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—  City  —
Helsingin kaupunki
Helsingfors stad
From top-left: Helsinki Cathedral, Suomenlinna, Senate Square, Aurinkolahti beach, City Hall

Coat of arms
Nickname(s): Stadi, Hesa
Helsinki is located in Finland
Location of Helsinki in Finland
Coordinates: 60°10′15″N 024°56′15″E Coordinates: 60°10′15″N 024°56′15″E
Country Finland
Region Uusimaa
Sub-region Helsinki
Charter 1550
Capital city 1812
 •  Mayor Jussi Pajunen
 • City 715.49 km2 (276.25 sq mi)
 • Land 213.75 km2 (82.53 sq mi)
 • Water 501.74 km2 (193.72 sq mi)
 • Urban 631.11 km2 (243.67 sq mi)
 • Metro 2,970.18 km2 (1,146.79 sq mi)
Area rank 170th largest in Finland
Population (2013-02-28)
 • City 605,523
 • Rank Largest in Finland
 • Density 2,832.86/km2 (7,337.1/sq mi)
 •  Urban 1,159,211
 • Urban density 1,836.8/km2 (4,757/sq mi)
 •  Metro 1,361,506
 • Metro density 458.39/km2 (1,187.2/sq mi)
Population by native language
 •  Finnish 84.3% (official)
 •  Swedish 6.1% (official)
 • Others 9.6%
Population by age
 • 0 to 14 13.7%
 • 15 to 64 72%
 • 65 or older 14.3%
Time zone EET ( UTC+2)
 • Summer ( DST) EEST ( UTC+3)
Municipal tax rate 18.5%

Helsinki (listen; Swedish: Helsingfors, listen) is the capital and largest city of Finland. It is in the region of Uusimaa, located in southern Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic Sea. Helsinki has a population of 605,523 (28 February 2013), an urban population of 1,159,211 (31 December 2011) and a metropolitan population of 1,361,506, making it by far the most populous municipality and urban area in Finland. Helsinki is located some 80 kilometres (50 mi) north of Tallinn, Estonia, 400 kilometres (250 mi) east of Stockholm, Sweden, and 300 kilometres (190 mi) west of Saint Petersburg, Russia. Helsinki has close historical connections with these three cities.

The Helsinki metropolitan area includes urban core of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Kauniainen and surrounding commuter towns. It is the world's northernmost metro area of over one million people, and the city is the northernmost capital of an EU member state.

Helsinki is Finland's major political, educational, financial, cultural and research centre as well as one of northern Europe's major cities. Approximately 70% of foreign companies operating in Finland have settled in the Helsinki region. The nearby municipality of Vantaa is the location of Helsinki Airport, with frequent service to various destinations in Europe and Asia.

In 2009, Helsinki was chosen to be the World Design Capital for 2012 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, narrowly beating Eindhoven for the title.

In the Economist Intelligence Unit's August 2012 Liveability survey, assessing the best and worst cities to live in, Helsinki placed eighth best overall. In 2011, the Monocle Magazine in turn ranked Helsinki the most liveable city in the world in its Liveable Cities Index 2011.


Early history

Central Helsinki in 1820 before rebuilding. Drawing by Carl Ludvig Engel.
Construction of Suomenlinna began at 18th century.

Helsinki was established as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550 as the town of Helsingfors, which he intended to be a rival to the Hanseatic city of Reval (today known as Tallinn). Little came of the plans as Helsinki remained a tiny town plagued by poverty, wars, and diseases. The plague of 1710 killed the greater part of the inhabitants of Helsinki. The construction of the naval fortress Sveaborg (In Finnish Viapori, today also Suomenlinna) in the 18th century helped improve Helsinki's status, but it was not until Russia defeated Sweden in the Finnish War and annexed Finland as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809 that the town began to develop into a substantial city. During the war, Russians besieged the Sveaborg fortress and most of the city was devastated in a 1808 fire.

