Sweden’s King Gustavus Vasa founded Helsinki on the mouth of Vantaanjoki River in 1550 to compete with Tallinn for Baltic Sea trade. The town grew slowly however, and the centre of Helsinki was moved to its current location in the 1600s. In 1748 Sweden began construction of the Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress off the coast of Helsinki to counter the growing threat from Russia. The massive project brought additional wealth, inhabitants and merchants to the town.
After Russia conquered Finland in 1809, the status of Helsinki was raised to capital of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. A monumental Empire-style city plan was drawn up to reflect the power of Russia and the Tsar. Finland became independent in 1917, and Helsinki assumed the demanding new role of capital of the young republic. City planning was characterised by Classicism and Functionalism. Recovering from the hardships of war, Helsinki hosted the Summer Olympics in 1952. The games created an international reputation for Helsinki as an efficient and friendly host city.
Be sure to spend some time in the glorious Senate Square (Senaatintori), an archaeological masterpiece and a unique symbol of commercial, political, religious and scientific powers. Situated in the centre of Helsinki, the square is an ideal example of the Neo-Classic design. The Emperor Alexander II statue right at the centre of the Senate Square is a symbol of Finland's imperial relationship with Russia. As one of the top tourist spots in Helsinki, it hosts a number of tourist events.
Esplanadi Park is one of the favourite places for local inhabitants as well tourists. The park attracts many visitors because of its inspirational designs, marvellous monuments, old limes and lush surroundings. Located in the middle of Esplanadi Park, the Kapelli Café Brasserie is the perfect place to rest and relax.
Hakaniemi is a large and lively market place, including many oriental food stores that sell a variety of Asian products. It is a significant part of the Helsinki city centre as well associated with the working class and worker’s associations. A perfect place for buying local crafts and to have cheap food. The Baltic Herring Festival in the month of October and the vintage American cars exhibition in May are held here.
- Suomenlinna Fortress. Suomenlinna is a group of seven islands combining to make one of the largest sea fortresses in the world . A highly popular tourist area and a beautiful picnic spot, Suomenlinna has recently been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. The fortress is reached by ferry boat in about 15 minutes. Attractions on Suomenlinna include cafes, restaurants, and a bustling market.
- Helsinki Cathedral. The Cathedral was designed by Carl Ludwig Engel in splendid Neoclassical style. The work began according to his designs in 1830, and was completed after Engel's death in 1852. In addition to serving its own congregation, it is the scene of major state and university events, while exhibitions and concerts are held in the crypt. Helsinki Cathedral is arguably Finland's most famous and photographed building. Open: Daily 9-18. On Sundays service at 10. Entrance for tourists is prohibited during events.
- Senate Square. The Senate Square is dominated by four buildings all designed by Engel between 1822 and 1852: Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki and the National Library of Finland. The oldest stone building in Helsinki is the Sederholm House located on the southeast corner of the square.The main building of the City Museum can be found on the Sofiankatu museum street.
- The Rock Church. Temppeliaukio Kirkko, known as The Rock Church is a beautiful example of modern architecture. Designed by architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen its construction completed in 1969. It is built entirely underground and has a ceiling made of copper wire. It is one of the top tourist destinations in Helsinki. Taivallahdenkirkko is famous for hosting classical concerts and other events.
The Rock Church