The Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden and the Winter Garden are Helsinki’s year-round oases. Did you know, for example, that the greenhouses at Kaisaniemi house over 800 different plant species and that there are another 2800 species in the outside gardens? In fact, the gardens date back to 1763 and the Palm House to 1888. These are the perfect places to simply sit quietly and enjoy the tropical humidity!
Libraries are places where you’re supposed to be quiet in the first place. In the city centre you can visit the National Library of Finland or the University of Helsinki Library, for example. The latter is situated at Kaisa House, where you can admire a wonderful view over the rooftops of Helsinki from the top floor. In the Etu-Töölö district you can find the Arkadia International Bookshop, which sells an impressive selection of used books in a peaceful atmosphere where you can actually hear your own thoughts. As cliched as it may sound, this bookshop really is like a living room, complete with carpets, sofas, a piano, a shelf for original editions and coffee. If you want to avoid literary discussions and keep your thoughts to yourself, check the programme of events at the bookshop, as it has a reputation for its intellectual gatherings.
If you are not fortunate enough to live in the quiet neighbourhoods of Töölö, pay a visit to someone who does. Dr Juhani Kirpilä filled his own home with Finnish art, and when he passed away his home was opened to the public as a museum. The Kirpilä Art Home also hosts concerts, discussions and queer presentations of the art. Stop by on a Wednesday or Sunday afternoon and soak up the silence.
Churches, chapels and cathedrals are sanctuaries of peace that are also conveniently located in the city centre. The Temppeliaukio “Rock Church” is particularly captivating, as it has been hewn out of the granite bedrock and covered by a massive bronze roof. Unfortunately, it is such a popular tourist attraction these days that you are probably better off seeking peace and quiet on the rocks above the church. Alternatively, you can walk the short distance to Kamppi, where you will find the aptly named Chapel of Silence. For a different kind of silence, try the adjacent Ilves Bar – since it doesn’t play music!
Green areas often have a calming influence, even if they are not all completely silent. Strolling through Helsinki’s Central Park (Keskuspuisto) and other nature destinations can really put your mind at ease. Your only company when walking along the paths that circle the recreational island of Seurasaari or across the duckboards to the island of Lammassaari will most likely be animals and birds. At Uutela, the national park for metro commuters, the moss-covered rocks, ancient trees and sea views offer a palpable sense of silence.
To get to the tiny island of Sisä-Hattu you don’t need a miracle; simply put on your Speedos and walk across the Gulf of Finland. To get to this tiny skerry at the southern tip of Lauttasaari you have to follow a road that is visible only at low tide. The soundscape is one of passing motorboats, shrieking gulls and swimmers defying hypothermia. On the island itself you can find ancient carvings and symbols. If the tide rises you may have to wade through the water to get back to the mainland. You won’t have to speak a word the whole time, but you might need a dry pair of socks!
What could be more peaceful than space? At the highest point of the Kaivopuisto park you will find an observatory that was built by the Ursa Astronomical Association in 1926. Ursa organises public events at the observatory, where you can observe the sun in summertime and the stars in wintertime. Inside the observatory is dark, almost pitch black when the telescope is in use. Public viewings are organised when there is no cloud cover and when the temperature is above -15 degrees Celsius. If the weather isn’t cooperating but you are still interested in the heavens, take a short walk to Observatory Hill (Tähtitorninmäki). Helsinki Observatory was designed by the city’s famous architect C. L. Engel together with Professor W. A. Argelander and completed in 1834. At that time it was one of the most modern astronomical research institutes in the world. Today the building houses the astronomy visitor centre of the Helsinki University Museum, where you can quietly marvel at the wonders of space at its exhibitions.
Aleksis Kivi stares at you penetratingly yet approvingly. You have just stepped into what has been called the most beautiful art property in Finland, Villa Gyllenberg. The bust of the legendary Finnish author is massive. Behind the villa you will also come across the composer Jean Sibelius. The banker Ane Gyllenberg built his seaside residence in 1938, and today it serves as an impressive museum of Finnish art. The Gyllenberg Collection includes works by all the great Finnish artists, Helene Schjerfbeck, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Albert Edelfelt and Hugo Simberg.
Overlooking the idyllic wooden district of Puu-Käpylä is Taivaskallio, one of the highest points in Helsinki. From atop “heaven’s rock” you can enjoy a beautiful view over the city and all the way to the centre. During the Second World War an anti-aircraft battery was situated atop the rock, and you can still see the emplacements. These days Taivaskallio is a serene park where you can’t even hear the traffic. Bring with a book, a blanket and a picnic and settle down beside the small pond