After a short stay in Turku, I arrived by train in Helsinki. I must admit, the mental image I had of the Finnish capital was rather dark. Helsinki is one of the most northerly capitals (after Reykjavik in Iceland), so I imagined a city with a gloomy, dull and uninteresting climate. In fact, I almost decided to skip over Helsinki completely and head to Lapland instead.
But in the end, even if the weather was indeed gloomy during the three days I spent in Helsinki, the capital charmed me. There are green spaces everywhere and the architecture is surprising. Helsinki is so different from its Nordic cousins Stockholm and Copenhagen. In some places, the Russian influence is much more felt than the Scandinavian influence (although a good majority of signs and directions in public transport are in Swedish in addition to Finnish).
And to give you a little idea of the architectural beauty of Helsinki, here are three churches that are worth visiting and that can give a good idea of the various architectural influences of the Finnish capital.
The Lutheran Cathedral
It is the most famous and probably the most emblematic of Helsinki. The magnificent Lutheran cathedral overlooks the Senate Square in the center of the city. If you arrive by sea in Helsinki, the white stone building with a green dome will certainly catch your eye.
The photographs do not do justice to this magnificent church. The construction of the cathedral began in 1830 and it was a tribute to Tsar Nicholas of Russia (the cathedral was called St. Nicholas Church until the independence of Finland in 1917).
It is possible to visit the church for free, although the interior is very simple and sober, in the Lutheran tradition. If you have the time and weather permitting, I also advise you to stop in a cafe around the square, to observe the many tourists who stop to take the beautiful building in photo.
The Orthodox Cathedral
Ouspenski Cathedral is located a few blocks from the Lutheran Cathedral and is also located on a hill and therefore very visible when you arrive in Helsinki by the sea. Built between 1862 and 1868, the cathedral is part of the Finnish Orthodox Church. It is apparently the largest orthodox church in Western Europe.
The exterior is impressive, and the interior is beautiful. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, there are many icons of saints in front of which the faithful come to collect themselves. Like the Lutheran cathedral, it costs nothing to visit it, but visitors are being asked to respect the silence and the atmosphere of meditation of the place.
Visiting an Orthodox Church is always a special experience when you are not used to it. There are chairs lined up along the wall near the entrance. Sit back and take the time to scrutinize the many details of the interior design.
The Church of the Rock
The Temppeliaukio church (or the Church of the Rock) is a Lutheran church with a particular architecture. It was built (and dug) directly into the rock. From the outside, it looks rather strange (it looks as if a huge spaceship landed in the Töölö district of Helsinki) but the interior is quite impressive (although here too, the decoration is rather sober). Built in 1969, the church is a fine example of the architectural expressionism of the 1960s.
As for the other two churches, it is also possible to visit it for free and like the other two churches, it is also one of Helsinki’s most popular attractions.
The Temppeliaukio church is located a short distance from the other two. The trip between the three churches is a good walk and at the same time offers a great opportunity to discover Helsinki!