Czar Alexander I of Russia moved the Finnish capital from Turku to Helsinki in 1812 to reduce Swedish influence in Finland and bring the capital closer to St. Petersburg. Following the Great Fire of Turku in 1827, The Royal Academy of Turku, back then the country's only university, was also relocated to Helsinki, and eventually became the modern University of Helsinki. The move consolidated the city's new role and helped set it on the path of continuous growth. This transformation is highly apparent in the downtown core, which was rebuilt in neoclassical style to resemble St. Petersburg, mostly to a plan by the German-born architect C. L. Engel. As elsewhere, technological advancements such as railroads and industrialization were key factors behind the city's growth.

Twentieth century

Despite the tumultuousness of Finnish history during the first half of the 20th century, Helsinki continued its steady development. A landmark event was the XV Olympic games ( 1952 Olympic Games) held in Helsinki. Finland's rapid urbanization in the 1970s, occurring late relative to the rest of Europe, tripled the population in the metropolitan area, and the Helsinki Metro subway system was built. The relatively sparse population density of Helsinki and its peculiar structure have often been attributed to the lateness of its growth.


Helsinki ( Finnish pronunciation places stress on the first syllable: Finnish pronunciation:  [ˈhelsiŋki]), is used to refer to the city in most languages, but not in Swedish.

The Swedish name Helsingfors ( [hɛlsiŋˈfɔrs] or [hɛlsiŋˈfɔʂ]) is the original official name of the city of Helsinki (in the very beginning, spelled Hellssingeforss). The Finnish language form of the name probably originates from Helsinga and similar names used for the river that is currently known as the Vantaa River as documented already in the 14th century. Helsingfors comes from the name of the surrounding parish, Helsinge (source for Finnish Helsinki) and the rapids ( Swedish: fors), which flowed through the original village.

Another suggestion is that the name Helsinge may have originated with medieval Swedish settlers who came from Hälsingland in Sweden. Others have proposed that the name derives from the Swedish word helsing, a former version of the word hals ( neck), referring to the narrowest part of the river, i.e. the rapids. Other Scandinavian cities located at this kind of geographical locations were given similar names at the time, such as Helsingør and Helsingborg.

In Helsinki slang the city is nicknamed as either Stadi (from the Swedish word stad, meaning "city") or Hesa (short of Helsinki + slang suffix sa), with Stadi being used to assert that the speaker is native to the city. Helsset is the Northern Saami name of Helsinki.


Parts of Helsinki and Espoo seen from SPOT

Helsinki is spread across a number of bays and peninsulas and over a number of islands. The inner city area occupies a southern peninsula, which is rarely referred to by its actual name Vironniemi. Population density in certain parts of Helsinki's inner city area is very high, reaching 16,494 inhabitants per square kilometre (42,720 /sq mi) in the district of Kallio, but as a whole Helsinki's population density of 3,050 per square kilometre (7,900 /sq mi) ranks it as quite sparsely populated in comparison to other European capital cities. Much of Helsinki outside the inner city area consists of postwar suburbs separated from each other by patches of forest. A narrow, ten-kilometre-long (6 mi) Helsinki Central Park that stretches from the inner city to the northern border of Helsinki is an important recreational area for residents.

Major islands in Helsinki include Seurasaari, Lauttasaari and Korkeasaari – the lattermost being the site of the country's biggest zoo. Other significant islands are the fortress island of Suomenlinna (Sveaborg) and the military island of Santahamina. Pihlajasaari island is a favourite summer spot for gay men and naturists, very much comparable to Fire Island off New York City.

Urban area

Urban area of Helsinki

Helsinki urban area spreads to 10 different municipalities and is considered to be the only metropolis in Finland. It has population of 1 159 211, land area of 631,11m2 and population density of 1 836,8 per square kilometre It is by far the biggest and most densely populated area of Finland, 3,7 times bigger than subsequent Tampere.


