What is the Oldest Capital City in Northern Europe?

Northern Europe
Northern Europe

Tourists have different ideas about what and where Northern Europe is. According to the United Nations, Northern Europe consists of ten countries: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. What is the oldest capital city in this part of Europe? The following is a list of the ten Northern European capital cities in order of founding date.

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Northern Europe's 10 Old Capitals

10. Reykjavik

Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, is the capital of Iceland and the world's northernmost capital. It lies in the country's southwest. The city is famous for its culture and history, but it also has natural beauty.

Reykjavik was the site of Iceland's first permanent settlement, established in 874 by a Norwegian chieftain named Ingólfr Arnarson and his family. There was no urban development in the area until the 18th century: the small fishing village grew slowly and received official recognition as a town only in 1786, the city's founding date.

In 1918, Reykjavik became the capital of a self-governing Iceland under the Danish crown, and since 1944, it has been the capital of the independent Republic of Iceland.

9. Helsinki

Located on the Baltic Sea, Helsinki, Finland's capital and known as the "Pearl of the Baltic Sea," is the second-most northern capital in Europe and is a cosmopolitan city with over 600,000 residents.

In 1550, when Finland was still a part of Sweden, King Gustav Vasa founded Helsinki as the town of Helsingfors at the mouth of the Vantaa River on the site of the medieval village of Forsby, or Koskela in Finnish, to compete with the Hanseatic city of Reval (currently the capital of Estonia; Tallinn). Ninety years later, Helsinki expanded to the current Estnäs neighborhood to be closer to the port for ships. Koskela is now a significant area of the Old Town.

In 1812, Helsinki became the Grand Duchy of Finland's capital, and in 1917, when Finland attained independence from Russia, the city became the country's capital.

8. Vilnius

Vilnius, Lithuania's capital and the Baltic states' second-largest city, is at the confluence of the Vilnia and Neris rivers. In recent years, the city, well-known for its picturesque UNESCO-listed Old Town, has gained a reputation as a destination with a lively arts and culture scene, tasty cuisine, and many events.

Vilnius appeared for the first time in written sources in 1323 as the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Vilna. Traditionally, this is considered Vilnius' founding year. Jogaila, Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, granted it city rights in 1387, following the Christianization of Lithuania.

From the 17th century, Italian master builders constructed numerous Baroque-style buildings in Vilnius. The city, with its more than 50 churches, is known as the "Rome of the East." Even during the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Vilnius was the Grand Duchy of Lithuania's capital until 1795. The USSR collapsed after Lithuania declared its independence in 1990, and Vilnius became the capital.

7. Stockholm

Stockholm stretches across fourteen islands on Sweden's east coast, where the freshwater Lake Mälaren, the country's third-largest lake, flows into the Baltic Sea. As a result of its location, Stockholm is one of the world's most beautiful capital cities.

Birger Jarl, the regent of Sweden, founded Stockholm in 1252. During the late Middle Ages, it was the most populous city in Sweden, with Swedes, Finns, and Germans living there. Stockholm grew and developed much faster than other cities in the 17th century after being elected as the capital in 1634 (Uppsala was the king's residence before).

Stockholm's Old Town, located primarily on the island of Stadsholmen, is large and well-preserved. The city has many historical buildings, including beautiful Romanesque-Gothic style churches dating from the 13th century; a Baroque-style Royal Palace; numerous 17th–19th-century aristocratic mansions; and a 20th-century town hall.

6. Tallinn

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, the easternmost arm of the Baltic Sea, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Helsinki. Its Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Northern Europe.

The Danes founded the city in 1219 during the Nordic Crusades, when Danish King Valdemar II's troops occupied Tallinn, fortified Toompea Hill, and built the original wooden Dominican church. During the 14th and 16th centuries, as a member of the Hanseatic League, the city became an important trading post. In addition to Danish and German influences, it is also possible in today's Tallinn to see traces of Swedish and Russian influence.

Many old structures from Tallinn's long history still exist or have been restored, particularly in Toompea and the walled Lower Town. These include the fortress and St. Mary's Cathedral from the 13th century, the Gothic St. Olaf's and St. Nicholas's churches, the 14th-century Town Hall, and the 15th-century Great Guildhall.

