Not far from Helsinki’s bustling downtown, Fort Suomenlinna is a living historic site that gives an old-world feeling within easy reach of the big city.
Fans of military history or stone architecture will enjoy the fortress, which was built in the mid-18th century. The coveted fortress has been owned by three different nations, Russia, Sweden, and Finland over the span of multiple conflicts. It was a maritime fortification built across a small group of islands, and has now become one of the most popular tourist attractions of Helsinki, drawing in 650,000 a year. A ferry from the mainland will bring you to the islands for few euros – it is the only way to get to the island – and in the winter you get to experience the sensation of the boat pushing its way through the ice.
Town on a Small Island:
The Fort is much more than just a stone structure across some islands. Suomenlinna has a brewery, restaurants, a hostel and other local amenities in addition to the typical museum and visitor’s centre – mainly because the islands boast a community of over 800 residents. Most of these are only open during the summer, but there is still enough to amuse in the colder months as well.
You might find a local child has built a snowman around one of the many cannons, or notice that the person walking next to you is carrying home groceries, and is not a tourist at all!
Things to do on the island:
More of the attractions on site are open during the summer, so the amount of time you can spend on the island depends on the season. In the winter, it is a safe bet to set aside an hour or two to see all there is to see, and in the summer an extra hour or two will allow you the time to check out things like the brewery.
Check out the dungeon, the idyllic view of the harbour, or repel imaginary invaders with the multitude of cannons. There are many museums illustrating the history and relevance of the different ways the fortress shaped Finland’s history as well. It is quite simple getting from place to place, the walking trails are clearly marked and signage makes it difficult to get lost.
Guided tours on the island are available, English and Russian tours are regularly scheduled, and can be given in up to 15 other languages if you get in touch ahead of time to make arrangements. It will cost €9, €4 for children. Be prepared to walk everywhere, because there are no cars, no bikes for hire, and no public transport on the islands themselves.
Shutterbugs will enjoy the available scenery, with some good shots to take of the fortress itself, the natural beauty surrounding it, or even to get a waterline vista of Helsinki.
If you are making a day trip of Helsinki, most of the island attractions that charge admission are included in the Helsinki Card. If you are a tourist on a budget, there is no admission to the island itself, simply the cost of the ferry to get there.
If you are spending the day in Helsinki, Fort Suomenlinna is a must-see!