Suomenlinna Island & Fortress, Helsinki
The Vesikko was built in the early 1930s for the German navy. In 1936 she joined the Finnish navy ans saw active service around the Baltic and surrounding areas during the Second World War.
After the war all Finnish subs were destroyed ---except for the Vesikko.
So, you can visit her on the island of Vargon Susisaari, which is part of Suomenlinna. To get there you can catch a ferry from Helsinki harbour. Only 20 minutes at the most!
The submarine is on dry land and for very little money (a few Euros) you can climb in and explore as well as take photos. Okay, she's a small sub at 40m length but I felt huge admiration for the sailors who were confined in her vulnerable shell.
You can see the torpedo tubes, the two groups of bunks (the ones at the stern are so small and the noise from the engines must have been awful. The engines, galley and radio room can also be seen. When I was there, the radio room light wasn't working and so I used my flash and camera screen to see what was in there.
I know little of engineering or bravery ---but I was impressed by both.
Would I go again? Yes, as part of a whole day on Suomenlinna.
A brief public ferry ride from Helsinki harbour across to Suomenlinna is fun ---even in the slight rain that we experienced.
You are visiting a World Heritage Site!
There is the huge Sveaborg fortress here with parts of it on all of the six islands. It really is a fascinating place, reminding me of the anti-Napoleon fortifications in England ---but on a larger scale!
We only had time for one island which is called Vargon Susiaari. All of the islands are linked but we just ran out of time!
So, what did we see and enjoy? There is a small ship yard still in use to a limited extent. There are museums with plenty of maps, painings, artefacts, cannon, models and so on. There are plenty of buildings (many people live on these islands and so there is a range of fascilities (e.g. a primary school, a library) for the inhabitants. Of course there are cafes, artists studios, a visitors centre, parks and the unusual tomb of Field Marshal Ehrensvard ---the planner, supervisor and champion of the fortress.
The history of the fortress is fascinating: Swedish, Finnish and Russian wars etc and it was a prison at the end of the First World War.
I have also wriiten a page about the Finnish submarine that is on the island.
Would I go back there? Yes! However, I'd like to spend a whole day there!
For anyone wanting to combine both culture and beach-life, a trip to Suomenlinna is a must. It is a perfect outing destination,especially for picnics and will fill part of your history quota during family holidays. ;) You also get to see a bit of the archipelago, so there's something for everyone here.
Actually, Suomenlinna is the main island in a group of islands connected for defensive purposes. The fortress on the island was built in the 1700s to provide a defensive outpost against possible eastern aggressions (= Russia) for the Swedish-Finnish kingdom. Originally, the Finnish name was Viapori, resembling the Swedish name Sveaborg. It was an important fortress in the defence of Southern Finland and this was clear from the fact that when Suomenlinna surrendered in the Russo-Swedish war of 1808-1809, it was more or less a sign of things to come, when Sweden lost Finland to Russia as a result of the war. After Finland declared its independence, Viapori was named Suomenlinna.
Today, the island is home to almost a thousand permanent residents, who live in the soldier barracks still on the island. The island has its own shop, post office, cafés and a church too and a number of museums and exhibitions. The island also have public beaches (easily identified by the big bird signs), which are crowded during warm summer days.
The best way to explore the island is by walking around (preferably after your picnic) and stopping wherever you see something interesting. The defensive structures and cannons usually interest both young and old, and the tunnels and ravelins add to the atmosphere of the island.
It will be crowded during nice days, so go early if the weather forecast spells sunny, especially during the warmer months.
Suomenlinna island (also known as Sveaborg, according to its original Swedish name) is located a short ferry trip away from the market square. Although the island is located off the coast of Helsinki, it is part of the city. It is a home to about 900 inhabitants who live on the island all around the year. Most buildings date back to the time when Finland was ruled by its neighbours, Sweden and subsequently by Russia. The rest of the buildings on the island are in use as offices, maintenance buildings and service points.
The island is also a home to a 250-year-old naval fortress, also known as Suomenlinna, that is open to visitors all year round. The construction of the fortress began in 1748 and it has been compared to the British maritime fortifications at Gibraltar, as it was built during the Swedish rule. It is one of the seven UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in Finland, and has been included in the list since 1991.
The island is really a mini city within a city. The facilities on the island include a library, fire brigade, church, visitors centre, shop, kiosk, post office, restaurants, cafés, a youth hostel, a brewery, several museums as well as an open air theatre. Some of these are, however, closed during the winter.
