I remember it was the snowy season and everything closes at 4 pm (some 6 pm). I love my snow boots that I got online shopping – it was warm, water-proof, light, and apparently not slippery-resistant enough, I slipped a few times walking on ice, and one time I slipped down the stairs like I was on a slide, luckily I landed and stood up graciously from the drama.
I heard a lot of “compact”, “stylish”, and “cultured” when people are talking about Helsinki. Still, it seemed challenging to visit all the museums on the list within 48 hours. Here are my recommendations of the 7 museums that I saw and it sort of explained how the “compact”, “stylish” and “culture” keywords are translated into Finnish lives.
If you are visiting Helsinki in winter (like I did when I was stopping by Helsinki to see the Northern Lights in Lapland), touring the city indoors wouldn’t be such a bad idea – especially in European cities where nice museums and churches are everywhere. I purchased a Helsinki card which granted me free access to almost all major art and history museums in the city.
How to use the Pass? I saved a lot for my few days in Helsinki and any budget travelers. Simply make an order online and select the duration that you need: 24-hour, 48-hour, or 72-hour. Visitors can download a mobile card on their mobile phone, or get the physical card shipped before their trips. Show your card at the entrance to have free access and skip the line benefits. However, I recommend downloading the card to your phone because there’s one less thin that you have to worry about, and you also save the shipping costs from €8 to €12, depending on your location.
Helsinki Card highlights For museum-goers, it’s a quick and easy way to explore Helsinki without any hassle. The card offers free entry to more than 30 top Helsinki attractions and guided tours. In particular, this card includes free public transportation in the city, the Suomenlinna ferry, discounted prices on the airport shuttle, and cruises to Tallinn and Saint Petersburg!
Prices: 1-day pass (24-hour) (€44), 2-day pass (48-hour) (€52), 3-day pass(72-hour) (€59)
As you can see the saving is so much more when you have the card for 72-hour because it’s only €20 per day as compared to the 1-day pass which costs €44; that’s why I have designed a 4-day itinerary in Helsinki’s winter so you could make the most of this card with its great value. Besides, there is the option of topping it with free city transportation (€51/€63/€69 in total). I would also suggest you get it because if it gets too cold that you probably don’t want to travel from one place to another on foot (all the time), and at this point, it is really about the city travel pass that saves the hassle of you buying tickets at every stop.
Get your Helsinki Card here.
The top 10 Attractions include Suomenlinna Sea Fortress (That saves you €38 for just this one!), National Museum of Finland, Beautiful Canal Route Cruise (May to September), Temppeliaukion Church (Rock Church), Sea Life Helsinki, Finnish Nature Centre Haltia, Ateneum Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, HAM Helsinki Art Museum, and Exhibition Centre WeeGee.
One more piece of advice, the museum opening hours are shorter during wintertime, so check their opening hours, plot your route wisely and list out locations that open in the evening; then do not go there during the day. Visit those places in the evening so you could visit as many as places you can with the card.
Helsinki City Museum
The Helsinki City Museum focuses on and explores the city’s history and culture – with art & photography, plus some temporary exhibitions. The museum is 2-story high and very modern and simple. Why go there? Because of the location and free access. The museum is located down the street from the bustling Senate Square to the waterfront; it took me some time to find the museum entrance, though. The museum shop sells a lot of city albums and postcards. I got a few nice postcards for free. 🙂
The design museum is a major national specialist museum of Finnish Design. The Finnish style and design aesthetics are world recognized and are rooted in its simplistic, modern, and clean elements. Helsinki was also named the World Design Capital in 2012. Founded in 1873, the Design Museum is one of the oldest design museums in the world, a celebration of Finnish design in different aspects, and a tribute to a century of Finland’s independence.
The museum is separated into two floors – the ground floor is a permanent exhibition of its selected 75,000 art objects, 45,000 drawings, and 125,000 photographs from its impressive collections, made by over 1,000 different designers. The hall featured a range of pieces like furniture, tableware, appliances, fashion, accessories, and interior decor.
The second floor is a temporary exhibition of talented designers – one of them that I saw was a Danish designer Henrik Vibskov, showcasing his installation art with fashion, fabric, and massive pieces.
The museum is located in the Design District of Helsinki, in close proximity to St John’s Church, the Museum of Finnish Architecture, and the Mannerheim Museum.
Museum of Finnish Architecture
It is a few-story high townhouse right behind the Design Museum. Each floor’s exhibition focuses on the different disciplines of Finland’s architecture since the 1900s, with other temporary exhibitions.
National Museum of Finland
Welcome to one of the most important national museums in the country which itself is an iconic landmark in the Helsinki city center. The museum presents a rich demonstration of Finnish history from the ancient times in the Stone Age to the present day.
The museum is divided into 6 parts. In particular, the Story of Finland and Prehistory are some of the most interesting showcases as they take visitors on a journey about the development of Finland. The third part of the permanent exhibition is newly opened and focuses on the history of Finland from the Middle Ages up until the country’s first steps towards independence.
