Helsinki is packed with cultural attractions for travellers to explore and enjoy! In this post we look at some of the capital’s most impressive museums and the exhibitions showing this summer and autumn 2021, as well as some other cultural attractions close enough to Helsinki to enjoy on a day trip or stop-over.
National Museum of Finland
The National Museum of Finland presents the history of Finnish life from prehistoric times to the present through three permanent exhibitions and changing temporary exhibitions. All three permanent exhibitions have been renewed, these are: Prehistory – taking visitors back in time to experience living prehistory, building connections that extend all the way to modern times; Story of Finland – telling the tale of Finland’s independent years in a touching way that will tug at the heartstrings of both Finns and visitors; Otherland – this exhibition depicts an era when Finland did not yet exist as a nation, describing how the idea of being Finnish was born and was constructed, and shows the region’s international and diverse past from the 11th century through the times of Swedish and Russian rule up to the early days of Finland’s independence.
The temporary exhibition showing until September 5th is “Father and Son – Photographs by Sami Parkkinen”, the story of a son’s growth that emphasises the sensitivity and creativity of a child and the pride of a father, connected to melancholy over the fleeting nature of childhood. Entry is free for those under 18 years.
One of Helsinki’s best loved family attractions is Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, which offers visitors to experience the history of rural Finland in miniature. Located on a secluded island not far from the city centre, Seurasaari comprises numerous buildings that have been carefully transplanted from other parts of the country – smoke cabins, crofts, manors, a church and windmill, and a renovated parsonage and its garden. There are guided tours available – from June 15th to August 31st tours in English are organised every day at 3 pm. Tours in Finnish and Swedish start at 1 pm. Seurasaari Open-Air Museum’s guided tours explore life in the 19th century Finnish countryside and traditional Finnish architecture. Guided tours include the entrance ticket price, and no reservations are needed. Seurasaari is particularly popular for picnics, with numerous areas available, and there is also a museum café and souvenir shop.
Tamminiemi – Home of President
Close to the entrance of Seurasaari stands the impressive Jugendstil villa of Tamminiemi – Home of Presidents, where three famous Finnish presidents have lived: Ryti, Mannerheim and Kekkonen. Tamminiemi is furnished the way it was in Kekkonen’s time in the 1970’s. The guided tours tell about the three presidents and Finland’s post-war history.
For those interested in Finland’s political past, the museum offers insights into the country’s most famous president, who resided here during his period in office between 1956 and 198. At Café Adjutant visitors can enjoy an unhurried lunch or coffee by the sea.
Ateneum Museum of Art
Located in the city centre opposite the railway square, the Ateneum is one of the three museums forming the Finnish National Gallery, and is Finland’s best-known art museum. The Ateneum collections include Finnish art extensively from 18th-century rococo portraiture to the experimental art movements of the 20th century, and also include some 650 international works of art.
Currently showing, Stories of Finnish Art illustrates the development of art in Finland from 1809 until the 1970s, juxtaposing the story of Finnish art with international developments in art and contemporary social events. However the real star this summer is the Ateneum’s long-awaited exhibition of Russian master Ilya Repin, which presents some of his most famous historical paintings and portraits of major cultural figures of his time, as well as his works from the Ateneum collection. Considered a master of psychological portrayals of people and depictions of Russian folklife, the Repin exhibition features his best-known paintings with masterful details, including Barge Haulers on the Volga and Zaporozhian Cossacks Writing a Mocking Letter to the Turkish Sultan. This is the first review of Repin’s entire career in Finland in the 21st century, and features over 140 paintings and paper-based works spanning a period of more than sixty years, many shown in Helsinki for the first time.
Situated opposite Hietalahti Market on Helsinki’s leafy Bulevardi, Sinebrychoff Art Museum specialises in old European art from the 14th century until the 1850s. The building was once home to Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff family, and today the ground floor of the stately mansion is devoted to changing temporary exhibitions. Currently showing, the “Collectors on Tour” exhibition presents treasures from the collections of Otto Wilhelm Klinckowström, Hjalmar Linder, Herman Antell, and Ester and Jalo Sihtola, among others. The works represent a period spanning the 15th to the 19th centuries, and features art by Lucas Cranach, Jacopo Bassano, Rembrandt van Rijn, Gerard ter Borch, and many others. As 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the 1921 donation of Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff’s collection, highlights from that also feature in the exhibition.
Sinebrychoff Art Museum also features the unique home museum on the 2nd floor, styled in the fashion of European collectors, filled with carefully hung paintings, art objects, porcelain, silver, and furniture. It is currently being renovated and closed until November 2021, but much of the collection has been moved to the Red Cellar in an exhibition developed along the themes of travel and art collection.
A relative newcomer to Helsinki’s cultural landscape, the Amos Rex museum opened in August 2018. Built underground, the museum has become a landmark thanks to its iconic domes and skylights that occupy Lasipalatsi Square above, structures that can be used for picnics, sunbathing, climbing, and even skateboarding – this is a museum you can jump on!
