Finland’s capital, Helsinki, has a truly fascinating history with strong influences from Sweden and the Russian Empire. Here is an introduction to Helsinki today.
It’s time to continue our tour of Scandinavia and the Nordic region. Today we are heading to the east of Finland, and more precisely to its capital, Helsinki.
Better known recently as the happiest country in the world, Finland has only been an independent country since 1917. Its capital, Helsinki, had to grow rapidly to become an independent capital on the world stage.
In some parts, the city is reminiscent of Stockholm, the Swedish capital. In others you can see the Soviet influence in the architecture. But there are a lot of Finnish specificities in this fascinating city.
With direct flights from several Norwegian cities, Helsinki is easily accessible for a weekend break. Curious to know more? Here are ten fun facts about Helsinki.
1. Helsinki is the coldest capital in the Nordic region
Of the five major Nordic capitals, Helsinki has the coldest average winter temperature.
The record low in Helsinki was a bone cold -34.3°C (-29.7°F), although temperatures are likely to be much milder than today. Still, average temperatures below freezing are considered normal during winter.
2. There are saunas everywhere
If you want to try Finland’s national obsession with visiting a sauna on your own, you won’t have to look far in Helsinki. Saunas are installed in hotels, recreation centers and even office buildings.
In fact, at one of the executive suites at the city’s Hartwall Arena, groups can even take a sauna while watching an ice hockey game. This particular option isn’t cheap, however!
Discover the variety of public saunas available in Helsinki with this list from our friends at Visit Finland.
3. Helsinki is a Nordic design capital
Ever since it was recognized as a trend in the 1950s, Nordic design has intrigued people all over the world. Furniture and glass are two key elements of the movement and there is no better place to explore this than Helsinki.
Many of the biggest names in Nordic design – Alvar and Aino Aalto, Harri Koskinen and the Marimekko brand founded by Armi Ratia – have their roots in Helsinki. The city was also recognized globally in 2012, enjoying a year in the spotlight as the design capital of the world.
Modern designers keep the trend going. Helsinki’s Design District is a must-visit destination for anyone wanting to experience the latest trends.
4. Helsinki is about the same size as Oslo
For some reason, I always thought Helsinki was bigger than Oslo. But in reality, the two cities are very similar in size.
Helsinki itself has a population of 658,864, of which 1,268,296 live in the wider urban area. Oslo’s population is 702,543, of which 1,036,059 live in the Greater Urban Area.
5. Helsinki has a strong relationship with Tallinn, Estonia
The Estonian capital, Tallinn, is directly across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki. More than ten ferries a day from several operators cross this busy stretch of water, providing a valuable link for business and tourism.
6. The city was founded by a Swedish king
In 1550, King Gustav I of Sweden founded the trading town Helsingfors, which remains the name of Helsinki in Swedish. He wanted the city to act as a rival to the Hanseatic city that is today Tallinn.
7. There is a church inside a rock
Temppeliaukio Church is a Lutheran church in the Töölö district of the city. There are many churches in Helsinki, but this one has a compelling reason to visit.
Designed by architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, the church is built directly into solid rock. The brothers found they could meet the acoustic requirements by leaving the rock walls exposed on the inside.
Originally though too radical, the church has become a major tourist attraction for the city since it opened in 1969.
8. The library is architecturally stunning
The library of the National Library of Finland serves as a hub of Finnish literary and cultural life.
With the responsibility of preserving all printed and audiovisual materials produced in Finland, the library is a temple of books. Among other strengths, it has the largest and most comprehensive collection chronicling the Russian Empire in the world.
But most people visit to admire the stunning architecture. Expect vaulted ceilings, classic staircases, and art nouveau accents.
9. The city’s sea fortress is a World Heritage Site
Built at the end of the 18th century on six islands at the entrance to the port of Helsinki, the fortress of Suomenlinna is a “particularly interesting example of European military architecture of the time”.
This is the verdict of UNESCO, which added the fortress to its list of World Heritage Sites in 1991. Among its features, the fortress consists of 200 buildings and 6 km of defensive walls.
Built by the Swedish Admiralty, the fortress has defended Sweden, the Russian Empire and Finland over the years. In Swedish, the fortress is known as Sveaborg.
10. Helsinki is Finnair’s home airport
Helsinki-Vantaa Airport is home to Finnair, the Finnish airline that dominates domestic and international aviation in the country. A member of Oneworld, Finnair flies to more than 100 destinations worldwide.
Finnair is traditionally known as an important link between Northern Europe and Asia, especially China. However, much of this network is currently suspended.
So, that’s a very quick introduction to Helsinki, through some fun facts. What else do you think people should know about the Finnish capital? Let us know in the comments.