Jesse, Jack and I took a very early morning ferry from Tallin back across the Gulf of Finland to Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Helsinki was founded in the mid 1500s by the Swedish king, Gustav Vasa in what was originally a Swedish-speaking region. Finland was then occupied by Russia. In 1812 Helsinki became the capital of Finland, previously the capital was the city of Turku. Following the October Revolution, Finland became an independent country in December of 1917. Today Helsinki has over 600,000 inhabitants, it is the largest city in Finland.
As we approached the port, we cruised through a narrow gap between two islands, that called Vallisaari and one, Suomenlinna, that is home to an old fort and several museums. We had a great view of the walls of the fort from the water, so we decided to spend more of our time walking through the city instead. But if we had had more time and trip to the island would have certainly been worth while.
All the many cars and trucks that debarked from our ship caused quite the traffic jam, so we didn’t drive far before parking. Just northwest of the shipping port is the Uspenski Cathedral. The Eastern Orthodox Cathedral is atop a small hill that overlooks the rest of the city. We took turns going into the cathedral, which was free to visit. It was spectacular inside and I really admired the ceiling and chandeliers.
From Uspenski Cathedral we started our walking loop through the city, our first stop was not far at all, on a short bridge, designated as the Bridge of Love. It held probably thousands of locks. Nearby we walked out to see some of the large sailing ships that were docked along the water at Halkolaituri. From here we turned west and walked past some impressive buildings including government offices, the Bank of Finland and the public library as we circled in towards the Helsinki Cathedral.
The Helsinki Cathedral (Helsingin tuomiokirkko) was built in the mid 1800s and was known as St. Nicholas’ Church until Finland’s independence. Inside the cathedral has much more modern and clean feel, being mostly white with few decorations. The large organ in the back was a sight however. The Helsinki Cathedral is also a top a hill but is more central to the city.
We descended down the expansive staircase to the Senaatintori (Senate Square). Here there were a lot of tour buses parked and visitors huddled around their guides learning about the history and architecture of Helsinki. The Helsinki Cathedral is a dominating sight from the square.
We walked along Aleksanterinkatu and then a couple blocks north to Rautatientori
(Railway Square), which was next to th
e main rail station of Helsinki. At the north end of the square was a stately building, home to the National Theatre and beyond that a large park which houses the botanical gardens, tennis courts and today the circus was in town.
On the west side of the railroad tracks we walked past a few more attractions, the Helsinki Music Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the State Government Offices. Further south we passed several monuments and statues, including Kolme Seppää (the Three Smiths Statue). Past the Swedish Theater, we walked through the Esplanadi park back towards our starting point. We stopped at a restaurant called Kappeli for the fish soup special and some tastey pasteries.
The Kaupptori (Market Square) was busy today with many vendors selling fruit, berries, wild mushrooms, art and souvenirs. We bought some delicious apple cider and a hand painted bell from a local artist. We walked a huge loop but the tour was not over…
We drove only a short distance to check out another cathedral, St. John’s Church, but we couldn’t stay and explore for long, since there was wedding taking place. And it was beginning to rain more again.
Our last stop was in Sibelius park to see the monument to Jean Sibelius, a famous Finnish composer and violinist. One of his most well known pieces is Finlandia which is rather intense in contrast to the light and beautiful Valse Triste. The monument was built as organ pipes and stands next to a small WWII monument in a lovely park. It was a full day exploring the lovely capital of Finland!