Finland is located in Northern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, and Gulf of Finland, between Sweden and Russia. This country was ruled by Sweden from the 12th to the 19th centuries and by Russia from 1809 then Finland finally won its independence in 1917. During World War II, it was able to successfully defend its freedom and fend off invasions by the Soviet Union and Germany. In the subsequent half century, the Finns have made a remarkable transformation from a farm/forest economy to a diversified modern industrial economy; per capital income is now on par with Western Europe. As a member of the European Union, Finland was the only Nordic state to join the euro system at its initiation in January 1999.
Other outstanding features of Finland’s scenery are its myriad lakes and islands. Lakes and other bodies of water cover 10% of the national territory. The principal archipelago lies off the southwest coast while the main lake district, centred on Lake Saimaa, is in the east.
The capital of Finland is the city of Helsinki, the White Pearl of the North. Helsinki is a city of changing seasons, sea, parks and beautiful architecture. The city is almost surrounded by the sea and changes its appearance with the seasons; warm, light summer evenings, autumn colors in parks and on islands, buildings shrouded in sparkling snow, and the emerging life of springtime are all part of the diverse charm of Helsinki. In spite of its modern international appearance, Helsinki retains a warm and natural atmosphere.
Helsinki founded on June 12, 1550, is a multi-faceted town that is unique in many ways and has much to offer any visitor. It is Finland’s capital and the centre of its cultural, financial and economic activity. Helsinki is unlike any other Finnish city, due in part to the fascinating combination of Swedish and Russian influences. Helsinki retains a small-town feel: there are no high-rise buildings and the market square is still surrounded by 19th-century architecture. Its green parks and waterways, fresh sea winds with seagulls flying over the busy market square, and many open-air cafes make it a perfect summer destination.
Helsinki is divided into a total of 54 districts. Some of these districts are often counted as one, and sometimes the city is merely divided into the centre and the suburbs. In general, you could say that the southern districts are older and more revered, and they contain most of the city’s main tourist attractions.
Most big cities have a limited number of parks. In Helsinki, parks can be found behind almost every corner. Even in the most densely-built districts of the city centre, dense parks have been introduced to liven up the landscape. Both the overwhelming presence of nature and the clear street pattern – the network of straight, symmetrical wide streets, which make finding any address a simple task – are the creation of the city’s two main designers, Johan Albrecht Ehrenström and Carl Ludvig Engel.
Ehrenström’s symmetrical street pattern with its wide streets and multitude of parks was ahead of its time; cities built in the early 1800s haven’t usually been built for the comfort of the citizens so clearly in mind. Engel, on the other hand, has had a profound influence on the Helsinki cityscape with his elegant, tall and symmetrical buildings. Engel designed over 30 public buildings in Helsinki as well as a great number of private houses. All these buildings, especially the fabulous historical centre, have had a huge impact on all later developments in Helsinki..
Helsinki enjoys a milder climate than much of Finland thanks to the Baltic Sea and the gentle winds from the Gulf Stream, however, you’ll need to rug up warm in the winter. The most enjoyable months to visit are June through September. In July, local folk flee the city for their summer cottages, and many offices close. It’s a grand time to be a tourist – the weather is pleasant, the markets bustle and the cafes set up their outdoor tables. If you’re interested in culture, book your trip during August, when a major arts festival and countless smaller performances will keep you entertained.
The surroundings of Helsinki offer a lot too. Several lakes and the evergreen forest give a special character to the countryside. The Old Town of Porvoo and the area around Lake Tuusulanjärvi, especially the home (Ainola) of famous composer Jean Sibelius, are the prime ones. With more time than few days you could explore the other parts of Finland, there are plenty of possibilities from active trekking holidays to quiet relaxing stay at some cottage by a beautiful lake or the archipelago. Helsinki serves also as an excellent jumping point to Tallinn and even to St.Petersburg or Stockholm.