We’ve recently visited two more museums in Helsinki for the first time: we made a special plan to carefully explore the National Museum of Finland and popped into the City’s Tram Museum when we were passing by on the way to Hietaniemi beach.
The National Museum is located approximately between the Finlandia opera hall and the parliament building – so a good spot to be remembering and recording Finland’s history. The building itself is very interesting (you can read a bit about its history here), with a beautiful painted dome in the entrance hall and lots of detailed sculpture work on the outside (including one of my favourite bear sculptures). Inside exhibits detail the prehistoric cultures of Finland (including the burial cairns that we subsequently visited at Sammallahdenmäki), Finland under Swedish and Russian rule, and Finland in the 20th century. There’s lots to see (we spent about 5 hours in the museum), so I’d suggest skipping to the parts that interest you most if you’ve got limited time. Personally, I enjoyed the “A Land and its People” exhibition most – including seeing the “marriage rakes” that husbands would carefully decorate for their brides so that they’d be able to work (in the fields?) with a beautiful piece of equipment.
One of the pieces from the “Realm” exhibition that was most fascinating, beautiful and enjoyable for me was a copy of the panelling of St. Henry’s sarcophagus. St. Henry is the patron saint of Finland (detailed history at Wikipedia), and the panels tell the story of his arrival in Finland, his murder by the peasant Lalli, and subsequent miracles (culminating in the recovery of his finger on an ice flow… I can’t explain it all here). The sarcophagus panels are striking and their style unlike anything I’ve seen in a while.
In contrast to the National Museum which requires a good few hours to explore, the Helsinki City museum dedicated to public trams only offers about 30 minutes worth of attractions: 4 retired trams, a few display cases of uniforms and tickets, and a collection of movie clips dealing with the city’s trams. However, what the museum lacks in quantity it makes up for with quality – we particularly enjoyed watching the old instructional movies for tram drivers (including important lessons like not leaving your tram unattended, lest a mischievous youth release the handbrake…). The Tram Museum is located in an old tram workshop, and moonlights as a theatre venue (part of the Korjaamo Culture Factory).
The Tram Museum (like all the City of Helsinki Museums) is free entry, but be prepared to part with 8 € for the National Museum (your ticket is valid for the whole day, so you can grab lunch or coffee outside when you want a break from the exhibits).