Founded on islands off the coast of Helsinki in 1748, the Suomenlinna sea fortress has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1991, as an unique monument of the European military architecture of its time.
Construction of the fortress, then named Sveaborg, began in 1748, when Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden. When Finland became part of Russia after the Finnish War in 1808-1809, the fortress housed the Russian garrison for 108 years until Finland declared independence on 6 December 1917. The fortress was then taken over by the Finnish government on 12 May 1918 and renamed Suomenlinna.
Nowadays, Suomenlinna is a lively city district, and one of Finland’s most popular tourist attractions with around 700,000 visitors annually. As it is only a 20-minute ferry or waterbus ride away from Helsinki’s Market Square cruise quay, we decided to take the waterbus at the Market Square (only available in summer but the ferry is available throughout the year) to visit this highly acclaimed sea fortress on our last and only free day in Finland. 🙂
The Suomenlinna consists of 8 islands with a total area of 80 hectares, but the main attractions are on Kustaanmiekka, Susisaari and Mustasaari. The waterbus brought us to the Visitor Centre pier in between Susisaari and Mustasaari.
The church is a popular venue for weddings. There are over 400 seats in the church. In fact we couldn’t get into the church that day as there was a church wedding being held then. What a pity for us! I also enjoyed the concert band performance at the church park where visitors can relax and listen to great music at the park. 😉
Next we went to the administrative centre of the fortress – the Great Courtyard. The grave of Augustin Ehrensvärd lies in the courtyard, surrounded today by the Ehrensvärd Museum and some residential buildings. We didn’t have time to tour the Ehrensvärd Museum though, which is open during the summer season and on weekends during spring and autumn.
Our third stop is the Suomenlinna dock which is the oldest in Finland and one of the oldest operational dry docks in Europe. Nowadays the dry dock’s historical large basin is used for repairing wooden sailing ships mostly done in the winter.
After these 3 main attractions, we decided to take the waterbus from the Visitor Centre pier to King’s Gate pier instead of exploring by foot to save time. Fortunately we visited in summer, because the waterbus only stops at King’s Gate pier in the summer! If not you will have to walk about 1.5km from the main pier at the Visitor Centre. 😉 The monumental King’s Gate is the symbol of Suomenlinna, built between 1753 and 1754 as the entrance gateway to the fortress.
From the King’s Gate, we strolled along the path that passes through Walhalla Restaurant, Sun Terrace & Bar and Pizzeria Nikolai and reached Bastion Zander on Kustaanmiekka.
The Bastion Zander has been the flag bastion of the fortress throughout its history. The bastion was built between 1748 and 1750, and it has three wings and two sides. The Swedish ferries passed the fortress here. From the bastion, it provides a good view of the Kustaanmiekka sandbanks and the general shape of the fortress too. We snapped quite a number of pictures here as the view was just so beautiful!
We all enjoyed this day tour to the beautiful sea fortress. No wonder it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, such a lovely place. 🙂 Too bad we only have about 3 hours on Suomenlinna, if not we could have time to relax and dine in one of the cafes or restaurants, while enjoying the cool summer breeze!