The Helsinki Metropolitan area which includes the nearby cities of Vantaa and Espoo, is the largest urban concentration in Finland, with a population in the region of one million. Finland’s capital, Helsinki, is the country’s busiest port, and stretches across a number of Baltic islands and peninsulas, while the suburbs spread out into the surrounding forests.
Situated on the Baltic Sea, Finland’s capital, Helsinki, is a modern city of over half a million people, and is the second most northern capital in Europe. At the start of the new millennium, Helsinki celebrated its 450th anniversary at the same time as it was the official European City of Culture in 2000. Surrounded by an archipelago of hundreds of tiny islands, and culturally influenced by both the East and West, Helsinki is unique, combining both modern and historic architectural styles with a love of open spaces that is at the very heart of Finnish identity.
Helsinki is world famous for its architecture; the city centre is renowned for its neoclassicalism, especially around Senate Square where the Government Palace, Cathedral, and Main Building of the University of Helsinki, all designed by C.L. Engel, stand out. Close by on a hilltop stands the Uspenski Cathedral, Europe’s largest Russian Orthodox church, and a stunning example of the Byzantine-Russian style. Scattered about the city are fine examples of Jugendstil, or Art Nouveau, noticeably developing into a National Romanticist style, particularly in the case of the National Museum of Finland and the magnificent Railway Station. Elsewhere, the Temppeliaukio Church and Finlandia Hall represent early Modernism.
As befits one of Europe’s foremost capital cities, Helsinki is vibrant, yet paradoxically as laid-back as the Finns who call it home. Wide and spacious streets and avenues allow for a multitude of cafes and restaurants to serve outdoors, where you sit back and relax, and at night there is no shortage of bars, clubs and venues to choose from. Throughout the year, Helsinki offers an incredible variety of activities for people of all ages, whether they prefer challenging sports, or gentle investigations of the natural beauty all around them. Cruises around the archipelago, trekking in the nearby forests, and traditional Finnish saunas, are some of the more popular choices, but there’s plenty more besides.
Finns have long had an inherent appreciation and understanding of the cultural importance of art and design. Finland’s place on the international design stage today is evidenced by the designation of Helsinki as the World Design Capital for 2012 by the ICSID, the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, coinciding with the city’s 200th anniversary of becoming the nation’s capital.