There’s always something to catch your eye in Helsinki, Finland — it’s as if the city was designed that way. You’ll be amazed at architectural wonders like Temppeliaukio Church, fashioned from rock, and the design temples that line Esplanadi. And no matter what you do when you visit Helsinki, don’t overlook the humble sauna, a sacred place for most Finns.
A sweat bath, or sauna, is a staple of Finnish life—as indispensable as rye bread. In Helsinki, you’re just as likely to find a sauna at the bowling alley as at your hotel.
The sauna has been around for about 2,000 years and used for everything from curing meat to giving birth. The sauna was once a place of magic and superstition, mostly to do with healing and love. Nowadays the sauna is about socializing, cleanliness and well-being. A sauna is relaxing, exhilarating and, above all, fun.
Whether you finish off with a roll in the snow or a dip in an icy lake, the sauna ritual is always the same: sweat, whisk (slap yourself with birch twigs), wash and cool off.
Public saunas are slowly dying out, but you’ll find the last of the wood burners at Kotiharju Sauna. Another hidden gem is Yrjönkadun Uimahalli, a 1920s art deco bathhouse in the heart of Helsinki.
Hewn from solid rock, Temppeliaukio Church is a wonder of modern architecture and a place of worship for churchgoers and design aficionados alike. The church is often used for classical concerts in Helsinki because of the quality of its acoustics.
Designed by the architects Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, Temppeliaukio Church opened in 1969. Natural light streams through the copper cupola ringed by skylights. The interior of Temppeliaukio Church is cool and sparse, with few pews and a plain granite altar—reflecting the stark simplicity characteristics of Lutheranism. From above, Temppeliaukio Church looks like a flying saucer sunk in rugged rock.
Temppeliaukio Church is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Helsinki, with half a million visitors annually.
Running from Market Square all the way to the Swedish Theater, Esplanadi is a boulevard to match any in Paris. But it’s not only the upmarket stores lining Esplanadi that keep people flocking. The two avenues that make up Esplanadi flank one of the liveliest parks in Helsinki.
Esplanadi is a favorite with Helsinki locals and visitors alike as a place to see and be seen—or just to take it easy. Whether you’re waiting to be seated at Kappeli or ticking off sculptures dedicated to prominent poets and writers like Johan Ludwig Runeberg, Eino Leino or Zacharias Topelius, Esplanadi Park is a must stroll.
Of course, Esplanadi is also a must for designer buildings in Helsinki like the Hotel Kämp, a neoclassical landmark, and the Alvar Aalto-designed Academic Bookstore. Fans of Finnish design have to check out the Ittala Concept Store and Artek and Marimekko flagship stores, too.