5. Riga

Riga is Latvia's capital and the largest city in the Baltic states. It lies on the Gulf of Riga, where the Daugava River meets the Baltic Sea.

Riga began to develop as a center of Viking trade during the early Middle Ages, between the 8th and 11th centuries. Augustinian monks built a monastery there in 1190. The year 1201 is officially the foundation date of Riga; the German Bishop Albert, who also founded the Livonian Brothers of the Sword in 1202, founded the city.

Riga's historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, featuring Art Nouveau architecture and 19th-century wooden buildings.

4. Copenhagen

Copenhagen, the Danish capital, is the largest city in Scandinavia, located on the islands of Zealand and Amager. It is one of the best places in the world for cycling, and you can tour the city on a bike like a true Copenhagener. Cycling is healthy, enjoyable, and green! The monument to Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid is a world-renowned tourist attraction and one of Copenhagen's most famous symbols.

Copenhagen's roots date back to around 800 when it was a tiny fishing village. Bishop Absalon's construction of a modest fortress on the small island of Slotsholmen in 1167, where Christiansborg Palace now stands, has traditionally been regarded as Copenhagen's founding.

In 1343, the city became the capital of Denmark and the royal residence. The University of Copenhagen was founded in 1478, making it the oldest university in the Nordic countries. Lutheranism was born in Germany in 1517. In 1526, Denmark split from the Catholic Church. To this day, Evangelical Lutheranism remains the country's official religion.

3. Oslo

Located at the head of the Oslo Fjord in the country's southeast, Oslo is Norway's capital and largest city, with over 650,000 inhabitants. The city center is walkable, and city bikes are available throughout Oslo. Its location between the fjord and the forest provides excellent access to nature.

King Harald of Norway established Oslo as a designated trading post in 1048. In 1299, King Haakon V Magnusson proclaimed Oslo the capital and built the Akershus stronghold there in 1814. However, it lost its privileges during the Danish-Norwegian union, which lasted from 1348 to 1814.

As a result of the Anglo-Danish war, Denmark lost Norway to Sweden in 1814. A spelling reform occurred during the reign of the Swedish-Norwegian monarch, Oscar I; the city was renamed Kristiania in 1877. Only in 1925 was the city's original name, Oslo, restored.

2. Dublin

With mountains surrounding it, a river running through it, and a beautiful bay on its edge, Dublin is Ireland's capital and the historical center of Irish arts, culture, and education.

The first mention of a settlement in the Dublin area appears in the writings of the Greek astronomer and cartographer Claudius Ptolemy in 140, who named the location Eblana Civitas. The Vikings founded Dubh Linn in 841 on the right bank of the River Liffey near Christ Church Cathedral, built two centuries later. A large army led by King Henry II of England conquered Dublin in 1171; many of the city's original Scandinavian residents moved north of the river, establishing Oxmantown (now the city's Northside). In 1922, Dublin became the capital of the Irish Free State, renamed Ireland in 1937.

As a reminder of past British imperialism, some of Dublin's Georgian architecture from 1714 to 1830 was demolished in the mid-twentieth century and replaced with numerous modernist office buildings. The Roman Catholic churches date from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Formerly the seat of the British government in Ireland until 1922, the 13th-century Dublin Castle now hosts ceremonial events, including the inauguration of Irish presidents.

1. London

London is the capital of the United Kingdom, located on the River Thames in southeast England at the head of an 80-kilometer (50-mile) estuary that leads to the North Sea. Westminster and the City were the two districts that formed the historic city center during the Victorian era.

After invading the British Isles, the Romans established London as Londinium in 43. It became the capital of Roman Britain around the year 214; from 1825 to 1925, London was already the world's largest city.

London's Westminster Palace with Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret's Church, the Tower of London, Kew Gardens, and Maritime Greenwich are all World Heritage Sites. The Tower Bridge, London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and St. Paul's Cathedral are some of the city's other famous landmarks.

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Planning a trip to Northern Europe? Have any questions about visiting its capital cities? What about other suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment below.


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