Scifi-Fantastic Helsinki

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Suomenlinna Sea Fortress (photo by Michal Pise)

This year’s Worldcon is hosted by the Finnish capital, Helsinki. For those of you who are attending, we have prepared a list of places which might be of interest in terms of sci-fi and fantasy presence in Helsinki. However, even for those who aren’t going to Worldcon, but are planning to visit Helsinki at some point, this list might come in handy.

Steam Hellsinki

A steampunk-themed bar in Helsinki is located near Kamppi, barely ten minutes walk from the center. If you are looking for an atmospheric place to go for a drink, you could hardly pick anything better. Everything – from decorations, the staff’s attire, to drinks – is properly steampunk-themed. The bar isn’t on the cheap side (but what in Helsinki is?), but it’s got style. If you stroll in dressed in steampunk attire yourself, I can guarantee nothing will break your immersion. The only thing I can’t vouch for is free space during the con: I can imagine it being quite busy, so if you want to visit it, better make sure.

Address: Olavinkatu 1, 00100 Helsinki. Website: steamhellsinki.fi (in Finnish)

Steam Hellsinki interior. Photo by Joel Cornah.

The Ounce

While we are at the subject of places to go for a drink in Victorian-era style, I should mention a tea shop/tearoom that can be found also near Kamppi, but a bit further from the center. I am mentioning it mostly because of its Victorian atmosphere, which is on par with that of the steampunk bar (except it is purely historical and much more peaceful). In any case, if you are a tea lover, definitely a place to visit.

Address: Fredrikinkatu 55, 00100 Helsinki. Website: http://www.ounce.fi/ (in Finnish)

ARS17: The Digital Revolution Exhibition

If you are more of a futurist and friend of modern technology, you might be interested in one of the current exhibitions in Kiasma, the museum of modern art. Unlike the national museum’s exhibitions in Ateneum (which also features classic art inspired by the Finnish mythos, Kalevala), Kiasma hosts more contemporary and experimental art. The ARS17 exhibition (running until 14.1.2018) focuses on the theme of current digital revolution and includes a collection of works from different artists.

Address: Mannerheiminaukio 2, 00100 Helsinki. Website: http://www.kiasma.fi/en/exhibitions-events/ars-17/

Part of ARS17 exhibition: Hito Steyerl, Factory of the Sun, 2015. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress

This isn’t strictly a fantasy place, however, it certainly has the feel of history and of adventure for those not used to island fortresses.
Suomenlinna is situated near the coast of Helsinki and can be reached via ferry which is part of the city public transport. The ferries are going throughout the day, departing from the Market Square (Kauppatori) on the shore, usually several times per hour.
The island itself sports a church which is at the same time a lighthouse (a rarity not only in the country, but throughout the world) and then the 18th century fortress, spreading over considerable area. You can visit a museum that will tell you about the island’s history, you can walk on top of the walls and also crawl in tunnels under them, you can see and touch the cannons aimed at the sea (but not functional, of course). You can also see the ground shelters which have been often dubbed “Hobbitton” by visitors thanks to its visual resemblance to Hobbit-holes (or the tombs at the Barrow-Downs, which is another way to look at it).
A small detail which even most Finns don’t know about is that the writer George R. R. Martin got inspired by Suomenlinna and wrote a short story about it during his college years (“The Fortress”, can be found in a collection “Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective”).

Website: http://www.suomenlinna.fi/en/

Fantasiapelit

Fantasiapelit is a fantasy/SF shop right in the city center, located in a passage opposite to the central railway station’s front entrance. It is a bit hidden, in the left corner of a small courtyard if you are coming from the railway station – keep an eye out for the shop’s logo.
Fantasiapelit has a wide selection of board games, roleplaying games, card games, books, comics, manga (quite wide selection at least for European circumstances), as well as some selection of geekdom-related toys and accessories. Occasionally, Fantasiapelit hosts gaming events such as Friday Night Magic.

