The Helsinki metropolitan area includes Helsinki's urban core and Espoo, Vantaa, and Kauniainen, and surrounding commuter towns. It is the world's northernmost metro area with over one million people, and the city is the northernmost capital of an EU member state. Helsinki is the third largest city in the Nordic countries, after Stockholm and Oslo. Helsinki is Finland's most important political, educational, financial, cultural, and research center. The neighboring city of Vantaa is the location of the Helsinki Airport, which has frequent service to many destinations in Europe and Asia.
Helsinki has one of the highest urban standards of living in the world. In 2011, the British magazine Monocle ranked Helsinki the world's most liveable city in its liveable cities index. In the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2016 liveability survey, Helsinki scored ninth place among 140 cities.
According to a theory presented in the 1630s, settlers from Hälsingland in central Sweden had arrived to what is now known as the Vantaa River and called it Helsingå ("Helsinge River"), which gave rise to the names of Helsinge village and church in the 1300s. This theory is questionable, because dialect research suggests that the settlers arrived from Uppland and nearby areas. Others have proposed the name as having been derived from the Swedish word helsing, an archaic form of the word hals (neck), referring to the narrowest part of a river, the rapids. Other Scandinavian cities at similar geographic locations were given similar names at the time, e.g. Helsingør in Denmark and Helsingborg in Sweden.
When a town was founded in Forsby village in 1548, it was named Helsinge fors, "Helsinge rapids". The name refers to the Vanhankaupunginkoski rapids at the mouth of the river. The town was commonly known as Helsinge or Helsing, from which the contemporary Finnish name arose.