Things to Do in Finland
With its beautifully designed glass tunnel stretching out to the Ounasjoki, Arktikum is one of Finland's best museums, albeit with a hefty admission fee. Exhibition spaces include superb static and interactive displays focusing on Arctic flora and fauna, as well as on the peoples of Arctic Europe, Asia and North America. It tells the story of the people of the North.
The level of information is very impressive; this is really a place to learn about the unique northern environments, and there is an excellent research library. There are also good displays of canoes, dwellings, fishing materials, and costumes of various northern peoples (including a good exhibition on the Sámi), as well as a room devoted to the history of Rovaniemi itself. A scale model shows the destruction wrought by the Axis retreat in 1944. There's also a multi-vision theater and a good restaurant. You should allow yourself at least a couple of hours to get around it all.
The Helsinki Cathedral is also known as Tuomiokirkko. Built from 1830 to 1852, it replaced a smaller 18th-century church and was originally called St. Nicholas' Church in homage to Russian Czar. After Finland gained independence from Russia, the church was renamed, and in 1959 it became an Evangelical Lutheran cathedral.
The city of Rovaniemi, in Lapland, is home to Santa Claus Village, a unique theme park located right on the Arctic Circle. The ultimate destination for kids looking for a private word with Father Christmas, the park includes Santa’s workshops, a reindeer petting area, gift shops, and Santa’s official post office.
Nestled among the trees of Sibelius Park, the contemporary Sibelius Monument commemorates the life of acclaimed Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. 600 hollow, silver-steel pipes hover above the ground and evoke a range of creative interpretations. Initially, the abstract sculpture caused controversy with its modern design, so a bronze Sibelius bust was installed nearby to appease critics.
Finland’s SantaPark Arctic World may be as close as you can get to actually visiting Santa at the North Pole. Located near the town of Rovaniemi in northern Finland, it offers the quintessential Christmas experience. Children and adults alike can attend Elf School to learn elf secrets and decorate gingerbread made with Mrs. Claus’ secret recipe in the Gingerbread Kitchen. Visit Santa Claus in his office and hand him your Christmas wish list or drop by Calligraphy School to practice old-fashioned elf writing and write your own Christmas card. Then, drop it off at Santa’s Post Office and watch the elves hard at work sorting out all of Santa’s mail. Your card will be stamped with a special stamp and you can even get a head start on next year’s Christmas mail.
Don’t miss the opportunity to cross the Arctic Circle through a tunnel 50 meters underground and get your own Arctic Circle Undercrossing Certificate. Finally, ride a sleigh through the winter landscape around Rovaniemi and through the Elves’ Toy Factory before stopping at the Elves’ Workshop to make your own Christmas decorations.
An impressive architectural landmark, Finland’s Parliament House (Eduskuntatalo) is home to the nation’s governing body. The imposing building looms over Helsinki on Arcadia Hill, making it both the political and geographical heart of the Finnish capital.
Spread over six islands in the Helsinki archipelago, Suomenlinna Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular destination for picnicking and leisure activities. The fortress is an important historic site with multiple on-site museums, as well as a living community with roughly 900 permanent residents.
Hewn into solid rock in the middle of a residential square, Helsinki’s Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Kirkko) features a circular ceiling covered entirely with copper stripping. Natural light streams in through 180 window panes, while an ice age crevice in the natural rock serves as the altar.
Senate Square (Senaatintori) symbolizes the cultural heart of Helsinki. Among the many landmarks surrounding the square are the Government Palace, National Library, Lutheran Cathedral, City Museum, and Helsinki’s oldest building, which make Senate Square an essential stop on any first-time visitor’s itinerary.
For thousands of commuters, Helsinki’s Central Railway Station is the main traffic hub from which buses, the metro and numerous local and long distance trains arrive and depart. In fact, with roughly 200,000 daily visitors, it is Finland’s most visited structure. The building also happens to be one of the landmarks of the city and looks back on over 100 years of history. Designed in 1909 by Eliel Saarinen and opened in 1919, the Railway Station’s most distinctive features are the big clock tower and the two towering figures of two heavily muscled, half-naked men holding big globes of light.
