#21: Take a deep breath in a mental hospital from 1841.

All year, Coffee/Tea, Culture, Darkness, Helsinki, History, Housing, Indoors, Parks, Spooky, Walk

Within a stone’s throw from the heart of Helsinki (by which I’m referring to Kamppi, sadly) you can find Helsinki’s asylum. A rather unique place, and recently an exceptionally busy one.

Lapinlahden mielisairaala (Lapinlahti mental hospital) is located next to the Hietaniemi cemetery, about 800m from Kamppi and 500m from Ruoholahti.

When I first visited the area in 2014 I was thrilled. The area stood abandoned and frequented by occasional dogwalkers, bike commuters and the misfortunate and looked like this:

Lapinlahden_sairaalan_portti.jpg(source: Wikipedia.org)

And squirrels popping from the nearby chestnut trees. It read on multiple signs that I’m currently entering hospital and daycare premises, but there were no signs of life around. Just imagine, an abandoned mental hospital, you simply cannot resist and have to walk around. Stare. Absorb the atmosphere. Look out for ironbars in the window. Imagine what kind of people have been kept here – and what for.





And then, in the section facing the sea, you will see this:


And your heartbeat speeds up. Nowadays, though, the views are not half that bad. The back yard has been cleared of walls and fences and looks like an ordinary park:


Only several meters of anti-climbing tall fence reveals what once was going on in there. Actually for a long time, the hospital closed only around 2006 and was moved to Töölö (to a rather ugly  building, yet closer to the central hospital I guess). The same old story I’m afraid: costs, some minor water damage and mildew, etc.

So – what happened after the closure? Nothing at first. Only about three years ago Lapinlahden lähde and Pro Lapinlahti associations (or movements?) were put together with the goal to revive the once-so important site, and with the help of many a volunteer and with some strings pulled the site is back to life. It serves as a social and cultural centre promoting mental wellbeing, as place of business of many organisations dealing with mental health issues, a part of it rooms an art gallery, a café with a little handicraft shop, oh and one wing is hired to various businesses. Also, there is a public sauna (for 7€ per head) almost every day and many cultural, educational and social activities (most of them free of charge) all year round.

The hospital was built around the Lapinlahden lähde, the well of Lapinlahti (hence the name of the above-mentioned associations), with exceptionally clear and high quality fresh water. In the old days the water was used among others by the famous Hartwall factory or by many of Helsinki’s pharmacies.


Today a patch of land speckled with urban gardens is situated between the well and the cemetery and is apparently very popular among young families living in central Helsinki. Renting queues are long. The garden area served mostly for therapeutic purposes about a century ago

The building itself is, well, so typical for mid 19th century: white, symmetric site, clean lines and a lot of (planted) greenery – sounds like a neat place for an asylum. Just off the sea and overlooking busy Länsiväylä, close enough to the city, but far enough as well. Far enough not to disturb the possible nearby inhabitants.

We actually joined a guided tour with Green cap tours on Saturday in order to learn more about the history of the site and explore the inside without getting strange looks. And in this respect it succeeded and I can recommend doing the same to anyone who would like to know more about the place, its famous visitors and/or interested in the history of treatment of ill mental health. It was not as fancy as exploring an abandoned hospital, and to be fair the guide lacked some spark and confidence and did not share his sense of humour with us that much, but it was informative.

And we walked along those long corridors.

And visited the (overly staged 😦 ) room of Aleksis Kivi, probably the most famous patient in the hospital’s history.


And the gallery, aka the former apartment of the senior psychiatrist.

And were sorry that the place does not give you the chills as it used to a couple of years ago but glad at the same time that the building is serving a good purpose again.

More info: www.lapinlahdenlahde.fi, the address is Lapinlahdentie 1, 00180 Helsinki. Can be reached by tram no. 8, stop 8: Marian sairaala (Maria’s hospital, a nearby hospital again closed for business. This only happened a year or two ago, I have actually made it twice to there before it closed… a pity, it was conveniently central and had much more soul than those modern monstrous buildings in Meilahti).


