Like most expats who hail from coastal destinations, I am all too aware of the landlocked feeling of where I live. The dozens of lakes in Berlin make it so that water is never far, but enclosed bodies of water aren’t as energizing to me as an ocean or a sea is. I’ve never considered myself someone who loves boats, but the older I get, the more I realize that I’m kind of into them. So when I’m somewhere coastal, I usually get an urge to take a boat ride… and during my trip to Helsinki in 2013, that somewhere was Suomenlinna, a sea fortress located a short ferry ride from the mainland.
Suomenlinna is also known as Sveaborg. For those who don’t know, Helsinki is a bilingual city, with all the major signs and information in both Finnish and Swedish, though you’ll also find a lot of English and Russian. Back in the mid 1700s, Finland was a part of Sweden, so they used the surrounding islands to protect the area from outsiders, and Suomenlinna was home to a fortification, a ship construction yard, and a naval military school. This lasted until 1809, when Russia came in and took over, granting autonomy to Finland, though it remained part of the Russian Empire until 1917, when Finland gained full independence. During that time period, it was known as Viapori.
When it ceased to be used as a military base, the fortress was turned over to the civil administration. While it still houses the training school for the Finnish Navy, it’s also home to a minimum-security labor colony, residential areas, and some museums, and it is open to the public as well. In 1991, it became a UNESCO Heritage Site, and today it’s known for being home to a lot of artistic residents.
It’s easy to get there, and the cost is the same as a regular public transportation ticket. On the day we went, we stopped by the farmer’s market to get some fresh strawberries and sweet peas, and picked up some Lapin Kulta (Gold of Lapland, a beer that I understand is kind of like the PBR of Finland) before setting off. The ferry ride is maybe 10 minutes (I wasn’t really counting), and then you’re on the island, which is actually eight smaller islands, five of which are joined together with bridges.
We wandered around, checking out the residential apartments, various stores, the visitor’s center, the old shipyard, and the awesome underground tunnels and rooms. It’s a really cool place for exploring, because there’s so much to see, and a lot of it is overgrown with grass and wild flowers, making it feel like The Shire. At one point, we climbed up to a higher pathway and then off the trail to some rocks situated close to the water, where we had a mini picnic and enjoyed the salty sea breeze. In total, we spent an afternoon there, but one could easily take a whole day to see it all.
Suomenlinna C 74
00190 Helsinki, Finland
+35 82 95 33 83 00