Another notable feature is the red Finnish granite that was used to clad the façades of the Central Railway Station. The granite originated in Hanko, the southernmost region of Finland and is believed to be over 400 million years old. A more curious addition to the station, which is also unique in the world, is the presidential lounge. It was originally supposed to be reserved for the private use of the Emperor of Russia, but since Finland’s independence, the waiting area has been dedicated to the sole use of the Finnish President and his guests.
More Things to Do in Finland
Ranua Wildlife Park is home to over 50 species and 200 individual animals native to the Arctic region, animals including the polar bear, arctic fox, reindeer, otters, minxes, foxes and wolves. There are also birds including owls, buzzards and snow geese. You can tour the zoo and see the animals being fed. In summer there is also a domestic animal zoo and you can ride ponies or Finnish horses. Less animated but still interesting are the arctic rocks in the Rock Park.
The landscape around the zoo is beautiful and worth a visit in itself. The trail around the park is around 1.5 miles (2.5 km) and cold in winter, so dress appropriately.
Located on Korkeasaari island, Helsinki Zoo is home to 150 animal species and more than 1,000 species of plant. Opened in 1889, the zoo is geographically divided into three sections that house bears, tigers, and lions. Today, the zoo is best known for its conservation work, particularly with endangered snow leopards.
As Finland’s most popular ski resort and host of the annual Alpine World Cup Race, Levi is a top choice for winter sports. Take on the downhill runs, cross-country trails, and the country’s largest snowboard park in winter, while getting your thrills mountain biking, dry-slope sledding, and zip-lining in the summer months.
The impressive National Museum of Finland (or Suomen Kansallismuseo) looks a bit like a Gothic church with its stonework and tower. Built in 1916 and extensively renovated in 2000, the museum's rooms cover different periods of Finnish history. The Treasure Trove has coins, silver, weaponry, medals and jewelery. The Prehistory of Finland is a large, permanent exhibition of prehistory and archaeological finds. A Land and its People shows life in Finland before industrialization. The Realm covers the history of Finland in the 13th - 17th centuries when it was under Swedish rule and an independent duchy of the Russian empire. The permanent exhibition, "Suomi Finland 1900", explores 20th-century Finland and was opened in April 2012. There are also changing displays of church relics, ethnography and cultural exhibitions.
The superb frescoes on the ceiling arches (by Akseli Gallen-Kallela) depict scenes from the epic Kalevala, including one of the hero Väinämöinen plunging a stake into the giant pike. You can visit the cafeteria at the end of your day to rest and absorb what you've learned about the history of Finland.
Helsinki’s Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma contemporary art museum is part of the wider Finnish National Gallery, and showcases both national and international art from across a broad creative spectrum. The museum exhibits more than 8,500 works, including and has a permanent collection that includes pieces by iconic Finnish artists Tom of Finland and Kalervo Palsa, as well as international names such as Andy Warhol.
Helsinki’s Market Square (Kauppatori) has served as the center of city trading for more than 200 years. Located on the harbor, just a short walk from Senate Square, the open-air market takes place year-round and attracts tourists and locals alike with its range of clothing, crafts, and fresh produce.
The Helsinki Swedish Theatre, also known as the Svenska Teatern, is the oldest theater in Helsinki and offers performances exclusively in Swedish, the country’s second official language. Going to a theatre performance in a foreign language can seem a bit daunting, but musicals such as the timeless feel-good show “Mamma Mia” or George Orwell’s 1984 can be quite enjoyable even if you don’t have the necessary language skills. The national theatre offers a wider repertoire that caters to everyone and genres range from drama to musicals and children’s theatre. The atmosphere alone is worth the visit.
Established in 1827, the once small wooden theatre used to be a quick road stop for actors en route to Saint Petersburg, but it soon became so popular that a newer and bigger building had to be constructed. The theatre seen today was opened in 1863 and was built in the neoclassical style, although during a renovation in the early 20th century, the richly decorated façade was replaced with a more functional one. It offers room for up to 700 spectators, but also has smaller stages with fewer seats.
Located a mile from the city center in the Töölö district, Helsinki Olympic Stadium (Helsingin Olympiastadion) is the biggest arena in Finland, with 40,600 spectator spots.
