Helsinki is the capital city of Finland. It is located in the southern part of the country, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland by the Baltic Sea. The city is surrounded by a beautiful archipelago and the clean sea. The city of Helsinki has 560,000 inhabitants, the Greater Helsinki area 1,293,093. A large percentage of foreigners living in Finland reside in Helsinki. There are as much as 130 different nationalities represented here, including Russians, Swedish, Estonians, Somalis, Serbian, Chinese and German.
The city was founded in 1550 by King Gustav Vasa of Sweden as a trading post to compete with Estonia’s Tallinn. Today it is the country’s international business, finance, intellectual and cultural center. It is also Finland’s most cosmopolitan city witha vivid cultural scene: museums, galleries, and performances abound.
Located on the coast of the Baltic Sea, the city has miles of coastline. There are many attractions located along the maritime shores, such as the UNESCO World Heritage listed Suomenlinna fortress and the beautiful island of Seurasaari, a favorite sport for a family outing, with its parks and open-air museum. Another favorite local summer haunt is the Hietaniemi Beach (often called Hietsu), the city’s main beach
Helsinki is a modern lively city. It is not a noisy, bustling metropolis, but rather intimate, and cozy. Its city center is easily explored on foot as all major sights are clustered on one peninsula.
Helsinki has a maritime continental climate. Summers are warm and bright with temperatures from 15°C to 30°C. Summer is characterized by long, sunny days. There can be as much as 19 hours of sunlight daily. Winters are cold, snowy and very dark. The temperatures begin to drop dramatically in September and reach the lowest point in February. Because of its geographical position, Helsinki experiences little sunlight during the winter months. Temperatures are below freezing and there is plenty of snow. Spring begins in April. The warmest month is July, the coldest is February and wettest is August.
January average temperature -6 deg Celsius, 40.6 mm rainfall February average temperature -6 deg Celsius, 30.5 mm rainfall March average temperature -3 deg Celsius, 33.0 mm rainfall April average temperature 2 deg Celsius, 38.1 mm rainfall May average temperature 8 deg Celsius, 35.6 mm rainfall June average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 43.2 mm rainfall July average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 73.7 mm rainfall August average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 81.3 mm rainfall September average temperature 10 deg Celsius, 73.7 mm rainfall October average temperature 5 deg Celsius, 73.7 mm rainfall November average temperature 0 deg Celsius, 71.1 mm rainfall December average temperature -3 deg Celsius, 58.4 mm rainfall
The Helsinki-Vanta International airport, located 20 km north of the city center, handles all international and domestic flights.
Buses nos. 615 and 617 connect the airport with the main railway station downtown. The ride takes around 40 minutes. Services run from 6:00 am to 1:00 pm. Taxis are available at the arrivals level. A ride to the city center costs around 30 EUR (40 USD) and takes approximately 30 minutes.
Helsinki has good boat connections with Stockholm, Sweden and Tallinn, Estonia. There are also a few services to St. Petersburg, Russia and northern Germany.
The public transport HKL (Helsingen Kaupungin Liikennelaitos) is excellent and efficient. It features buses, metro, trams, trains and a ferry. Traffic jams are rare, mostly because numerous people use the public transportation system.
Tram system is extensive and very useful for the visitors, especially Line 3T, which makes an 8-shaped loop around the city. Trams operate mostly in the city center.
Bus network is extensive and services are frequent. There are additional services available on Saturday nights.
One line runs from the city center to the east suburbs but is of little use to the visitors.
Helsinki city center is compact and easily explored on foot.
Helsinki is well-equipped with bike-lanes. Bikes can be rented at several locations.
Car hire is not really necessary with the great public transportation available. While there are no traffic jams, parking is still a problem.
Taxis are expensive but reliable. Main taxi stands are located at Rautatientori at the station, the main bus station, Linja-autoasema, and in the Esplanade. Most taxis are radio taxis so hailing cab on the street can be difficult.
Helsinki city center is surrounded by a beautiful archipelago of islands and very clean sea. The islands can be easily accessed by ferry from the Market Square. Most ferries operate during the high season (summer) only.
