Exploring Suomenlinna


At the entrance to Helsinki’s harbour lies a group of islands that is home to Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress, a popular day out in the Finnish capital.

And what is the meaning behind this intriguing name, you ask? Well, Suomenlinna means Finnish Castle. You’ll also see the name Sveaborg – meaning Swedish Castle. Suomenlinna was constructed in the 18th century, when present-day Finland was a part of Sweden. I’ll use Suomenlinna; we’re in Finland after all.

Welcome to Suomenlinna

During the 600-year-long Swedish era, Mother Russia was on the offense, and had designs on this land. Hence the necessity to construct a protective fortress. Of course, in the end, it wasn’t enough. Finland became a Russian Grand-Duchy in 1809 and only became an independent country after the Russian Revolution.

Canon, Suomenlinna
Yesterday’s weapon of mass destruction

Admiral Augustin Ehrensvärd supervised the construction of the fort, and his grave is in the middle of the island. It’s a somewhat eerie memorial, I think. Still, I passed it twice – and was drawn up close both times. Something about that helmet… and the cherubs surrounding it.

Augustin Ehrensvärd's memorial, Suomenlinna

Living Suomenlinna

Today, Suomenlinna is an easy 20-minute ferry trip from Helsinki – and a pleasant neighbourhood to wander around. Unusually for a military fortress, it’s a living, breathing community – with about 900 residents, a church, museums, several restaurant and cafes…

Cafe at Suomenlinna

… and quirky little shops selling arts and craft made on the islands.

Suomenlinna, arts and crafts shop

I’m left wondering if perhaps a rather large percentage of Suomenlinna’s population might be engaged in arts and crafts. It’s easy to see how this avant-garde environment would attract people of artistic temperament.

Leaving the shop, I plonk down on a bench. Next to me, as it turns out, is a Helsinki girl who happens to be visiting local friends. Like many Finns (and Norwegians, for that matter), she’s not one for small talk. But she does tell me there’s quite a long waiting list for flats here on the islands. Suomenlinna is a desirable address.



You can have that address too, if you wish. At least for a day or two. Suomenlinna has a hostel, where you’ll live in the former Russian elementary school. Much as I would have liked to, I didn’t have time to spend the night as I was due in Tallinn the next day. Such is the time restraints of modern life.

If you’re in Helsinki and have an extra day (or two) – and the weather is nice, I highly recommend spending at least an afternoon wandering around Suomenlinna.

King's Gate, Suomenlinna


unesco logo

The Fortress of Suomenlinna is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.


Disclosure: In Helsinki, I was a guest of VisitFinland. As ever, all views and opinions remain mine, all mine.

ps Want more photo fun? Then pop over to Travel Photo Thursday.

39 Responses to “Exploring Suomenlinna”

  1. Lisa Goodmurphy 17 September 2013 1851 #

    We had a great time visiting Suomenlinna while in Helsinki on a cruise stop although I expect that what my girls remember most is the boat ride and the ice cream that they had on the island!
    Lisa Goodmurphy recently posted..London Cabs: Our Photo Collection

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1343 #

      That’s not a bad memory :)

  2. Mette 17 September 2013 2036 #

    Isn’t that close to where the mumi trolls and little my grew up?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1344 #

      Love the temperamental Little My.

  3. Cathy Sweeney 17 September 2013 2208 #

    You had me at “Suomenlinna” — had to find out where this was and what the name meant! Love the contrast of the military fortress with the residential area. Definitely looks like an artistic community to me!
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..On the Waterfront in Bari

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1346 #

      Yes, I think it’s an interesting juxtaposition: the strict, orderly military elements and the free-spirited, Bohemian vibe.

  4. Jeff Titelius 18 September 2013 0120 #

    Wow!! What a fascinating place and that sculpture on the grave is incredible! Nice pictures too my friend!
    Jeff Titelius recently posted..ArtSmart Roundtable: Norway — Then and Now

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1346 #

      Thanks, Jeff.

  5. Mike 18 September 2013 0425 #

    Great pictures, Sophie! And you did paint a great story on the eerie angle. I loved that picture of the canon at the firing platform! Good post :)
    Mike recently posted..My Top 10 +1 Favorite Tom Hanks Movies

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1347 #


  6. Muza-chan 18 September 2013 0704 #

    Beautiful place…
    Muza-chan recently posted..Jimotsu, the Water Jar and the Wish Granting Jewel

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1347 #

      It really is.

  7. Mary {The World Is A Book} 18 September 2013 0936 #

    No wonder Suomenlinna has such a desirable address. What a beautiful and charming place. I admit I hadn’t heard of it and this makes a trip to Helsinki even more appealing. Beautiful pictures, Sophie. A fortress and shopping isn’t my first thought of a combination but glad they made it work here.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..The Passion Play and Painted Houses in Oberammergau Germany

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1348 #

      Very much worth a stop when you’re in Helsinki.

