Helsinki exploration by tram


Helsinki’s number four tram line bisects the city centre. The eight-kilometre route is rich in museums and music, summer beer terraces and history. We’ve picked our ten favourite stops.

1. Jugendstil and Art Nouveau

A half-hour’s walk through Katajanokka can take you 200 years back in time. A couple of blocks away from the number four’s final stop, the atmosphere switches to Art Nouveau. The blocks of flats have heavy granite towers and ornamentation out of Finnish mythology – the Kontio building on Kauppiaankatu, for example, features two granite bears on its eaves. The list of architects who have designed structures here includes Eliel Saarinen, Lars Sonck, Carl Ludvig Engel and Alvar Aalto.

Read more about Katajanokka (in Finnish)
Tram stop: Merisotilaan tori

2. Coffee lives here

While most Finns prefer light-roast coffee, espresso is quickly gaining fans. Signora Delizia serves it up black and strong. This Italian delicatessen in a former cigar shop gives pride of place to Sicily’s Ionia coffee. The aroma of coffee is familiar to long-time locals, as the Paulig roastery operated here until the 1970s.

Signora Delizia, Satamakatu 5
Tram stop: Katajanokan puisto (Katajanokka Park)

3. Orthodox aesthetics

Katajanokka is dominated by the majestic, red-brick Uspenski Cathedral, which oversees two harbours from atop a rocky outcrop.

Inside, a pearl-studded icon known as the Mother of God Kozeltshan, which has been credited with miracles, draws worshippers from far afield. The icon was stolen in mid-2010 but recovered in early 2011. Tourists can also light beeswax candles to St Nicholas the Wonderworker, the patron saint of travellers. 

Read more about Uspenski Cathedral (in Finnish), Kanavakatu 1
Tram stop: Katajanokan puisto (Katajanokka Park)

4. Jazz stories

Storyville’s Street Bar fills with an intimate atmosphere, especially when legendary poet, psychiatrist and former politician Claes Andersson plays standards on the piano. Other top names in the Finnish jazz scene also frequent the venue. The solos, talk and drinks flow until four in the morning, and domestic and foreign bands play everything from Dixieland to swing, blues and rock. The Storyville summer patio is located under big trees in a park across the street.

Read more about Happy Jazz Club Storyville (mostly in Finnish), Museokatu 8
Tram stop: Kansallismuseo (National Museum)

5. Tour the Music Centre

The Helsinki Music Centre, which opened last autumn, does not offer many concerts during the summer. But although you may not have a chance to experience its praised acoustics, it is worth a visit for its unusual architecture. Tours are available in English. The café is pricey but offers free wi-fi and an impressive view, while the restaurant and outdoor terrace focus on fine dining. The Fuga music shop stocks many hard-to-find classical and jazz discs and books.

Mannerheimintie 13a
Read more about the Music Centre and about Fuga music shop
Tram stop: Kansallismuseo (National Museum)

6. Finnish origins

The National Museum’s collection traces Finland’s history from the Stone Age through independence. They begin with the prehistoric Wolf Cave near Kristinestad on the west coast, where Neanderthals may have lived 130,000 years ago. Visitors are also led through the eras of Swedish and Russian rule.

In the central hall there are frescoes by national painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, based on the national epic, The Kalevala. Upstairs the spotlight is on folk beliefs, arts and crafts and the lives of Lapland’s indigenous Sàmi.

Address: Mannerheimintie 34
Read more about the National Museum
Tram stop: Kansallismuseo (National Museum)

7. Helsinki’s Central Park

When you leave the rumble of traffic behind, you may feel as if you have stepped into a small corner of New York’s Central Park. A two-kilometre path along the shore of Töölönlahti bay is popular with joggers, rollerbladers and cyclists.

Rowboats and paddleboats are available for rent behind Finlandia Hall for 10–13 euros an hour. If you wander to the eastern railway-side of the bay, stop in for a cuppa at the Sininen Huvila (Blue Villa) café in the Linnunlaulu area, which features whimsical old wooden mansions.

Sininen Huvila Café, Linnunlauluntie 11
Read more about Boat hire, Karamzininkatu 6
Tram stop: Hesperian puisto (Hesperia Park)

8. Streetcars and culture

The Korjaamo cultural factory complex formerly served as repair or storage facilities for the city’s trams. Now they house a tram museum as well as performance and exhibition venues, bars and cafés.

During the summer, the courtyard garden hosts comic theatre and DJ evenings. Indoors, there are contemporary art and photography exhibitions as well as rock, folk, jazz and world music shows, readings and storytelling. The museum features six old Helsinki streetcars, including a horse-drawn model dating back to 1890.

Read more about Korjaamo
Tram Museum, Töölönkatu 51
Tram stop: Töölön halli

9. Smell the roses

In early summer, the renowned rose garden at the Meilahti Park Arboretum is at its peak. Some of the shrub roses on display – there are more than 100 varieties – are named after famous Finnish women such as author of the Moomin books Tove Jansson and former president Tarja Halonen.

The arboretum is located in the Vähä-Meilahti district, which is home to romantic villas. The nearby Tamminiementie, meanwhile, features old-fashioned cafés and leads to a wooden bridge that leads to the outdoor museum island of Seurasaari.

Meilahti Park Arboretum, Meilahdentie-Johannesbergintie
Read more about Meilahti area
Tram stop: Paciuksenkaari

10. A fading tradition of scrubbing

The seaside Café Torpanranta is a scenic meeting place; older gentlemen read newspapers while small groups sip the house wine, an Italian organic.

Nearby you can see a bit of disappearing national nostalgia: a rug-washing dock. The annual scrub of rag-rugs with a wooden brush and pine soap is a tradition that dates back to our grandmothers’ days and beyond. Due to environmental concerns, the city of Helsinki is gradually replacing its 14 rug-washing docks with inland facilities.

Architectural master Alvar Aalto’s home museum is also within walking distance. It is open in summers, as is Aalto’s studio on nearby Tiilimäki. Along Munkkiniemen Rantatie is also a beach, complete with a lifeguard and changing huts.

Read more about Café Torpanranta, Munkkiniemenranta 2
Alvar Aalto’s studio museum, Tiilimäki 20
Alvar Aalto’s home museum, Riihitie 20
Read more about Alvar Aalto
Tram stop: Saunalahdentie

Text by Heljä Laukkanen
Photos by Kaisu Jouppi

A longer version of this article was previously published in Finnair´s Blue Wings magazine (Summer 2012).


Published June 13, 2012

Category: Local features