A walk through Helsinki's city center

Pauliina Flam | Live the World

November 23, 2022

As we all know, the best way to discover a new city is by walking around. Let me take you through the heart of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Our starting point will be at Helsinki’s central railway station. If you are arriving in Helsinki by train, this is where you are going to be anyway. In case you arrive by plane, you probably want to take a train right to the city center.

The railway station has three entrances, the one in the middle is decorated with four granite figures, bearing the lamps. We call them “lantern bearers.” These men are famous, and you can see them on a local television 'discovering Finland and advertising the train lines'. Their haircuts are not the best, but all in all, they are quite handsome. Sometimes, due to different special events, the lantern bearers get decorated. Once, they even had Kiss-masks on their faces, honoring the famous band which had come to the city for a concert. So, take a glance at them to know if there is anything special going on in the city.

Turning your back to these granite figures and crossing the street, you can turn left and walk until the end of the building. Ateneum, the main museum of classical artworks, will be right in front of you. If there is an exhibition of a famous artist in town, it is for sure held in Ateneum! This museum is also an excellent place to see local art.

© Pauliina_Flam

Turn right and leave the train station behind you. At the end of the block, you will meet a shopping street; this one is called Aleksanterinkatu. Now you two know each other, so you can call it "Aleksi," just like locals do. Besides many known shopping brands, cozy restaurants, and lovely cafes, you can also notice small interesting details, if you look around thoroughly.

Walking the street, you will find a copper stripe under your feet. It diagonally crosses the road and includes Latin names for underwater creatures. "Why is that?" you might ask. Well, many years ago, the only city center visitors were fish since that place was covered in water! Just at the beginning of 1800, a part of a bay has been dried to get more building-space.  That is how the city center we know nowadays came to life. The copper stripes are situated right at the place where the bay crossed the street, reminding us about the history of Helsinki. One more thing to notice on Aleksanterinkatu is the street names, or, to be more precise, the pictures above them. There is an animal pictured on every corner. You see, back in the 19th century, these were actual names of the blocks. Nowadays, they just bring up the history and allow you to say, “let’s meet on the bunny corner.

"Aleksi" street will lead you right to the Helsinki Cathedral. You might have seen it in a music video by Darude or on any postcard from Helsinki. Finished in 1852, it soon became the symbol of the capital. The stairs leading to the Helsinki Cathedral are a known place for locals to take a break at. In the warm time of the year, you can find people eating or reading books here.

Right in front of the Cathedral is one of the main tourist attractions: The Senate Square. Looking around, you will notice a monument dedicated to Alexander II. Two yellow houses around the square, looking quite similar, are the Government Palace and the University of Helsinki. The last one holds the Helsinki University Museum.  If you are visiting in December, the Senate Square will be lightened by the Christmas market, making everything around look cozy and magical.

Turning your back to the Cathedral, try to spot a small grey-blue house on your left. This one is the oldest building in Helsinki, dating back to 1757. Nowadays, it hosts the cutest thing in town - “the Children's Town.” Being part of the Helsinki City Museum, this place is far more interactive and kids friendly. Besides that, it is always free to visit!  

Continue strolling to Katariinankatu, leaving Children's Town on your left.  Walking a tiny bit more, you will finally come to Market Square. In summer, this is the best place to try some fresh local food and shop for handmade souvenirs. On the right shore of the sea, you will find an Old Market Hall; this is a place to taste Finnish specialties in the colder months. Since the Market Square is situated right on the harbor, you can hop on many ferries, to discover the Helsinki archipelago, including the most famous attraction- the Suomenlinna fortress.

Wandering around Helsinki's Market Square, it is hard not to notice a beautiful fountain. A gorgeous nude woman in the center of the fountain is called Havis Amanda, or as we call her- "Manta." This beauty always takes part in the Worker's Day celebration, where she gets a student cap on her head during a traditional ceremony. Manta is taking part in other celebrations as well; for example, when Finland won at the World Championship in ice hockey, the fountain became a pool for hockey fans. Every time I walk past her, I remember all the crazy outfits and happy celebrations she has been through. That always brings a smile to my face.

© Pauliina_Flam

Behind Havis Amanda, you will find Esplanade park, the most common promenade street. Many interesting events are held here, including small open-air concerts since Esplanade park has its own stage. There are many monuments in this park. Walking till the end of the street, you will find my favorite one, a monument in memory of the poet Zacharias Topelius. The memorial consists of two female figures, one is Truth, and the other is Fable. One woman holds an eternal flame, another one a small bird. I will leave it for you to guess which one is Truth.

As Esplanade ends, the main street of Helsinki begins, the Mannerheimintie. Turning right, you will find The Three Smiths Statue, a famous meeting point.  Walking a bit further, you will encounter Kiasma, the best modern art museum in the city. A mighty Parliament House will be on your left. At this point, the Helsinki Central Station is on your right, so in a few steps, you can get back to our starting point.

This is a short walk you can do in the center of Helsinki. Top it up with visiting churches and museums on your way, a tasty lunch at the market square, or even a half-day trip to Suomenlinna island.

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