Architecture / Finland / Travel

Helsinki Central Station: An Art Nouveau Tour de Force

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You gotta love big, buff guys sportin’ pageboys and holding glowing globes. I mean, really. And you’ll find these stoic, Prince Valiant look-alikes standing guard in front of Helsinki’s Central Railway Station.

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This grand old station is a marvel of Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) architecture which, when it opened in 1919, was a radical departure from the design of typical buildings in the capital. Traditionalists’ tongues must have been wagging.

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After a century under the Russian boot, when independence came in 1917 architects wanted to design modern buildings which reflected the era’s social and industrial progress. And for this city and country in transition, the Art Nouveau style sweeping across Europe provided the perfect expression of new ideas.

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The exterior, clad in sturdy Finnish granite and embellished with copper, is the embodiment of elements from nature preferred by those ground-breaking architects.

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The four lamp-holding sentinels on the facade are known as “Lyhdynkantajat” (Can I buy a vowel please?) which still have a modern look almost a century later.
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The ticket hall is an elegant throwback to a bygone era, complete with sculpted walls and intimate desk lamps that make rail travel seem oh so civilized and cosmopolitan. We can just see a Finnish flapper lounging under a lamp’s warm glow and planning a trip home on a cold Scandinavian night.

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Beautiful, carved oak doorways, another element from nature, are an interesting contrast to intricate stucco walls.

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And this station really jumps! We were nearly bowled over by the bustling crowds. Over 200,000 commuters pass through here each day, making it Finland’s most-visited building.

And it’s impossible to be over 100 years-old and not have some tasty trivia tidbits… The station has a large lounge area which was originally designed to be used by the Tsar of Russian. Well the Bolsheviks took care of him, and after Finnish independence, the government had the last laugh and made it a private waiting room for the exclusive use of the President of Finland. It’s supposedly the only one of its kind in the world.

Helsinki has an extensive collection to Art Nouveau architecture, and the striking Central Rail Station is the tour de force. And even if you don’t have plans for train travel, this unique building is a classic piece of architecture that shouldn’t be missed. 

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

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Photo Credits:
1. http://www.cgpgrey.com via Wikimedia Commons
3. Masoders via Wikimedia Commons
5. yeowatzup via Wikimedia Commons
9. Itto Ogami via Wikimedia Commons
10. Godot13 via Wikimedia Commons
11. UggBoy UggGirl via Wikimedia Commons
12. Ralf Roletschek via Wikimedia Commons

25 thoughts on “Helsinki Central Station: An Art Nouveau Tour de Force

    • Peggy, we visited Helsinki as a part of a swing through the Baltic region. We didn’t get out into the countryside, but everyone says it’s beautiful. Helsinki was lots of fun and we really enjoyed the architecture. ~James

    • We enjoyed the train station, but also the collection of other Art Nouveau buildings in Helsinki. I don’t remember the name of the neighborhood that had all the great old buildings, but it’s behind the Uspenski Church. Very cool place to walk. ~James

  1. Its time to return to Helsinki. We only spent 2 days there once but during winter it was a lot harder to get around. We must have walked past the train station, perhaps was too engrossed with not slipping to look up!

    • That’s funny that you say that because we had exactly the same experience. Our first trip was in November and it was frigid – at least to us anyway. We walked around as much as we could, but it’s hard to stay focused when all your thinking about is finding a warm coffee shop. The second trip was warmer and much better. ~James

    • Helsinki is an interesting place Marie, and I’m sure that you’d enjoy it. It feels much smaller than it is, and there are still some interesting Russian influences in the city. ~James

    • Thanks Gun for dropping by the blog and for reblogging our post. We really enjoyed our time in Helsinki, and we particularly liked all the Art Nouveau architecture – excellent. ~James

  2. Such an imposing building Helsinki Central Station really is! The statues of those big guys give the edifice a cold, haughty, yet fascinating look. The interior is something to marvel at as well. You captured the soul of this place really well, James & Terri.

    • Thanks Bama. When you compare this architectural style to the other buildings being built at the time (think ornate, Victorian) it really is a radical departure. I’m sure that at the time, not everyone thought it was a good idea. ~ James

      • Great monuments didn’t always get warm reception when they were inaugurated. But over time, people’s appreciation will usually grow. Such is the character of avant-garde buildings.

  3. I snorted my tea at your ‘buy a vowel’ phrase. You two warm my heart. As to these bad boys, or possibly just buff boys I don’t think I shall stand under their globes. It would be a nasty surprise for one of those to drop wouldn’t it?

    • Glad you liked the funny Sue. Terri and I have a running joke about how to pronounce foreign words like this. When we were researching our trip to Poland, one of our cities was Wroclaw. We had no clue how to pronounce it, but needed some way to communicate with each other for planning, so we called it “War-Claw.” We had a really good chuckle at ourselves when we found out it was pronounced “VROTS-waff.” Hope you and Dave are surviving the winter. ~James

      • Haha I still say it’s Warclaw. Or so it will now be forever remembered in my noggin.
        Yes all is great here. Coming out of a million below zero period and now very warm by Canadian standards just above the freezing mark.

    • Thanks for the comment Brenda and for dropping by the blog. The architectural style of this station was avant-garde for the time and it still works today – the hallmarks for good design.

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