A bustling metropolis with 5 centres, Espoo is a city rich in culture yet still firmly rooted in nature, nestled between Nuuksio National Park and the Baltic Sea. Home to Finland's largest art museum, EMMA, as well as numerous other museums and galleries, Espoo's cultural calendar is ever a busy one, as the city hosts international music and film festivals and boasts its own acclaimed Symphony Orchestra.
Along with Helsinki, Vantaa, and Kauniainen, Espoo makes up the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, and is the second most heavily populated city in Finland, with around 250,000 people living there. Although the first inhabitants arrived over 9,000 years ago, the first permanent settlement wasn't established until the 12th century, and by 1458 it had gained its charter.
Although the first inhabitants arrived over 9,000 years ago, the first permanent settlement wasn't established until the 12th century, and by 1458 it had gained its charter. The famous King's Road that leads from Stockholm to Viipuri, dating back to the 13th century, passes through Espoo. The oldest preserved building in the city is Espoo Cathedral, dating back to the 1480s. Today, Espoo is a thriving city, unlike any other in Finland because instead of having a traditional city centre it has five separate local centres, the best known of which is Tapiola Garden City.
Completed in the 1960s, Tapiola has become the cultural centre of Espoo, housing the Espoo Cultural Centre, Exhibition Centre WeeGee, and the Espoo City Theatre. The Tapiola Sinfonietta has gained international acclaim since its inception in 1988 and is based in the Espoo Cultural Centre. Corresponding in size to many of the orchestras of Viennese Classical period, its repertoire ranges from Baroque to contemporary. Alongside the Sinfonietta, the centre also hosts international festivals like April Jazz and Espoo Ciné, as well as biennial events such as Espoo Piano Week and Choir Espoo. The building itself, called 'The Moon Bridge', is worth seeing, designed by Arto Sipinen in the tradition of Alvar Aalto's monumental buildings.
The WeeGee Exhibition Centre is an impressive cornucopia of museums, exhibitions and events, includes five museums, a modern art gallery, a media-art centre, a café, a museum shop and an art school, all located in a renovated old print house which was first named the WeeGee House after Weilin & Göös, the old book printing company. Chief among its attractions is EMMA, the Espoo Museum of Modern Art, and the biggest art museum in Finland. The same building also houses Finland's only Museum of Horology (Kellomuseo) and Leikkilinna, a toy museum, as well as KAMU (The Espoo City Museum), the Helinä Rautavaara Museum, Gallery AARNI, CARTES (the Computer Arts Centre), and Espoo School of Art.
Other cultural treats for the visitor to enjoy include the Espoo Car Museum and the Mineralogical Museum, as well as several fine manors in Espoo: Espoon Kartano, which was first mentioned in 1495, Pakankylän Kartano on the northern shore of Lake Bodom, and Kaisankoti Manor, located in Pakankylä in Northern Espoo. Other places of interest include Villa Rulludd, the Villa Museum of the Espoo City Museum, situated by the sea on a peninsula, and a rare example of early villa architecture. The Gallen-Kallela Museum was built between 1911 and 1913 in the Art Nouveau style, and has 2-3 exhibitions a year displaying works by the artist and his contemporaries, as well as modern art and photography.
Escaping city life is easy in Espoo. Located in the northern section of Laajalahti Nature Reserve is the Villa Elfvik Nature House, designed by Mauritz Gripenberg in 1904 for baroness Elvira Standerstkskjöld in an English-influenced Jugend style. Espoo also has the Nuuksio National Park, filled with marked trails, cooking shelters and camping sites, and perfect for short hiking trips of one or two days. Meanwhile at the Marketan Puisto gardeners can wander the grounds which are an exhibition park for garden and park building, with over 110 exhibitors on permanent display.
Families with children will find plenty to keep everyone happy and involved. The Serena Water Amusement Park is the largest constant warm water park in the Nordic countries, Unga Teatern is the oldest children's theatre in Finland, Theatre Hevosenkenkä puts on around 300 performances every year and is renowned for its puppet shows, HopLop is an adventure playground for children, and HopStop continues that theme but in a shopping centre allowing parents to browse and buy without distraction, and finally the Family Entertainment Centre HUIMALA includes a sport arena, a softplay area, an area specifically designed for under 5s, and healthy homemade food in its restaurants and cafes.
Finally, Espoo has much to offer visitors who enjoy the sea - there is 58 kilometres of shoreline in the municipality, and some 165 islands in the archipelago to explore surrounded by waters that are perfect for fishing and boating, whether in a kayak or canoe or a larger craft.
Museums and galleries galore, theatre groups, and a busy calendar of events: Espoo has something for everyone. April Jazz, Kivenlahti Rock, Organ Night & Aria, Midsummer parties, an international film festival, Piano Espoo: these are just some of the many cultural events held here every year. Planning a visit to Espoo? View our list of top tourist attractions in Espoo.
Espoo is home to top Finnish ice hockey and soccer teams and a trotting track, if you prefer to watch sports, but there are plenty of places to play too, with 3 bowling alleys, golf courses, cross-country skiing facilities, swimming pools and beaches, plus the chance to trek through some remarkable scenery in the Nature Parks.
There are more than enough choices for the diner in Espoo, with ethnic options like Turkish, Pakistani, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, alongside more traditional Finnish and Karelian fare, and of course the wonderful home cooking available in the old Manor Houses and seaside restaurants.
Along with a wide selection of top class hotels, Espoo has many accommodation options for the visitor, including a Summer hostel, Camping & Caravan Park, Valklampi House in Nuuksio National Park, Manor Spa Kaisankoti, Nuuksio log cabins and cottages, Nuuksio Lodge (for groups of 15 and more) and many villas by lake or sea shore.
With no less than seven shopping centres, and almost as many department stores, there's not much you can't find in Espoo. Most of the smaller speciality shops are found in Tapiola, and there are plenty of places to buy Finnish designer goods with names like Artek, Arabia, Iittala and Hackman, Marimekko and Pentik.
Less than 30 minutes from Helsinki's international airport, Vantaa, and with trains from the capital running between every 10 and 20 minutes, it couldn't be easier to get to Espoo. The city is well connected to the rest of Finland by bus and by rail.