Lurking into any travel guide for the Capital of Finland Helsinki, the main attraction recommendation will be Suomenlinna, and there is a reason for that.
In the 18th century, Finland belonged to Sweden. Sweden made big plans for the island and intended to build a fortification. Back then, it was called Sveaborg. The plans were huge, but the reality was severe, and battles constantly prevented finishing the fortress. Swedish projects over Sveaborg were never completed. In the 19th century, Russia took over Finland, and so began a new era for the fortress, which was now named Viapori. The Russians also had great plans for the rampart; they wanted to expand it to the nearest islands, and for that reason, they built barracks for soldiers and even a church, bringing life to Viapori. But the cruel reality, once again, has set all the plans aside. Viapori was severely damaged in a war, and the repair took many years. All that happened until the most significant time for the fortress: in 1917, Finland finally got independent! After a year, Finland took over the government of the island, and the name of the place was changed to Suomenlinna, joyfully meaning “Castle of Finland.” In the following years, Suomenlinna became listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage and slowly upgraded to the most known attraction of Helsinki.
Today Suomenlinna is an inhabited area, so during your visit, you will find a grocery store, multiple cafes and restaurants, museums, a summer theater, and even a prison. If you would like to spend a night on the islands, you can find a hostel right next to the main quay. Suomenlinna is, of course, open all year round, even though some specific eateries and museums might be open only in summer. The best way to get to know the island is by discovering it on foot. Be aware of many hills and cobblestone paths, and keep in mind that good walking shoes are a must. Also, don’t forget your camera, because the views are going to be gorgeous!
Suomenlinna is an inhabited district of Helsinki covering eight islands. A sea fortress is situated on a few of them and is also called Suomenlinna. To get there, you can take a ferry from Market Square. Since the islands are part of Helsinki, you can use a usual Helsinki ticket for your ferry ride. A one-way trip takes about 10 minutes; after that, you will be dropped on the main quay of Suomenlinna. You can find ferry timetables right on the quay, so don't forget to check out the time for your return. This place is a collection of 5 connected islands. The one you arrive on is called Iso Mustasaari and is marked as letter C. To find all the main attractions, check the signs and follow the blue ones, they are going to take you through a blue route, right through all the attractions. Following it, you will visit nearby islands, marked as B and A, and named Susisaari and Kustaanmiekka.
The blue route will first take you around the Church, which has great acoustics and once even surprised me with a reggae repertoire! Don’t get surprised if you encounter a wedding; this is a famous place for that. The unique thing about this church is that it also serves as a lighthouse.
The path will follow the main museum of Suomenlinna and over the bridge. The next significant spot you will encounter is a Great Courtyard. In times of the Swedish era, this was the main square, designed by a man whose grave you can find right in the middle. There is also a museum dedicated to him nearby.
Walking the blue route, you will eventually find the main sight of the island - the Bastion Zander. Hills, cannons, and entrenchments surround it. Covered in greenest grass, the entrenchments somehow remind the hobbit houses. You can even get into some of them.
In this part of the island, you can discover smaller paths through hills, take photos pretending you are firing a canon and stop for a picnic with a view to the mainland. Please mind, that fire and grilling are not allowed on the island. For locals, this is a famous picnic spot. There is even a small beach down the hills for refreshment in the hottest days. And yes, there are hot days in Finland.. maybe two or three during all summer season.
The last iconic spot on the islands is a King’s Gate. It was built in the 18th century and is a great-looking spot.
It served as a gateway to the fortress, and now it’s a gateway to my favorite place on the islands- the tunnels. At this point, you have probably already encountered few tunnels on your way, but the longest one is situated here, in the southern part of the island A, right next to the King’s Gate. Don’t forget your flashlight, because there is no light source in tunnels.
As you might notice, there are a lot of ways to spend your time on the islands. You can make it a historical journey, visiting museums and discovering local heritage. You can make it a leisure day with a picnic on the emerald hills, taking a swim in the sea, and watching the shores of the city center from aside. You can put yourself into adventure, discovering secret passages and lesser-used hiking paths. There are many faces to Suomenlinna, and you will have to visit to discover your side of it!
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