Address: Kaivopiha, 00100 Helsinki. Website: http://www.fantasiapelit.com/index.php?main=international&lc=EN&lang=en

Lautapelit

Lautapelit is a classic board game shop in Kamppi, one stop by metro from the central railway station (but it takes about as long to get there on foot as by the public transport). If you are looking to quickly upgrade your stock of board games, or perhaps forgot to take something to amuse your friends in spare time during the con, here’s the place for you.

Address: Urho Kekkosen katu 1 (Kamppi shopping center, 3rd floor). Website: http://www.lautapelit.fi/HOME

Poromagia

Poromagia is a fantasy shop and a gaming den. Compared to Fantasiapelit or Lautapelit, it can be said that this is the place that is the most “for gamers” in the entire Helsinki. All kinds of “serious” tournaments in board and miniature games (Warhammer, X-Wing…) or card games (Magic, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh) are organised here, usually daily. It is also the most likely place to randomly run into players willing for a casual game. It doesn’t end with just board and card games, however: Poromagia has recently added retro console games to its range of goods (and we are talking really vintage stuff here), and it has quite a few of them. Add to it its proximity to the convention center itself (Poromagia is situated in Pasila, the same part of city) and you have a spot that you can visit easily even if just to look around.

Address: Opastinsilta 7B, 00520 Helsinki. Website: https://poromagia.com/en/

Temppeliaukio Rock Church

I am including this place even though you probably find it advertised in every tourist guide and it, too, isn’t much of a “fantasy” place – aside from the fact that it can remind you of Gondolin. Just like the Elven city from Middle-Earth’s First Age, the church in the rock is situated effectively in a hole delved in the middle of natural stone. Encircled by rock, with natural elements present inside the building, it is an inspiring spot and a nice place to just sit down quietly for a while. The downside are almost ever-present crowds of tourists streaming in and out, which have also recently led to introducing entrance fee for the place. Nonetheless, if you don’t fancy entering, you can just climb up the rock itself and sit down for a while on the back of the church, so to say.

Address: Lutherinkatu 3, 00100 Helsinki. Website: http://www.helsinginkirkot.fi/en/churches/rock-church-temppeliaukio

The Outdoor Museum at Seurasaari

Seurasaari is a pretty, forested island (connected to the mainland via bridge) which has been reserved for an unusual kind of museum. The island is littered by houses which have been collected and transported here from Finnish countryside years and years ago. Some of them are fairly old and they reflect Finnish traditional way of living. You’ll find normal houses, storehouses, barns, a church, and even one entire farm (that is the only part of the museum that has entry fee – otherwise, you are free to wander around the island as you wish). One of the biggest curiosities are the “church boats” – long boats (capable of seating an entire village) that were used to pick up all the villagers living along one lake to carry them to a church service or a town meeting.
The bridge to Seurasaari can be found at the end stop of bus line 24. Incidentally, if you want to take a nice walk to Seurasaari along the shore from (or to) the center, you might pass by an Iron Age burial site. It is basically only a pile of stones marking the spot, really, but if you are into such things, it is a piece of history. And just in case, remember Tom Bombadil’s warnings and don’t fall asleep in the shadow of the stones.

There you go. This is far from exhaustive list, but I tried to include places that are easily reachable from the center and at the same time interesting, and that you can visit in your spare time when you are not at the convention itself – or even if you are just visiting Helsinki and are looking for a touch of the fantastic.

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Rostislav Kurka
Rostislav is a Protestant theologian and a self-trained Sith, counting Jan Hus, Darth Revan and Darth Traya among his main influences. He hails from the hundred-towered city of Prague, where he had spent a large part of his life creating worlds and inspiring young generations to roleplay. His involvement in organising children's camps led him to accidentally writing a Lord of the Rings musical, which made him temporarily famous, and a Three Musketeer-Jedi fanfilm, which didn't. He has recently moved to the frozen waste of Finland, because that's it, the Rebels are there.