On a lovely sunny afternoon we enjoyed a ferry ride from Helsinki, Finland to Suomenlinna visiting a Sea Fortress, wandering around the island and enjoying Finnish black licorice Salmiakki ice cream as part of our walking tour around the island.
With a couple of days in Helsinki under our belt, we wanted to explore around some of the outer areas – including a trip a nearby island. Meeting up with Audrey’s friend who is studying in Finland for the day, we ventured off to Suomenlinna, a historical maritime fortress and one of Finland’s most popular sights.
History Of Suomenlinna, Finland
Nestled in the heart of the Gulf of Finland, just off the coast of Helsinki, lies Suomenlinna, an awe-inspiring sea fortress that has been witness to centuries of Nordic history. The fortress was originally built in the mid-18th century by the Swedish Empire, in an attempt to fend off the threat of Russian expansionism, and was known as Sveaborg, or the “Swedish fortress”.
Despite its impressive fortifications, the fortress eventually fell to the Russian Empire in 1808, during the Finnish War. The Russians re-christened the fortress as Suomenlinna, which translates to the “Finnish fortress”, and continued to use it as a key garrison and naval base in the region.
As the years passed, Suomenlinna continued to play a vital role in Finnish history, serving as a bastion of defense against various outside threats. During World War II, for instance, the fortress was heavily targeted by Soviet air raids, resulting in significant damage to its structures and fortifications.
Despite the challenges it has faced, Suomenlinna has stood the test of time, and in 1973, the Finnish government handed ownership of the fortress over to the city of Helsinki, which has since devoted significant resources to its upkeep and restoration.
Today, Suomenlinna remains an iconic symbol of Finnish history and culture, attracting over a million visitors annually. Travelers can explore the fortress’s labyrinthine tunnels and admire its picturesque courtyards, which provide a window into its storied past. Additionally, the Suomenlinna Museum is a must-visit for those interested in learning more about the fortress’s rich history.
Finally, to experience the full majesty of Suomenlinna, visitors can take a leisurely ferry ride from Helsinki’s Market Square, enjoying scenic views of the Helsinki archipelago along the way. Whether you’re a history buff, an architecture enthusiast, or simply looking for a unique destination in Helsinki, Suomenlinna is a must-visit.
Day Trip To Suomenlinna, Helsinki
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Photo Essay: Suomenlinna, Finland!
The brief ferry was as comfortable a ride I’ve ever been on before. With temperatures reaching the low 20’s I felt a refreshing breeze against my face as the gentle rays of sun penetrate my skin.
The 15 minute ferry ride also afforded me an opportunity to photograph Helsinki from a different vantage point.
We felt extremely lucky to have delayed this trip considering we had planned this trip the day before when the weather was overcast and rainy.
Upon arriving this once virtually barren island was picturesque with its wild meadows, lush gardens and natural cliffs. In many ways this quaint little getaway reminded me of Prince Edward Island in Canada.
Given the many cozy cafes, restaurants, parks, fortifications and canons on this small island, it’s no wonder Suoemenlinna attracting more than 700, 000 visitors annually!
Suomenlinna, a UNESCO Heritage site, (formerly known as Sveaborg in Swedish or Viapori in Finnish) is an inhabited sea fortress which is actually now considered a part of Helsinki. Popular with both foreigners and tourists alike, its the perfect destination for a lazy afternoon picnic, bite of ice cream or a picturesque destination for a wedding.
Literally, ‘Suomenlinna’ translates as ‘Castle of Finland’ and was once a former strategic fortress used to thwart off Russian expansionism.
We enjoyed just randomly wandering around the island marveling at how peaceful and serene the pace of life was compared to Helsinki.
We spotted several couples getting married, children playing under the shade and couples holding hands while sharing ice cream.
By far our favorite activity was just sitting down to enjoy a picnic in a picturesque setting overlooking some local boats in a quieter remote area of the island overlooking a rocky spot by the sea.
Things To Do Visiting Suomenlinna For The Day
A day trip to Suomenlinna can be a perfect getaway from the bustling city of Helsinki. Here are some of the best things to do on a day trip to Suomenlinna:
- Explore the Fortress: Suomenlinna is an impressive sea fortress with a rich history. Take a self-guided tour of the fortress and discover its hidden secrets, such as the underground tunnels and the imposing walls. The fortress is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s easy to see why.
