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New Helsinki City Museum takes visitors to the heart of Helsinki

City Museum invites its guests to fall in love with Helsinki

“We tell stories of Helsinki,” says Museum Director Tiina Merisalo, introducing the new Helsinki City Museum. “We pose the questions, what is the Helsinki lifestyle, and what does it mean to be from Helsinki?”

The City Museum opened doors in mid-May in refurbished facilities in the core of historic Helsinki at the Senate Square. Spreading through half of the city block in some of the oldest buildings of Helsinki, the museum occupies a heightened role in the city’s collective memory and in the hearts of citizens.

On three floors, the exhibits take museum visitors back in time to Helsinki environments, interiors and atmospheres over the past 250 years – and not least through the buildings themselves, which show layers from the mid-18th century to the present.

The exhibits offer nostalgic moments to Helsinki residents and insiders, inviting them to recollect the past as far as their memories carry and to immerse themselves in the lives of the past generations.

For tourists and newcomers, the museum is a place for discovery. “We have endless amounts of information to study, and we give our visitors ideas for what more to explore in Helsinki,” Merisalo affirms.

For everybody, the exhibits also carry a deeper meaning. Merisalo explains, “We hope to offer our visitors means to meet the universal need for understanding life.”

Orient yourself to the city and its past

Entering the City Museum, visitors are greeted by an animated timeline that gives them the history of Helsinki in a nutshell.

A time machine utilizing audio-visual technology transports visitors to the beginning of the 20th century. Virtual tours to other eras will be offered further in the future.

Guests are invited to relax on sofas that represent different time periods, and a meeting room takes them to the enigmatic 80’s.

The first floor is the orienting section of the museum. Further up, the adventure deepens.

Bites of Helsinki for all generations

A large-capacity elevator in a newly built section whisks visitors to the 4th floor, which houses the gallery for changing exhibitions and contents. Attic-style windows close to the ceiling open magnificent vistas to Helsinki Cathedral.

The opening exhibition is the international success Museum of Broken Relationships. It consists of objects donated anonymously by Helsinki residents and stories about farewells related to the objects.

“The exhibition talks about emotions, so it’s an appropriate opening statement for us – the whole museum is based on emotions for Helsinki,” says Ulla Teräs, the project manager for the new City Museum.

Two flights of stairs down, more emotions await visitors in Helsinki Bites. The bites are exhibits that invite guests to fall in love with Helsinki. They include cozy, everyday interiors such as a 1950’s home and a 1970’s bar. In the centre of the gallery stands a model of Helsinki in 1878.

Children’s Town occupies Helsinki’s oldest building, the Sederholm House. Here families immerse themselves in Helsinki’s past through play and activities. They can visit a shop and attend a school class in the style of the past. At the 1970’s grandmother’s place they can meet real grandmothers on weekends.

Take a piece of Helsinki with you!

The museum tour proceeds to the inner courtyard of the Falkman house retained in its original 19th century style. Visitors are welcome to stroll casually in this previously closed enticing outdoor space, which also hosts special events.

The tour ends in the museum café and shop.

The El Fant café is named after its host city block, which was originally called the Elephant Block according to the practice in the Old Town of Helsinki to name blocks after animals. When weather permits, El Fant extends to another inner courtyard.  

The shop specializes in pictures of Helsinki. The selection of more than 200 postcards produced from the City Museum’s extensive photo archives invites everybody to walk away with their fondest pieces of Helsinki.

Visitors can also capture themselves with their fondest parts of Helsinki’s history. Teräs points out, “There will be plenty of opportunities for unforgettable selfies!”

Free admission

Helsinki City Museum makes it easy for residents and visitors to pop in at their will and to come again: admission is free for everybody at all times. The museum is Finland’s largest museum with free admission.

The museum is open every day of the week, 11–19 Monday through Friday and 11–17 Saturday and Sunday. The main entrance is from the street of Aleksanterinkatu through a courtyard, which has a place for strollers.

In addition to its flagship museum at the Senate Square, Helsinki City Museum has four other museums:

1. The Hakasalmi Villa is an Empire style building in the Töölönlahti bay area. The villa hosts changing exhibitions. The current exhibition is Music!, a new take on the history of music that puts music lovers in the key role.
2. The Tram Museum allows visitors to take a ride to Helsinki’s past. The tram has been an icon of Helsinki since the turn of the 19th century.
3. The Worker Housing Museum consists of nine single-room homes of the working-class families that once lived in them.
4. The Burgher’s House acquaints visitors with the life of the middle class in the 1860’s Helsinki. The museum is closed for renovation and will reopen for the summer season 2017.