Helsinki was established in 1550, when Finland was a province of Sweden, to compete with the great port of Tallinn. It was not a success and remained a dull backwater for the next 200 years.
The tsar made Helsinki the capital of his new Grand Duchy of Finland, and commissioned its magnificent centre. A century later, Finland gained independence.
Cruise ships bound for Katajanokka or the South Harbour pass the fortress of Suomenlinna. The Sound of Kustaanmiekka (Gustav’s Sword) is just 145 metres (160 yards) wide, so cruise ships tower above it. Passengers get an excellent view of the monumental King’s Gate, built in 1753 to mark a visit by King Adolf Fredrik of Sweden.
The centre of Helsinki consists of low-rise buildings. Most of the historic sites are north of Market Square. The area is flat, compact and laid out on a grid. For most people, walking is the best way to get around and light shoes are adequate.
A visit to the island fortress of Suomenlinna calls for more solid shoes because many of its paths are uneven cobble stones.