What to do in Helsinki if you are interested in design? Do you want to do some shopping but above all you want to discover the city and its architectural history? Follow the guide to discover the architecture in Helsinki and make a successful weekend by having a good overview of the most beautiful buildings in the Finnish capital.
Map of architectural sites to see in Helsinki
Architecture in Helsinki: the most beautiful buildings in the Finnish capital
I suggest you start your visit there, from the market square (kauppatori) to the mini district of Torikorttelit. This is therefore your starting point for this architectural tour of Helsinki. Indeed, you will fall in love with this corner of the city whose buildings reflect one by one the history of the country. The historic center of the city bears witness to the Swedish and then Soviet occupation. Torikorttelit unveils divine neoclassical architecture. You can even take the opportunity to shop at iconic brands or in a hat shop that is over 100 years old!
Then go to Helsinki Design Museum. On this square, you can also discover the museum of architecture which can complete your visit.
Coming back to the Design Museum, this is a neo-Gothic style building designed in 1894 by architect Gustaf Nyström. You will discover the history of Finnish design from 1840 to the present day through emblematic pieces. There are also temporary exhibitions with more international angles.
The train station, Helsinki Central Station, is the Art Nouveau construction of the city. Designed by Eliel Saarinen, it was opened in 1919. It is built of Finnish granite and is distinguished by the double statues of Emil Wikström, the “lantern bearers” which are located on either side of the main entrance.
Oodi, Helsinki Central Library is the Finnish library inaugurated in 2018. The famous architectural firm ALA Architects is behind the project. From the outside, the library is majestic. But the interior is not to be outdone. Go there without hesitation because you will enjoy a beautiful panorama of the city from the 3rd floor.
The Finlandia Hall is the city’s convention center. The famous Alvar Aalto designed it in 1962. Given the future role of the place, Alvar Aalto worked enormously on the circulation of sound within the building. From an architectural point of view, Finlandia Hall has a tower with a sloping roof that provides a hollow space to improve acoustics. It was built in white marble to contrast with the granite. The architect also had fun creating a trompe l’oeil by adding a black strip to the facade of Finlandia Hall so as to believe, from the opposite bank of Töölönlahti Bay, that the National Museum of Finland is erected on the roof of Finlandia Hall!
Moreover, the National Museum of Finland is another interesting point to add to your Helsinki architecture map!
Architecture in Helsinki: religious buildings
If you are arriving by sea, you cannot miss the Lutheran Cathedral in Helsinki built between 1830 and 1852. The interior of the church is not particularly notable except for the curved organ it houses. You can observe it from the market square.
The Kamppi Chapel, kampin kappeli is made entirely of alder, spruce and ash wood. It was built in 2012 when Helsinki was the design capital of the world. It is not a place where religious services are held but a place to find silence and therefore meditation. She received the international architecture prize from Best New Global Design of Chicago Athenaeum. Note that you will not be able to take any photos inside the venue so as not to disturb this silence.
I invite you then to see theTemppeliaukio church which has an architecture typical of the expressionist style of the 60s. It is a monolithic building, meaning that it was built from a single piece of stone. It is actually carved out of the rock.
Also discover the Cathedral of the Assumption, or Uspensky Cathedral, which belongs to the Orthodox Church of Finland. Between 1862 and 1868, Emperor Alexander II of Russia gave the order to build the cathedral.
A little further…
If you have time, or are up for a boat or tram trip, here are some other places to explore:
Suomenlinna by boat
Suomenlinna is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a set of 6 interconnected islands that face Helsinki.
Helsinki architecture in one tram ride!
The trick is to take the line 4 tram which will take you to the feet of each building. With an unlimited pass, you can get off your means of transport, admire, take a few pictures to resume your journey. It will allow you to reach all the places mentioned above (with the exception of Suomenlinna of course), and you will have time to continue your journey to the north of the capital which will reveal theNational Opera, Ooppera Baletti.
Also if you lack greenery, I advise you to go and admire the Sibelius Monument. This is a statue by artist Eila Hiltunen that resembles a metal organ and was made as a tribute to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Moreover, a smaller version of the statue called “Homage to Sibelius”, can be found at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
Designed by architects Yrjö Lindegren and Toivo Jantti and completed in 1938, the Olympic Stadium also has some nice surprises in store for you. An iconic construction of Finnish modernism, the sports center notably has a tower of remarkable height: 72.71 meters like the distance of the throw of the Finnish athlete Matti Järvinen in 1932 which gave the country a gold medal! Walk along its summit and you will be offered an incredible view of the city.
The Aalto House
Aino and Alvar Aalto designed in 1936 to set up a comfortable and intimate building using simple and refined materials. They lived and worked there. The house was divided into a working space for the architectural firm Alvar Aalto until 1955 and the couple’s private residence.
Finally, if you want to do some designer shopping, I invite you to discover my good decoration addresses in Helsinki.