Architecture of Helsinki: seven designs that define the city
From Neoclassical symmetry to Art Nouveau charm and contemporary elegance, Finnair’s home base offers a lot for fans of architecture. These are our seven top picks.
Helsinki Central Railway Station: a monument to an independent nation
The central railway station is the place to start your architecture tour of the city. All trains from the airport arrive here in just 30 minutes.
Completed in 1919 – shortly after Finland gained independence – the station is representative of the National Romantic style of architecture. Its granite façade is carved with motifs and symbolic elements from Finnish folklore. The main entrance is guarded by two iconic statues.
The station was designed by renowned Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen. His son Eero would continue the family’s architectural tradition, designing the TWA Flight Center at New York’s JFK Airport and Terminal 1 at O’Hare Airport in Chicago.
Helsinki Cathedral: the jewel in the crown of architect Carl Ludvig Engel
Towering above Senate Square, our capital city’s cathedral is a neoclassical masterpiece completed in 1852. Grand columns, high ceilings and symmetrical proportions evoke the spirit of classical Greek and Roman architecture. Its iconic white exterior is adorned by copper domes weathered to a distinctive green.
The cathedral and many of the buildings around it – including the Government Palace and the National Library of Finland – were designed by prolific German architect Carl Ludvig Engel. Working in the service of the Russian Imperial Court for more than 30 years, Engel fundamentally shaped neoclassical Helsinki.
Huvilakatu: bringing Art Nouveau to life in full colour
The neighbourhoods of Eira and Ullanlinna are a must for lovers of Art Nouveau architecture. At their intersection is one of the prettiest streets in the city: Huvilakatu. It’s lined by a row of colourful houses built in the style known locally as Jugend. Painted in blue, green, orange, pink and yellow, Huvilakatu is a cheerful showcase of Europe’s Belle Époque.
Explore the lanes around the houses and head into Eira to see some of Helsinki’s most beautiful Jugend properties. Then catch tram 3 from Eira Hospital, an iconic building designed by architect Lars Sonck in 1905.
Temppeliaukio Church: a place of worship carved into solid rock
Completed in 1969 and designed by brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, the “Rock Church” is a remarkable feat of architecture and engineering. It’s built directly into the granite bedrock that Helsinki lies upon.
The excavated interior of the church is surrounded by the original rugged stone. A magnificent copper dome covers the roof. Together these elements create exceptional acoustics, making Temppeliaukio a popular venue for musical performances.
The church is one of Helsinki’s top tourist attractions. Located in the neighbourhood of Töölö, it’s within easy walking distance of the city centre.
National Museum of Finland: where Romanticism meets Art Nouveau
Also in Töölö, the National Museum blends elements of both Finnish National Romanticism and Jugend (Art Nouveau). It was designed in collaboration between three Finnish architects: Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren and Eliel Saarinen. Construction was completed in 1910.
Combining red brick, bare granite and painted surfaces, the museum perfectly straddles the two eras of architecture. It achieves the impossible, by being both delicate and imposing at the same time. The Jugend-inspired turrets and spires come together with intricate patterns and symbolic motifs. High ceilings create spacious galleries, with natural light flowing in through beautiful stained-glass windows.
Parliament House: a classical landmark of Finnish democracy
Designed by architect Johan Sigfrid Sirén and completed in 1931, the Finnish parliament building projects all the grandeur of Classicism.
A wide flight of granite stairs leads up to a front façade of 14 granite Corinthian columns, symmetrically arranged seven each side of the main entrance. The parliament chamber itself is a semi-circular design, for optimal acoustics and visibility. Intricate woodwork and decorative motifs depict themes of democracy and Finnish history.
The building is open to the public and visitors can observe plenary sessions or join a free 45-minute guided tour. Conditions apply, so please check here for details.
Oodi Central Library: a modern form for a timeless function
From the steps of the parliament building, you can see the flowing timber façade of Oodi behind Helsinki’s Kansalaistori (Citizens’ Square). Designed by ALA Architects, the city’s new central library opened its doors to the public at the end of 2018.
Oodi is much more than a library – it’s also a meeting place and a cultural centre. Facilities include a theatre, recording studios, a rooftop terrace and a children’s area. Thanks to the extensive use of glass, natural light flows into Oodi’s interior spaces to create a feeling of openness throughout the three-level structure.