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Museums to See: Helsinki

Helsinki, Finland

Nordic countries have been on my mind a lot lately between wanting to stay in Norway’s Juvet Hotel, reading classic groundbreaking mysteries from Swedish duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, and noting the impending closure of Copenhagen’s Noma. Then there’s Finland, who I have mainly known for their focus on the future, revolutionary educational theories, and saunas. But it wasn’t until reading about Helsinki in a recent issue of the British version of Conde Nast Traveller that I thought much about Helsinki’s museum offerings. Here are just a few of the cultural institutions I’ve been missing out on…

Red Wall/Blue Wall. Photos by Milka Varmola (left) and Niina Vatanen (right)—both of Finnish National Gallery—via Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma's Flickr stream.

Red Wall/Blue Wall.
Photos by Milka Varmola (left) and Niina Vatanen (right)—both of Finnish National Gallery—via Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma’s Flickr stream.

Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art

A contemporary art museum associated with the Finnish National Gallery, Kiasma is appealing as much for its architectural assets as for its artistic collection. When designing the museum, architect Steven Holl was particularly focused on how the building’s shapes and spaces would interact with light, and I particularly like how there seems to be a general surfeit of straight lines. Their collection has about 8500 works, but there is a constant rotation of exhibitions to keep things fresh.

Scenes from the Design Museum. Photos (clockwise from top) by Ilkka Jukarainen, Martin Terber, and Katja Nevalainen via Flickr.

Scenes from the Design Museum.
Photos (clockwise from top) by Ilkka Jukarainen, Martin Terber, and Katja Nevalainen via Flickr.

Design Museum
Even though it’s over 140 years old, Helsinki’s Design Museum manages to showcase why Finnish design (industrial, fashion, graphic, etc.) still makes such an impact today.

Light and Dark at the Ateneum. Both photos by ri Sa via Flickr.

Light and Dark at the Ateneum.
Both photos by ri Sa via Flickr.

Ateneum Museum
Fun fact: when the Ateneum acquired Street in Auvers-sur-Oise in 1903, it became the first museum to own a Van Gogh. And that’s not the only jewel in their collecting crown. For nearly 130 years, this outpost of the Finnish National Gallery has built up a solid collection of roughly 4400 works of art, which, in addition to an extensive catalog of Finnish art, includes appearances by Modigliani, Cezanne, Munch, and Goya.

A Welcoming Party. Photo by Tomi Tapio K via Flickr.

A Welcoming Party.
Photo by Tomi Tapio K via Flickr.

Finnish Museum of Natural History
This place seems to have more personality than most natural history museums I have seen or read about. I mean, just look at those giraffes having tea on the museum’s balcony.

Coming Soon…Guggenheim Helsinki
Back in June 2015, Paris-based firm Moreau Kusnoki was announced as the winner of the Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition. Over 1700 entries were submitted for the creation of the latest outpost of the Guggenheim art empire. There’s no set opening date yet, but when the series of “darkly clad pavilions” does make its debut you will definitely hear about it.

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Rest and refresh your tired museum legs. Photos by Mme Passepartout and Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma via Flickr.

Bonus Mention…Museum Cafes
These do not look those fast-casual places or bland cafeterias I have found in many U.S. museums. Kiasma’s cafe focuses on local Nordic produce and serves up cava, while the Design Museum cafe looks like an artisan coffee shop. Out at the Suomenlinna Fortress they have a brewery, a pizzeria, and at least ten other dining options.

Seeing Them All
The Helsinki Card gets you free access to 28 of Helsinki’s museums and dozens of other discounts and deals across the city for between 39-59 euros.

 

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