  8. Leigh 18 September 2013 1408 #

    Anything that makes it to UNESCO site status is one I want to visit. I’ve seen photos of this place in the winter and it looks a tad more desolate than your pictures. I love the fact that so many artisans are there as that always seems to add a richness to an area.
    Leigh recently posted..A Visit to Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1349 #

      I really liked that creative spirit, too.

  9. Salika Jay 19 September 2013 0724 #

    I think the memorial of Admiral Augustin Ehrensvärd is interesting, especially the helmet. Nice photos, Sophie!
    Salika Jay recently posted..Last Minute Cruise Deals Not To Be Missed

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1350 #

      Interesting, thought-provoking, and slightly spooky. Unbeatable combination.

  10. Marcia 19 September 2013 1756 #

    I’m always when I see timber homes so far north. Soumenlinna does look pretty artsy and orderly. I can see why there’s a waiting list for apartments.
    Thanks for the tour, Sophie!
    Marcia recently posted..The Monkey Jar

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1351 #

      Wooden houses are by far the most common up here in the Nordic countries. Lots of forest here.

  11. noel 19 September 2013 2023 #

    that was a fun tour sophie, thanks for taking us on that tour today!
    noel recently posted..The gardens at Kendall Jackson Winery

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1352 #

      Glad you enjoyed it.

  12. Bob R 19 September 2013 2212 #

    Looks like a very interesting place to check out. I hope to make back to Helsinki one day.
    Bob R recently posted..Taking to the Hills – Brkini Bike Route I

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1352 #

      Hope you do, too.

  13. Jackie Smith 20 September 2013 1551 #

    Your posts are always so interesting and this one is one of the best. Love the mix of colors and samples you’ve provided us on this armchair tour with you.
    Jackie Smith recently posted..Beach bummin’ and Bare footin’ in B.C. Canada

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1352 #

      Why thank you, Jackie.

  14. Michele {Malaysian Meanders} 20 September 2013 1627 #

    The juxtaposition of the helmet and the cherubs is very intriguing. I can see why it drew you over. I think I’d have a fabulous time exploring all those arts and crafts places, too. It does indeed look like a desirable place to live.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Glowing Lanterns, Tasty Mooncakes, and the Mid-Autumn Festival

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1353 #

      Hope you’ll get here soon :)

  15. Sherry 20 September 2013 2324 #

    Although I don’t usually like cruising and boating because I am easily “sea sick” I still always like going on ferry rides, as the waters are usually very still. I even like the 20 minute rides. When I land, I feel like I’m in a totally new place. And that’s always a great feeling!

    Quirky, desirable, beautiful, and historical along with a ferry ride – this seems like a fun place to see.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1355 #

      You know, that’s very true. The distance between an island and the mainland, even if ever so short, does make it seem like being in another world.

  16. Seana -Sydney Kids Food + Travel 21 September 2013 0213 #

    Hello, that does look like a really appealling place to live, and most certainly to visit. The art and craft shops look terrific. Thanks, have enjoyed my armchair travelling with you today.
    Seana -Sydney Kids Food + Travel recently posted..Top 10 Free And Low Cost Things To Do In Sydney These School Holidays

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1355 #


  17. Mary @ Green Global Travel 21 September 2013 1720 #

    Sophie! Your photos take my breath away! I can’t get over the colour in the shot of the canon! The stone is so vibrant and the range of yellows, oranges, browns and reds – gorgeous! The whole of Suomenlinna looks wonderfully enchanting and I would love to spend days exploring and photographing the area in depth! Thank you for the introduction.
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..ANTARCTICA: The Haunting Beauty of Icebergs in Antarctica

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1356 #

      Finland next up for you guys, maybe… :)

  18. Natasha von Geldern 22 September 2013 1408 #

    Looks like a lovely place to spend an afternoon and you’re right that helmet is quite arresting!
    Natasha von Geldern recently posted..Australia: Melbourne kayaking tour

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 1356 #

      Thanks for stopping by, Natasha.

  19. Nancie 23 September 2013 2311 #

    How quaint and pretty! It would be nice place to live for a while, and get away from it all :)
    Nancie recently posted..Delicious Morsels From Nova Scotia…Taking the Memories Home

  20. Ferrial Pondrafi 24 September 2013 0429 #

    the place looks so colorful.
    Ferrial Pondrafi recently posted..Tigers Jaw – Two Worlds (2010)

  21. Sand In My Suitcase 24 September 2013 1831 #

    Great pictures… Looks like Suomenlinna makes for a great day trip from Helsinki…
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted..Exotic Thailand

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