There are plenty of nice spots for a picnic and you can also swim and sunbathe in various locations on the island - be prepared to walk a bit though.
In addition, they organise several events all around the year, including guided tours and exhibitions, a jazz festival, regatta and several concerts. In winter, visitors can enjoy the peace and quiet (as well as the snow, ice and the freezing temperatures) of the island.
About 15 minutes on the ferry from Market Square to this UNESCO heritage site. Built, I believe by Swedes, captured by Russians and now rightly in Finnish hands.
An interesting place to wander around and eerily quiet on a wet Sunday morning when we visited, can imagine it gets pretty busy in Summer.
Another attraction here is the microbrewery, see later tip.
Enjoyed our time here.
This beautiful island and fortress worth to see if you have extra time.
That fortress is builded at 1748. It has a great importance at Finland's history.
There are many things to see. My favorites were Suomenlinna museum and Toy museum.
There are good and cheap restaurants in it. You may eat interesting things there.
A visit to Suomenlinna will allow you to see one of the world’s largest historical maritime fortresses, built on 6 islands, during the 18 th century.
But besides that, you get a chance to see some great views and park areas (it’s also a residential area to around 850 people), as well as some “jewels” if you are a fan of such things: a World War II submarine and some well preserved bunkers and guns.
The biggest tourist draw in Helsinki is probably the star fort Suomenlinna. It was built by the Swedes on a series of islands in the Baltic Sea, to defend Finland from the Russians. It didn't see much action, as the Swedes capitulated the moment they heard a Russian shout angrily from a passing fishing boat.
Unfortunately, its location in the freezing waters of the Baltic mean that even on a mild summer's day it turns you into a block of ice in minutes. I actually took only a few pictures on the fort itself, and they were all blurred because of my shaking hands (from both the freezing cold and the ferocious winds).
It is an impressive fort though, and the rest of the islands are beautiful too, all built on the same solid granite as Helsinki. You can also enjoy a picnic here watching the ferries sail past your nose, at least you can if the weather is decent or you are of a very hardy constitution.
We paid 5.5 Euro to ride the ferry to Suomenlinna Island. There is a narration about the island and Helsinki while on the ferry. I had emailed the Jet Line before we left home about using a credit card. They responded with answers to all my questions - very friendly.
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It took 15 minutes to get to the island. It was very windy but sunny when we got there. This was made a fortress by Sweden and called SVEABORG when built in the 18th Century. There are great views of Helsinki from here. Finland was forced into war in 1939-1940 when Stalin's Red Army invaded. Marshall Gustav Mannerheim led the small country to resist re-annexation to Russia. Finland has the distinction of being the only country to entirely repay the war loan to both the US and the Soviet Union.
For me the Suomenlinna fortress is the most attractive region of the city. I tend to go there a several times a year and it seems to me that I'm not the only one doing this. Especially during summertime tens of thousands of locals are pouring to the islands after the office day or during their holidays. And that's no wonder because the islands provide an excellent venue for a picnic with friends. The sunny blue sky, glimmering sea and wonderful views are probably the best that Helsinki can offer on this regard. And even if you come alone you can still enjoy the lovely seascape, sunbathing, good book and perhaps a sip of beer while laying on a sunny cliff.
But Suomenlinna is also much more than just a picnic resort. The island fortress was designed to be a Gibraltar of Gulf of Finland. The construction was begun during the 19th century lead by a swedish count Augustin Ehrensvärd. Despite of the difficulties he managed to build a strong sea fortress that was never put to a real test. During the Napoleonic wars the fortress capitulated to the russians without the real fight. During the Crimean war a british fleet bombarded the fortress, but they never tried an assault against it because it was thought to be too strong.
Luckily, for a tourist, there are still plenty of remnants of these times. The guns and walls are of course for everyone to see, but there are also a lot fortress corridors that children love to explore. What you need during these explorations is a flashlightg and water-proof shoes. The first is for illumination and the latter for the fact there is quite often water on the floor. (Especially on the southern shore of the Susisaari near the King's gate)
Apart from corridors there are also some museums that might interest tourists. Most of them are located near Ehrensvärd square. Basicly they tell the history of fortress, but as a local I haven't visited them for 15-20 years (though I recall, that when I last visited them, they were rather interestig).
