Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Helsinki
Helsinki (Swedish Helsingfors) is capital of Finland and chief town of the province of Uusimaa (Nyland). The city offers a variety of cultural opportunities such as the National Museum of Finland, the Helsinki City Museum, the Finnish Art Gallery featuring classical to modern art exhibits and three major theatres. Around the city itself (which in 1940 had a population of some 300,000) there grew up from 1950 onwards various suburbs, most of them outside the city limits in the province of Uusimaa. This gave rise to administrative problems, which were resolved in the early 1960s by the establishment of the towns of Espoo/Esbo to the west and Vantaa/Vanda to the northeast - independent administrative units without established centers which at once joined the select group of Finland's five largest towns. The only relics of the past in these towns are a few old churches and pastors' houses in gray stone.
Most of Helsinki proper lies on a much indented granite peninsula on the north coast of the Gulf of Finland, with numerous offshore islands and rocky islets. Espoo extends along the coast to the west, on which there are many little coves and inlets, and again numbers of offshore islands. In the level parts of the town are parks and gardens, with many deciduous trees as well as spruce and pine. The ground is not entirely flat, however, for it is traversed by outliers of the Salpausselkä ridge. The thin sandy soil is best suited to spruce, while the forests consist mostly of pine.
With its scientific and cultural institutions Helsinki has been for more than 150 years the center of Finnish intellectual life. The coexistence - not always without some friction - of Finns and Finland Swedes has been a fertilizing influence.
Helsinki has a University, a University of Technology (now in Espoo), two business schools and numerous other educational establishments of university standard. In addition it is Finland's largest industrial city (engineering, textiles, chemicals, high technology), with the headquarters of most of the country's major firms. All this, combined with the concentration of population in the conurbation, has made Helsinki Finland's principal importing port. In addition the city's excellent communications and the facilities offered by the Finlandia Hall and Espoo's Dipoli have promoted its development into an important center for congresses and trade fairs.
The present city center, in neo-Classical Empire style, was built in the first half of the 19th century by the German architect Carl Ludwig Engel (1778-1840) in accordance with a plan by Johan Albrecht Ehrenström. With its handsome streets and boulevards, the city has an air of spaciousness, and the white facades of the buildings have earned it the name of the "white city of the North". The new residential areas on the outskirts, including the towns of Espoo and Vantaa, are admirably planned. Finland's first Metro runs from the city center to Vantaa (underground in the center, later above ground).
Helsinki was founded by Gustavus Vasa in 1550 on a site northeast of the present center, at the mouth of the Vantaanjoki (Swedish Vanda), as a rival to the trading town of Reval (now Tallinn). In 1639, however, Queen Christina ordered it to be moved to a better site on the Vironniemi peninsula. The construction of a fortress on the offshore island of Suomenlinna was begun in 1748. In 1808 the town, still a place of little consequence, was unable to withstand an attack by Russian forces and was incorporated in the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland, of which Tsar Alexander I made it the capital in 1812. After a great fire which destroyed a third of the town in 1808 C. L. Engel was commissioned in 1816 to rebuild it. In 1828 the University of Turku (Åbo) was moved to Helsinki.
After the collapse of the Russian Empire a republic was proclaimed in Helsinki on December 6, 1917. In January 1918 a war began which ended in May of that year with the withdrawal of Russian troops and the expulsion of Finnish socialist forces - for the war was both a war of liberation and a civil war.
During the Second World War Helsinki was one of the few European capitals not occupied by foreign forces. In 1952 the Summer Olympics were held in Helsinki, and in 1975 the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) held its final session here.