The crown jewel of the Helsinki metropolitan area is located in Nuuksio National Park in Espoo, which I think all tourists and locals should see. Finnish Nature Centre Haltia was set up in its spectacular location in the middle of nature already a decade ago, and I’ve visited there over the years a few times before. My first visit to Haltia during which I was able to spend more time there, was on the last Saturday of August, the Finnish Nature Day. I noticed that it is an excellent place to enjoy nature in an accessible, easy, and tasty way. The day I spent with Laura, my assistant friend, became a real accessible nature adventure where we spent time outdoors, had a delicious meal in a restaurant, and studied the exhibitions of Haltia. The day ended in the best possible way: a wine tasting in the forest.
Accessible Maahisenkierros nature trail
The Sun shone its last rays of the summer, so we decided to start the day outdoors. The about two-kilometer accessible Maahisenkierros trail starts near Finnish Nature Centre Haltia, next to the Folkhälsan Solvalla sports institute parking area. It is classified as a demanding accessible trail, which means that there are some gentle slopes on the trail and that some may need an assistant to accompany them. The trail was easy to travel in an electric wheelchair. My electric wheelchair also managed to climb the steep asphalt-covered slope from the Finnish Nature Centre Haltia yard to the Folkhälsan Solvalla parking area. If the slope is difficult, you can park your car in the parking area uphill. The Maahisenkierros trail begins next to the maintenance building and goes along the sports ground for a little while before diving deep into the forest.
The atmosphere on the trail is wonderful. The gravel road goes up and down in a coniferous forest. There are occasional rocky hills, some of which I was able to climb with my electric wheelchair. There are exercises along the trail and we stopped to try all of them. The exercises instruct you to breathe deep and observe the fine details of nature, for instance. This helped me relax after a busy week and to actually see the colours of leaves, beetles playing around and the details of mushrooms. The end of August still seemed and looked like summer, but there was a hint of autumn already in the air. Autumn colours are surely a sight to behold here as well.
The highlight of the Maahisenkierros trail is the lookout platform with a view of Lake Pitkäjärvi in Nuuksio National Park and the undulating upland forests. It’s an ideal spot to have a snack as it has benches for resting. Some of the benches are at a higher level, which makes it easier to get up. The view is spectacular and I could’ve spent an eternity admiring it. However, the thought of the lunch served in Restaurant Haltia made us skip our snacks and continue our journey after appreciating the view for a moment. We spent a total of 1,5 hours on the trail with the exercises and admiring the views, but it’s possible to complete the trail faster if you don’t stop at all. It’s an important part of a nature adventure that you are never in a hurry and that you let nature guide you.
Nature is also present in a variety of ways in Restaurant Haltia on the second floor of the Finnish Nature Centre Haltia. The restaurant has a separate entrance from outdoors or you can access it by taking the very spacious lift from the Haltia main entrance lobby. The restaurant has large windows that reveal a view of the surrounding nature. It’s also possible to have your meal outdoors, but we decided to eat inside. The wooden decor of the restaurant and the food made from pure Finnish ingredients fit the environment excellently. We had the lunch buffet, which is served daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The restaurant also serves á la carte dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. The buffet was diverse with several options for the main course. Everything tasted delicious, and I’m not sure if it was due to our hike, the nature view in front of us, or just the taste of the food, but it was the best lunch buffet for a while. I’m sure that having dinner here would be very atmospheric and I’ll have to try it next.
Finnish Nature Centre Haltia exhibitions
We focused on two exhibitions on display at Haltia: The Finnish Nature main exhibition and Haltia’s 10th-anniversary exhibition: Bog, dig and blog – refresh your relationship with nature. We felt refreshed indeed as both exhibitions evoked a lot of thoughts and plenty of discussion. The Bog, dig and blog exhibition took us through five areas with different themes from movement to inner experience. Along the way, we studied history before learning about how natural resources have been used in different times. As the exhibition advanced, modern-day threats were presented as well as the idea of how important nature continues to be to us. The exhibition also made us think about our fears related to nature in an interesting way with the help of fear pearls. We tested our current relationship with nature with an evocative quiz. As it happens, the test confirmed that I’m a nature expert.
The Nature of Finland main exhibition was somewhat similar to my previous visit to Haltia, but there were a variety of new things or old items presented in a new manner. Access to the exhibition is through a fascinating snow canyon. The spacious exhibition area allows you to experience the enchanting colours of Finnish nature and sights and sounds that connect with all senses alternately. They seem so real that you can smell them and feel them on your skin. It’s possible to experience all of the national parks and seasons of Finland in one visit in front of the enormous, 18-metre-wide panorama wall. It was definitely one of my favourites, but Mother Nature’s Call Room took the prize. In this room, the aurora borealis can be seen flickering in the ceiling and the soundscape evokes feelings of rain and wind. The best exhibitions resonate with your mood. This time, it felt good to take a moment to enjoy nature, while sometimes it is more enjoyable to do and experience things yourself. Haltia accommodates various moods and people of all ages. Not everything can be conveyed with photos, so you should visit and experience the nature centre yourself. The entrance fee includes an audio guide that allows you to get the most out of your visit.
Haltia - The Finnish Nature Centre
Nature exhibitions at Haltia
Accessibility at the Finnish Nature Centre Haltia
The Finnish Nature Centre Haltia opened 10 years ago and is the first public building in Finland made completely of solid wood. Its story is based on Finland’s national epic Kalevala. On the Haltia website, the building is described accordingly: “Haltia resembles a duck sitting on its eggs. The tower of the building is like the neck of a bird with its head turned towards Lake Pitkäjärvi. The solar panels on the roof are the feathers of the bird. The egg of the duck can be found in the main exhibition of Haltia. Information is turned into an experience by the building. Haltia surrounds its visitors with a world of stories and myths where ancient Finnish nature and modern-day nature are present at the same time. Everything is inspired by the culture of Kalevala.”
The Finnish Nature Centre Haltia is a highly accessible building. The front door opens automatically, although there were some issues with it during our visit. There is plenty of space to move indoors and the exhibition areas are spacious. The multi-sensory experience is arranged magnificently and the signs and touch panels can be reached in a wheelchair. The main exhibition area has plenty of folding chairs on the wall if you want to sit down to rest. There are also fixed seats in the exhibition area. The lobby has a spacious, accessible toilet with folding support handles around the toilet seat fixed to the wall. There is also a slightly smaller accessible toilet upstairs next to the restaurant. The Haltia auditorium and conference rooms are also accessible and the private sauna that can be reserved is also accessible in a wheeled shower chair, based on my previous experiences.
Finnish Nature Centre Haltia is a place where I would gladly take any tourist who needs accessibility. In fact, I had the chance to present Finnish nature with the help of Haltia to Cory Lee from the United States, the author of the highly popular Curb Free with Cory Lee blog. Haltia offers tourists a view of the nature of the whole of Finland in a single visit, but it also provides us Finns with an accessible and diverse opportunity to spend a day in nature. The accessible nature adventure for us experts ended with a spectacular experience, tasting red wine in the forest with a sommelier. Read more about our experiences with the tasting in a separate post.
This experience was part of my cooperation with the Sustainable Growth for Tourism: Southern Finland - project. This autumn (2023), I tried out sites and services in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and Turku that have invested in accessibility to tell you more about them. The Sustainable Growth for Tourism project supports the recovery and competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises. The project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council and the Regional Council of Southwest Finland as part of the measures carried out in 2021–2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. -Sanna Kalmari
Hero Image: Sanna Kalmari