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Finnish architecture icons of Helsinki
3 minute read
people on a terrace, skating and cycling in an urban setting

Credits:: Tuomas Uusiheimo

Here are three must-see architecture sites in downtown Helsinki

Helsinki is a world-renowned destination for design aficionados looking for functional and minimalistic Nordic architecture – both old and new.  

The city has plenty of architecture sights for spotting and many of the most iconic buildings are located next to each other, making it easy to explore the capital by foot

Finnish architecture in the Töölönlahti area

The Töölönlahti area has one of the largest selections of iconic architecture in Helsinki.  

Finlandia Hall (1974), designed by celebrated Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, is a true Helsinki landmark. The white marble-clad concert and conference building is impressive down to the smallest details. Right next to Finlandia Hall is the Parliament House (1931), the sturdy and classic symbol of Finnish democracy. If you’re looking for something more underground – quite literally – head to the nearby Temppeliaukio Rock Church (1969). With close to 1 million annual visitors, this subterranean church mustn’t be missed. 

Steps away from the Parliament House are the Oodi Library (2018), Musiikkitalo Concert Hall (2011) and Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma (1998) – icons of modern Finnish architecture. Although these buildings were designed by different architects and completed at different times, their elegant, glass-dominated structures have a cohesive feel. 

A short walk to the other side of Töölönlahti will bring you to the Olympic Stadium (1938). For fans of functionalist architecture of the early 20th century, the recently renovated – and arguably one of the most striking Olympic Stadiums in the world – is a must-see. 

Modern library building built from wood and glass
Oodi Library has become one of the most well-known examples of Finland’s modern architecture.
Credits: : Tuomas Uusiheimo
Interior of a modern church
Temppeliaukio Rock Church is a subterranean church built inside natural bedrock.
Credits:: Jussi Hellsten
Exterior shot of a white modern building against the blue sky
Finlandia Hall, clad in Carrara marble, is one of the most iconic buildings designed by Alvar Aalto.
Credits: Pete Laakso

Architecture marvels near the Senate Square 

A historically significant area for Finnish architecture is the Senate Square.  

The Square, which is Helsinki’s Neoclassical architectural gem, is dominated by four buildings designed by Carl Ludvig Engel (1778-1840): the Helsinki Cathedral (1852), which is the icon of the city; the Government Palace (1822); the main building of the University of Helsinki (1832); the National Library of Finland (1840). The ornate Uspenski Cathedral (1868) – the largest orthodox church in Western Europe – is also nearby.  

Once you’ve soaked up some architecture, grab a bite to eat or a drink from one of the cafés and restaurants tucked away in the quaint alleyways of Torikorttelit – a buzzing complex of little streets in front of the Senate Square.

an aerial view of the Helsinki Cathedral in the capital of Finland
Helsinki Cathedral is undoubtedly the most iconic and well-known building in Finland.
Credits: Lauri Rotko / Helsinki Marketing
Shop window from the inside
Credits: : Olli Oilinki
Red brick buildings and church by the water
Uspenski Cathedral, the largest Orthodox church in western Europe, is visited by half a million visitors annually.
Credits:: Julia Kivelä

Finnish architecture and art around the Central Railway Station 

At the heart of Helsinki lies the famous and mythical stone giants guarding the main doors of the Central Railway Station (1919). This iconic station, designed by Eliel Saarinen, represents the Finnish National Romantic style with a modern twist. To experience the interior in full detail, stay in the Scandic Grand Central hotel – they’ve created a neat DIY architecture tour for hotel guests. 

Across the street from the station is the Neo-Renaissance-style Ateneum Art Museum (1887). Ateneum is the home of Finnish art and part of the Finnish National Gallery, with a collection that includes more than 20,000 national treasures. 

No architecture tour is complete without a visit to the new Amos Rex Art Museum (2018), located in the Lasipalatsi (1936) complex and just a stone’s throw away from the Central Railway Station. Lasipalatsi, the Glass Palace, is another icon of Finnish Functional design. Located at the Lasipalatsi Square and under the famous pillar-shaped skylights, Amos Rex offers a variety of modern art exhibitions.  

If silence is more your cup of tea, don’t miss the nest-like wooden Kamppi Chapel of Silence (2012), just a few steps away from Lasipalatsi. The non-denominational chapel is open to all; its interior, with soft natural lighting, offers an intimate place for a moment of meditation.

White building with neon signs
Lasipalatsi, the Glass Palace, is a gem of the Functionalistic Era and dates back to the 1930s.
Credits: : Tuomas Uusiheimo
art museum staircase and interior
Ateneum has been home to Finland’s art since 1888. Many of the country’s most well-known artists have also studied in the building, which housed an art school until the 1980s.
Credits:: Aleksi Poutanen