Originally named Helsingfors, King Gustafv Vasa built Helsinki in 1550 to become a major trading port. But it remained just a town until the late 19th century. Finland became a presidential state in 1919. The capital and largest city of Finland, Helsinki is scattered across peninsulas and bays at the southern end on the Gulf of Finland, which is part of the Baltic Sea. The population of Helsinki is about 600,000.
A brief city tour included stops at the Senate Square to view the cathedral, as well as time at the Market Square. The square offers a festive atmosphere with rows of tents and stalls selling fresh produce and flowers, furs, jewelry and souvenirs. We also visited the Rock Church, built inside a massive block of natural granite.
Neo-classical, Empire-style brick buildings, spectacular churches and quiet promenades only hint at the charms of this Nordic jewel. Beneath its alluring 18th century good looks, one finds a modern, efficient city whose keen eye on design esthetic awarded the city the title of World Design Capital for 2012.
We then made the 45 minute drive to Porvoo. First documented in the 1300’s, Porvoo is the second oldest town in Finland. Many aspects of the area have been left untouched by time, making it a wonderful place for exploring on foot, winding one’s way down the cobblestone walkways lined with antique shops, boutiques, bars and cafes.
Back in Helsinki, we made a final stop at Sibelius Park and Monument, dedicated to famed Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The park and unique abstract monument, composed of stainless steel pipes, was meant to rreflect the rugged natural beauty of Finland, as inspired as Sibelius’ work, “Finlandia.”