Helsinki has a humid continental climate. Owing to the mitigating influence of the Baltic Sea and Gulf Stream, temperatures in winter are much higher than the far northern location might suggest, with the average in January and February around −5 °C (23 °F). Temperatures below −20 °C (−4 °F) occur normally a week or two in a year. However, because of the latitude, days last less than six hours around the winter solstice with really low sun rays, and the very cloudy weather at this time of year accentuates the darkness. Conversely, Helsinki enjoys long days in summer, close to nineteen hours around the summer solstice. The average maximum temperature from June to August is around 19 °C (66 °F). Due to the marine effect, especially in the summer daily temperatures are cooler and night temperatures are higher than further away in the mainland. The highest temperature ever recorded at city centre was 34.1 °C (93.4 °F) on 28 July 2010 and the lowest was −34.3 °C (−30 °F) on 10 January 1987. Summer temperatures much above 25 °C (77 °F) are rare.

Climate data for Helsinki ( Kaisaniemi)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 8.5
Average high °C (°F) −1.3
Daily mean °C (°F) −3.9
Average low °C (°F) −6.5
Record low °C (°F) −34.3
Precipitation mm (inches) 52
Snowfall cm (inches) 20
Mean monthly sunshine hours 38 70 138 194 284 297 291 238 150 93 36 29 1,858
Source: Climatological statistics for the normal period 1981–2010
Climate data for Helsinki-Vantaa Airport ( Helsinki Airport)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 8.2
Average high °C (°F) −2.4
Daily mean °C (°F) −5.0
Average low °C (°F) −8.1
Record low °C (°F) −35.9
Precipitation mm (inches) 54
Mean monthly sunshine hours 38 74 131 196 275 266 291 219 143 84 37 26 1,780
Source: Climatological statistics for the normal period 1981–2010 Sun and record temperatures 1981-2011 only


Aleksanterinkatu in Central Helsinki
Aleksi in Central Helsinki
The view across summertime Eläintarhanlahti
The Helsinki Cathedral is probably the most prominent building and symbol of the city.
Parliament of Finland on the right, and new supplemental offices on the left

Carl Ludvig Engel (1778–1840) was appointed to design a new city centre all on his own. He designed several neoclassical buildings in Helsinki. The focal point of Engel's city plan is the Senate Square. It is surrounded by the Government Palace (to the east), the main building of Helsinki University (to the west), and (to the north) the enormous Cathedral, which was finished in 1852, twelve years after C. L. Engel's death. Subsequently, Engel's neoclassical plan stimulated the epithet, The White City Of The North. Helsinki is, however, perhaps even more famous for its numerous Art Nouveau ( Jugend in Finnish) influenced buildings of the romantic nationalism, designed in the early 1900s and strongly influenced by the Kalevala, which is a very popular theme in the national romantic art of that era. Helsinki's Art Nouveau style is also featured in large residential areas such as Katajanokka and Ullanlinna. The master of the Finnish Art Nouveau was Eliel Saarinen (1873–1950), whose architectural masterpiece was the Helsinki central railway station.

Helsinki also features several buildings by the world-renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898–1976), recognized as one of the pioneers of architectural functionalism. However, some of his works, such as the headquarters of the paper company Stora Enso and the concert venue, Finlandia Hall, have been subject to divided opinions from the citizens.

Renowned functionalist buildings in Helsinki by other architects include the Olympic Stadium, the Tennis Palace, the Rowing Stadium, the Swimming Stadium, the Velodrome, the Glass Palace, the Exhibition Hall (now Töölö Sports Hall) and Helsinki-Malmi Airport. The sports venues were built to serve the 1940 Helsinki Olympic Games; the games were initially cancelled due to the Second World War, but the venues eventually got to fulfill their purpose in the 1952 Olympic Games. Many of them are listed by DoCoMoMo as significant examples of modern architecture. The Olympic Stadium and Helsinki-Malmi Airport are in addition catalogued by the National Board of Antiquities as cultural-historical environments of national significance.