#18: Share in a Scandinavian way at Rikhardinkadun kirjasto (Rikhardinkatu library)

All year, Helsinki, Indoors, Libraries, Uncategorized

What would Finland be without public libraries, cosy social, cultural and communication hubs scattered all over the country?

Helsinki can of course boast with some of the oldest libraries in Finland. It is located at Rikhardinkatu 3; it is a building from 1880s originally designed by Theodor Höijer , afterwards it was further extended in the 1920s and the interior in the form and looks we know nowadays was renovated in the 1980s. It used to be the main library of Helsinki until 1986 – which is quite surprising because it is not that huge – and because Finland has such a strong tradition of libraries!

Unlike in other countries (among others the paperback/Kindle powers – I’m looking at you, UK), it is no shame for middle and upper-middle class to use library for (obviously) borrowing books, music and video data free of charge, printing and copying things, using fax machines (lol), shredding documents… and for 3D printing, repairing your clothes, organising cultural events and similar. I know, right, cheap 3D printing should so much be available to everyone, just like using quality sewing machines for quick repairs or smaller projects or workshops. Recycling and sharing so typical for the Scandinavians in another form.

Now, Rikhardinkatu library is beautiful. Humble on the outside, just off Las Ramblas of Helsinki (Esplanaadinpuisto), and so cosy. I had never been before (“my” library is the one at Elielinaukio (Kirjasto 10): conveniently located just outside the train station, so if you would like a warm spot with WiFi without the obligation of buying bad coffee for when waiting for your train connection, Kirjasto 10 should be considered an option), visited it extempore for the first time on Friday – and thought I should explore public libraries more in my blog, and Rikhardinkatu library seemes like a great place to start. Some of them surely deserve attention…


#12: Explore Helsinki Synagogue

All year, Architecture, Helsinki, Indoors, Walk

Visible to thousands of Helsinki inhabitants and commuters to the capital city passing Kamppi every day, yet very few locals know the answer when you ask them where the Synagogue is.


(Photo: Peter Marten – I would love to go out and take own pictures of the area, but the weather is so unbelievably rubbish that I had to borrow this picture)

Yes It is located right off Kamppi, and it is the building with the golden dome roof, reflecting morning light. As I was told by Andre, my guide at the Jewish Community Centre (JCC), when the nearby Radisson Hotel was being designed, the architects made sure that the Synagogue’s roof remains visible from Kamppi. I’m not sure where this condition comes from, but it surely werved the JCC and the whole Kamppi area well.

I, too, stumbled upon the Synagogue quite randomly – there were not too many clues at the outside of the Synagogue, with exception to stars of David on the outside fence. And a pretty tall wall. And an automated gate. And a security guide.


Security measures are still quite high – prepare to be ID:ed and assigned a guide and leave any larger bags at home, but visitors are always welcome: it is possible to visit the Synagogue and the adjacent Jewish centre every week (Monday to Thursday at 10am and 2pm), the best way to secure the tour is to get in touch with the Jewish Community Centre in advance.

And what is behind the walls?

Well, first of all, a group of kids playing in the inside yard (there is a Jewish Kindergarten and School at the centre which I did not know). Social areas and offices of the JCC. And the Synagogue, which due to the security measures and alike looks quite modest from the street.

The interior, however, is pretty stunning. The Synagogue, designer by Viipuri-born Johan Jacob Ahrenberg, was finished in 1906 and is very likeable and very art-nouveau and definitely worth a visit.

The opinions and suggestions in this blog are mine and mine only (unless of course stated otherwise) and I’m not planning to serve as marketing agency, but I have to mention that Andre Zweig, my (own) guide, was really friendly and knowledgable, showing me around the JCC and telling me about the history of Jewish community in Finland. If you would like to know more about this topic, or would fancy a tour of your own, do drop him a line.

#10: Visit Malmi Airport

All year, Architecture, Helsinki, Indoors, Olympics, Outdoors

It’s interesting that somehow one always ends up in Malmi, although I’m afraid it is no one’s destination of choice. But we all have some errands in Malmi. Visiting people. Institutions. Shopping. Doing sports. Feeling multicultural. Passing by on the way to Ikea in Vantaa.


