One of my favourite destinations in Helsinki is Suomenlinna Sea Fortress – situated on the northern shore of Baltic Sea. Being lived in Espoo I get enough opportunity to explore the island and I am really in love with the place. It has different beauty in different seasons. In summer it is so bright, green and full of life while in Winter it turns to a fairy tale island, wrapped with snow. The same place turns to yellow-red with fall color. If you want to enjoy the true beauty of Suomenlinna, you should visit it in different seasons.
“Linna” means fortress in Finnish. Suomenlinna is a sea fortress, built gradually from 1748 onward by Sweden on a group of 6 linked islands belonging to the district of Helsinki in Finland. The fortress is an interesting example of European military architecture of genre. The place is added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991 as a unique monument of military architecture. Another unique feature of Suomenlinna is – in the course of its history it has served in defense of three realms – Sweden, Russia and Finland.
Nowadays, Suomenlinna is one of the most popular tourist destination in Finland . The place is visited by approximately one million visitors annually. This is also home of 800 residents.
There is no name of any street in Suomenlinna. This is a vehicle free zone. Only service vehicles are allowed on the Island.
How to reach
These islands are accessible only by water. A ferry service runs from the Market Square of Helsinki throughout the year to Suomenlinna. The ferry departs every 30 minutes and it takes 15–20 minutes to reach. In summer season, a water-bus service to the fortress is also available for visitors. The journey offers majestic view of Helsinki and the surroundings from sea. During winter, the trip through the ice-covered sea is a unique experience.
How to explore Suomenlinna:
You have to explore the area on foot as no public transport is available in Suomenlinna. The main route across the fortress runs from north to south via all the main sights. It starts at the main quay in front of the Jetty Barracks and ends at the King’s Gate. The length of the route is about 1.5 km. Information boards along the route provide information about sights and their history. This route is marked with a solid blue line on the information map. I would say Guided tour is the best way to explore the fortress and to know its history.
Recommended tour: Helsinki and Suomenlinna 5-Hour Sightseeing Tour
What to see in Suomenlinna
There are several historical sights, museum, restaurant and cafe to visit. Here is my take them.
The pink-plastered Jetty Barracks, the main gateway to the fortress, is located on the northern shoreline of Suomenlinna. It is the first building visitors see as they arrive here. The barracks, built in 1868–70 in Russian era, was designed to accommodate 250 soldiers.
The tourist information office along with few cafes & restaurants are situated in the Jetty Barracks.
The Church in Suomenlinna was built in 1854 as a Russian Orthodox Church. Original building had five steeples with onion domes but in the alteration works, the main dome lost its onion shape and the tower was made quadrangular. Nowadays this Church is a popular venue for weddings, concerts or events.
3.Prisoner-of-war camp memorial and The Casino Park
A Prison of war camp was located in Suomenlinna between 1918 and 1919. After the civil war, about 8,000 prisoners were interned in the camp.
A memorial for the prison camp is situated in the Casino Park on the island of Iso-Mustasaari, near the main quay. The memorial consists of two rocks, one in natural condition and one quarried.
4. Suomenlinna Museum
The museum is open throughout the year to showcase history and restoration of the fortress. It is open from 10 am to 6 pm in summer season (2 May-30 September) and from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm during the winter season (1 October-30 April). A short film about history of the fortress is shown every half hour. The film is available in several languages.
5. Dry dock
Dry dock in Suomenlinna is one of the oldest operational dry-docks in Europe. The construction started in 1750. Basins and service buildings of the dock served as base for the Swedish Coastal Fleet’s Sveaborg squadron until 1808.
Public access to the dock area is prohibited but visitors can see that from the dry dock observation deck.
6. Great Courtyard
The Great Courtyard, designed by Augustin Ehrensvärd, served as the main square and administrative centre of the fortress from 1760. In the middle of the square there is the tomb of Augustin Ehrensvärd, designed by King Gustav III of Sweden together with Augustin’s son Carl August Ehrensvärd and Johan Tobias Sergel.
7. Bastion Zander and artillery of Kustaanmiekka
Kustaanmiekka island is situated in southern Suomenlinna. There are four bastions, built between 1748-1750. Bastion Zander is one of them. It has been the flag bastion of the fortress throughout its history.
You can see artillery in many places at Suomenlinna, especially in Kustaanmiekka. In addition to Russian & Swedish artillery from 18th Century, You will find artillery from the World Wars as well.
The King’s Gate is one of the iconic symbol of Suomenlinna. The gate was built in 1753–54 on the site as the entrance gateway to the fortress. In 1752 the ship, carrying King Adolf Frederick of Sweden, was anchored while he came to inspect the construction of the fortress. In the 1770 the gate was transformed into a double drawbridge. A quay and wide stairs, made of limestone, were built in front of the drawbridge.
What to do:
1.Take a guided tour:
The guided tours are offered by Ehrensvärd Society and held by authorised Suomenlinna-guides. The tour start from Suomenlinna Museum. Duration is approximately one hour. Tickets can be bought in the museum or from Ehrensvärd Society’s online shop. The price is €11 for adults and €4 for children. It is free with Helsinki Card. Guided tours are conducted in different languages and ticket entitles the holder to free admission to the Ehrensvärd Museum. During winter, tours are available only on weekends.
2. Sit and Relax
Suomenlinna is such a beautiful place where you don’t need to do anything. You can spend a whole day just relaxing and enjoying the surroundings.
If you are fan of fishing, then Suomenlinna is a good option for you. All you need patient and fishing permit.
4. Walking trail
The best way to explore the fortress is walking around. There are several walking trails between parklands and main sighting sides.
5. Explore the history by visiting museum
There are six museums in Suomenlinna – Suomenlinna museum, Ehrensvärd Museum, the submarine Vesikko ( a restored 1930s vessel) , Military Museum’s Manege, Toy Museum and Customs Museum. Those museums are located in different parts of Suomenlinna. You can purchase tickets separately at each museum. During the summer season, a combined ticket to all museums is also available and it is valid for the whole summer (from 1 May to 30 September). Museum Card is valid in all the museums. Only Suomenlinna museum is open whole year, whereas others are open only during the summer season.