Helsinki’s churches have become symbolic of the city and are worth a visit. The bold white Lutheran Cathedral with its magnificent green domes steals the show in Senate Square with its imposing architecture and sculptures of the twelve apostles guarding over the city from the roof. The Church in the Rock is interesting for its origin of being literally carved out of solid rock. The roof is made from 22kms of copper strips and the excellent acoustics make it a popular venue for concerts. The Uspenski Cathedral is the largest Orthodox church in western Europe with lovely traditional onion-domes capped with 22-carat gold.
Pihlajasaari, on the more easterly of the two islands in Southern Helsinki, near Kaivopuisto, 3 km from downtown; mostly men naturist beach is to the east across bridge from where boats dock. Also with cafe kiosk, weekend camping facilities, cooking shelters, and self-service wood-fire saunas. For schedule and fares of boat service to the island, see JT-Line.
Seurasaari nudist beach in tranquil rural area, naturalist since the 1920s and clothing-optional in two separate areas segregated by gender. New summer 2013 rules that call for a unisex beach on Wednesdays and Sundays, with swim suits required, are being contested by regulars, especially women for whom this has long been a sanctuary.
Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall, indoor pool, impressive restored architecture of 1920s classicism. Separate entry times for women and men, swimming allowed with or without suit. Facilities include: cabins with bed, towel, bathrobe, seat cover, large pool, steam sauna, electric sauna, wood-heated sauna, ozone purification.
Helsinki hosted the 1952 Summer Olympics and its Olympic Stadium is a cherished memento of that event. The stadium contains a Museum of Sport and a makeshift waterpark, the Uimastadion, with a Olympic-sized pools and waterslides. The 72-meter-high Olympic Tower is worth the climb for fantastic views over the city.
Pihlajasaari is two islands connected by a bridge off the Port of Helsinki, reached by commuter boat from Kaivopuisto every couple of hours. One of the two has large beaches for swimming and sunbathing; also The Ravintola Restaurant (with home-smoked Salmon and fresh doughnuts), and bar, in an old villa here.
The other island, to the east, has a camping area, saunas, and a nudist beach, one of only two in the entire country (the other is in Pori). The nude beach, with little sand, is not good for swimming, but has a gay section that can be as cruisy as you want on sunny days.
Ferries to Pihlajasaari leave daily from Merisatama behind Cafe Carusel between mid-May and late August, and from Ruoholahti mid-June to mid-August. Bus numbers 14, 18 and 24, plus tram numbers 1A and 3, take you almost all the way to Merisatama. Metro trains, tram number 8 and bus numbers 20, 21V, 65A and 66A will get you to Ruoholahti.
Saunas are an incredibly important part of Finnish culture, where people meet and discuss the issues of the day while relaxing their bodies and sweating out the stress. Public saunas typically offer separate facilities or days for women and men and may offer additional facilities like pools or gyms, or washing and massage services. Bathing suits are usually optional, but uncommon.
The top draw in Helsinki is the impressive Suomenlinna Fortress, built by the Swedish in the mid-1700s as a so-called “Gibraltar of the North” to protect the country’s eastern flank from the Russian Empire. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired to weaken the Swedish army from within and when the Russians attacked in 1808, the Swedes retreated without a fight. The fortress was ceded whole to Russia along with the rest of Finland. Two centuries later, the island fortress still stands and its catacombs, cast iron cannons, and defensive walls are a monument to European defensive architecture. The huge complex also includes theatres, restaurants and cafes, and is a popular lookout point over the city and the sea. Guided tours are available and there’s also a Suomenlinna Museum to give added context.