Yet there is a hidden gem in Malmi – well it is not THAT hidden after all, everyone is aware of it, but it is currently widely underrated: Helsinki Malmi airport. It opened in 1938 and back then it was, well, a big deal. The airport was among the first in the world designed as and international airport – oh and it is the airport which was meant to serve the Helsinki Olympics in 1940. However, by the time the Olympics actually took place in Helsinki in 1952 the airport has been moved to Vantaa as we all know (now when I think about it, Malmi and Vantaa have a lot in common: located a bit further away to the north from the city, providing affordable accommodation to middle class and lower class families alike, boasting with ghettos, shopping malls and random depots… and a fancy airport each).

Nowadays the airport serves for general civilian purposes, and that is why most mortals are not aware of the actual airport buildings. One never simply has a reason for a visit – and that is a big shame, because the main building is gorgeous. The airport complex consists of a round functionalist main building with two belts of rectangular windows encircling the barrel-like building. There is a check-in hall downstairs and a number of offices (or ex-travel agents’ I can imagine), a roofed viewing terrace and a café upstairs, an adjacent control tower and a few non-public inconspicuous sheds.

The main building is generally open to public (the control tower is obviously not) during Finnish working hours (9am-4pm). Well, the truth is that there is rarely anybody around, so you get enough time to enjoy the atmosphere undisturbed. I’m not sure about café’s opening times, but knowing Finland, something between 11am and 3pm would be “safe” time to visit (meaning you would not be sent away in ) and enjoy yet another disappointing cup of Finnish coffee. This time it is all forgiven.

IMG_9249 IMG_9253

The round hall is silent, lit through roof windows… it is lovely during the golden hour, so if you would like to experience what travelling must have felt like AND get some glorious pictures of modern atmosphere 60 years ago (and entertain your girlfriend with a bit different plane-spotting), HEM is the place to visit on a lazy Saturday afternoon.


In today’s scale everything seems so small and cosy, so naïve. This was the future of air travel nearly hundred years ago. Actually there are many places around Helsinki w
here one can experience what the nature and scope of public events in the 1940/50s Finland was. The accessibility of events to general public and the sheer number of visitors. The security and health&safety measures. The queue management barriers. The materials. The proximity of the centre of action. The trust. The nostalgia.


… and the rumours that the main building will be torn down and the whole airport area converted into a housing estate, so please do hurry and pay the Finnish aviation monument a visit!

EDIT: Other rumours mention the weekend brunch served at the cafeteria (aka GATE 1)! More information here – it is in Finnish but pretty straightforward.


Information: https://www.finavia.fi/en/helsinkimalmi/info-malmi-airport/

Contact: Helsinki-Malmin lentoasema, 00700 Helsinki (Tattariharjuntie)

#9: Take a break at Cafe Regatta

All year, Coffee/Tea, Indoors, Outdoors

You know those kind of eateries famous for serving a certain home-made product, the best in town? Well, at Cafe Regatta you get delicious cinnamon buns, definitely among top 5 in Helsinki, average Finnish coffee, pretty good hot juice and… you get to enjoy the atmosphere.


While taking that Saturday walk along the harbour area in Töölö, the Hietaniemi sand beach (or the thing closest to the beach you will find in Finland) or taking pictures of the Sibelius monument from the bottom you will notice a cosy fairy-tale cottage surrounded by a surprising number of tables and a bunch of people of all sorts (parents with kids, tourists, sitting by them at any time of the day, sipping on their beverages, talking, reading – and generally staring less on their miniscreens than usual.

There is a little open fireplace for general use outside, it is like a heaven’s sent in central Helsinki – imagine sitting by the fire (warm) wrapped up in a blanket (provided) with a view over the sea and waiting for when your sausage is ready – yes, if the climate allows bring your own sausages (or marshmallows) and stuff! (ICE you can buy sausages from the cafe – no idea about the quality or price though).

It is a refuge from the everyday. The buns are great. Watching birds scavenging crumbs is priceless. It is outdoors so you don’t really mind the abundance of babies, toddlers, tourists and dogs, it is still tranquil enough. The view over the harbour calms you down. I have nothing else to add.

