Helsinki (Finnish) or Helsingfors (Swedish) is Finland's capital and largest city, at around 600,000 citizens. Founded in 1550, the "Daughter of the Baltic" became the capital of the Finnish Grand Duchy in 1812, when the Russian Empire rebuilt it as a miniature St. Petersburg, a role it has played in many a Cold War movie. Helsinki both has the atmosphere of an international metropolis, and a small town. The city is best seen during the short summer, when sunlight brings the outdoor bars and cafés to life; the sun sets past 10 PM, visitors can experience the white nights. While visiting in winter is more of a challenge, Helsinki is one of few large cities in Europe with a good chance for snow on Christmas.
The city of Helsinki forms the core of Finland's largest urban area, known in Finnish as the "capital area" (pääkaupunkiseutu). Helsinki is bordered by the Gulf of Finland to the south, while the posh suburban city of Espoo, with the embedded tiny enclave city of Kauniainen, is to the west. The more industrialized city of Vantaa is to the north and east. Beyond these three, the suburbs rapidly give way to small towns, farms and forests, most notably Nuuksio National Park at the intersection of Espoo, Vihti and Kirkkonummi.
Within Helsinki itself, the city center is on the southern peninsula at the end of the city's main thoroughfare Mannerheimintie (or just Mansku). Both the central railway station and the main bus terminal are in the city center. Shopping streets Aleksanterinkatu (or Aleksi for short) and Esplanadi (or Espa) connect to Senate Square (Senaatintori), the historical center of the city. See the Helsinki Guide Map for an interactive searchable map of the city. Read more