As a historical footnote, Helsinki's neoclassical buildings were often used as a backdrop for scenes set to take place in the Soviet Union in many Cold War era Hollywood movies, when filming in the USSR was not possible. Some of the more notable ones are The Kremlin Letter (1970), Reds (1981) and Gorky Park (1983). Because some streetscapes were reminiscent of Leningrad's and Moscow's old buildings, they too were used in movie productions—much to some residents' dismay. At the same time the government secretly instructed Finnish officials not to extend assistance to such film projects.

A panoramic view over the southernmost districts of Helsinki from Hotel Torni. The Helsinki Old Church and its surrounding park are seen in the foreground, while the towers of St. John's Church (near centre) and Mikael Agricola Church (right) can be seen in the middle distance, backdropped by the Gulf of Finland.
A panoramic view of Helsinki Central Railway Station and its surroundings
A panoramic view of Kamppi Central and its surroundings


The city council of Helsinki consists of eighty-five members. Following the most recent municipal election in 2012, the three largest parties are National Coalition (23), Greens (19), and Social Democrats (15). The mayor, Jussi Pajunen, is a member of the National Coalition Party.


Helsinki has a higher proportion of women (53.4%) than elsewhere in Finland (51.1%). Helsinki's current population density of 2,739.36 people per square kilometer is by far the highest in Finland. Life expectancy for both genders is slightly below the national averages: 75.1 years for men as compared to 75.7 years, 81.7 years for women as compared to 82.5 years.

Helsinki has experienced strong growth since the 1810s, when it replaced Turku as the capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland, which later became the sovereign Republic of Finland. The city continued to show strong growth from that time onwards, with the exception during the Finnish Civil War period. From the end of World War II up until the 1970s there was a massive exodus of people from the countryside to the cities of Finland, in particular Helsinki. Between 1944 and 1969 the population of the city nearly doubled from 275,000 to 525,600.

In the 1960s, the population growth of Helsinki proper began to ebb mainly due to lack of housing. Many residents began to move to neighboring Espoo and Vantaa, where population growth has since soared. Espoo's population increased ninefold in sixty years, from 22,874 people in 1950 to 244,353 in 2009. Neighboring Vantaa has seen even more dramatic change in the same time span: from 14,976 in 1950 to 197,663 in 2009, a thirteenfold increase. These dramatic increases pushed the municipalities of greater Helsinki into more intense cooperation in such areas as public transportation and waste management. The increasing scarcity of housing and the higher costs of living in the Helsinki metropolitan area have pushed many daily commuters to find housing in formerly very rural areas, and even further, to such cities as Lohja (50 kilometres or 30 miles northwest from the city centre), Hämeenlinna and Lahti (both 100 kilometres or 60 miles from Helsinki), and Porvoo (50 kilometres to the east).


Finnish and Swedish are the official languages of the municipality of Helsinki. The majority, or 82.5% of the population, speak Finnish as their native language. A minority, at 6.0%, speak Swedish. Around 11.5% of the population speak a native language other than Finnish or Swedish. Helsinki slang combines influences from the Finnish, Swedish and Russian languages. Finnish today is the common language of communication between Finnish speakers, Swedish speakers and speakers of other languages (immigrants) in day-to-day affairs in the public sphere between unknown persons. In case a speaker's knowledge of Finnish is not known, English is usually spoken. Swedish is commonly spoken in city or national agencies specifically aimed at Finland-Swedish speakers, such as the Social Services Department on Hämeentie or the Luckan Cultural centre in Kamppi. Knowledge of Finnish is also essential in business and is usually a basic requirement in the employment market.

Finnish speakers surpassed Swedish speakers in 1890 to become the majority of the city's population. At the time, Helsinki's population was 61,530.


Helsinki is the global gateway of Finland. The city has Finland's largest immigrant population in both absolute and relative terms. There are over 130 nationalities represented in Helsinki. The largest groups are from Russia, Estonia, Sweden, Somalia, Serbia, China, Iraq, Germany and Turkey.