As you can see from the pictures, the inside seating is limited, but it is not impossible to get seated. Amount of trinkets and decorations is vast. But it somehow works.

More info: Cafe Regatta Facebook

#8: Enjoy those stunning views from the Olympic Stadium Tower

All year, Architecture, Helsinki, Indoors, Museum, Olympics, Outdoors

One of the most important historical events which shaped the architecture and general urban development of Helsinki were the 1952 (!) Summer (!) Olympics.

Why the exclamation marks? Well, most venues – the Stadium, Velodrome, Rowing Stadium and a part of the Olympic Village were built between the years 1938-1940 since Helsinki was chosen as Olympic venue for the 1940 Olympics. Those never happened, as we all know. And as for the summer exclamation mark – I just wanted to point out that summer DOES exist in Finland. It only didn’t happen THIS year.

But back to the topic: most Olympics buildings/venues are elegant, painted white and combined with wooden details (benches, panelling, etc.). The simplicity and functionalist touch in contrast to summer blue sky create one of those stereotypical (but nevertheless beautiful) Finnish sights in the name of the blue-white colour combination. Simplicity purity, freshness, breeze, water and snow… you know.

If you had one place to visit it would have to be the stadium tower. A truly unique landmark – it makes an awesome orientation point and also a great viewing point (and a suicide point for pregnant lovers of German soldiers who would throw themselves from the tower in order to avoid the shame – that’s why they had to close the tower and suicide-proof it back in the days).

img_20140212_201325 (1)

Don’t worry, there is a lift so you don’t have have to climb those 72 meters. And it is safe, you can’t even access the open staircase and the viewing platform is behind high iron bars.

And the views are stunning… Töölö, Meilahti


Töölönlahti, in the background Kallio

Safety first!DSC_8395

Parking lot, Opera and the Centre.DSC_8399


TöölöDSC_8409 DSC_8411

Töölön Kisahalli (Töölö Sports Hall)DSC_8412

However, you can still visit the Stadium Tower! It only costs a few Euro (3€/5€) and it is definitely worth it.

Please beware! The stadium and the tower will close in 2016 for renovation work. Hurry hurry!

More information: http://www.stadion.fi/visit-tower

#7: Go for a cup of tea in the City Winter Garden

All year, Architecture, Coffee/Tea, Helsinki, Indoors, Outdoors, Parks, Walk

A stone’s throw from the city centre and just off the Olympic Stadium, this is a paradise for those who are seeking a refuge from cold weather or who just took a walk around Töölönlahti (and/or for those who need to spend a penny;) and would like to, well, sit down and relax.

Helsingin Talvipuutarha(Picture: Yle)

The winter garden (19th century)  is a piece of art itself with its ornamented iron&glass construction, shining bright form a mile away yet in juxtaposition to the 1950s architecture. Around the actual winter garden, or this “social greenhouse”, you will find a little rose garden. What is inside the building is hardly surprising: cacti, succulents, koi carps and a little fountain. But it is the whole experience that counts.

Yes, I know you’ve been to greenhouses or tropical gardens or whatever you dress it like before, but this one is so lovely. Partly because it is so lovely and random – all those (sub)tropic plants, all located in the city centre in Finland, I mean, you surely see all the contrasts (I do recommend visiting the winter garden in winter for the extra intense experience!)? Maybe because it is always so unbelievably peaceful, although you will find local families here as well as Russian tourists. Maybe because I’m just being sentimental and I like the Eiffel-like architecture of the late 19th century. Maybe because this is one of those few public places I can actually read a book at without getting disturbed. Maybe because that omnipresent yet very silent white noise combined with the sweet jingle of the indoor fountain make me happy. Maybe because I don’t feel press to read or to work when I’m there but it comes naturally.

There is usually a little café open in the left wing: I cannot recommend the coffee (same goes for 95% of all cups of coffee in Finland), but the tea should be relatively safe. The right wing is dedicated to cacti and contemporary art/local artist exhibitions – I’ve seen two, I did not like them, I thought they were really weird and really not fitting the location, but hey.










