Helsinki, Finland

Guide for the rail traveller

Information

CurrencyEuro
Local languageFinnish
Country Finland

Introduction

With a population of 900,000 Helsinki is not the largest of Europe’s capitals, yet bringing with it a friendly, almost intimate air, this can hardly be classed as a disadvantage. Located on Finland’s southern coast, Helsinki is at the heart of the county’s transport infrastructure, government and industry.

Interestingly Helsinki only became Finland’s capital in 1812 after it was felt by the country’s Russian rulers that the existing capital Turku lying just the Gulf of Bothnia and thereby Stockholm, was too close for comfort from the Swedish capital. Rivalry between the two neighbors was strong at the time though this has now been transformed into a great, cooperative partnership between the Scandinavians. Turku is now a fascinating city in its own right and is also worth a visit.

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Things to do

Helsinki’s architecture and style is a reflection of its recent past. After its destruction in a fire and then appointment as Finland’s capital in eighteen twelve, most of the building dates back to the early nineteenth century and is strongly influenced by its links to the Russian capital St Petersburg.

The Senate Square built after the fire is the most logical place to start. Here stands the impressive and probably most eye-catching sight of Helsinki, the Lutheran Cathedral as well as the University and Government Palace all built in the early nineteenth century period in neoclassical, empire-style. From here a stroll towards the sea front will lead to the Orthodox Cathedral, City Hall and Presidential Palace. Along stretches of the sea front you can take in the (rather unusual) southern European-style villas of Helsinki’s wealthier inhabitants.

The areas of Hakaniemi and Kruununhaka are worth looking at to get a flavor of Helsinki’s more distant past. Parts of these areas contain houses and monuments that date back to the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Given the later destruction that took place through fire, these are rare sights indeed.

As with the other Scandinavian capitals, the outskirts of Helsinki provide much unrivalled and unique forms of natural beauty. This is particularly the case when taking trips to the numerous surrounding islands and islets, the largest of which are Seurasaari and Suomenlinna.

Local transport

The city is served by a comprehensive network of tram, bus and metro routes. It is worth noting however, that much of Helsinki can easily (and pleasantly) be explored on foot. ‘Tourist tickets’ are available and useful for those wanting to take in the surrounding area as well as the central sights, whilst the ‘Helsinki Ticket’ offers unlimited travel within the city for a specified period and also allows for free and discounted entry into many museums and attractions.

On a wet day the 3T tram offers a tour around Helsinki’s center. Its route takes in all the main sights and actually points these out as they are passed.

Day trips

Turku is not a day-trip destination but well worth seeing if you have the opportunity. Closer destinations of interest include the Järvenpää lying half an hour’s train-ride to the north of Helsinki. Here you can find the marital home of Jean Sibelius, the world-renowned Finnish composer whose music gave pleasure to millions of people during his life and has continued to do so since his death in nineteen fifty-seven.

To get a sense of traditional Finnish life as we perhaps imagine it, try Porvoo lying less than an hour’s train ride east of Helsinki and also connected by regular bus services. The wooden buildings, narrow streets and cobbled paths combined with a relaxed ambience and gentle riverside scenery allow for a relaxing and tranquil day out.

Recommended places and events to visit in Helsinki

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