And finally some recommendations:
The easiest way to travel to Suomenlinna is to buy a HKL one day/three day ticket, that is also valid on Suomenlinna ferry. The HKL ferry departs from the easternmost part of the Kauppatori. To reach the departure point you have to walk all through the marke place until you see a small beigish building in front of you. You can't miss the place because usually there are huge crowds waiting for the ferry.
The HKL ferry will take you to the main harbour near the church. There is also a private ferry line that pendels between Kauppatori and the information centre of the island. To be frank I don't have the faintest idea of the cost of that trip. All I know is that the ferry departs from the westernmost point of Kauppatori and that the end station is near the info center. In any case, you should consider also this option if you think that the HKL ticket is not for you
If you come to Helsinki in June and want to visit Suomenlinna I strongly recommend, that you check if there is a tradional rokokoo festival during this time. This is an yearly event that includes free concerts there performancers are dressed in 18th century costumes. This year the festival is hold between the 9th and 16th of June but the actual date of the free concert is still in the air.
If you want refreshments during your visit, Valhalla restaurant is a place for you . The restaurant has a really nice roof terrace with a wonderful view towards south. The tavern is in the southern part of Susisaari very near to the King's Gate. Another option is a cafeteria in the middle of the Susisaari. The cafe has a couple of terraces with a view towards the sea. There is also a restaurant in the harbour, that you may want to visit while waiting for the ferry. They have their on brewery, that make a special Suomenlinna beer. Personally, I'm not a great fan of it, but then again it is a matter of an opinion.
There is also a small shop in the main harbour, where you can buy everything that is needed for a good picnic. The problem is that most of the people coming to the island know this store, so you have to be very quick to avoid the huge cues in the shop. So if you feel that you have to buy some food/ refreshments, I advice you to leave your seats early and take a front line position when leavig the ship
You should really respect the warnings regarding the walls - especially on the southern island of the fortress. The walls are really steep there and basicly you should stay strictly on the path. If you don't you might fall 4-5 meters and find yourselves in Valhalla. Ok, the afore mentioned may sound stupid, but the general idea regarding the walls is the following: you can climb on the walls, but never ever leave the path, because as a stranger you don't know where the walls are steep and where they are not.
I took the ferry to Soumenlinna from Market Square, using the public HKL ferry which was covered by my Helsinki pass. It is a 15-min trip 2-3 per hour in summer at :00, :20 and :40 past the hour.
Also known as Sveaborg (meaning Fortress of Sweden), the Somenlinna was built by 15,000 workers under the direction of the Swedes to offset the dominance of the Russians in the region. However, it did fall later into the hands of the Russians in 1809 “by siege”, through no military attacks but just as a military award/gift when Helsinki became part of the Russian Empire.
Today, the island is inhabited by 1000 residents and so you will see some kids biking around. There is a big Visitor Center, which has a 25 minute “multi-vision show” and computers about the fortress. The center is a 10-15 minute walk from the boat dock.
Visitor Center is free daily May-Sept 1000-1800, Oct - Apr 1000-16600
Many ferries arrive on the main quay of Iso Mustasaari, the main island of Suomenlinna. Here you find a grocery shop, the church and many houses and flats.
This part of Suomenlinna is dominated by the church which also has a lighthouse function. You see the church always if you pass the island, this island also has a toy museum, a library, restaurants, a hostel and a few sights...
The best part of Suomenlinna is on Kustaanmiekka, I believe it is the island of Susisaari. Here you find the famous King's Gate. You can go directly by ferry to this part of Suomenlinna. You have several ways of exploring this island, several paths, past walls, on the coastline, via sandbanks and via guns, it is just beautiful. If you go to Helsinki this is a must-see!!!
The part of Suomenlinna that does not attract many tourists is Länsi-Mustasaari. Here you find the buildings in which the inhabitants of the islands are living. But you also find nice places to relax, to enjoy the nature, to enjoy sights of the city... So if you have time take a walk to this part of Suomenlinna, it is worth a visit!!
The Visitor Center has the history of the islands displayed and they will give you a map which explains the history of Suomenlinna Island and a guide for the walking tour. You can take a guided walking tour. There is no entry fee to the fortress, however, they do sell tickets to enter the six museums there. They also have six to eight restaurants there.
We enjoyed the peace and quiet while walking around on the islands. We were also able to walk down to the shore and get near the cold water!
I would defnitely recommend this little excursion while visiting Helsinki.