Address: Hammarskjöldintie 1; number 8 tram stop “Kaupunginpuutarha”

More information incl. opening hours: click here  (the link is too long and too annoying to copy). In general the garden is open to public every afternoon.

If you are a real botanics enthusiast, try to get in touch with one of the guides who will give you a tour and will be able to tell you more about the plant species!

#4: Enjoy a guided tool at KELA headqurters (by Alvar Aalto) – !free Alvar Aalto fans gift!

All year, Alvar Aalto, Architecture, Helsinki, Indoors, Museum

Hey, this one I’m particularly proud of – and ashamed of at the same time since I cannot, for love of V, find any pictures from the epic tour at KELA Headquarters.


(Source: Wikipedia)

Now, those who have spent some time in Finland are loving this post already, so little it takes. The rest of you is wondering what on Earth is KELA. Well, KELA equals social insurance in Finland. It equals your magical personal number without which you mean nothing to the society (seriously though, your bank account details, your health care, your bonus card at K-supermarket, they all are linked to your personal number), confusion, dole, health care, queues, inefficient service, constant cuts … it also equals those adorable Maternity packages everybody has been envying Finnish mums for.

In other worse, everybody in Finland has their own passionate relationship with KELA. Visiting their HQ sounds like a brilliant way to spend your Friday afternoon, doesn’t it!

It is actually rather interesting. The building is orangey bricky and not too exciting at all from the outside, but then you start spotting the details, the door handles, the angles, colours, tiles, the light. There is a classic Aalto library in the building as well as a gym (no bull), a little chilling park area, oh and a really exciting canteen with some kind of innovative heating system which looks like dinner trays stuck to the ceiling. There is some introduction into 1920s communication technology and of course you will get to awe at those cute maternity packages from the past. It did not take more than an hour, and it was a true pleasure (although the guide kept abandoning us randomly and was not too knowledgable, but that did not matter too much in the end).

The building is located in Töölö and is reachable easily by tram or bus (Kansaneläkelaitos stop). I have not worked out the dates of the guided tours, let alone the English ones, but last time I checked it was 2pm every Monday and Friday during the summer season and by appointment 1.10.-31.3.

… oh and I promised you a gift! Well last time I went on the guided tour my camera died. Flat battery, argh, such a rookie mistake. I did indeed take some pictures with my phone, but those seem to be hiding in the gigabytes of data in this flat. Meh. I was feeling very “meh”, but then we were given a link to this beautiful publication with pictures and facts and it is all in English and I was really happy. And I’d love to share it with you, too.

More info: www.kela.fi, tel. 020 63411 (should work), viestinta (at) kela.fi ; the address is Nordenskiöldinkatu 12

#1 Visit väestönsuojelumuseo (Museum of Civil Defence)

All year, Autumn, Helsinki, Indoors, Museum, Spring, Winter

At the beginning I did not want to add museums to the list ’cause I thought it was plain cheating – anybody can google “(free) museums in Helsinki” and, well, go for it. And indeed some of these museums are very good! I’d particularly recommend the City of Helsinki Museums (http://www.helsinginkaupunginmuseo.fi/en/museums/), especially the Museum of Workers’ Housing. It is awesome, located close to Kallio and the Alppila/Lenin Park.

The place I had in mind is truly special – hidden away and overlooking another gem, the Merihaka estate, run by volunteers and open only at certain Saturdays throughout autumn, winter and spring. I confess I’m not too much into the whole War and sharing this particular historical memory (which is really important to Finns. Having said that, you can probably sense that someone has “suggested” this place as suitable for the blog), for example I would never pay for the Musuem of War in Helsinki, but I fell in love with THIS place. It was so sincere, the guides share their and their families’ stories with you, the exhibits are mostly donations from ordinary people – oh and you learn a lot about home safety if you please. Abundant in pictures of pre-war and ww2-Helsinki, it helps one to connect with the city, with its history and architecture, well, trust me, it is a great place to visit. Oh and if you are lucky, you will meet the largest dog in like, the world. She belongs to one of the guides, the blond firefighter (probably called Teemu or Juha, as if there were any other male names in Finland).




And some contact details: Siltavuorenranta 16 B, http://hvssy.fi/museo/