16 photos that show just how much Helsinki has changed in the last 100 years


You only have to wander around Helsinki on a summer’s day to see why it’s regularly listed as one of the world’s most livable cities. But it hasn’t always been that way. When King Gustavus Vasa of Sweden founded it in 1550 it was so unpopular he had to order the burghers of Rauma, Ulvila, Porvoo and Tammisaari to move there. The city didn’t grow much for the next few hundred years either. Even when it was finally declared the capital in 1812 the population was still less than 5000. At the same time, London was home to 1.2 million people. So, it’s really only since the start of the 20th century that Helsinki has become the city we all know and love. To celebrate this magnificent transformation, and to enjoy the fact we live in the Helsinki of the future, let’s take a peak at Helsinki of the past, courtesy of some marvellous pictures by photographers such as Ismo Hölttö and Jouko Leskinen. 

The Central Railway Station square, Helsinki, 20th century.


The Esplanade in the beginning of the 20th century, Helsinki.

Carpet cleaning in Helsinki, 1907.

Trams on Esplanade, 1919

Celerating the Armed Forces Day, Senate Square, Helsinki. (1920)

Celebrating the Armed Forces Day, Senate Square, Helsinki. (1920)


Outdoor bathing facility, 1920.

Melting the snow in Helsinki, 1922.

Transporting stuffed animals to the Natural History museum, 1923.

Finnish men working in 1945, Helsinki.

Mannerheimintie, 1952

1952 when the Olympic games were held in Helsinki.


1st of May Vappu celebrations, 1959.


Street sweepers in Helsinki,1966.

Finnish Police Officers, 1970.

Rainy Juhannus (midsummer) celebrations , Helsinki, 1978.

Erottaja, 1981

Image credits: Helsinki photos

35 replies

  1. My goodness, the Railway square hasn’t changed very much since this photo was taken, its very much the same as I remember it from my visit four years ago 🙂 Great city..!

  2. I don’t personally count Helsinki being part of Finland. There is almost nothing Finnish there. Absolutely the most irrelevant place in Finland 🙂

  3. Vau Helsinki was so charming even 100 years ago.really amazing pictures.dream to be there in those old days and drink beer on the bank of some lake during summer when it is bright and sounds of insects and birds.

  4. Funny. All of those nagging about Helsinki must live outside Kehä III, or as is usually known around here: outside the wolf line.

    • I love Helsinki and Finland. I have visited Helsinki for the first time in august 1970, and in June this year 47 years after my first visit. I hope to return someday. Good evening from France. JN

  5. I lived in Helsinki in 1962-63 and used public transportation from Tapiola into the city. I was always amazed at the number of Swedish speakers there were in Stockmann’s and on the busses.

  6. The True Finland is Pohjanmaa or Savo or Karjala. They should be independent from Helsinki and from EU 🙂 Ok, I like Helsinki a bit but it may be one country with the EURO zone.

    • Gladly….we in Helsinki can keep all the tax income withdrawn from us to support periferias. You can keep the mosquitoes etc. wildlife you have down there including prime minister (actually most of this hillybilly parliament and government full of bush grown natives strange to run a country) and all the “raindances” you keep on doing in funny suits in Kaustinen or so 😀

  7. What are you people talking about? Helsinki is the CAPITAL of FINLAND. It’s more Finnish than any other place in Finland because it’s a melting pot of people from all around of Finland.

  8. Photographs – or most of them- seem to be originally from Helsinki City Museum (Helsingin kaupunginmuseo), they provide these photos for free but the source must be mentioned. See rules, and also more lovely photos in museum photo service: https://hkm.finna.fi/?lng=en-gb

  9. In pic #10 I suppose these men are not working but been educated. Looks like some sort of a classroom for technical training.

  10. My grandmother left Finland for America in July of 1917 a few months before Finnish Independence. It was nice to see photos of what Helsinki looked like at the time of her departure. I often wonder what it was like for her at the time. She was 25 and not married. Five out of seven of her siblings left and she was the last to leave.

  11. Nice pics.
    What annoys me the most about all this kind of articles, is that they present Helsinki as being the only thing there is in whole of Finland and thus it’s representing all of the country. It’s just one silly city in the southern part of the country, and in my opinion, not even anything special.

  12. Hienoja kuvia! Helsinki on hyvä paikka.

    Vähän ihmettelen näitä kommentteja, osa aika vihaisia 🙂 Ja vielä englanniksi!

    Ja tähän vielä hauska fakta tällaiselta monen sukupolven syntyperäiseltä hesalaiselta: Mikä on parasta helsingin kesässä? No se kun kaikki »stadilaiset» ovat poissa Hesasta, kesälomalla kotipaikkakunnillaan!!!

  13. Went from Stockholm to Helsinki this summer and was surprised how beautiful, clean, interesting town Helsinki is. And very friendly atmosphere even if I’m a Swede??Architecture, parks and museums are top class! I think you Finns should be very proud of your capital. Will defintely come back!

  14. It is our dream to go visit Finland. My partners grandfather came from there in the early 1900’s. He moved to Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Canada.

  15. I think it looks pretty much the same. Transportation is slightly more modern these days. They should have side by side pics then vs now.

  16. I have lived in Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa 4 years during my studies 1978-1982. The memory of Helsinki is depressing, grey, dusty, windy, cold. It is nicer in the summer, but there is still too much traffic and pollution. For me it is just another European city, and I always wish that foreigners who visit Finland, would go also somewhere else than Helsinki.

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