Vanhakaupunki or Old City in Helsinki

Posted on 20 October 2011

It seems that every famous Scandinavian city has an “old town” or “old city” and the city of Helsinki is no exemption. The old city is not right in the centre of the city but is 5 kilometres north of modern day Helsinki city centre. The old city is now called Vanhakaupunki which is near the Helsinki University Biotechnology campus and a Technical Museum.

Vanhakaupunki is quite “young” at 450 years old. The buildings in the area are picture perfect with their façade and attractive colours. However, Vanhakaupunki is not Prague in terms of its old yet beautiful architectural wonders. The old city is teeming with parks and gardens that render the place quite picturesque. The River Vantaa cuts across the old town. On one side, kayak races are held in the rapids (vanhankaupunginkoski). On the other side or end, the river passes through an old dam to the sea. The view here is quite interesting. Fishing downstream is an activity that should not be missed.

Vanhankaupunginkoski in Helsinki
Photo by Oula Lehtinen, Wikimedia Commons

The name directly translates as “old city”. Don`t expect something like Prague, because there is not any of the past century buildings left here. But there are lovely parks and gardens. River Vantaa joins to sea here and there is a rapid (vanhankaupunginkoski) where kayak races are held. On the other side of area river goes to sea through old dam, making an interesting scene – and good fishing downstream.

Helsinki was founded by Swedish king Gustav Vasa in June 1550 near the mouth of the Vantaa River near the village of medieval Koskela. The city commercially competed with Tallinn in Estonia as a trading post. It was also the objective of the new city to reduce the illegal trading by peasants. Helsinki’s initial population came from Ulvila, Rauma, Tammisaari and Porvoo as ordered by the king. In 1640, Helsinki was moved to better harbour conditions in Vironniemi that slowly the old town of Vanhakaupunki was deserted.

In 1876, the Vanhakaupunki hydropower plant launched its operation. After 100 years of operation the plant was shut down. In 2000 the power plant was restored and somehow resumed operations as a “museum” power plant open for visitors in the summer. The environmental-friendly power plant is no longer operative as desired as its power is dependent on the water level of the Vantaa River.

Six miles off Vanhakaupunki is the island of Pihlajasaari. It actually consists of two small islands connected by a bridge and can only be reached by boat. In the summer a commuter boat transports visitors between Pihlajasaari and Kaivopuisto every two hours. A boat ride to Porvoo is also available.

Today, Vanhakaupunki is now an area of around 0.32 square meter west of the bay. There are about 230 residents in Vanhakaupunki. Vanhankaupungin peruspiiri circle has a larger area of 5.38 square meters and a population of more than 17,000.
A trip to the beautiful city of Vanhakaupunki is certainly worth the trouble.

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