Sitting across a series of islands in Finland's far south, Helsinki has a maritime feel and mood much akin to Eastern Europe and Russian cities as to anywhere else in Scandinavia. For a century an outpost of the Russian empire, Helsinki's very shape and form derives from its more powerful neighbour. Yet during the twentieth century, it became a showcase for independent Finland, many of its impressive buildings reflecting the dawning of Finnish nationalism and the rise of the republic. This ushered in the so-called golden age of Finnish design in the 1950s, and the city is justifiably proud of its cutting-edge architecture. Today, visitors will find a youthful buzz on the streets, where the boulevards, outdoor cafes and restaurants are crowded with Finns who take full advantage of their short summer. At night, the pace picks up in Helsinki's solid selection of bars and clubs.
What to see and do
Following a devastating fire in 1808, and the city's designation as Finland's capital in 1812, Helsinki was totally rebuilt in a style befitting its new status: a grid of wide streets and Neoclassical brick buildings modelled on the then Russian capital, St Petersburg.
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