Helsinki or Helsingfors (Swedish) is the capital of Finland. With a population of over half a million and it’s own sub-dialect, it’s a bustling and unique city. I want to take the opportunity to explore this wonderful location in brief, with a view to potentially take a deep dive into specific topics at a later date.
- Facts, Statistics, and International recognition
- History of Helsinki and the Finnish capital
- Where to go, what to see and what to do
- Where to stay in Helsinki
- How to travel in and around Helsinki
Facts, Statistics, and International recognition
The city of Helsinki’s population, as of 2018, was 643 thousand. This grows to roughly 1.5 million when considering the whole Helsinki metropolitan area, including Espoo, Vantaa, and Kauniainen. You can find a detailed map, including the surrounding islands, from The Region of Helsinki website here.
There’s a sub-dialect spoken in Helsinki called Stadin Slangi (city slang), which uses a mix of modified English, Russian and Swedish loan words.
Helsinki Day, celebrated since 1959 and held traditionally on the 12th of June, marks the birthday of the capital of Finland and features a broad selection of free events organized locally.
Free public playground summer meal service continues in June 2019 for its 77th year. Running from the 3rd of June to the 2nd of August, this will cover 57 playgrounds with food served on weekends at 12 noon. You need only remember your own eating utensils!
In 2000, Helsinki was named one of the nine European Cities of Culture.
It was deemed as World Design Capital in 2012.
Awarded City of Design status in 2014 as part of the Creative Cities Network created by UNESCO.
In March 2018, Spotahome ranked Helsinki as the best city for equality.
April 2018 saw the Helsinki region’s public transportation ranked second in the BEST survey, maintaining it’s rating from the previous year.
In September 2018, Helsinki also won the European Capital of Smart Tourism 2019 along with Lyon, France. In the competition, cities were assessed in such areas as city image, accessibility, sustainable tourism, digitalization in tourism services, cultural heritage and innovativeness in tourism offerings.
November of 2018 brought in the Best Congress Venue prize for Finlandia Hall, awarded in its inaugural year during the Bea World Festival. The reasons included the adaptability of the hall’s spaces, showcased by turning itself into a media center for the Trump-Putin Summit Meeting held earlier that year in July with roughly a week’s notice. Also, the capital of Finland ranked 5th in the Global Destination Sustainability (GDS) Index. The GDS Leadership Awards were presented at the 57th International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) Congress in Dubai. Helsinki moved up from last year’s 6th position to share 5th place with Uppsala, Sweden.
In March 2019, The Mercer’s Quality of Living survey decided that Helsinki was the second best city for personal safety and was ranked third for large cities in the fDI Intelligence Global Cities of the Future 2018/19.
History of Helsinki and the Finnish capital
The original Finnish capital was actually Turku, founded in 1229 making it also the oldest city in Finland.
Helsinki or Helsingfors, as it was at the time, was founded by Sweden’s king Gustavus Vasa at the mouth of the Vantaa river in 1550. Its purpose was to compete with Tallinn for Baltic Sea trade. In 1640, the city was moved 4.8km south to its present-day location to better access the sea. Helsinki’s population suffered through plague in 1710 and the city was burned down in 1713 to avoid Russian control. Despite the best efforts of the Swedish rulers to defend it after it was rebuilt, in 1809 Russia conquered Finland. 3 years later, the capital was changed from Turku to Helsinki.
Following the establishment of the parliament in 1906, the Russian revolution of 1917 drove Finland to declare independence before the end of the year, on the 6th of December. Vaasa or Vasa (Swedish) in the west of Finland was founded by the Swedish king Charles IX in 1606 and was the provisional capital of white Finland in 1918 during the civil war that followed. After significant assistance from Germany, the whites achieved victory over the reds and an end to the war came in May 1918.
In 1952, Helsinki hosted the Summer Olympics, which gave the city an international reputation for efficiency and friendliness. The Conference for Security and Co-operation in 1975 was hosted in Finlandia Hall and the ASEM6 summit in 2006 was also held in Helsinki. 2007 saw the Eurovision Song Contest be hosted there.
Where to go, what to see and what to do
I want to start this off by pointing you in the direction of the Helsinki Card and Museum Card. When planning what to do on your visit to the capital of Finland, they could save you a bundle with many of the attractions being free and others discounted when using them. These include Sea Life Helsinki, which is located in Linnanmäki amusement park about 3 kilometers from the city center.
