It is no secret that I absolutely adore northern countries. Hence, layovers in Helsinki are always welcome in my duty roster. Of course, Helsinki is beautiful by itself. Still, if you’re about to see even more of the surroundings and learn about its history, I would highly suggest you visit Suomenlinna Sea Fortress. This travel guide will give you an overview of what to expect during your visit and hopefully help you plan your stay a little better.
Why is Suomenlinna Sea Fortress famous?
There isn’t only one reason that made Suomenlinna Sea Fortress stand apart. It served as a defense for three realms (Sweden, Russia, and Finland) during its history. Its irregular shape makes it a unique example of architecture in that era. In 1991, Suomenlinna was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, which made it an even more popular attraction for visitors.
Who lives on Suomenlinna?
The fortress is home to around 800 residents. Many of them are artists that live and also work on Suomenlinna. Most of the apartments on Suomenlinna are managed by the government; just a few are in private hands.
Who built Suomenlinna and when?
In 1748 Augustin Ehrensvärd started the construction of the sea fortress while Finland was part of the Swedish kingdom. Frederick I of Sweden named the Fortress “Sveaborg” in 1750. Skipping forward to 1918 and leaving the Russian-Swedish war, the Finnish War, and the Crimean war behind, the fortress was annexed by Finland during the Finnish Civil War and named Suomenlinna.
Where is Suomenlinna sea fortress located?
Suomenlinna is a maritime fortress located around 4 km from Helsinki, Finland. The Sea Fortress consists of eight islands. Five of these islands are connected by bridges. Therefore, if you come to visit Suomenlinna, you will mostly navigate around these five connected islands.
Suomenlinna translates to “Castle of Finland,” yet there is no actual castle on the Island.
How do you get to Suomenlinna?
Suomenlinna is only accessible by water, so you need to take the ferry or the water bus. The ferry leaves at Helsinki’s Market Square and runs throughout the year. The water bus is available during the summer and autumn season in addition to the “regular” ferry. Of course, you can also arrive with your own boat, but I guess most of you don’t happen to have a private boat parked in Helsinki.
The ferry ride from Helsinki to Suomenlinna takes approx. 15-20 minutes and offers excellent views of the city and the Islands. I especially loved the open deck the ferries offer, so you can feel the sea breeze while looking out on the water. The schedule depends on the season, yet it runs at least once an hour.
Suomenlinna Ferry Tickets
Since the ferry is part of Helsinki’s public transport system, you don’t need an extra ticket if you already own a valid ticket, like a day ticket, for example. If so, you should check the zones on the ticket (Suomenlinna is included in Zone A). The ferry will land at Suomenlinnas main pier.
If you still need to purchase a ticket, you can do so online, in the HSL app or directly at one of the ticketing machines. Those can be found close to the ferry terminals on each side, and you need to hold a valid ticket before boarding. (There are no tickets sold on the boat)
I personally went for a day card, including the zones AB, because I still wanted to use the metro later on. The ticket was 8€, which is reasonable compared to day tickets in other European cities. A single ride currently costs 2,80€, which makes your roundtrip 5,60€.
If you have a Helsinki Card, the ride from/to Suomenlinna will be free.
If you decide to travel on the water bus in the summer months, please note that your HSL Ticket is not valid for these busses. You need to purchase those tickets from the operator directly. The water busses also start at Market Square and drop you off at the Artillery Bay Pier or King’s Gate.
What can you do on Suomenlinna?
Since Suomenlinna is a car-free island, everything will be explored on foot. The so-called blue route will take you to all the main sights.
During your walk, you will encounter six kilometers of walls, cannons, tunnels, parks, and so much more. There are blue direction signs, maps, and information boards for better orientation. There’s also a visitors app available for download, so you can always have the map accessible on your mobile phone.
The fortress also welcomes many locals that mainly stop by to have a picnic. Since there is a grocery shop right at the main pier, feel free to get you some snacks and drinks to enjoy during your walk or while sitting in one of the many areas to rest. Please take care of your surroundings and don’t destroy or trash nature to help preserve the site. Grilling and open fire are forbidden on the Island.
1. Kings Gate
The Kings Gate is quite a walk from the main pier and acts as one of the most important symbols of the Island. It was once built as the entrance gateway to Suomenlinna. Even though it has been refurbished three times, it has not lost its somehow powerful appearance. The view towards the water offers an incredible sight towards the passing ships.
