Suomenlinna: A Guide to 1 Beautiful Day on the Fortress Island

The island fortress of Suomenlinna lies off the coast of Helsinki. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was built by the Swedes, who call it Sveaborg, in the mid-1700s, then used by the Russians in the 19th century until Finland’s independence. Much of the military architecture which earned the site its heritage status is still present today.

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The flag flies high here

What to see on Suomenlinna

Visitor Centre

The buildings that are present on Suomenlinna tend to be scattered, save for the collection of merchant houses near the main quay. The visitor centre is right in the middle of the island, equidistant from both landing points. No one could complain about that except when they need shelter from the rain! It’s also the place to learn about the history of the fortress in film, scale models and words and photographs on panels.

Suomenlinna day trip
The Naval Academy
a day on Suomenlinna
It’s tempting to look into windows for displays like this

Museums

For enthusiasts, five museums open every summer: the submarine Vesikko, the military museum, the toy museum, the customs museum and the Ehrensvärd museum. The former two are great places to learn about Finland’s military past, especially the Winter and Continuation wars in the first half of the twentieth century. Moving within the confines of the submarine needs some dexterity, though!

Suomenlinna day trip
Russian merchant houses

Suomenlinna fortifications

For me and the rest of us, Suomenlinna can be perfectly treated as a park in the middle of the sea. The discreet design of the fortifications blends well into the landscape, further aided the weeds and shrubs that grow untamed. Thus, it’s greenery rather than masonry that dominates visually here, a massive contrast to the city centre just 15 minutes away. Summer serves up an additional treat for the nose too, when the scent of blooming lilac perfumes the air.

Suomenlinna fortress walls
Overgrown fortress walls
Suomenlinna
Sea-facing cannons

Like the rest of the country, it’s remarkable how close and convenient such peaceful places are to Helsinki’s highly urbanised areas. Finns are a lucky bunch and I bet they know it.

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Click to read about other places to visit on a Helsinki stopover

a day on Suomenlinna
Lilac in full bloom

Getting to Suomenlinna

I’d recommend a pleasant half-day trip from the capital. The gentle terrain makes the island easy to walk, and the paths are generally smooth enough for the wheels of strollers. In the summer, there are 2 ways to reach the island from the Helsinki kauppatori (market square):

Ferry

This ferry takes you to the main quay on the north side. Note that you cannot buy tickets on board. On the HSL network, Suomenlinna is in Zone A, and so the relevant public transport fares for single and day tickets apply. If you have a Helsinki card, the fare is included in the price.

How to get to Suomenlinna
This fortification (and restaurant) greets you at the main quay

Waterbus

The waterbus sails to the King’s Gate at the southern end (only in the summer). It costs 8.30 euros return for adults as of summer 2022. Certainly more expensive than the ferry but you are greeted in style–just look at this.

Suomenlinna ferry
King’s Gate in the south

Sometimes, the waterbus will make a stop at Lonna island on the way, so check the schedule carefully. You can book your ticket online in advance at the FRS website. You can bring a bicycle along for 5 euros.

You’ll want to explore the entire island anyway, so it doesn’t really matter where you land! I’m sorry I don’t have any information on swimming there but you can bet that the Baltic Sea will be freezing even in the summer.

Suomenlinna Accommodation

While most people visit Suomenlinna on a day trip like I did, it is possible to stay overnight on the island at either Hostel Suomenlinna or Villa Silo (via Airbnb).

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Want to see another of Finland’s World Heritage Sites? Go to Porvoo on a day trip