Showing until September 5th, the “Between us” exhibition brings work by three artists to spaces beyond Amos Rex’s exhibition halls into areas that have not so far been used for exhibitions. The invited artists, Karoliina Hellberg, Tero Kuitunen and Raimo Saarinen, created these works specifically in dialogue with each other and with the museum’s spaces. The “Blick” exhibition is a collaboration between visual artist Raija Malka and composer Kaija Saariaho, and is painterly, spatial and musical all at once, offering visitors an opportunity to shape the space with their own creativity. The exhibition is a multisensory experience that invites you to stay. In a world made up of the colours and sounds of Malka and Saariaho, visitors can build their own arrangements.
Bio Rex was one of the city’s biggest and most modern cinemas when it was completed in 1936, and now thanks to its extensive renovations regular cinema screenings are returning to the lovingly and meticulously restored cinema and its foyers. Entry to the museum is free for those 18 and under, entry for students and under 30 yrs is 5€, and museum card are accepted. A virtual guide for between one and 35 people can also be reserved.
Didrichsen Art Museum
Located on the island of Kuusisaari, which connects Helsinki and Espoo, this delightful private museum is a unique combination of an art museum and private villa by the sea. Didrichsen Art Museum has attracted visitors from around the world for over half a century, charmed by its excellent exhibitions, modern Finnish architecture, and beautiful island location. It is surrounded by a public sculpture park, the only one in the Helsinki metropolitan area, which was completely renewed between 2013 and 2014, and which can be explored freely at all times.
There are two excellent exhibitions to enjoy at Didrichsen Art Museum this summer. “To paint is to be” presents the background and artistic influences of the multitalented visual artist, illustrator and writer Tove Jansson. In addition, the “Didrichsen 55 Jubilee” exhibition shows many popular works, including works by Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky and Helene Schjerfbeck, and also features what is believed to be Finland’s only painting by Mark Rothko.
Day Trips & Cultural Experiences Beyond Helsinki
Serlachius Museums: Art Museum Gösta and Museum Gustaf
Located a little over 3 hours north of Helsinki, and about halfway between the cities of Tampere and Jyväskylä, amid some Finland’s finest Lakeland scenery, lies the small town of Mänttä. Although small, Mänttä is home to two of Finland’s finest international art museums, Gösta Serlachius Museum of Art and Serlachius Museum Gustaf, which are home to one of the largest and most important private art collections in the Nordics. The museums are idyllically situated in lakeside parklands, Gösta looks out over Lake Melasjärvi, while Gustaf is beside Koskenlampi Bay, and it is these natural surroundings that make a day trip to Mänttä the perfect way to blend cultural and nature-based experiences.
This summer’s big hit will no doubt be the “Banksy – A Visual Protest” exhibition, but there are seldom less than seven exhibitions running at any time – at least three contemporary art exhibitions, a fine art exhibition from the classics in the collection, and the three historical installations in Serlachius Gustaf. There are numerous guided tours available, not just to the exhibitions or through the manor houses, but also a range of nature walks, and tours of the town’s historic sites. As an added bonus, Restaurant Gösta is open all year, with the award-winning chef Henry Tikkanen serving natural and simple flavours from local, high-quality, and seasonal ingredient.
Lake Tuusula – Tuusulanjärvi
Nearby Lake Tuusula, with its unique mix of cultural sites and wonderful scenery, was our chosen destination, with the added benefit of being less than an hour away from Helsinki centre. Lake Tuusula is 8 km long with an area of around 6 square km, providing visitors with an excellent opportunity to experience the nature of southern Finland.
Lake Tuusula is famed for having once been home to one of Finland’s most prestigious group of artists, and the homes they once lived in still dot the lakeside paths, providing visitors with a chance to step back in time to the Golden Age of Finnish Art. The lake itself is circumscribed by a fine cycling and hiking path, which is ideal for exploring the abundant natural beauty of the area, while taking in the fresh air and sun.
Visitors exploring Lake Tuusula’s rich cultural heritage can begin at the Järvenpää Art Museum, which houses a collection of colourful landscapes and depictions of everyday life by Eero Järnefelt and Venny Soldan-Brofeld. From there continue to Ahola, the home museum of painter Venny Soldan-Brofeld and her husband, writer Juhani Aho. Close by is the charming Ainola, home to the great composer Jean Sibelius and his family from 1904. Further along is Suviranta, the former studio residence of Eero Järnefelt, one of Finland’s most lauded artists, and whose sister, Aino, was married to Sibelius.
Continuing along the lakeside road visitors arrive at the log-built Halosenniemi, built in the Finnish national romantic style. The wilderness studio of the painter Pekka Halonen, hosting the works of Halonen and other well known painters. Nearby Erkkola is a charming wooden villa that was once home to the poet J.H. Erkko, a central cultural figure in late 19th century Finland. The final stop is the Aleksis Kivi memorial cottage, where the national writer spent his final months in the care of his brother’s family. A significant Finnish national monument, this modest cottage is a reminder of how the Tuusula Lake Road looked before the arrival of the artistic community.