What to see in Helsinki

Helsinki for a Day

When it comes to Northern Europe tourist destinations, Helsinki, Finland probably doesn’t jump off the map. However, as part of a Northern European Cruise, we enjoyed a (rainy) day there. There’s enough to keep the tourist entertained.

A view of a Swedish-influenced street in Helsinki.

A view of a Swedish-influenced street in Helsinki.

Finland has an interesting history, with a culture and language that is very distinct from its Scandinavian and Russian neighbors, even though it was under Swedish rule for six centuries and then ceded to Russia in the early 1800’s. There are very obvious Swedish and Russian influences in Helsinki from fortresses to street names and churches.

Here are a few of the interesting sights:

Suomenlinna Fortress. The Swedish built this fortress (they called it Sveaborg) in the 18th century, when Finland was part of the Swedish kingdom. It can be reached by a short (15 minute) ferry ride (the terminal is near Market Square, just a short distance from Senate Square).

King's Gate, built in 1753-54, the ceremonial gateway to the fortress.

King’s Gate, built in 1753-54, the ceremonial gateway to the fortress.

A bronze sculpture in the fortress.

A bronze sculpture in the fortress.

The fortress contains defensive walls, gates, gun emplacements, tunnels, courtyards, a prison, museums, beaches, churches and park areas, as well as shops and cafes. A useful printed guide can be obtained at the ferry terminal.

One of the fortress's cannons.

One of the fortress’s cannons.

The Vesikko submarine, a Finnish sub built in the 1930's that saw action in World War II. The sub is now a museum.

The Vesikko submarine, a Finnish sub built in the 1930’s that saw action in World War II. The sub is now a museum.

A sign saying tourists are not welcome at the prison labor camp in the fortress!

A sign saying tourists are not welcome at the prison labor camp in the fortress!

One of the tunnels underneath the fortress defensive walls.

One of the tunnels underneath the fortress defensive walls.

Today the Fortress is used for cultural events and conventions in addition to being a great place to picnic and experience a bit of Finnish history.

Senate Square. This is Helsinki’s central square, surrounded by 19th century neo-classical buildings.

Helsinki Cathedral overlooks Senate Square. The statue is Emperor Alexander II, unveiled in 1894.

Helsinki Cathedral overlooks Senate Square. The statue is Emperor Alexander II, unveiled in 1894.

Another view of Senate Square.

Another view of Senate Square.

Temppeliaukio Rock Church. This church was completed in 1969. It’s unique in that it was carved right into bedrock. It must have been a massive undertaking. It’s worth visiting for the unusual setting.

A panorama view of the Temppeliaukio Rock Church.

A panorama view of the Temppeliaukio Rock Church.

Another view of Temppeliaukio Rock Church.

Another view of Temppeliaukio Rock Church.

Uspenski Cathedral. This church is a reminder of Russian influence in Helsinki. It is the largest Eastern Orthodox Church in Western Europe. It was completed in 1868. It is quite beautiful inside.

Exterior view of Uspenski Cathedral.

Exterior view of Uspenski Cathedral.

Interior view of Uspenski Cathedral.

Interior view of Uspenski Cathedral.

Johanneksen (St. John’s) Church. A Lutheran church, built in the late 1800’s and the largest stone church in Finland by seating capacity (seats 2,600 people). It stands out in the Helsinki skyline with twin towers that are 243 ft. in height.

Exterior view of Johanneksen Church.

Exterior view of Johanneksen Church.

An interior view of Johanneksen Church.

An interior view of Johanneksen Church.

Bat Baby (aka Angel-Demon Statue). One of the more strange sculptures I’ve seen. It’s from 2009 and part of an exchange with the Triumph Gallery in Moscow and Volker Diehl Gallery in Berlin.

The Angel-Demon sculpture in Helsinki.

The Angel-Demon sculpture in Helsinki.