- Visit the Suomenlinna Museum: For a deeper understanding of the fortress’s history, visit the Suomenlinna Museum, which showcases the military and civilian life on the island during different eras. The museum exhibits include artifacts, photographs, and documents from Suomenlinna’s past, and you can learn about its role as a fortress, a prison, and even as a residential area.
- Stroll along the Coastal Path: Suomenlinna is also home to a picturesque coastal path that offers stunning views of the Gulf of Finland. Take a leisurely stroll along the path, stopping to admire the sea views and watch the boats sail by. The path leads to some of the most scenic spots on the island, including King’s Gate and the jetty.
- Have a Picnic: Suomenlinna is an excellent spot for a picnic. There are several picturesque picnic areas, such as the Artillery Bay and the King’s Garden, where you can enjoy your lunch while taking in the stunning views of the fortress and the sea. You can pack your own food or buy some snacks from the island’s cafes and restaurants.
- Visit the Submarine Vesikko: If you’re interested in military history, head to the Submarine Vesikko, a decommissioned Finnish submarine that was used during World War II. You can take a guided tour of the submarine and learn about its history and technology.
- Attend a Cultural Event: Suomenlinna is also a hub for cultural events, such as concerts, theater performances, and art exhibitions. Check the island’s calendar to see if any events coincide with your visit.
- Climb up the Bastion Zander: For a breathtaking panoramic view of the fortress and the surrounding sea, climb up the Bastion Zander. This is the highest point of the fortress, and the climb can be a bit steep, but the view from the top is definitely worth it.
- Take a Ferry Tour: If you want to explore the surrounding archipelago, take a ferry tour from Suomenlinna. There are several options available, from short sightseeing tours to longer island-hopping tours that take you to nearby islands like Lonna and Vallisaari.
- Attend a Guided Tour: Suomenlinna offers a variety of guided tours, which are a great way to learn more about the history and culture of the fortress. There are different types of tours available, such as history tours, ghost tours, and even kayaking tours that take you around the island’s coast.
- Visit the Toy Museum: If you’re traveling with kids or are a toy enthusiast, visit the Toy Museum, which is located in one of the oldest buildings on the island. The museum showcases a collection of toys from the 19th and 20th centuries, including Finnish-made toys.
A day trip to Suomenlinna is an ideal way to spend a day in Helsinki, immersing yourself in Finnish history and culture while enjoying the scenic views and peaceful atmosphere of the island.
How To Take The Ferry To Suomenlinna
Getting to Suomenlinna is easy, as it is located just a short ferry ride away from Helsinki. Here is some information about the Suomenlinna ferry schedule and how to get there:
- Suomenlinna Ferry Schedule: Ferries run to Suomenlinna throughout the year, with more frequent service during the summer months. The ferry ride takes about 15-20 minutes and departs from several locations in Helsinki, including Market Square, Katajanokka, and Ruoholahti. The exact schedule varies depending on the time of year, but you can check the current schedule online or at the ferry terminal.
- Buying Tickets: You can purchase ferry tickets at the ferry terminal or on board the ferry. If you plan on taking multiple trips to Suomenlinna, you may want to consider buying a day pass, which allows you to take unlimited trips on the ferry for the day.
- Getting to the Ferry Terminal: The ferry terminal at Market Square is easily accessible by public transportation, as there are several tram and bus stops nearby. If you’re staying in Helsinki, you can also walk to the terminal if it’s within a reasonable distance.
- On Board the Ferry: Once on board the ferry, sit back and enjoy the scenic ride to Suomenlinna. The ferry offers both indoor and outdoor seating, so you can choose to enjoy the view from inside or outside on the deck.
- Arrival at Suomenlinna: Once you arrive at Suomenlinna, you can explore the fortress at your own pace or join a guided tour. There are several restaurants and cafes on the island, as well as souvenir shops and museums.
Overall, taking the ferry to Suomenlinna is a fun and convenient way to experience this historic fortress island.
Final Thoughts: Helsinki Day Trip
For those seeking a summertime day trip from Helsinki, I highly recommend visiting this UNESCO heritage site.
This is the kind of destination where planning several hours to leisurely stroll around the island – with an extended picnic with family and/or friends – is the perfect way to spend a summer day in Finland.