Exploring Suomenlinna

2018-01-08T11:44:26+00:0017 September 2013|Art and architecture, Finland, Islands, UNESCO World Heritage|


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.

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  1. Lisa Goodmurphy 17 September 2013 at 1851 - Reply

    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!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1343 - Reply

      That’s not a bad memory 🙂

  2. Mette 17 September 2013 at 2036 - Reply

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

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1344 - Reply

      Love the temperamental Little My.

  3. Cathy Sweeney 17 September 2013 at 2208 - Reply

    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!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1346 - Reply

      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 at 0120 - Reply

    Wow!! What a fascinating place and that sculpture on the grave is incredible! Nice pictures too my friend!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1346 - Reply

      Thanks, Jeff.

  5. Mike 18 September 2013 at 0425 - Reply

    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 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1347 - Reply


  6. Muza-chan 18 September 2013 at 0704 - Reply

    Beautiful place…

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1347 - Reply

      It really is.

  7. Mary {The World Is A Book} 18 September 2013 at 0936 - Reply

    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.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1348 - Reply

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

  8. Leigh 18 September 2013 at 1408 - Reply

    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.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1349 - Reply

      I really liked that creative spirit, too.

  9. Salika Jay 19 September 2013 at 0724 - Reply

    I think the memorial of Admiral Augustin Ehrensvärd is interesting, especially the helmet. Nice photos, Sophie!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1350 - Reply

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

  10. Marcia 19 September 2013 at 1756 - Reply

    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!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1351 - Reply

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

  11. noel 19 September 2013 at 2023 - Reply

    that was a fun tour sophie, thanks for taking us on that tour today!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1352 - Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it.

  12. Bob R 19 September 2013 at 2212 - Reply

    Looks like a very interesting place to check out. I hope to make back to Helsinki one day.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1352 - Reply

      Hope you do, too.

  13. Jackie Smith 20 September 2013 at 1551 - Reply

    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.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1352 - Reply

      Why thank you, Jackie.

  14. Michele {Malaysian Meanders} 20 September 2013 at 1627 - Reply

    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.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1353 - Reply

      Hope you’ll get here soon 🙂

  15. Sherry 20 September 2013 at 2324 - Reply

    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 23 September 2013 at 1355 - Reply

      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 at 0213 - Reply

    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.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1355 - Reply


  17. Mary @ Green Global Travel 21 September 2013 at 1720 - Reply

    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.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1356 - Reply

      Finland next up for you guys, maybe… 🙂

  18. Natasha von Geldern 22 September 2013 at 1408 - Reply

    Looks like a lovely place to spend an afternoon and you’re right that helmet is quite arresting!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 September 2013 at 1356 - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by, Natasha.

  19. Nancie 23 September 2013 at 2311 - Reply

    How quaint and pretty! It would be nice place to live for a while, and get away from it all 🙂

  20. Ferrial Pondrafi 24 September 2013 at 0429 - Reply

    the place looks so colorful.

  21. Sand In My Suitcase 24 September 2013 at 1831 - Reply

    Great pictures… Looks like Suomenlinna makes for a great day trip from Helsinki…

  22. Konsta Suomalainen 27 February 2017 at 2051 - Reply

    Suomenlinna is nice place to visit.I have recorded a video from suomenlinna in winter. It’s really beautiful with the snow and everything.Ii really recommend visiting Suomenlinna Fort if you are visiting Helsinki. I used my go pro camera to record footage so sorry for not perfect quality.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2ZZOWFqfsw&feature=youtu.be – Suomenlinna Fort

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