Helsinki’s Akateeminen Kirjakauppa: the death of a bookstore

The big disappointment of this visit to Helsinki is the state of the Akateeminen Kirjakauppa (Academic Bookshop) located at Pohjoisesplanadi 39, Finland’s largest bookstore and a prominent feature of the city centre. The entire third floor is no longer in use, and of the considerable stock once offered there, only a small remnant has been moved to lower floors. The once vast selection of French literature on sale on the first floor is now a small amount of books unceremoniously dumped into a bin. There’s a blowout sale currently going on that bears the rather ominous Finnish name loppuale. None of the staff is willing to comment on developments.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, as this is happening to large bookstores all over the world. My own local bookshops in Cluj seem to have decided that hipster accoutrement (ECM on vinyl, fancy Japanese-imported tea sets, organic biscuits) is a more dependable source of profit than books. With regard to Akateeminen Kirjakauppa, it must have cost a lot of money to keep such a large store running, and I’m sure many would-be customers were avoiding Finland’s very high prices for foreign books by ordering over the internet from Amazon or the like. When I was spending a significant amount of time in Helsinki in 2006–2010, I visited this shop at least three days a week, but I can count the number of books I ever bought there on one hand.

The only bright side is that after putting off buying the Finnish etymological dictionary Suomen sanojen alkuperä at the usual “Sale!” price of 120€, I managed to buy all three volumes today for just 40€ total.


Suomenlinna is the name of the 18th century fortress spread over several islands in the archipelago around Helsinki. A popular tourist destination, and home to a few of Helsinki’s residents, it is easily accessible by a ferry that departs frequently from the port at the market square.

It takes about ten minutes to make the crossing. Approaching Suomenlinna, one sees first the ceremonial gate and the tower of a church built by the Russians in imperial times (under renovation during this visit).

The site offers many things to see, from art galleries to a ship repair yard and a brewery. One of my favourites is the old submarine, put on display here after the Finnish military was prohibited from owning them by the treaty following World War II.

Plenty of people still live and work on Suomenlinna, but their old wooden houses are so different than anything one sees in Helsinki nowadays.

In the south of Suomenlinna one can admire a rugged coastline battered by strong winds. Occasionally ferries pass by on their way to Tallinn or Stockholm.