Jyväskylä, really? For months I had been really pestering Jacky about visiting the city, and this week she finally caved in. Located in Central Finland about 270 km from Helsinki and 150 km from Tampere, Jyväskylä is the perfect starting point for further travels into the lake district as well as into Eastern Finland. The city prides itself for being known as the Athens of Finland due to its importance in tertiary education. In fact Jyväskylä was the first university in Finland to offer education in the Finnish language, with other universities in the country still relying on Swedish at the time. Today, about 137,000 people call the city their home out of which 45,000 are students enrolled in one of the many educational institutions.
We arrived here on a Monday morning anticipating a relaxed day of urban exploring. On the bus I was a tad nervous that Jacky would spit the dummy for dragging her along in the wee hours of the morning because when I looked up sights to see in Jyväskylä nothing of prominence showed up. Being a relatively new city there isn’t a whole lot to see or do for the average tourist, but fortunately we still managed to find a few spots of interest.
For one, you can stroll around a bit in the city centre. The main shopping street is actually rather pleasant as most big brands are located in the nearby malls, whereas smaller independent stores litter the street. The best of both worlds! Just around here you can also find the City Church and its adjacent park as well as Harju, a small ridge with well kept parks on its slopes.
Naturally we couldn’t write a blog post without at least mentioning Alvar Aalto, the city’s most famous son. Aalto is arguably Finland’s most famous architect, sculptor and designer and most importantly called the city of Jyväskylä his home. He is well known for his evolving architectural style, as well as for his furniture design. He also created the iconic Savoy Vase, a copy of which currently decorates Jacky’s mother’s kitchen. His architectural style ranges from Nordic Classicism to International Style Modernism and Jyväskylä is almost like a living testament to his career, featuring about 15 of his buildings, many in residential use. If you are interested in these in detail, it may be worth to get a small guide from the tourist information centre (about 2€). There is also an Aalto Museum at the Main University Campus, but unfortunately it was closed on the day we were visiting.
One thing we truly recommend is taking a walk from the city centre to the university campus. You can plan your stroll along Lake Jyväsjärvi which dominates the city’s landscape. Jyväskylä really benefits from having the lake within the city as it provides the city with a scenic lakefront trail ideal for pedestrians, joggers and cyclists. It is one of the most refreshing walks we’ve had in any Finnish city and it will eventually lead you to Aalto’s masterpiece, the main university campus. He received the commission to design the complex following a competition in 1951 and drew a lot of inspiration from the Greek acropolis, furthering the city’s image as “Athens of the North”.
I believe many tourists arrive to the city with the intention of venturing out into the National Parks nearby, such as Leivonmäki National Park, Pyhä-Häkki National Park or Isojärvi National Park. If you have a car available to you and are not short on time, we do recommend that you explore a bit of Finnish wilderness before you return home. We talk a bit more about Finnish National Parks here.
Our final verdict: Jyväskylä is best enjoyed in 1-2 days!
Now, what do you think? Is there anything we have missed? Do you have tips on what else to see or do in Jyväskylä? What was your favourite sight? Share your thoughts and pictures with us. Let’s stay in touch!