Helsinki Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > Finland > Helsinki > History

Helsinki, founded on June 12, 1550, is a multi-faceted town that is unique in many ways and has much to offer for any visitor.

Helsinki is set apart from other big historical cities by two factors ' the great physical presence of nature and the very clear street network. Most big cities have a limited number of parks. In Helsinki, parks can be found behind almost every corner. Even in the most densely-built districts of the city centre have dense parklands to liven up the landscape. Both the overwhelming presence of nature and the clear street pattern ' the network of straight, symmetrical wide streets, which make finding any address a simple task ' are the creation of the city´s two main designers ' Johan Albrecht Ehrenström and Carl Ludvig Engel.

Ehrenström´s symmetrical street pattern with its wide streets and multitude of parks was ahead of its time; Cities built in the early 1800s haven´t usually been built with the comfort of the citizens so clearly in mind. Engel, on the other hand, has had a profound influence of the Helsinki cityscape with his elegant, highly-balanced buildings. Engel designed over 30 public buildings in Helsinki as well as a great number of private houses. All these buildings, especially the fabulous historical centre, have had a huge impact on all later development in Helsinki.

Helsinki opens up to the sea. This is part of the original plans by Ehrenström and Engel. Most of the shoreline has no major buildings on it. The shoreline itself has been constructed in several places to make it ampler and more open; this feature has made the sea a palpable presence throughout the city.

Helsinki is first and foremost a city of great architecture and stunning nature. Fabulous buildings are visible all the time, from the historical buildings around the Senate Square to the mighty Parliament House, the functionalistic silhouettes of the Olympic Stadium and the Lasipalatsi, the lustre of the Kämp Gallery and Stockmann department store and the several modern buildings designed by the renowned architect Alvar Aalto.

When you have admired the buildings, its time to take the weight off your feet at one of the cities innumerable parks. From the symmetrical designs of Esplanade Park and Eira´s parklands to the natural splendour of the Central Park and Sibelius park, there are parks for all tastes at all locations. Kaivopuisto Park, Kaisaniemi Park, Fredrik Stjernvall Park, Tehtaanpuisto Park, Ensipuistikko Park, Neitsytpuisto Park, Kolmikulma Greens, the Old Church Park, Kanavapuisto Park, Sinebrychoff Park, Lastenlehto Park, Topelius Park, Humallahdenpuisto Greens, Sammonpuistikko Park, Hesperia Park. The list goes on and on.

Helsinki is also a cultural city full of events. The June Helsinki Day, the Helsinki Festival, the Helsinki International Film Festival 'Love and Anarchy', the Night of the Arts, the Sibelius International Violin Contest, Musica Nova Helsinki, Concerts in the Park, the Children´s International Theatre Festival and the Day of the Rose and the Book all follow one another and provide great cultural experiences. In addition to the festivals, there is also the regular cultural output of countless theatre and dance troups, some of the world´s finest orchestras and choirs, rock concerts, movies and the Finnish National Opera and Ballet, often considered to be among the seven greatest of the world.

In addition to the cultural festivals, Helsinki is piled high with other events, such as the October Herring Festival, the Naisten kymppi outing, the Helsinki City Marathon, the provincial fairs that take place on the Senate Square, the Midsummer festivals, the May Day carnival and the annual Samba carnival.

Helsinki is divided into a total of 54 districts. Some of these districts are often counted as one, and sometimes the city is merely divided into the centre and the suburbs. In general, one can say that the southern districts are older and more revered, and they sport most of the city´s main tourist attractions.

Eira, Ullanlinna and Kaivopuisto are all respected districts full of parks, historical buildings and statues. Eira is known for its Jugend-style (Art Nouveau) houses, parks and beautiful boulevards. Eira centres around Engel Square, which is surrounded by beautiful buildings, including the Chinese Embassy. Ullanlinna, with its marine panorama and densely-built historical buildings is popular among stylish young adults, interior designers and architects. Kaivopuisto´s lovely parks feature large and hugely expensive houses and embassies. This district is popular among bankers and diplomats and is considered a bit snobbish and superior.

Punavuori and the slightly more northern district of Kallio are traditionally working men´s districts, though Punavuori has tried to improve its image in recent years. Punavuori is full of old buildings and is popular among academically educated young adults and a large international populace. Kallio is known for its waterways, Hakaniemi Square and the fabulous Kallio church. The district is mostly populated by young, highly educated adults and low-income families.

The respected district of Töölö is full of old apartment buildings which, though densely packed, are beautiful. Apartments in these buildings are highly sought-after. Töölö also sports a great many sights from Hietaniemi Cemetery to the Sibelius Monument, Parliament Building, Olympic Stadium and the gorgeous parklands around Töölö Bay. Behind Töölö lies the district of Meilahti, known for its old villas. Meilahti is a roomy district populated by middle-class people.

Katajanokka used to be a moody district slightly separated from the rest of the city. It was known for its ports and prison. Nowadays this architectually significant Jugend-style district is part of many sightseeing tours, and is populated by artists and reporters. It is also a political centre. North of Katajanokka lies the peaceful and highly respected district of Kruununhaka. Kruununhaka is the neighbour of the historical centre designed by Engel.

Kamppi is a densely-populated district that stretches from the Central Railway Station to the Cable Factory. Kamppi features the city´s most important services and excellent traffic connections, but also a number of sights, such as Kiasma and the Ruoholahti villas, historically significant wooden buildings that are some of the oldest in the city. Right between Kamppi and Kaartinkaupunki lies Kluuvi, the busiest district in Helsinki. Kluuvi is a great place to shop or eat out.

In Helsinki, history and modern life, man and nature come together in harmony to create a city like no other.