, but since we got here on Sunday and we spent yesterday in Porvoo, it feels like we’re a little behind in exploring the city we’re staying in. Not anymore though!
So what did we get up to in Helsinki today? At first, the day was a bit of a bust (just a bit though!) as our first stop was very crowded with people (not unexpected, but still annoying) and our second stop was completely (and yes, I do mean completely) covered in scaffolding, so we couldn’t even see it. And our fourth stop was closed this week due to some renovation work. Womp! Them’s the breaks though, so you roll with the punches and keep things moving. We still had a good day though, particularly with our afternoon itinerary. Here’s what we got up to!
- Temppeliaukio Church – better known as the Rock Church (or the Church in the Rocks), Temppeliaukio is certainly an interesting sight to see. It’s a somewhat bizarre mashup of natural and man-made materials, since the church is built directly into the rock, so you see these rocky walls contrasting against a church organ, pews, etc. It was interesting to spend a few minutes in, but not much more than that. Two big tour groups walked in literally moments before we did, so the large number of people milling around was a bit off-putting to me (especially in a place that’s generally very quiet, like a church). There’s no cost to get in and it’s certainly a unique experience, so add it to your Helsinki list!
- Parliament House – as mentioned above, this ENTIRE building is shrouded in scaffolding and other construction material, so we couldn’t even get a peek at it. It turns out, the building has never been fully renovated since it was finished in 1931, so I guess it’s due for some work! You never know when you’re going to run into these kinds of construction issues though (unless you research every place you’re going to visit, which would be a bit tedious). I can’t tell you much about it, but hopefully it will be worth visiting when it’s all done (which apparently won’t be until 2017).
- Helsinki Cathedral – our first problem-free stop of the day! A bit of the cathedral is unfortunately also covered in scaffolding, but that didn’t impact the views of it too much. This cathedral doesn’t look too much like a church and it also looks far newer than something that was completed in 1852 (to me, anyway). It sits atop a tall flight of steps in Senate Square, so you definitely won’t miss it as you approach! It’s free to enter and certainly makes a worthwhile addition to your Helsinki itinerary. The domed ceilings and pipe organ are highlights!
- Uspenski Cathedral – a short walk (maybe ten minutes) from Helsinki Cathedral, you’ll find this gem. It has a much more grand look to it, which is interesting since it’s actually slightly newer than its counterpart (this one was completed in 1868). They’re clearly of very different architects, designs, and even denominations (Helsinki Cathedral is Evangelical Lutheran while Uspenski is Eastern Orthodox and is said to be the largest Eastern Orthodox church in western Europe). From the pictures I’ve seen online, the interior is outstanding, but we were unfortunately unable to go in due to renovation work being done this week specifically. Such a bummer! When it’s open, admission is free, so definitely don’t miss this building!
- Suomenlinna – construction on this sea fortress (spread across six islands) began way back in the mid-1700s by Sweden as a way to stop Russian expansion. Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and is definitely a great way to spend a couple of hours (or longer!). Because it’s a cluster of islands, Suomenlinna is only reachable by ferry, but don’t worry – it’s a quick, easy, and inexpensive process! Head over to Market Square, pick up a ticket for ~$6 USD (good for 12 hours), and wait for the next ferry – that’s it! There are a variety of things to do/see here, including a church, several museums, a visitor center, the old King’s Gate, and more. Your best bet is probably to follow the marked blue route through the islands as you’ll hit all the highlights that way. There are a few places to eat and plenty of places to picnic here, so you can really make a day (or certainly a half-day) of it if you want to. For us, around two hours was enough time to see what we wanted to see, but your mileage may vary! Take note of the fact that it’s often very WINDY at Suomenlinna, especially in the winter, so plan your outerwear accordingly.
Ready for some pictures??
A quick stop in Esplanade Park as we walked through Helsinki
A quick photo of Market Square before hopping on the Suomenlinna ferry
The tomb of Augustin Ehrensvärd, who designed the Great Courtyard in Suomenlinna (the courtyard houses his tomb)
Just about to cross through to see the King’s Gate
Vesikko, the only Finnish submarine!
And with that, we wrapped up our only full day to explore Helsinki. Although I’m sure there’s lots more we could have done, we’re happy with what we saw and we’re looking forward to our day in Tallinn, Estonia tomorrow. It’s easily accessibly by ferry (less than two hours away), so we had to take the chance to squeeze in one more city/country. Should be a great day trip!