Foreign citizens make up 8.0% of the population, while foreign born make up 11.1%. In 2012, 68,375 residents spoke a native language other than Finnish, Swedish or one of the three Sami languages spoken in Finland. The largest groups of residents with a non-Finnish background come from Russia (14,532), Estonia (9,065) and Somalia (6,845). Half of the immigrant population in Finland lives in greater Helsinki, and one third in the city of Helsinki.


Kamppi Centre, a shopping and transportation complex in the Kamppi district in the centre of Helsinki

The Helsinki metropolitan area generates approximately one third of Finland's GDP. GDP per capita is roughly 1.3 times the national average.

The metropolitan area's gross value added per capita is 200% of the mean of 27 European metropolitan areas, equalling those of Stockholm or Paris. The gross value added annual growth has been around 4%.

83 of the 100 largest Finnish companies are headquartered in Greater Helsinki. Two-thirds of the 200 highest-paid Finnish executives live in Greater Helsinki and 42% in Helsinki. The average income of the top 50 earners was 1.65 million euro.

The tap water is of excellent quality and it is supplied by 120 km (75 mi) long Päijänne Water Tunnel, one of the world's longest continuous rock tunnels. Bottled Helsinki tap water is even sold to countries such as Saudi Arabia.


Main building of the University of Helsinki
Haaga-Helia University Of Applied Sciences is the largest business polytechnic in Finland.
Kiasma is a contemporary art museum located in the centre of Helsinki.

Helsinki has 190 comprehensive schools, 41 upper secondary schools and 15 vocational institutes. Half of the 41 upper secondary schools are private or state-owned, the other half municipal. Higher level education is given in eight universities (see the section "Universities" below) and four polytechnics.


  • University of Helsinki
  • Aalto University (The Schools of Science are located in Espoo)
  • Hanken School of Economics
  • Academy of Fine Arts
  • Sibelius Academy
  • Theatre Academy
  • National Defence University


  • Haaga-Helia University Of Applied Sciences
  • Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
  • Arcada University of Applied Sciences

Helsinki is one of the co-location centres of the Knowledge and Innovation Community (Future information and communication society ) of The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).

The educational department takes part in Lifelong Learning Programme 2007–2013 in Finland.


The biggest historical museum in Helsinki is the National Museum of Finland, which displays a vast historical collection from prehistoric times to the 21st century. The museum building itself, a national romantic style neomedieval castle, is a tourist attraction. Other major historical museum is the Helsinki City Museum, which introduces visitors to Helsinki's 500-year history. The University of Helsinki also has many significant museums, including the University Museum and the Natural History Museum.

The Finnish National Gallery consists of three museums: Ateneum Art Museum for classical Finnish art, Sinebrychoff Art Museum for classical European art, and Kiasma Art Museum for modern art. The old Ateneum, a neo-Renaissance palace from 19th century, is one of the city's major historical buildings. All three museum buildings are state-owned through Senate Properties.

Helsinki has three major theatres: The Finnish National Theatre, the Helsinki City Theatre, and the Finland Swedish Svenska Teatern. The city's main musical venues are the Finnish National Opera, the Finlandia concert hall and the Helsinki Music Centre, which is the home venue of two professional symphony orchestras, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The Music Centre also houses a part of the Sibelius Academy. Bigger concerts and events are usually held at one of the city's two big ice hockey arenas: the Hartwall Areena or the Helsinki Ice Hall. Helsinki has Finland's largest fairgrounds.

Many widely renowned and acclaimed bands have originated in Helsinki, including Hanoi Rocks, HIM, Stratovarius, The 69 Eyes, Norther, Wintersun, Finntroll, Ensiferum, The Rasmus and Apocalyptica.


The Helsinki Festival is an annual arts and culture festival, which takes place every August (including the Night of the Arts).

Vappu is an annual carnival for students and workers.

