Facts about Helsinki

We found 31 facts about Helsinki

The northernmost urban area in the world

Helsinki is the capital and largest city of Finland, the third largest city in the Nordic countries. It is the northernmost capital of a European Union member state.

Helsinki was founded by the Swedes in 1550 when Finland was part of Sweden. Soon after it came under Russian rule, Helsinki became the capital of the Newly formed Grand Duchy of Finland in 1812, replacing Turku as the country’s most important city.

Helsinki has been the capital of independent Finland since 1917, but the city’s growth, its rapid urbanization, did not occur until the 1970s. Today, Finland’s economy is inextricably linked to the Helsinki region, which produces about a third of the country’s gross domestic product.

The city is the administrative, financial, scientific, and cultural center of the country.


Copyright: © 2013 Jonathan Barsook

Helsinki is the capital and the largest city in Finland.

It is also the country’s most populous city (over 650.000 inhabitants).

The city is located in the Uusimaa region in the southern part of the country, on the shores of the Gulf of Finland.

It is called the “Daughter of the Baltic” or the “Pearl of the Baltic Sea” and lies at the tip of a peninsula and on 315 islands.

The main Helsinki islands are: Seurasaari, Vallisaari, Lauttasaari, Korkeasaari.

Helsinki, together with the neighboring cities of Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen, make up the so-called Capital Regin.

The Capital Region, a metropolitan area, is considered Finland’s only metropolis. It extends over an area of 770 square kilometers, has a population of about 1.1 million, and is the northernmost metropolitan area in the world with a population of more than one million. It has a high concentration of employment: about 750.000 jobs.

Helsinki is also the northernmost capital of a European Union member state. As Finland’s largest city, it is the third largest in the Nordic countries, after Stockholm and Oslo.

Helsinki has close historical ties with Tallinn, Stockholm and St. Petersburg.

It is located 80 kilometers north of Tallinn in Estonia, 400 kilometers east of Stockholm in Sweden, and 300 kilometers west of St. Petersburg in Russia.

Helsinki covers an area of 715 square kilometers.

The city is divided into eight districts, which are subdivided into 34 basic districts, divided into neighborhoods, of which there are 137. The smallest administrative unit is the settlement-there are 369 of them.

Outside the city center, much of Helsinki consists of post-war suburbs separated by patches of forest.

An important recreational area for the city’s residents is the narrow, 10-kilometer-long Helsinki Central Park (Keskuspuusto), stretching from the city center to its northern border. A special feature of the park is the flying squirrels (Pteromys volans), whose population has recovered surprisingly quickly in recent years after it was thought to have disappeared in the late 20th century.

The city has about 11.000 boat moorings.

It also gas more than 14.000 hectares of marine fishing waters adjacent to the capital region. There are about 60 species of fish in the area (recreational fishing is popular).

Helsinki has 60 nature reserves, with a total area of 38.640 hectares. Of these, 19.500 ha are aquatic areas and 19.140 ha are land areas. The largest nature reserve is Vanhankaupunginselkä with an area of 12.400 ha, an area listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, part of the European Union’s Natura 2000 program. It is also listed as a bird sanctuary.

The area is largely similar to a swamp, impassable neither on foot nor by boat. Most of it is covered with man-high reeds, making it impossible to use a boat. In turn, the ground beneath the reeds is soft and muddy, making it impossible to cross on foot.

The typical tree in Helsinki is the common maple (Acer platanoides).

The typical animal, on the other hand, is the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris).

Helsinki has a humid continental climate, similar to that on the coast of Hokkaido or Nova Scotia (one of Canada’s thirteen provinces).

Winters in Helsinki are much warmer than in northern Finland (the moderating influence of the Baltic Sea and the North Atlantic Current), and the snow season is much shorter.

The highest temperature ever recorded in the city was 33.2 degrees Celsius on 28th July 2019, and the lowest was -34.3 degrees Celsius on 10th January 1987.

The name of the city of Helsinki came into common use in the 19th century, and the Senate approved it in 1819.

When the Swedes founded a town in the village of Forsby (later known as Koskela) in 1548, they called it Helsinge fors. The town was commonly known as Helsinge or Helsing. It was from this name that the modern Finnish name was derived.

As part of the Grand Duchy of Finland in the Russian Empire, Helsinki was known as Gel’singfors (Гельсингфорс).

In Helsinki slang, the city is called Stadi (from the Swedish word stad meaning “city”). People from other areas of Finland use the name Hesa, and the Sami name for Helsinki is Helsset.

Helsinki was founded as the trading city of Helsingforst by King Gustav I of Sweden on 12th June 1550.

It was intended to rival the Hanseatic city of Rewal on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, now known as Tallinn. As a wooden city, Helsinki was plagued by frequent fires in the second half of the 17th century. It had little significance, with a population of about 1700 at the time. The city’s position began to change in the 18th century when it was provided with greater maritime defense.

In the 20th century, Helsinki continued its growth.

The city was now home to more than 100.000 people, among whom about as many spoke Finnish as Swedish (most employees spoke Finnish). Local Helsinki slang (stadin slangi) developed among children and young people as a mixed Finnish-Swedish language as early as the 1890s and was also influenced by Russian. Since the 1950s, the slang began to become more Finnish.

Finland’s rapid urbanization occurred later than in other European countries, only in the 1970s.

At that time, the population of the metropolitan area tripled. The city built a subway (1982, after 27 years of planning), which is the northernmost such system in the world.

A landmark event in the life of Helsinki was the 1952 Olympic Games.

