Finland's capital since 1812, built on a peninsula amid a cluster of islands, stately Helsinki is 'the Daughter of the Baltic'. Most cruise ships will now dock at the new port facilities 2 miles from the city centre. Shuttle buses (charged) will run to the Market Square (at the harbour end of Esplanadi) or the Swedish Theatre (at the western end of Esplanadi) from where you can catch hop-on, hop-off tour buses. Helsinki is a very walkable city and The Esplanade (Esplanadi) is a pleasant start with a park running down its centre and shops on either side. The Market Square is the landing point for local ferries and boat trips and home to an interesting food and souvenir market. Helsinki is laid out with spacious streets interspersed with many gardens and parks and you will notice the street names in both Finnish and Swedish reflecting its history.
Senate Square is the heart of the city with a statue of Tsar Alexander II, once Grand Duke of Finland. On one side is the Government Palace and opposite the University and the Library, designed by Engel, dating from the 1830s. The Lutheran Cathedral of St Nicholas sits on the north side. Sedereholm House, built in the mid 1700s, is the oldest stone building in Helsinki and houses a Musem. Not far way is the Uspenski Russian Orthodox Cathedral with its 13 onion domes. The modern Temppeliaukio Church is built into solid rock but is a long walk from the centre.
Architecturally, Helsinki is a mixture of old and modern styles, as many of its older wooden buildings have been destroyed by fire over the ages. The railroad station, designed in 1918 by the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, is a notable example of modern architecture along with Finlandia Hall in Hesperia Park. Museums are plentiful with the National Museum of Finland, Museum of Contemporary Art and the Design Museum standing out.
Islands in the harbour also offer places of interest, some reached by ferry. The Suomenlinna Sea Fortress has lots of historic buildings and a beach. Korkeasaari has a zoo established in 1889 and seurasaari has an open air museum of traditional farm and estate buildings.
The city was founded by Gustav I Vasa, king of Sweden, in 1550 on a site some distance inland from its present location, to which it was moved in 1640. In 1713, during the Northern War (1700-1721) between Russia and Sweden, the city was destroyed by a retreating Swedish force; the present fortifications were begun in 1729. Finland was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1809, and Helsinki was made the administrative capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1812. Finland claimed indeopendence from Russia in 1917 and became a republic in 1919 and the city has been the capital of the Finnish Republic since then.
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