Helsinki Arena hosted the Eurovision Song Contest 2007, the first Eurovision Song Contest arranged in Finland, following Lordi's win in 2006.

At the Senate Square in September / October 2010, the largest open-air art exhibition ever in Finland took place: About 1.4 million people saw the international exhibition of United Buddy Bears.

Helsinki is the 2012 World Design Capital, in recognition of the use of design as an effective tool for social, cultural and economic development in the city. In choosing Helsinki, the World Design Capital selection jury highlighted Helsinki's use of 'Embedded Design', which has tied design in the city to innovation, "creating global brands, such as Nokia, Kone and Marimekko, popular events, like the annual Helsinki Design Week, outstanding education and research institutions, such as the University of Art and Design Helsinki, and exemplary architects and designers such as Eliel Saarinen and Alvar Aalto".


The Helsinki Olympic Stadium was the centre of activities during the 1952 Summer Olympics.
Helsinki region roads
The Helsinki Metro with its characteristic bright orange trains is the world's northernmost subway
Malmi airport, one of the oldest in the world and Finland's main general aviation airport

Helsinki has a long tradition of sports: the city gained much of its initial international recognition during the 1952 Summer Olympics, and the city has arranged sporting events such as the first World Championships in Athletics 1983 and 2005, and the European Championships in Athletics 1971, 1994 and 2012. Helsinki hosts successful local teams in both of the most popular team sports in Finland, football and ice hockey. Helsinki houses Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi (HJK), Finland's largest and most successful football club. Helsinki's track and field club Helsingin Kisa-Veikot is also dominant within Finland. Ice hockey is popular among many Helsinki residents, who usually support either of the local clubs IFK Helsingfors (HIFK) or Jokerit. HIFK, with 14 Finnish championships titles, also plays in the highest bandy division, along with Botnia−69. The Olympic stadium hosted the first ever Bandy World Championships in 1957.



The backbone of Helsinki's motorway network consists of three semicircular ring roads, Ring I, Ring II, and Ring III, which connect expressways heading to other parts of Finland, and the western and eastern arteries of Länsiväylä and Itäväylä respectively. While variants of a Keskustatunneli tunnel under the city centre have been repeatedly proposed, as of 2011 the plan remains on the drawing board.

Helsinki has some 390 cars per 1000 inhabitants. This is less than in cities of similar density, such as Brussels' 483 per 1000, Stockholm's 401, and Oslo's 413.

Rail transport and buses

Public transport is generally a hotly debated subject in the local politics of Helsinki. In Helsinki metropolitan area, public transportation is managed under Helsinki Region Transport, the metropolitan area transportation authority. The diverse public transport system consists of trams, commuter rail, the subway, bus lines and two ferry lines.

Today, Helsinki is the only city in Finland to have trams or metro trains. There used to be two other cities in Finland with trams: Turku and Viipuri (Vyborg, now in Russia), but both have since abandoned trams. The Helsinki Metro, opened in 1982, is the only rapid transit system in Finland. In 2006, the construction of the long debated extension of the system west into Espoo was approved, and serious debate about an eastern extension into Sipoo has taken place.

The possibility of a Helsinki to Tallinn Tunnel is currently being researched. The rail tunnel would connect Helsinki to the Estonian capital Tallinn, further linking Helsinki to the rest of continental Europe by Rail Baltica.


Air traffic is handled primarily from the international Helsinki Airport, located approximately 19 kilometres (12 mi) north of Helsinki's downtown area, in the neighbouring city of Vantaa. Helsinki's second airport, Malmi Airport, is mainly used for general and private aviation. Helicopter flights to Tallinn are available from Hernesaari Heliport.

Sea transport

Ferry connections to Tallinn, Mariehamn and Stockholm are serviced by various companies. Finnlines passenger-freight ferries to Gdynia, Poland, Travemünde, Germany and Rostock, Germany are also available. St Peter Line offers passenger ferry service to Saint Petersburg several times a week.

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