An authentic Finnish sauna is something you must not miss. There are numerous saunas to be found virtually anywhere. The traditional Finnish sauna will have you sweating on wooden benches, hot water poured over hot coals, and swatting your back with birch branches. Saunas are usually used by men and women separately.
Most hotels and pools are equipped with a public sauna. After a steaming hot sauna there is the mandatory cooling off, usually outside. During the winter the braver cool off by jumping into icy water through large holes cut in the ice.
Web: www.suomenlinna.fi Access: Ferry from Market Square (service operates from early morning until 2:00 am)
Suomenlinna is an important monument of military architecture and is included on the UNESCO World heritage list. The 250-year-old fortress is, in addition to being a major Helsinki attraction, also home to around 900 Finns. It was constructed in mid 18 th century and was the biggest building project at the time. When finished, it served as military shipyard with one of the biggest dry docks in the world at the time. Today it is a popular picnic site and features also several restaurants, theatres and museums.
The magnificent Uspenski Cathedral was built in 1862 – 1868 in the Russian Byzantine style. Its exotic red brick exterior is topped with the characteristic golden roof which consists of 13 golden onions, the number representing the Christ and the Apostles. The cathedral is situated on a hillside on the Katajanokka peninsula overlooking the city.
Address: Sofiankatu and Aleksanterinkatu
The square, designed by German architect Carl Ludwig Engel, marks ‘The’ center of Helsinki. The buildings surrounding the square are fine examples of the neoclassical architecture, influenced by Russian design. The lively square itself was built in 1822 and features the important city landmark, Lutheran Cathedral, the Palace of the Council State and the University Buildings all by the designer of the square.
This unique church is one of Helsinki’s major attractions. Designed in 1969 by brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, the church is carved out of solid granite rock. The rock walls are topped by a concave copper roof. The acoustics of the place is marvelous and numerous concerts are held here.
Helsinki offers a cosmopolitan array of restaurants that range from international cuisines, to traditional Finnish food, to fast foods. Many places serve Russian food.
Do try some of the delicious Finnish specialties such as game – pheasant, reindeer, hare and grouse accompanied by wild fruit or exotic mushroom sauce.
Fish is also a popular dish, particularly smoked.
Eating out is expensive. The budget eateries mostly comprise fast food such as kebab, pizza, and hamburger. A healthier fast food option is available at Unicafe - one of the 10 places of the chain of restaurants located in central Helsinki.
Eating out at budget eateries costs from 5 – 10 EUR per person, whereas eating at more costly venues can set you back as much as 30 EUR per person.
The grandest Helsinki festival, featuring local and international performers draws a crowd of at least 300,000 every summer to its classical and modern program. There is dancing, music, theatre, cinema and art. The festival reaches a climax with the Night of the Arts when over 100 free events are held.
MAY DAY (VAPPU)
Date: April 30 – May 1 Location: the Market Square
The arrival of spring is celebrated with serious parties all over town. The main event, however, takes place in the Market Square. Large crowds gather to see the statue of Havis Amanda being decorated with a white hat on the evening of April 30. The celebration kicks off by spraying the statue with champagne. Partying goes on into the night.
HELSINKI BALTIC HERRING FAIR
Date: October Location: the Market Square
The Herring festival is 200 years old and is also Helsinki’s oldest event. Visitors can admire and taste numerous methods of preparation such as pickled, marinated and salted herring. The fish can be eaten on the spot of taken away.
Helsinki ’s nightlife has developed considerably in recent years. You can find all kinds of bars, pubs and clubs playing every kind of music. The city center is compact so you can easily visit several places in one night. The Finns love to party and know how to, too. Summer is especially lively. There are numerous outdoor concerts and plays held at various venues, such as Keskuspuisto, Suomenlinna, Mustikkamaa, and the Seurasaari Islands.
Theatre is strong in Helsinki: there are the National Theater, City Theater, Swedish Theater, and Lilla Teatern; but note that plays are performed in Finnish and Swedish only.