Finland was originally meant to host the 1940 Summer Olympics, but the outbreak of World War II delayed the games until 1952, when the country finally got to host the big event. Today, the stadium is home to the national soccer team and houses big-name concerts and sports events every year.
For views of all of Helsinki and its downtown, take the elevator to the top of the 72.21-meter Stadium Tower. Why the idiosyncratic height? Well, that was the gold-medal winning result of Finnish athlete Matti Järvinen’s javelin throw in the 1932 Summer Olympics, of course!
Aside from its 14-story viewing tower, the Helsinki Olympic Stadium also has a restaurant, an Olympics museum and, quirkily enough, a youth hostel.
Helsinki’s Finlandia Hall is an architectural masterpiece designed by famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. Its exterior complements the local landscape and nearby park, while the inside features asymmetrical and curvy structural details, along with natural materials and colors. The multipurpose venue hosts concerts, meetings, other events, and a gallery.
Helsinki City Hall, also called Kaupungintalo, didn’t always have an administrative purpose. In fact, it was originally designed as a cultural entertainment hotel by the famous German architect Carl Ludvig Engel back in 1833. The beautiful white and blue façade in the imperial style has remained, but today, most of the classical interiors have been replaced by more modern glass structures. In 1913, the former grand hotel was turned into Helsinki City Hall and although it has served as a hospital during the First World War, the building has since then hosted the offices of the mayor of Helsinki. There are also several other rooms for City Board and City Council meetings, which take place every other Wednesday in the council chamber.
If you love architecture, you can simply bring your camera and wander, but visitors are also able to attend various events and exhibitions inside the building. Vikra Gallery organizes photography exhibitions, movie screenings and concerts in the lobby and banquet hall. In the lobby you can also find quite a few paintings and sculptures, for example “the Chain,” a sculpture by Kimmo Trench showing the unity of the people of Europe, or Oscar Klineh’s famous painting of Helsinki.
Home to both the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the Helsinki Music Centre (Musiikkitalo) is the Finnish capital’s main concert hall. Sitting opposite Parliament House in the prestigious Töölönlahti district, the building and its copper facade may look gargantuan from the outside, but actually, most of its rooms are underground.
Home to the Sibelius Academy as well as Finland’s national orchestras, the center was unveiled in 2011. With a modern and understated design, the center’s unusual interior layout features weaving hallways, as well as a unique main hall, where up to 1,704 visitors are seated in a full circle around the orchestra.
Designed to sit in harmony with the stately buildings that surround it, the Helsinki Music Centre and its design have been well-received. This was not without controversial beginnings, however; to make space for the structure, an area of grassroots art spaces (that had been converted from derelict warehouses) had to be pulled down.
A wild landscape of ancient pine forests, lakes and hills stretching between the fell resorts of Pyhä and Luosto, Pyhä-Luosto National Park is the highlight of central Lapland and a popular choice for a day trip from Rovaniemi.
With more than 90 miles (150 km) of walking trails, Pyhä-Luosto is a top destination for hikers all year-round, with highlights including Isokuru, Finland's deepest gorge, the Pyhä Waterfall and the Lampivaara Amethyst Mine, Europe’s only active amethyst mine, where visitors can try their luck digging for gemstones. With over 75 miles (120 km) of ski trails and ample opportunities for snowmobiling, reindeer sleigh rides and husky sledding, Pyhä-Luosto makes a fun place to spend the winter months, while summer activities include mountain biking, canoeing, swimming and fishing.
Located inside of Helsinki’s Linnanmaki Amusement Park, SEA LIFE® Helsinki is an interactive aquarium that proclaims to take visitors on a magical journey through the world’s seas and oceans. Touch crabs and sea urchins under the guidance of trained staff at the interactive rock pool or see a hermit crab change its shell. Immerse yourself inside an ocean tank via a transparent underwater tunnel. Catch a glimpse of sharks, piranhas, stingrays and tropical fish and learn about the need to protect their endangered environments.
Once just a small fishing port, Helsinki has been the capital of Finland since 1812 and played host to the Olympic Games in 1952. Today, the port welcomes more than 300 cruise ships carrying nearly half a million passengers annually. It is also a departure point for ferries to Tallinn, Estonia; Stockholm, Sweden; and St. Petersburg, Russia.
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