The 1952 Summer Olympics were the last of two consecutive Olympic Games to be held in Northern Europe, following the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway. They were also the Olympic Games with the most world records until they were broken by the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

The United States won the most medals overall and gold medals in Helsinki. Making their debut in these Games were: the Soviet Union, People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Thailand, and Saarland (a protectorate in western Germany that existed from 1947 to 1956).

Helsinki is nicknamed the “White City of the North.”

It originated when German architect Carl Ludwig Engel was entrusted with planning the redevelopment of the city center. Several neoclassical buildings were constructed at the time. The centerpiece of Engel’s city plan was Senate Square. It was surrounded by Government Square, the main building of the University of Helsinki, and the large Helsinki Cathedral, which was completed in 1852, twelve years after Engel’s death.

Most of Helsinki’s older buildings were built after the 1808 fire. The oldest surviving building from before this period is Sederholm House (1757).

The oldest church in Helsinki is the 1826 Evangelical Lutheran Old Church, designed by Engel.

The church is located in a recreational park called Old Church Park. It is colloquially known as Blight Park because more than a thousand victims of the 1710 blight are buried next to it.

Helsinki has quite a few buildings inspired by Art nouveau (Jugend in Finnish), belonging to the Romantic Nationalism trend.

They were designed in the early 20th century under the strong influence of the Kalevala (a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled from oral folklore and Karelian and Finnish mythology, telling the story of the creation of the Earth), which was a common theme of that era.

An important architect of Finnish Art Nouveau was Eliel Saarinen, whose architectural masterpiece was Helsinki Central Station.

Helsinki’s neoclassical buildings have often been used by Hollywood filmmakers.

They served as a backdrop for scenes set in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, when filming in the USSR was not possible. Some of these included: The Kremlin Letter, Reds, and Gorky Park.

Since some streetscapes resembled the old buildings of Leningrad and Moscow, they too were used in film productions.

The city has a large number of underground areas, such as shelters and tunnels.

Many of them are used daily for various purposes (swimming pools, entertainment venues, etc.).

The first skyscraper in Finland was built in Helsinki in 1931.

It was the 69.5-meter-high Torni Hotel, which was the tallest building in Finland at the time, until 1976. As of April 2007, there are no skyscrapers taller than 100 meters in the Helsinki area, but several projects are under construction or in planning.

Finnish and Swedish are the official languages in Helsinki.

77.1 percent of citizens speak Finnish as their mother tongue, and 5.6 percent speak Swedish. The remaining 17.3 percent of the population speaks a native language other than Finnish or Swedish. The fastest-growing languages are Arabic and Somali.

Only 64 people speak Sami languages as their mother tongues, although 527 people have Sami ancestry. There are 93 Tatar language speakers living there, accounting for almost half of all Tatar language speakers in Finland.

Helsinki has the largest immigrant population in Finland.

More than 140 nationalities are represented in the capital. The world’s largest Estonian community outside Estonia lives there. Somalis are the second largest immigrant group.

The city’s main landmark and probably the most famous building in all of Finland is the Helsinki Cathedral, completed in 1852.

The church was built as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Czar Nicholas I of Russia. The cathedral is one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist attractions, with half a million visitors in 2018.

It is built in a neoclassical style, and its foundations are shaped like a Greek cross. It has a seating capacity of 1300.

Drinking water in Helsinki is of excellent quality.

It is supplied through the 120-kilometer-long Päijänne water tunnel, located in southern Finland. It is the second longest tunnel in the world, running 30-100 meters deep in the bedrock.

Not far from the Finnish capitals is the 18th-century fortress of Suomenlinna, which is called the Gibraltar of the North.

This fortress is located on several interconnected islands: Kustaanmiekka, Susisaari, Iso Mustasaari, Pikku-Musta (saari), and Länsi-Musta (saari). It is one of the most popular places, both among tourists and locals, and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Every year in early October, Helsinki hosts a traditional herring market.

It takes place in the center of the city at the Kauppatori market, just off the harbor. The market has been held since 1743, making it the oldest event in Helsinki. It lasts for a week and is visited by more than 50.000 people every year.

Helsinki is a port city.

The Port of Helsinki is the largest port for cargo and passenger traffic in Finland.

In 2019, ferry traffic carried 12.2 million travelers and 603.500 passengers from cruise ships. The Tallinn-Helsinki-Tallinn maritime connection surpassed all other shipping routes in Europe in terms of passenger throughput.

Helsinki is the birthplace of many prominent personalities.

These include: Ragnar Granit-neurophysiologist, Nobel Prize winner; Aino Aalto-designer, architect; Tarja Halonen-former president of Finland; Tove Jansson-writer and illustrator, author of the Moomint books; Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld-polar explorer; Mika Waltari-writer; Sanna Marin- former prime minister of Finland and others.

Helsinki has one of Europe’s largest railroad hubs.

Trains run from it to all parts of Finland and Russia. The city is connected to the Allegro high-speed railroad to St. Petersburg and Moscow. Päärautatieasema's main railroad station is the main terminus of Finland’s rail network and is one of the city’s busiest public places. About 200.000 passengers use the station daily.

Helsinki also has Europe’s largest sobering house.

Alcohol prices are among the high ones in Finland, and yet Europe’s largest sobering-up room has been established in the capital. The reason that Helsinki residents are forced to use this facility is their frequent trips to Tallinn, from which they bring huge amounts of alcohol.

As a port city on the Baltic Sea, Helsinki is famous for its fish menu.

Recently, it has even become one of the leading places offering fish dishes in Northern Europe. Particularly popular are herrings, but also salmon, both fried and in soup.

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