1. Where is the old town in Helsinki?
King Gustavus Vasa of Sweden founded Helsinki to compete with the Hanseatic
city of Tallinn on the opposite shore of the Gulf of Finland. That happened
in 1550, and the original site was at the mouth of the River Vantaanjoki.
The place is nowadays called, aptly, Vanhankaupunginlahti, which means "Old
When it turned out that the original location had been rather poorly chosen,
it was decided to move the settlement further south to a peninsula called
Vironniemi, nowadays the district of Kruununhaka, quite close to the present
inner city. That happened in 1640, and explains why Helsinki does not have
an "old town" in the same sense as, say, Stockholm or Tallinn.
2. Can you see the Northern Lights in Helsinki or walk around in a "nightless night"?
The Aurora Borealis could indeed be seen in these latitudes, but it is almost
completely blocked out by the bright lights of such a large urban area.
However, you may see the Aurora if you travel just a little into the interior.
Remember, however, that even in the far North, this celestial light show
The summer nights are quite bright in Helsinki, but the sun does set every
day of the year. The summer solstice, 21 June, is the longest day everywhere
in the Northern Hemisphere. In Helsinki the sun sets at 22.50 and rises
again at 3.54 the following morning. The true Land of the Midnight Sun is
Finland’s northern province of Lapland, where the sun remains above
the horizon for weeks on end.
3. Do ships sail in winter?
Icebreakers make sure that ships move whatever the weather. You can see
a whole fleet of these marvels of engineering moored beside the peninsula
of Katajanokka in summer. The huge ferries that ply the routes between Finland,
Sweden and Estonia are massive enough to crash their way through the ice
without any help.
4. Can you walk around Helsinki in the evening unafraid?
On the whole, Helsinki is quite a safe place. The public transport system
is very good: buses, trams, commuter trains and the metro get you where
you want to go - safely and inexpensively. It is, however, advisable to
remember that Helsinki is a big city and one should exercise due caution.
5. What do the people of Helsinki eat?
The freshest and tastiest delicacies vary with the seasons. From July onwards,
fresh strawberries and fish, and in autumn beginning in August mushrooms,
berries and game as well as in spring new potatoes are preferred ingredients
in most every Finnish meal. Tastes in food have, however, been greatly influenced
by international trends and there is an impressive choice of ethnic and
international food in Helsinki. The city boasts gourmet restaurants, in
addition to Chinese, French, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican,
Russian, Spanish, Thai and many other nationalities.
Finns eat breakfast between 7.00 and 10.00 and the lunch period is from
11.00 to 14.00. Dinner is eaten between 16.00 and 19.00, usually at home
with the family. For those who prefer to postpone their evening meal until
later, say between 19.00 and 24.00, having it at a restaurant is a popular
6. Are credit cards accepted in Helsinki?
Certainly! All major cards are accepted, especially in the city centre.
Banks are open Mon-Fri 9.15-16.15. You can change currency at the airport
every day between 6 and 23 and at the Katajanokka ferry terminal between
9 and 18 Mon-Fri. There are numerous bureaux de change in the city centre.
7. Why are the street signs in two languages?
Finland is officially bilingual, and people are constitutionally entitled
to transact their business with the authorities in Finnish or Swedish as
they choose. Swedish-speakers represent less than six per cent of the national
population and about seven per cent of the population of Helsinki.
8. How do I get onto the Internet?
Visitors can access the Internet from several branches of the Helsinki City
Library. The Library 10 in the Main Post Office building (Elielinaukio 2 G) in the city centre
specialises in electronic media. You can also read your e-mail there.
9. Where in Helsinki can one enjoy the natural environment?
The element that dominates Helsinki is the sea. There are also many parks,
the largest of which stretches right from the centre to the city limits
many kilometres to the north. It is an ideal place to walk or cycle in summer
and to ski in winter.
10. Why is there a statue of a Russian ruler in the Senate Square?
The statue is of Czar Alexander II, who had good and friendly ties with
Finland from an early age (and also bore the title Grand Duke of Finland).
His predecessor Nicholas I had not treated Finland well. The Diet, as Finland’s
legislative assembly was called, had not been convened since 1809, when
Finland was wrested from Sweden and became a grand duchy within the Russian
Aleksander II revived the Diet in 1863 and also instituted several other
reforms that made life for Finland and the Finns a good deal more pleasant.
The pendulum swung back a few decades later and, against a background of
fervent pan-Slavism, Russia decided to Russify Finland. In 1894, during
a period of severe oppression, a statue of Alexander II was erected in the
Senate Square in memory of a period that had been a happier one for Finland.
It was a shrewd form of protest, because the reigning Czar could not very
well forbid his subjects to put up a statue to one of his illustrious ancestors.