Helsinki is the capital of Finland. It is located in southern Finland on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. Helsinki is the administrative centre of the country: it is where the Parliament of Finland convenes and where the ministries are located. Helsinki is also an important hub of business and culture. The population of Helsinki is approximately 650,000. 78 % of the residents speak Finnish as their native language, while 6 % speak Swedish. 16 % speak some other language.
Traffic in Helsinki
In Helsinki you can travel on the HSL ticket on all buses, commuter trains, trams, the metro and the Suomenlinna ferry. You can pay for the ticket conveniently using your phone’s HSL application or an HSL card, which you can top up with a period of time or value. Check the time until which the ticket is valid. If there is time left, you can switch from one means of transport to another. It does not matter if your ticket expires during your last trip.
You can use the Journey Planner (Reittiopas) service to search for information on routes in the Metropolitan Area. The service instructs you on how to get from one place to another using public transport.
HSL Card (HSL-kortti)
It is cheaper to travel by HSL Card than if you buy a single ticket with cash. The HSL Card is accepted on the local service’s buses, commuter trains, the metro, trams and the Suomenlinna ferry.
There are two kinds of HSL cards. A personal card (henkilökohtainen kortti) can only be used by the card’s owner. It is the cheapest way to travel. Multi-user cards (haltijakohtainen kortti) can be used by more than one person.
Before you buy a personal card, you must register as a permanent resident in one of the cities covered by the HSL regional tickets. These cities are Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Kauniainen, Kirkkonummi, Kerava and Sipoo.
You can purchase an HSL Card at an HSL sales office (myyntipiste) or service point (palvelupiste). They are located in different parts of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. You can buy a personal HSL Card at a service point. If you want to buy a personal HSL Card, bring your identification. You can also buy a personal HSL Card from the HSL website if you have Finnish online banking credentials.
The HSL Card can be used after you have loaded either a period of time (kausi) or value (arvo) to it. Period of time refers to time: for example, one month. Value refers to money value. If you use public transport often, it is worth selecting season.
You can top up your HSL Card at any travel card service point or online. More information is available on the HRT website.
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Cycling and walking
Helsinki features a lot of bicycles routes. If you want to reach a destination on foot or by bike, you can find a suitable route with the journey planner for pedestrians and cyclists.
Motor and air traffic
Many metro and railway stations provide the opportunity to park your car free of charge and continue on public transport.
Helsinki has good highway connections to all parts of Finland. The nearest airport is Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.
Read more: Traffic in Finland.
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Decision-making and public engagement
Decisions regarding Helsinki are made by the City Council (kaupunginvaltuusto). Its members represent various political groups. The Council is elected every four years in a municipal election. You can watch council meetings and find more information about decision-making on the Helsinki channel or the city’s website.
The mayor and city officials organise residents’ evenings in different parts of Helsinki where residents are informed of city matters and can discuss them.
You can also influence decision-making yourself. Voting in municipal elections is an important way of influencing things. You can also take part in the city’s development through various online channels. For example, Helsinki’s website has a ready-made form, the feedback system (palautejärjestelmä). You can use it to send the city questions and suggestions or give feedback.
Your neighbourhood also has a city contact person or borough liaison (stadiluotsi), who can help you promote your suggestion. You can find the borough liaison in your local library at specific times and days of the week. For more information about borough liaisons and their contact information, please visit the City of Helsinki website.
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There are a large number of religious communities in Helsinki and the surrounding region. Helsinki boasts many shrines of different religious denominations, along with a variety of activity centres. The Religions in Finland service provides you with the opportunity to search for information according to religious community or municipality.
Read more: Cultures and religions in Finland.
History of Helsinki
Gustav I of Sweden founded Helsinki on the banks of the current Vanhankaupunginkoski Rapids by ordering residents of other towns to move there on 12 June 1550. At the time, Finland belonged to Sweden.
Gustav I wanted to make Helsinki into a trade town to compete with Tallinn, which is why Dutch and German merchants, too, moved there. Soon, Sweden took Tallinn and Helsinki became a war town, whose port was used to ship soldiers first to the Baltic area and, in the 1630s, to Germany to fight in the Thirty Years’ War.
In 1640, Helsinki was moved to its current location in Vironniemi. For its first two centuries, Helsinki was a small town.
During the Great Northern War in 1710, the plague killed two-thirds of the population of Helsinki. Russia occupied Helsinki twice in the 18th century when Sweden and Russian were at war.
In 1748, the construction of the Viapori sea fortress (Sveaborg in Swedish, “The Castle of Sweden), which is currently known as Suomenlinna, began on the islands just off the coast of Helsinki. The building of the fortress brought more people to the small town and invigorated commerce.
Sweden lost the eastern part of the country to Russia in the war fought between 1808 and 1809. The Russians conquered Helsinki and Viapori in 1808, and the town burned down during the war.
Russia made the conquered area into the sovereign Grand Duchy of Finland. In 1812, Emperor Alexander I elevated Helsinki to the status of the capital of Finland. At the same time, the construction of Helsinki’s Empire style city centre commenced, and the new buildings were to hold the most important institutions of the new Grand Duchy. The university was also moved from Turku to Helsinki in 1828.
When Finland gained its independence in 1917, Helsinki became the capital of the republic. In January 1918, the Red Guard, which represented the working population, seized power in Helsinki. At the same time, the White Guard, which represented the wealthy middle class and the peasants, began to organise in Ostrobothnia, and a civil war erupted. In April, the German troops that had arrived in Finland took Helsinki for the Whites.
During World War II between 1939 and 1944, the Soviet Union bombed Helsinki, but the city sustained only minor damage thanks to good air defences.
In 1946, new areas were annexed to Helsinki, and the city area grew to nearly eight times its former size. The population of the city increased rapidly and many new suburbs were constructed in the annexed areas between the 1950s and the 1980s.
Helsinki Day is celebrated annually on the city’s founding day of 12 June. A variety of events take place on that day throughout Helsinki.