Helsinki is an enigmatic and charming city, considered by some as the pearl of the Baltic. The capital of Finland, Helsinki is located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland in the Finnish region of Uusimaa along the southern coast. Helsinki was established as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550 as the town of Helsingfors. In the 18th century the fortress of Suomenlinna was built and helped to elevate the status of Helsinki, but not until Sweden was defeated by Russia in the Finnish War and Finland was annexed as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809 that the town began to grow into such a substantial city. Finland’s history through the first half of the 20th century remained tumultuous, however Helsinki still maintained its steady development. The population in the metropolitan area tripled as a result of Finland's rapid urbanisation in the 1970s, which also lead to the building of the Helsinki Metro subway system.
Compared to other major European cities, Helsinki is calm and relaxed. Most tourist attractions and important sights to be seen in the city are within walking or cycling distance of each other, and the public transport system is considered one of the best in Europe. Today, Helsinki remains the country’s centre for politics, culture, research, education and economy, and is one of the most important cities in northern Europe.
Originally built for the 1952 Olympic Games held in the city, the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport is located in Vantaa, around 19 kilometres from Helsinki city centre. It is the country's largest airport and also one of the busiest in the Nordic countries with an annual total of 13 million passengers flying through. The airport is comprised of 2 terminals and offers services from 32 airlines.
Getting from Helsinki-Vantaa Airport to the City Centre
The best public transport connections are by bus, and the Finnair City Bus and Airport Bus 615 (620 at night) operate to and from the main railway station in the Helsinki city centre. The Airport Bus 61 also runs regularly to Tikkurila Railway Station in Vantaa, which is further connected to suburban rail services. The Ring Rail Link providing a rail connection from the airport to central Helsinki is planned to be opened and operational in the summer of 2015.
A journey by taxi from the airport to the centre of Helsinki takes about 30 minutes and costs around €45 to €50. Taxi stands are located right outside the arrival halls of the terminals, as well as throughout the city including at the main train station. If driving, good road connections make the journey short at around 30 minutes, depending on the traffic.
Helsinki’s Central Railway Station is located in Kluuvi, the commercial centre of the city and a major focal point for public transport throughout Greater Helsinki. The station has a daily use of approximately 200,000 passengers - making it Finland's most-visited building. It not only serves as a starting point for all trains in the local VR commuter rail network, but is also the origin station for a good proportion of long-distance trains in Finland. The station also hosts the Rautatientori metro station, which is the busiest station of the Helsinki Metro. The station building was designed by Eliel Saarinen and inaugurated in 1919, and in 2013 the BBC chose it as one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations.
Getting from Helsinki Central Railway Station to the City Centre
The station is located in the city centre, making it easy to get to or embark from. As the train station serves as a major hub for public transport, trams, buses and the Rautatientori metro station are all connections here. Taxis can be hailed from the station and those looking to drive will find the Elielinaukio car park (Euro-Park) available from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m daily. A bicycle park is located in the Asema-aukio area on the west side of the station.
Situated in the Kamppi Centre, a large commercial complex in the centre of the city, the Kamppi Helsinki Bus Station is one of the most modern and busiest in the world. Each day approximately 700 long-distance buses depart and arrive from all over Finland. The terminal has 35 bays, six of which are reserved entirely for arrivals. Long-distance coach arrivals and departures are located inside the complex, making connections to local transport or further buses to destinations like Espoo simple and free from weather conditions. There is also an underground connection from Kamppi to the Helsinki Railway Station. Main bus providers servicing the bus and coach terminal include Helsingin Bussiliikenne, Nobina Finland, and Veolia Transport Finland.
Getting from Kamppi Bus Station to the City Centre
The Kamppi Centre is located in central Helsinki, and is easy to reach by any mode of transport. The bus terminal is accessible here from connections on metro lines 2 & 9, as well as a large number of local transit buses including 14, 17, 18/N, 21V, 39/B/N, 41, 42, 45, 70T, 102—190, 205, 339, 346, 480—495, 637, 638, 640, 760—765, 776, and 810—870. Taxis can be hailed in central Helsinki, and parking is available at the Kamppi Centre for those driving to the bus terminal.
Finland is known to have good roads and safe drivers, making driving here fairly straightforward - just remember they drive on the right. The general speed limit in Finland is 50 km/h in more urban areas and 80 km/h in more rural areas. In the winter months roads can be a bit more challenging, and all vehicles must have winter tyres – preferably studded. Roads are generally not gritted but are maintained by snowploughs instead. In winter the general speed limit is reduced everywhere to 80 km/h. Major roads that lead to Helsinki include the E 18, E12, and E 75.
Public transport in Helsinki consists of a well received network of metro, bus, tram, train, and ferry services. Managed by Helsinki Region Transport (HSL/HRT), public transport covers Helsinki, Espoo, Kauniainen, Vantaa and the outlying Kerava, Kirkkonummi and Sipoo. There are three zones here: internal-municipality, regional and the whole region. Internal covers travel within one municipality only. Purchasing a regional ticket will entitle you to travel in Helsinki, Espoo, Kauniainen and Vantaa, but a 2-zone extended regional ticket (Region 2-zone) allows for travel in Espoo, Kauniainen, Vantaa, Kerava, Sipoo and Kirkkonummi - but not Helsinki or travel via Helsinki. A 3-zone extended regional ticket (Region 3-zone) offers travel in Helsinki, Espoo, Kauniainen, Vantaa, Kerava, Sipoo and Kirkkonummi. Each of the different areas are designated by different colours: blue signifies Helsinki, green signifies Espoo and Kauniainen, red signifies Vantaa and purple signifies the entire metropolitan area. Public transport is very popular here, and the majority of journeys made in Helsinki are done on average with the network versus driving.
Cycling is very popular in Helsinki, especially in the summer months. Throughout the city there are dedicated bike lanes on all major routes, as well as along the coastline and in recreational parks. Overall, Helsinki maintains around 750 kilometres of bike paths.
Taxis are available in the city but are considered the most expensive way to get around - especially as much of central Helsinki is traversable on foot or by the public transport network.
Driving into and around the city centre is possible and not uncommon, however using public transport is still the more popular way for locals to get around Helsinki. Traffic can be congested during rush hour, but is still considered quite manageable. For parking, there is very little free parking available, and the city is divided by 3 parking zones with prices ranging from €1-4 per hour. The fees are usually only applied during the working week, Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
Central Helsinki is easy to explore on foot, and many of the major sights are within walking distance from each other. Sidewalks are available throughout the city and are well maintained. The city as a whole is large though, so using public transport in addition to walking is common.
The capital of Finland, Helsinki occupies a peninsula and a group of islands on the Baltic Sea. With its mixture of modern architecture and neoclassical buildings, Helsinki is the coolest of all Nordic cities. The visitor can enjoy its numerous fashionable bars and restaurants, and a bounty of museums, art galleries and sports’ centres. Typified by the Kallio district of eastern Helsinki, the downtown area is vibrant and cosmopolitan.
From Helsinki-Vantaa airport you can travel by train, bus or taxi to the city. Shuttle bus services and car hire are also available. Helsinki-Malmi airport is about 5 kilometres northeast of the city. Visitors can travel from there by taxi, a service that must be booked in advance. Alternatively, Helsinki Region Transport runs regular bus and train services between the airport and the city.
Local trains operate from Helsinki Central railway station, which includes connections to Helsinki-Vantaa airport. Buses, trams and an underground metro system also serve the city until after midnight. By day, the best way to see Helsinki is by foot and visitors can enjoy free walking tours, every weekend all year round. The best place to stay is Kallio, which is within easy reach of Market Square.