2. Suomenlinna Church
Once built as a Russian orthodox church, it has been converted into an evangelical-lutheran church and reconstructed in its shape. Today, the church is a trendy wedding venue and hosts concerts and events.
3. Visit a museum
Suomenlinna offers six museums. Two of them, the Suomenlinna Museum and the Military Museum, are open all year. The Submarine Vesikko, the Toy Museum, the Customs Museum, and the Ehrensvärd Museum can be visited in the summer months.
The museums have individual entrance fees. However, you might check for a combination ticket depending on the season.
4. Dry Dock
Suomenlinna’s dry dock is one of Europe’s oldest ones still operated. Nowadays it is used for renovating old sailing boats.
5. Jetty Barracks and the Brewery
The Jetty Barracks are the first buildings to see once you arrive at the main quay. While they once housed soldiers, guards, and prisoners, they are now home to the tourist information and the Island’s brewery.
6. Kustaanmiekka/Bastion Zander
Kustaanmiekka is the main bastion area. Here, from Bastion Zander, you can enjoy a fantastic view of the fortress and the sea. This area was by far my favorite because it just offers the best walking scenery in my opinion.
7. Great Courtyard
The Great Courtyard can be found in the center of the Island complex, around the corner from Artillery Bay. Here you will find Ehrensvärd’s tomb, Ehrensvärd Museum, and some residential buildings.
8. Visit a gallery
There are several artists living and working on the Island. You can admire and purchase their work at five different studios and galleries.
Many paths of the Island are made of cobblestones, so I’d highly recommend wearing comfortable shoes. The trails aren’t the most accessible, so keep that in mind. There are a few alternative routes for people with reduced mobility and children sitting in strollers so you can avoid some of the uneven and steep sections.
Facilities on Suomenlinna
There are 11 restaurants and cafés on the Island. I’ve picked a few just to give you an example of what to expect:
Restaurant Suomenlinna Brewery: Here, you can taste beer from the fortress’s own brewery and eat meals that are based on seasonal products in Finland and Scandinavia.
Café Vanille: This one is situated in a cute, wooden house and sells pastries, coffee, and soup.
Café Silo: Another cozy place to enjoy good coffee and homemade pastries.
In addition to the washrooms in the restaurants, there are several toilets spread around the Island complex. Some of the bathrooms are open in the summer months only.
There are several shops you can purchase products and souvenirs from. There’s also a small grocery shop just around the corner from the main pier.
PS: there are no ATMs on Suomenlinna. Most places do accept cards 🙂
Staying overnight on Suomenlinna
Yes, this is an Island you can actually stay overnight as a tourist, yay!
How long does it take to see Suomenlinna?
As always, this does depend on what you’re up to. I would plan half or a full day as a rule of thumb. Depending on your season, some of the sights or restaurants might be closed down, reducing the possibilities. Walking the whole island complex and enjoying the views will take you a few hours by itself.
I would also recommend you to take one of the morning ferries to enjoy the fortress with a lot fewer visitors. Having a picnic on Suomenlinna is definitely something I’m planning for my next stay. It simply offers perfect scenery to sit down with your significant other or friends and enjoy a snack.
During the morning hours, I was also able to experience some parts of the island complex in the fog, which made it incredibly unique. Of course, you can’t predict weather circumstances, but coming early will surely leave you with better chances!
Is Suomenlinna worth visiting?
It’s a yes from me! Since it is just a short ride from the city center but a massive change in scenery, I can only recommend you to consider visiting Suomenlinna Sea Fortress during your stay in Helsinki. The maritime fortress is an important site of Finnish history. It will serve you with interesting historical facts, great views along the sea, and beautiful exploration paths.
Even if you don’t have your ferry ticket included in your Helsinki Card or HSL day ticket already, the single-ride tickets are very affordable. In addition, there are no entrance fees for the fortress itself. (yay!! we love that, don’t we?!)
Suomenlinna for sure made me fall in love with Helsinki even more. It’s the perfect little getaway combining history, arts, and leisure. I really hope you get to see this place one day. If so, I also hope this guide helped you plan your stay!
If you’ve already been to Suomenlinna, let me know if you loved it just as much as I did!
As always, stay happy and healthy.
See you soon,