Do not miss the Kalevala cupola fresco painted by Akseli Gallen-Kallela at the hall; The most impressive exhibition to me was the Jakkarila Manor drawing-room in 18th-century French Rococo style with fixed furnishing, wall coverings, ceiling paintings, doors, and panels brought to the museum from different locations. It has shown the life of the upper class after the Great Northern War.
Another memorable exhibit to me was the Throne room, which presents the throne of the Emperors of Finland, brought from Moscow, in the era of the 19th century. At the end of the route, the showrooms showcased the post-war development of Finland in a timeline of decades from the 40s to the 2000s.
It is not exactly an art museum but a new modern architecture that worth visiting. The library opens in 2018 and it took 20 years to build. It was a project celebrating Finland’s 100th anniversary, and it’s so much more than a library. It also features cafes, band room, classrooms, and video games – just like a multi-function community center. The entire space has over 100,000 books, and sofa, and tables for studying. It excels in its design with a glass exterios that welcome natural light, and it has the equipment and tools for citizen to work on their DIY products, from garments, 3D printing, lab work, to heavy-duty equipments. Here, Oodi truly embrace education and learning from a hands-on experience.
HAM Helsinki Art Museum (Tennis Palace)
Unluckily the Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) was closed for the installation of arts during my visit – this is a museum venue that doesn’t have a permanent exhibition, but temporary art exhibitions in the modern eras and the showpieces are displayed all over Helsinki.
HAM’s collection includes over 9,000 artworks exhibited in parks, streets, offices, health centers, libraries… HAM is a unique museum collecting art that truly belongs to the city’s people. The flagship location is located on the second floor of an entertainment center Tennis Palace in the heart of Helsinki, next to the tram Kamppi station. Tennispalatsi was a structure built for the Olympics and is now turned into a multifunctional complex with theaters, shops, and museums.
Ateneum Art Museum
The Ateneum is where the classics are – it’s the Finnish National Gallery just a stone’s throw away from Helsinki’s train station. Ateneum has been founded in the same building since the year of 1888. Over the years, this historic building houses an abundance of classical European arts from the 1750s to the modern age. The Stories of Finnish Art collections exhibition showcases art pieces created by Finnish and international artists. On top of that, it has temporary exhibitions that feature artists of specific celebrity artists or genres, workshops, lectures, guided tours, and clubs, too.
The star paintings in the museum include The Convalescent by Helene Schjerfbeck (1888), The Wounded Angel by Hugo Simberg (1903), and Under the Yoke (Burning the Brushwood) by Eero Järnefelt (1893). However, photography within the museum is not allowed.
After the walk in the museum, warm up with a cup of coffee in Ateneum Bistro, but it could get quite crowded sometimes. 😛
Museum of Comp Art Kiasma
Lastly, and it should be one of my favorites, obviously the contemporary art museum – Kiasma.
The art museum is on the other side and a short walk away from the train station. The long, narrow building features modern art paintings, sculptures, illustrations, and massive installation exhibits.
The name Kiasma is derived from the word “chiasma”, referring to the X-shaped structure formed at the point below the brain where the two optic nerves cross over each other. In other words, the purpose of the museum is to stimulate your vision – no wonder it had gained much controversy since the site was opened. The museum opened at a time when the country faced economic instability, and it was granted to an American architect Steven Holl. On top of that, the location of it is right in front of the Marsalkka statue. Having said that, the museum hosted a number of major exhibitions, including American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto, making it jump to the top as a must-see in Helsinki, with over 300,000 visitors a year.
Kiasma is one of those museums that close the latest at 8:30 pm from Wed to Fri, so save it as the finale of your day trip 🙂
The museum opened in 2018 and it’s named after publisher and arts patron Amos Anderson in Helsinki. While the museum is new, it rapidly reached international popularity, attracting more than 10,000 visitors in a matter of weeks. The museum was chosen by the BBC as one of Europe’s most innovative new architectural spaces for 2018. Why it is innovative? Because the original site was a glass plaza Lasipalatsi, and therefore no new buildings can be done on the ground floor, but on top of it. The architect JKMM, therefore, came up with the idea to create five uniquely cone-shaped windows, leading to the museum underground. The windows became a popular Instagram spot, and the museum showcases contemporary artworks from the 20th and 21st centuries.
One travel tip for budget travelers: Museum cafés! Many of them are good value with a nice view, food, and environment. For example, I had lunch at the Helsinki National Museum café which was a lunch buffet. For 10 Euros or so they served soup and bread, salad bar, 2 main dishes of choice (beef stew and fish), and unlimited coffee (with paper cups to take away). I reckon it a much better deal than having a sandwich at the same price (or more) in the city…
Other Museums that offer free entry with Helsinki Card
- Finnish Nature Centre Haltia
- Hotel and Restaurant Museum
- Mannerheim Museum
- Villa Hakasalmi
- The Finnish Museum of Photography
- Museum of Technology
- Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
- Sinebrychoff Art Museum
- Theatre Museum
- Ehrensvärd Museum
- Suomenlinna Museum
- The Finnish Museum of Photography K1