Vanhankaupunginlahti, Old Town Bay - Finland

Area characterisation: 

Biogeographic region: Boreal

Surface area: 338 ha

Country: Finland

Region/Province: Helsinki

The Old Town Bay (OTB) is located in the middle of the capital of Finland with good accessibility via public transport. The diversity of its flora and fauna makes it unique among urban nature destinations. It is Helsinki’s largest nature reserve, designated 1959, covering an area of 338 hectares of which 316 ha belongs to NATURA 2000 network.

Its bird wetlands and nature have been a notable hiking destination since the 19th century. A cross border project “NATTOURS - Sustainable urban nature routes using digital IT-solutions” (2016-2018) enabled to expand the nature reserve further in 2016 with the addition of the herb-rich common alder forest of Pornaistenniemi and the forests of Möylä. During the NATTOURS-project, a nature trail “The Lap of nature” designed specially for providing well-being benefits, was built. Along the trail there are ten short poems presented in information boards describing the surrounding nature and suggesting activities in order to provide possibility for a rejuvenating walk. The disabled and elderly people were taken into special consideration when designing the attractions. The trail is accessible for wheelchairs and other users with limited physical abilities. The trail is also widely used for environmental education. The Lap of nature–trail is part of a network of trails around the Old Town Bay and provides an accessible route all the way to the island of Lammassaari.  Altogether, the clearway trail is 3,5 kilometres long.

One of the goals of the NATTOURS-project was to bring nature also digitally to the people. For this a website ‘’ was built, which is a guide to the nature of Helsinki. After constructing the Pornaistenniemi, the visit flow has been rapidly increasing and the city of Helsinki has decided to improve the recreation area even further. For example, besides already existing small “hiding shelter” for bird watching, a large hiding shelter, where you can fit the whole school class, has been designed and its construction begins in 2021. Besides the nature conservation areas, also pasture areas belonging to a research farm of the University of Helsinki are located in the area. Moreover, Museum of Technology, a restaurant as well as other cultural sites are located in the area.


Improving the wetland and forest coverage and urban greenspace connectivity and therefore securing important biodiversity;

Providing recreation and educational facilities for local residents and visitors; Enhancing the health and wellbeing benefits gained through the use of the accessible trail built for well-being and recreation facilities.


PRINCIPLE UF-NbS (Urban Forests as Nature-Based Solutions) ACTION(S)

  • Conserving bird and wildlife habitat with the implementation of mowing, grazing and removal of invasive species
  • Improvement of the water quality in the river of Vantaa


  • Provision of recreation and well-being benefits for residents and tourists, environmental educational activities
  • Creating a new common web portal, and mobile application for nature-based tourism and education in Helsinki
NbS benefits 
  • Greater ecological connectivity across urban regenerated sites
  • Improve connectivity and functionality of green and blue infrastructures
  • Increase Biodiversity
  • Increase quality and quantity of green and blue infrastructures
  • Increased cultural richness and biodiversity
  • Improve water quality
  • Increase accessibility to green open spaces
  • Increase well-being
  • Provision of health benefits
  • Social learning about location & importance of NBS
Transferability of the result: 

OTB is a good example of citizen participation in Helsinki, where the work has strong coordination from the city but where the planning has been conducted and implemented together with local residents. Many stakeholders and researchers have been and are still engaged in this work.

Lessons learned: 

OTB demonstrates increased citizen participation in UF-NbS. It has been important to focus on planning the routes and other constructions first, in order to transform the area accessible for all, also to disabled, elderly and children. In the planning process, the connectivity of green areas has been taken into consideration. According to the monitoring of visitor flows before and after the NATTOURS-project and its implementation, the number of visitors and activities increased remarkably in the area. Therefore, the City of Helsinki has decided to improve the nature area even further. With the increase in visitor numbers, the project has managed to improve citizens’ environmental awareness. The large green area, located close to the city centre, is now easier accessible than before and provides important well-being and health benefits for a larger number of residents. The OTB works also as an adaptation measure in climate change. The study results show, that by providing nature conservation areas, we are able to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change. Through OTB, citizens understand better the role and importance of urban wetlands and forests for ecosystem services.


City, regional general funds:

The City of Helsinki provides the funding for the planning and management.

The money for the management comes from the budgets of different agencies and “competes” with other funding needs in Helsinki.

National government funds:

The government of Finland owns part of the NATURA 2000 network area. EU provides the Community funding for Natura 2000 sites which is based on the provisions of Article 8 of the Habitats Directive.

International funds:

A cross border project “NATTOURS - Sustainable urban nature routes using new IT-solutions” (2016-2018) enabled to expand the nature reserve further in 2016 with the addition of the herb-rich common alder forest of Pornaistenniemi and the forests of Möylä. Pornaistenniemi and construction of Old Town Bay was funded by Central Baltic 2014-2020 Programme, of which the budget for Finland was: 667.325 EUR.

NbS classification 
  • Urban forest
  • Extensive reed beds
  • Green urban areas
  • Rocky meadows
  • Woodland play area
  • Constructed damp and built structures for water management
  • Riverbank green
  • Wetlands
  • Choice of plants

Kaisa Pajanen

Team Leader

Helsinki, Finland

Tel: + 358 505932137

Further information

The compilation of this case study description has been funded by the Horizon 2020 CLEARING HOUSE project. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 821242.

Sustainable Development Goals 
  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
Key Performance Indicators: