The Cathedral is the most iconic building in Helsinki. The cathedral was designed by C.L. Engel and built in the 1830’s and 1840’s. It stands proud on a hill overlooking the Senate Square and the busy streets of downtown Helsinki. The cathedral layout was originally the shape of a Greek cross, making it very slender and tall-looking. Architects in Engel’s time would joke about the thin church and make bets about it falling over in the wind. After Engel’s death the towers in the intermediate directions were built, to make sure the cathedral would be strong enough. Also the 12 apostle statues, made of zinc, were added at this point.
The church benches were upholstered in the 1960’s and the material is still in mint condition: no fading, no wearing out and no signs of the 50+ years of being sat on. What is this magic fabric made of? It is made of the hair of Polish horses! The look and feel resemble vinyl or a safety belt.
Melkki is a closed, military owned island in the archipelago of Helsinki. The island of Melkki is pretty close by, one kilometer south of the island of Lauttasaari and five kilometers southwest of the Market Square.
In the 1830’s Melkki was bought by a mr. Benedikt Brenner, a wealthy merchant and shipowner, who lived on the island with his large family until his death. In the 1880’s Melkki was expropriated for military use and it served as a part of the Suomenlinna fortress. Since the 1950’s it has mostly been in recreational use of military personnel. There are dozens of small summer cottages spread throughout the island.
The name “Melkki” most probably derives from the Swedish word for ‘milk’, ‘mjölk’. The island has its fair share of white sandy beaches (by Finnish standards at least!) so the name seems quite appropriate.
The Commandant’s House is a well air-conditioned building on the island of Vasikkasaari. It faces panoramic views of the Helsinki skyline and Suomenlinna fortress. Built in 1870, it used to be the home and guardhouse of Russian soldiers. It is also called the “White House” but obviously most of the plastering is gone. The ruins of an ice cellar is also worth a look. There is a boat connection during the summer season from the market square. In addition to the “White House”, check out old oil containers, a light house and charming summer cottages.
Bunkkeri, the concrete giant of Jätkäsaari, was built in 1972 for harbor storage purposes. It’s the size of a football field, a massive construction from the inside and outside. It was out-dated from the start and was never fully used in the following decades. Since the harbor functions moved to Vuosaari in 2008, Bunkkeri is now waiting for new life in the form of possibly a swimming hall, sports facilities and residential development.
In the basement of former toothpaste factory, current office building, there’s a secret room concealed with a bookcase. Behind the bookcase there’s a tiny room with mirrors on the ceiling. The room was a speakeasy at some point, possibly up until the early 2000’s. The factory was built in 1928.
A little detour off the southern-most tip of Lauttasaari island is totally worth it – and worth getting your feet wet. The small island of Sisä-Hattu (i.e. “Inner Hat”, big sister to nearby “Outer Hat”) is best accessible at low tide and a fun picnic / swimming spot. Take your flip-flops or swimming shoes, you’ll need wade through a rocky route. Look for some engraved rocks dating back to as early as the 1700’s.
Lammassaari is a small island in a natural reserve in Helsinki. Accessible by duckboards from the mainland its an exciting day trip destination. Check out the “piilokoju” a hidden bird lookout spot in the middle of the reeds.