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One great way to get to know a city is to go to a local museum. The Helsinki City Museum provides insights into various aspects of cultural life in Helsinki, also serving as a local gathering spot.

The Helsinki City Museum (official website) is located just across the street from Senate Square in central Helsinki. The Vanha Kauppahalli food hall and the ferries to Suomenlinna are also nearby. The museum is also near several hop-on, hop-off bus routes, as well as public transportation. Entry is free.

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Initially, it seems like the Helsinki City Museum is mostly just a café, shop, and children’s activity area. However, once you poke around the corners of the main floor & then head upstairs, you’ll find many more exhibits about Helsinki life.

One corner, called the Time Machine, consists of full-screen photos of old Helsinki from the museum’s photo archive. It takes a while for the screens to change, but once they do, you can see how the city has grown and evolved.

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In another corner, there is a sauna replica along with historic videos of saunas.

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Head upstairs & you’ll find one of the main exhibition galleries of the Helsinki City Museum: Helsinki Bites. This section contains a series of stories from Helsinki, mostly from the 20th century. Along with the stories there are photos & items from these times.

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The exhibit also includes a diorama of the city in 1878, which can also be explored through augmented reality.

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Another section tells the history of beer bars in Helsinki & the rest of Finland.

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This floor could use a bit more explanation for non-Helsinki residents since some knowledge of the local culture seems to be assumed, but otherwise, it’s a nice glimpse into life in Helsinki.

The 4th floor hosts the Helsinki City Museum’s temporary exhibition space. One recent exhibition was called “Broken – A Shattered Mind.” It was one of the most unique presentations I’ve ever seen in a city museum. The whole floor was devoted to life at Nikkilä mental hospital, which was open from 1914 to 1999. It was the largest such hospital in Finland.

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The gallery included art made by the patients at the hospital, provoking the discussion of mental health & art therapy.

The Helsinki City Museum offers unique insight into the lives of the city’s residents. For more nearby history, visit the Bank of Finland Museum and the National Memorial of the Winter War.

Here are some great Helsinki tours & activities & other things to see & do in Helsinki.

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Helsinki, check out these Helsinki hotels.

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