Music is performed throughout the year. The Finlandia Hall hosts the finest orchestral and concert performances. Opera is performed in the Finnish National Opera but only in the native tongue.
On a different note, there are several small casinos in Helsinki. The stakes are deliberately low. For serious casino gambling go to Casino Ray.
Helsinki was established in 1550 by the Swedish King Gustav Vasa to rival Estonia’s trading post Reval (today Tallinn) which dominated the trade in the area. The new settlement was called Helsingfors. To ensure the vitality of the new settlement, the King ordered the inhabitants of several towns be relocated to the new settlement. Sweden won the Livonian War and acquired also the trading post Reval (Tallinn) so there was no need for a rival any more. Helsingfors fell into oblivion for decades. After two temporary Russian occupations, the Swedish army built a sea fortress Sveborg, today Suomenlinna, to protect the town from any further attacks.
In 1809 Finland passed from Swedish into Russian hands. The capital was moved from Åbo (Turku) to Helsinki. The latter was chosen due to its location; it is closer to St. Petersburg so it was easier to control for the Russians. In the following decades the city experienced a massive growth and development due to industrialization and the advent of railroads. The development can still be seen today in the old city center, built in neo-classical style to resemble St. Petersburg.
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
In October 1917 the Communist revolution helped free Finland from the Russian clutch. The celebration, however, was short-lived. In January 1918 Finnish Civil War broke out and the southern part of Finland and the city of Helsinki fell in to the hands of the Red Guards. The Senate was moved to Vaasa. In April the same year Helsinki was recaptured by the Germans who fought on the side of the White Guards. The city was left relatively undamaged by the war and soon developed into an important world capital.
During WW II Helsinki was attacked by the Soviet bombers in 1944. The city was not damaged as severely as the rest of Europe. After the war the city developed quickly and hosted the Olympic Games already in 1952. The 1970s saw a big population growth and modernization of the city.
Helsinki has gained an important position as the world conference center ; where many important summits have been held. In 2000 Helsinki was the European Capital of Culture. The city also held an important position during Finnish EU presidency.
Finnish greeting is rather formal, firm handshake, straight eye contact and a smile. Personal space is extensive and should be respected. Never hug, kiss or touch a Finn. Do not show emotions in public and never discuss personal topics, such as job, religion or political convictions.
When invited to someone’s home bring a small gift such as flowers, but not potted plants, good wine or chocolates.
Be punctual, both for a social gathering or business meeting.
The Finnish value loyalty, reliability, independence and self-sufficiency. They value their privacy and appreciate when others respect that.
They are proud of their country. They have one of the world’s cleanest environments and are proud of it.
Finland has a comparatively low crime rate for a developed country. Recently, however, there has been an increase in drug-related, juvenile and racially motivated crime. Petty crimes include bag snatching and pick pocketing. Robberies and burglaries are rare. Tourists are seldom victims of violent criminal acts.
Practice the usual precaution; do not carry excess money and valuables with you, do not walk alone in dark alleys, and keep your eyes on your luggage in public areas at all times.
Be ware of drunken fights, especially on weekends and holidays.
Stay away of the Kaisaniemi Park at night time, practice caution on the railway station at night, and keep your eyes on your valuables on trams crowded with sightseers, such as the 3T/3B.
Helsinki has a pleasant summer climate. The best months to visit are from June to September. Summer, particularly July, marks the height of tourist season with foreign visitors, as well as with the locals. Many venues close down, but the warm weather makes the city café scene as lively as ever. The summer temperatures range from 15°C to 30°C; days are sunny and up to 19 hours long. August provides a full cultural calendar when the city’s major art festival, the Helsinki Festival goes full bloom. Towards the end of September the days grow rapidly shorter and colder. November, when the winter starts, is already freezing cold. Winters in Helsinki are marked by temperatures well below zero, a lot of snow and mere dusk. Spring begins in April.
Current weather in
Heavy rain. Increasing cloudiness. Cool.
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Rain changing to snow. More clouds than sun. Cool.