Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, Helsinki

This is one of the reasons why a few hundred years ago the capital of Finland was transferred from Turku to Helsinki.  Helsinki was  (a) closer to St Petersburg, and (b) easier to defend from the west, due to the geography of the area.  Suomenlinna is a group of small islands guarding the entrance to Helsinki harbour, and an impressive fortress was built there.  It was begun  in the 1700s when  Finland was under Swedish rule and expanded in the 1800s under Russian rule.  There are still some pretty impressive cannons facing west on Kustaanmiekka island from this period. Today the island(s) have  about 900 inhabitants, and a naval academy.  Military use other than  this stopped about 30 years ago.

World Heritage Site

Suomenlinna is one of the most important cultural heritage sites in Finland. It has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a unique monument of military architecture.

Winter day in Suomenlinna 

Getting there

You get to Suomenlinna via a cute little ferry boat, with wooden seats.  This leaves regularly from the market square ( "Kauppatori"). If you go on a Saturday, there is the added bonus of the market being open which can provide an interesting diversion for half an hour while waiting for the ferry to depart.  The market stalls are a mixture of food stalls selling raw and cooked fish and other Finnish delicacies, vegetable and fruit stalls, and arty/crafty stalls and souvenirs. 

Ferry oat, with the return ferry going past in the background

There is an autmoated ticket machine on the quay which is a bit daunting, and they don't sell tickets on the ferry so you have to figure it out.  Actually it was quite simple - you press a button labelled "single ticket" and it tells you to put in Euros 3.80.  (notes accepted, change given).

The ferry takes about 15 minutes and it's quite pleasant.

On the Island(s)

Be aware that the roads and paths on the island are  made of sand, brick paving and cobblestones.  There are no tarmac or concrete roads or pavements. They are not even and smooth. Good shoes are essential.

You might want to take the precaution  of printing off a map of the island from one of the main tourist websites, showing  the location of all the main places of interest and walkways.

You get dropped at the quay on the north side of Isomustasaari island.  From there it is an easy and well signposted walk to the main Information centre.  Hint: walk away from the ferry bearing left, go through an archway in  a building, and follow the main roadway through, signposted to the Information centre.

Note: If you turn right immediately off the ferry pier instead of turning left,  after about 100 metres you come to a bar and restaurant which belongs to the islands' own brewery, serving their own beer and good food.  Remember this for when you get back to the ferry later.

The main information centre lies at the end of the first island, just before you walk over a curious bridge made of steel with a wooden flooring/roadway.

The information centre offers a guided tour through  the museum and talk on the  history.

Walk on over the bridge onto the largest island, actually more or less two islands in one (Susisaari/Kustaanmieke).  There is a bar 250 metres to the right immediately after the bridge, with decent-looking food. Just off the  bridge there is a summer kiosk selling postcards, souvenirs and stuff like that.

If you walk around, you might find a number of hefty cannons still in place, pointing out to sea, to the west.  Though a lot of them sadly are covered in graffiti they are pretty impressive.

Cannons

This southernmost part of Suomenlinna is the least built-up, at least above ground.  There is a network of tunnels, passages and little rooms built into the ground, presumably for the soldiers manning the gun emplacements.  It can be fun wandering through tunnels and peering into pitch-black rooms trying  to imagine what it would have been like to live and work there.  

  Tunnels underground

There is quite a rugged coastline here, a bit like Cornwall or Brittany with bare rocks down to the sea.  Everywhere you go there are decent walkways, steps and handrails in pretty good repair, to make your walking trip as safe as possible.

 Everywhere you look there is evidence of the fortifications: massive walls, ramparts, huge stone (and brick) structures of one sort or another - all very mystifying in their purpose, but imposing and almost majestic. 

Rocky inlet    Rocks and fortifications

There is a very narrow channel next to the island where all the boat traffic in and out of Helsinki harbour has to go. Some say that due to historical monument reasons this channel cannot be widened.  It is almost scary watching the large ferries go by, almost dwarfing the island. You think they cannot possibly get through, especially as they have  to do a bit of a direction change half way though the channel. You begin to understand why this fortress was so successful in defending Helsinki. Everywhere you walk you are conscious of massive guns (or places where there once were guns) pointing threateningly out towards the narrow surrounding waters.

Evidence of restoration  is everywhere.  The authorities are doing a great job of keeping the place up and repairing things.  Some odd uses of old miltary items: around the church, there was a fence made from old cannon barrels and anchor chains.

church railings 

Shops, restaurants, amenities, accommodation

During the summer months the fortress hosts various events and offers a wide range of services. Almost all restaurants and places of interest are open during the summer, so allow plenty of time for your visit.

Suomenlinna Visitor Centre, Suomenlinna Museum and a handful of restaurants and cafés are open during the winter.

You can check opening hours here: http://www.suomenlinna.fi/en/visitors...

Those wishing to spend the night at the fortress may stay at Hostel Suomenlinna, which is open throughout the year. During the summer season, visitors may stay overnight in their own boats at the guest harbour.

There  are  toilets ("WC") on the island.

Return journey

Purchase your return ticket after a brief rest in the above-mentioned local brewery/bar.  Beware of the electronic sign saying when the next boat departure will happen.

Fish stall   Fish