The Finnair SkyWheel is another not-to-be-missed attraction. Further enhancing the experience in a truly Finnish way, SkySauna even incorporates a sauna cabin, which fits 4-5 people comfortably at a time. During the 5-7 minute ride around the observation wheel, the other people in their party can enjoy a dip in the hot tub.
Let us not forget Korkeasaari Zoo, which is located on its own island! Although it is accessible via a bridge, it’s not uncommon to travel there by ferry.
Hartwall Arena has no doubt attracted international attention by being the home of not only Helsinki’s Jokerit (jokers) but also the national ice hockey team known as Leijonat (lions). Leijonat recently won the International Ice Hockey Federation 2019 World Championship with their 3-1 victory over Canada in Bratislava, Slovakia.
A stone’s throw from the SkyWheel you will find Helsinki Cathedral, it’s another landmark in the capital of Finland which certainly cannot be ignored as it stands out proudly among the other buildings. Not only is it a wonder for the eyes to behold in real life but a Virtual Reality experience for a nominal fee will take you to the top of the building, where you can be captivated by the view and learn more about the 12 apostle statues.
Oodi Central Library only opened in December 2018 but was already nominated as a finalist for the IFLA/Systematic Public Library of the Year in 2019. Receiving more than 20,000 visitors on it’s busiest days, it’s certainly been embraced by the public and the development and design mirrors the ever improving service design thinking in Helsinki.
Sibelius Monument was revealed to the public on the 7th September 1967 as a tribute to the work of Jean Sibelius. It is comprised of over 6000 welded steel pipes to resemble those of a musical organ and still one of the most recognized tourist attractions.
Where to stay in Helsinki
There are many options from the modern and stylish to the rustic and simple, including award-winning hotels. The reinvention of old structures seems to be a theme in the capital of Finland, with many intriguing and endearing characteristics and attractions.
Wooden architecture, free WiFi, private and hotel guest saunas (of course), event venues, escape rooms, and even golf courses. Some may be a distance from Helsinki proper but a more remote retreat might be exactly what you are looking for, enabling a more peaceful break with a blanket of stars and better conditions to view the northern lights or fox’s fire (revontulet).
When staying in a hotel, might I recommend Kämp Collection Hotels? Among many other excellent choices in the Helsinki metropolitan area, you will find the first official five-star hotel, Hotel Kämp. You will be honored from the greeting tip of the doorman’s top hat and the bellboys whisking your luggage to your room, to ensuring your complete satisfaction before the end of your stay. Room service is provided 24 hours a day and Kämp Spa treatments will no doubt restore or maintain your vigor as you endeavor to experience as much as possible during your visit.
How to travel in and around Helsinki
Getting around in the capital of Finland couldn’t be simpler for one immutable fact, one ticket for all modes of public transportation. HSL tickets cover buses, trams, the Metro, commuter trains within Helsinki, Espoo, Kauniainen, Vantaa, Kirkkonummi, Siuntio, Kerava, Sipoo, and Tuusula. Also, not forgetting the ferry to Suomenlinna too. Day tickets are recommended and transportation is also included in the Helsinki Card mentioned earlier. More information can be found here.
City bikes are also an option and following improvements in May 2019, there are now over 3,400 bikes available from 345 bike stations in Helsinki and Espoo. The service will be expanding to Vantaa in June 2019, although it will not be integrated with the other Helsinki metropolitan area cities.
If you’re looking for a more premium option, we recommend Kovanen. They are Finland’s largest full-service passenger transportation service provider, offering taxi and charter services in sleek black sedan and minivan taxis 24/7. If you require further luxury, you might consider the limousine experience? You would be transported by Mercedes-Benz S Lang limousine from and to wherever possible, facilitating your want for a minimum of 1.5 hours.
Of course, there’s only so much I could fit into this short piece and you may feel like something was unfairly excluded. Please go ahead and let me know in the comments and I will do my best to right this wrong!
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The writer of the article:
Helsinki facts and figures 2018 – Helsingin kaupunki
International Achievements | City of Helsinki
City of Helsinki
Helsinki wins European Capital of Smart Tourism 2019 competition – Helsinki Smart Region
Public playground summer meal service to start in June – in 77th year of service | City of Helsinki
City of Turku | Turku.fi
Vaasa | Finland | Britannica.com
History of Helsinki in a nutshell | My Helsinki
History in Helsinki, Finland – Lonely Planet
International nomination for Helsinki’s Oodi Central Library | News Now Finland
Best places to stay in Helsinki in Helsinki, Finland – Lonely Planet
Tips for visitors | HSL
City bikes | City bikes