It was Monday and most museums were closed so we decided to take the ferry from Market Square and visit Suomenlinna island (it is actually a group of small islands). It was high on our list anyway. The ferry ride was quick (15’ ride) and surprisingly not very crowded, you just need a regular bus ticket.
We got out a bit confused of what to do but everyone seemed to take a specific path, after a while we saw the Tourist Information were we got a map of the island not that we needed one, as the best you can do here is to enjoy walking and find a scenic spot for picnic :)
Swedish built here a fortress for defensive purposes against the Russians and was original called Sveaborg (fortress of Svea, Swedish still call it this way) but of course Finish renamed it after their independence into Suomenlinna (castle of Finland). The construction of the fortress begun in 1748 but expanded later in 19th century by the Russians. We noticed some old canons on the island but what we liked most were some colorful corners full of flowers. There are some small museums and a submarine but we skipped them all. In case you need coffee or lunch there are some café and restaurants in different spots although as I said it’s great to find a peaceful corner for picnic.
What I didn’t know was that there are about 900 inhabitants on the island, it’s funny that tourists don’t realize their homes aren’t museum so the residences have put signs to make it clear that it’s a private land, please respect this…
we took the regular ferry from south harbor at Kauppatori using our day card, there are also tourist boats but you pay much more than a single bus ticket
Here, you can find some buildings of the naval academy. Though there is the one or other nice building, it is probably the less interesting part for tourists. The main building was designed by C.L. Engel, the architect who designed many important buildings in central Helsinki.
This part of Suomenlinna is known for some stunning sea views and a lot of ruins from the former structures. Close by, you can explore a part of the former tunnel system, but have a look at the signs and don't go to closed-off areas. Follow the blue route (Visitor centre – King's Gate) to see all sights along this way. Use the free map you get in the visitor centre for an easier use of the walking routes.
King's Gate itself was the main entrance into Suomenlinna for a long time and probably its best knon structure. It was finished in 1752 and refurbished in 1925.
The church was built by the Russians as an Orthodox church in 1854. It was converted into a Lutheran church in 1920. The change in religion had also a change in architecture. The five onion domes were removed and replaced by a single dome on the tower. This tower is used as a lighthouse, making it one of very few churches over the world which have this double function. Note also the fence-like structure around the church made out of old cannons and anchor chains. The church has now a very sober appearance, some would even say boring... Suomenlinna's church, however, is a popular church for weddings today. The church is located on Iso-Mustasaari, a 5 – 10 minute walk away from the visitor centre/ferry pier.
For general information on Suomenlinna, please see my sepearate tip on that.
If you have enough of time and if the weather admits, this is the place that you should visit in Helsinki. As one of only a few UNESCO World Heritage sites, it is not only among the top sites of Helsinki, but surely one of the most popular sites in Finland. Suomenlinna is a sea fortress which was built on eight islands off the shore of Helsinki. It was built in 1748 and increased the importnace of the city at a time, when Finland was part of the Swedish Kingdom and the Finnish capital was in Turku. Suomenlinna means „castle of the Finns“, alternative names are Viapori and Sveaborg. „Gibraltar of the North“ is also a popular nickname. Ferry boats by different companies run from Kauppatori to Suomenlinna during daytime. Today, almost 1000 people still live on Suomenlinna, many of them students and staff of the military school.
Upon arrival, you should get a map from the visitor centre and have a look at the introductory exhibition in the same building. Guided tours and several tickets to the museums are available from there. There is enough to spend more than half a day on the island: A couple of museums, a theatre, a small WWII submarine, a wharf, restaurants, shops and of course, the ruins of the former fortress. During summertime, the area is popular for picnics and sunbathing on the beach. Most of the original buildings have been destroyed, but many are still preserved. Check out my other Suomenlinna tips for more details on some of the buildings.
Suomenlinna is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You must take a ferry (from Kauppatori) across to it - the cost of the ferry in minimal and the journey time is 15 minutes. Suomenlinna island is actually made up of 2 islands (Iso Mustaari and Susisaari) and is free to explore. You will neeed half a day to do this trip. There are entrance fees to the museums and to the U-Boat Vesikko and nearly all entrance fees were around €4.
So the Swedes built the fortress to keep the Rascally Russians at bay and they name it Sveaborg. However in 1808 the Ruskis took control, took over the the fortress and moved the capital of Finland to Helsinki (1812) and there you have it!
The island(s) are inhabited so you do need to be considerate as to where you walk.
We love old castles. There is not so much left at Suomenlinna ( =Castle of Finland), but the place is nice anyway. In a warm sunny summerday it is just nice to wocer around at the island. Some people have picnic there, and there are weddings held at Suomenlinna church.
You can visit Suomenlinnan panimo (=brewery), Toymuseum (I´ve been there as a kid, can´t rememeber anything special I´m affraid), army museum some shops of handigrafts, many small cafes etc.
If you walk around the island you will see old cannons and of course what is left from fortress. There is also a old submarine witch you can also visit if you like.
Suomenlinnan panimo, Suomenlinna Brewery is situated at Suomenlinna as you might guess from the name ;) It os close to one of the main ferry dock. If it is summer and you only want to taste the beers, go to summer terrace behind the building. If you check the menu from their page, the beers are at winelist (!!??). They have three own beers. We thought that the stout was the best. You can order a tasting tray with about 2,5dl glass of every beer and one cider. If you don´t like cider you can do as we did and ask to leave it out and have two of some of the beers instead.
