Helsinki (Finnish) or Helsingfors (Swedish) is the capital of Finland. Founded in 1550, the "Daughter of the Baltic" has been the Finnish capital since 1812, when it was rebuilt by the tsars of Russia along the lines of a miniature St. Petersburg, a role it has played in many a Cold War movie. Today, Helsinki pulls off the trick of being something of an international metropolis while still retaining a small-town feel. The best time to visit is in summer, when Finns peel off their overcoats and flock to outdoor bars and cafes to enjoy the sunshine.
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