Overview of Helsinki

Geography of Helsinki

Home > Expat Guides > Europe > Finland > Helsinki

Helsinki, along with the neighboring cities of Vantaa, Espoo, and Kauniainen, constitutes what is known as the capital region of Finland, with over 1,000,000 inhabitants. The Greater Helsinki area (Uusimaa) contains several additional municipalities and has a population of over 1,300,000. The Greater Helsinki region accounts for a quarter of the total population, 29% of all jobs and a third of the GDP for the entire country.  Its foreign-born population stands around 10 percent.

The population of the city of Helsinki is 569,892, making it far and away Finland's most populous municipality. It is also the second most sparsely populated EU capital after Brussels. Helsinki is Finland 's capital for business, education, research, culture, and government. The Helsinki metropolitan area has eight universities, six technology parks and the largest technology campus in the Nordic countries. It hosts 70% of Finland's foreign companies and 40% its R&D investments. The migration of rural residents to the capital region has made it one of the fastest growing urban areas in Europe.

The Finnish name, Helsinki (pronounced with the stress on the first syllable: ['helsi?ki]), has been dominant in other languages for decades. The Swedish name Helsingfors is the original name of the city of Helsinki, and is still the official Swedish name for the city. Helsingfors was derived from the name of the surrounding parish, Helsinge (source for Finnish Helsinki) and the rapids (in Swedish: fors), which flowed through the original town. It is often thought that the name Helsinge was given by the Swedish immigrants who came from the Swedish province of Hälsingland. In Helsinki slang, the town is also called Stadi (from the Swedish word stad, meaning city), and Hesa in colloquial Finnish. Helsset is the North Sami name of Helsinki. Street signs in Helsinki are in both Finnish (on top) and Swedish (on the bottom), reflecting the status of both Finnish and Swedish as official languages in Finland.

In the egalitarian, Lutheran culture of Finland, both women and men almost equally share all societal roles. Men and women share responsibility for both the nurturing role of family living, as well as the business role of work and government. Finns are also very straightforward and down to earth, which can sometimes be mistaken as bluntness. The Finnish reputation for honesty is well-earned.

When greeting others socially, kissing is not common, even between individuals who know each other well. In business, the use of business cards is very common. It is important to recognize that small talk is not the typical Finnish way, whether in business, socially or even in the sauna. Also, anything that smacks of rank, showiness, or status is generally downplayed. Most Finns speak at least some English, as well as Swedish and sometimes other languages as well.

Being so close to the Arctic Circle, Helsinki is dark and gloomy for much of the winter. The tradeoff is that during the summer daylight lasts until late hours – and Helsinki residents take advantage of it with a number of festivals and celebrations– including the not-to-be-missed annual Helsinki Festival.

Much information about the City of Helsinki can be found on its official website (in English): http://www.hel.fi/wps/portal/Helsinki_en/

More very useful websites:


Helsinki (Helsingfors in Swedish) is the capital of Finland with 555,000 inhabitants in the city itself, and 1.2 million in the metropolitan area (incl. Espoo and Vantaa). It is located in the southern region of Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, by the Baltic Sea. Helsinki and its suburbs are spread around a number of bays and peninsulas and over several islands. Jobs are mainly concentrated in the city centre, located on a southern peninsula, which is rarely referred to by its actual name Vironniemi.

Much of Helsinki outside the inner city area consists of postwar suburbs separated from each other by patches of forests. A narrow, ten kilometer (6.2 mi) long Helsinki Central Park that stretches from the inner city to the northern border of Helsinki is an important recreational area for the residents. Population density in certain parts of Helsinki's inner city area is very high, reaching 16,494 inhabitants per square kilometer (42,719/sq mi) in the district of Kallio, but as a whole Helsinki's population density of 3,050 inhabitants per square kilometer (7,899/sq mi) ranks it as quite sparsely populated in comparison to other European capital cities.

Some notable islands in Helsinki include Seurasaari, Lauttasaari and Korkeasaari – which is also the country's biggest zoo, along with as the fortress island of Suomenlinna (Sveaborg) and the military island of Santahamina. The downtown area of city itself is quite small in area – with nearly everything easily accessible on foot or by a very short tram or bus ride.

Suomenlinna or Viapori (Finnish), or Sveaborg (Swedish), is an inhabited sea fortress built on six islands. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and popular with both tourists and locals, who enjoy it as a picturesque picnic site. Originally named Sveaborg (Fortress of Svea), or Viapori as called by Finns, it was renamed Suomenlinna ( Castle of Finland) in 1918 for patriotic reasons, though it is still also known by its original name. Suomenlinna is served by ferries all year around.

Nowadays there are about 900 permanent inhabitants on the islands, and 350 people work there all year round. There is a minimum-security penal labor colony (Finnish: työsiirtola) in Suomenlinna, whose inmates work on the maintenance and reconstruction of the fortifications. Suomenlinna has been known as an avant-garde enclave of culture, the influence of which has affected cultural life throughout Finland. Many buildings have been converted into artists' studios, which are let by the administration at reasonable rates, and there is an art school for children. The performances of the Suomenlinna summer theatre regularly draw full houses.


Finland is a country of lush forests and vast woodlands. Finland 's 800-mile border with Russia gives it a unique position as a gateway to the east. (Indeed, the Finnish rail gauge is the same as Russia 's) The country's excellent infrastructure and transportation system, its geographical location, and its understanding of how to do business in Russia and the Baltic states mean that many foreign companies, including those based in the U.S., use Finland as a base for opening transportation and marketing activities to the former Soviet Union. Finland is also a country of thousands of lakes and islands; 187,888 lakes (larger than 500 m²) and 179,584 islands to be precise. One of these lakes, Saimaa, is the fifth largest in Europe.

The Finnish landscape is mostly flat with few hills. Its highest point, the Halti at 1,324 meters, is found in the extreme north of Lapland at the border between Finland and Norway . Finland is very green, with approximately seventy-five percent of its land area covered by coniferous taiga forests, with little arable land. Moraine or till is the most common type of soil, covered by a thin layer of humus of biological origin. The most common type of rock is granite, which is visible everywhere there is no soil cover.  Most of Finland's islands are southwest of the mainland, in the Archipelago Sea,  which includes the autonomous, largely Swedish-speaking Åland Islands, and along the southern coast in the Gulf of Finland.

Finland is one of the few countries in the world whose surface area is still growing.  Due to the post-glacial rebound which has been taking place since the last ice age, Finland's surface area increases by approximately 7 square kilometers (2.7 square miles) each year. The distance from the most Southern point of Finland - Hanko - to its most northern point - Nuorgam - is 1,445 kilometers (898 miles) in driving distance, which would take approximately 18.5 hours to drive.

Update 16/07/2008

Related articles:


Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Pinterest Addthis

Recommended Service Partners

International Movers

When you move internationally you are taking a big step. Lots of things are changing and you have a million things to think about and take care of. If you are able to select a top of the line moving company that moves for a modest price, it can take a big weight of your shoulders in busy times.

Our network of international removal companies can move your furniture & possessions to Finland and anywhere overseas.

Filling in the form at the bottom will allow you to request up to 5 quotes from various moving companies. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.

Do you have comments or personal information to communicate about this article? Add your comment.

Go to the Forum to talk more about geography of Helsinki, overview.

Find more definitions and general answers on expatriation issues in the Expat FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).