The food list at a ´la carte was little too fancy for us. At least at the moment. We took only some Pringles with our tasty beers.
Suomenlinna is quite a big area to walk around and many of the surfaces are uneven.
We walked and looked at Museums, as these were included in our Helsinki card. There were quite a few Museum's scattered around the island.
The fortress is divided into a main fortress and surrounding outer fortresses. The main fortress consists of Iso Mustasaari and Susisaari islands, while the outer fortresses are on Kustaanmiekka, Pikku-Mustasaari, Länsi-Mustasaari, Särkka and Vallisaari islands. We didn't see all of it, as we felt we had seen enough, we both thought it a little disappointing too!
Suomenlinna is actually made up of eight Islands.
We caught the Ferry across to the Island to spend a few hours there.
After disembarking, we made our way to the Visitor Centre, this is where the Suomenlinna Museum is located. First, we had a look here, then made our way to the Church.
We could see the Church, rather like a greek orthodox church, it was built built for the Russian troops in 1854.
Originally the Church had five onion domes.
It was converted into an Evangelical Lutheran church during the 1920s.
I thought this interesting....
The central dome doubles as a lighthouse making it one of only a few churches in the world that does this! The signal blink is the Morse code for the letter "H" for Helsinki.
The Visitor Centre is about 500 metres from the main pier. The waterbus stops at the Visitor Centre pier during summer.
I had read about this Submarine being here and decided to pay it a visit, as my husband hadn't been in a Submarine.
The Vesikko is actually a part of the Military Museum and is docked at the shore of the island of Suomenlinna, near the Suomenlinna Fortress
Submarine Vesikko was one of the five submarines that served in the Finnish army. Vesikko was in service during the World War II, and patrolled the Gulf of Finland during the Winter War against the Soviet Baltic Fleet.
It's also the only surviving German Type II submarine in the world.
The Submarine is very small, we found it crowded with only another couple in the Sub.
I really was disappointed after having been in a big Submarine.
At least the entrance fee wasn't a fortune and was included on our Helsinki card.
OPEN....12th May - 31st August from 11am - 6pm Dailly
ADMISSION.... Adults 4 euro
The old fortress on an island just 10 minutes by small boat from the harbour. This place build long time ago to defend the city from invaders. These days its a great place for sightseeing, picnic and even beer tasting in local brewery restaurant.
If you are interested in history, then you will enjoy it.
Its a great place for a little picnic and a little dip in the sea :)
It used to be a Swedish fortress (its also called Sveaborg in brochures) and the guide shows you around the old shipyard, look-out posts etc. The island was a strategic look-out point against the Russians.
Most embarassingly, we got sunburnt there! (thats how pathetically white Irish people are!). Lots of sandy stretches where you can dip in the water, guided tours around the island, which seems to be some sort of arty commune.
The most outstanding tourist sight in Helsinki
One of the largest sea fortresses in the whole world, "The Gibraltar of the North". Founded in 1748. Included in UNESCO's list or World Heritage Sites.
Many museums (the Suomenlinna Museum in the same building with the Information Centre, the Doll and Toy Museum in the old Russian villa, the Customs Museum with hundreads of old dolls from the 1830`s to the 1960´s, e.g. about one hundread antique bears, and three Military Museums with a restored 250 000 kg Submarine Vesikko of the Second World War), swimming beaches, cafes, a summer theatre and restaurants. You can also buy home made pastries, old-fashioned lemonade and Russian style tea from the Doll and Toy Museum.
Sveaborg Experience is the award-winning multivision show of the history of Suomenlinna. This show in the Information Centre is "the must" for every visitor in Suomenlinna.
Jetty Barracks Gallery next to the boat quay inputs on contemporary art exhibitions. Admission free.
Suomenlinna is also a living suburb of Helsinki with almost 900 people living in the renovated ramparts and barracks.
The big island outside Helsinki is a perfect place for a romantic walk. Green everywhere, and lots of history, from all the war Finland had with their neighbours Sweden and Russia. You can still see some of the guns they used.
There is also some restaurants, a couple of shops, and a food store, so you can stay out there the whole day without problem.
I got here with my ex-girlfriend before lunch, and walked around for a couple of hours, sat down and looked at the sea, took another walk, made some photos, and had a couple of beers.
To the island you go by boat, which take off from the big Market place in Helsinki. It cost 2 euro, or you can do as my dear guide said, “don’t pay, and pretend that it’s raining if someone ask your for the ticket”.
Well, then I had to be nervous during both trips, so I don’t know if it was really worth it… But still…
Also the boat trip is nice, takes around 15-20 minutes, and you pass a lot of small islands during the way to and from Sveaborg.
Just make sure that it’s good weather, or at least not raining, when you’re there. When it’s sunny it’s a wonderful place, but when it’s raining… Well, let me just say that it’s not crowded with places to hide away from the rain…
Make sure to take a look at all the old pieces of the fortress. My friend said it looked like the place where the hobbits, in The Lord of the Rings, were living. And I must agree with her.