The "Daughter of the Baltic", Helsinki (Finnish) (Helsingfors in Swedish) is Finland's capital and largest city. Founded in 1550, Helsinki became the capital of the Finnish Grand Duchy in 1812, when the Russian Empire rebuilt it as a miniature St. Petersburg, a role it has played in many a Cold War movie. Today, Helsinki is a city of 600,000 people, combining the atmosphere of an international metropolis with the coziness of a small town. The city is best seen during its short summers, when the sun brings the outdoor bars and cafés to life and even the nights are light. While visiting in winter is more of a challenge, Helsinki is one of few large cities in Europe with a good chance for snow on Christmas.
The city of Helsinki forms the core of Finland's largest urban area, known in Finnish as the "capital area" (pääkaupunkiseutu). Helsinki is bordered by the Gulf of Finland to the south, while the posh suburban city of Espoo, with the embedded tiny enclave city of Kauniainen, is to the west. The more industrialized city of Vantaa is to the north and east. The Capital Region has a population of about 1.2 million, 650,000 of them living in Helsinki proper. Beyond these, the suburbs rapidly give way to small towns, farms and forests, most notably Nuuksio National Park at the intersection of Espoo, Vihti and Kirkkonummi.