It’s often joked that the coastline of Finland looks like someone has taken a shotgun to it- there’s such an impossible number of inlets, peninsulas and small islands scattered about. So it’s not surprising that a popular pastime in Helsinki is to visit and explore islands just off the coast of the capital.
In summer I’d recommend purchasing an island hopping ticket for 10€. This gives you access to three islands- Suomenlinna, Lonna and Vallisaari. In the cooler months it may be more pleasant and practical to visit one at a time. For example, Suomenlinna has a regular ferry service throughout the year. When the sea begins to freeze, some islands like Uunisaari can be reached by foot bridges.
Below I share what you can do on the 10 most popular islands
1. Suomenlinna: Helsinki’s Fortress Island
Literally translated as Castle of Finland, Suomenlinna was built in the 18th century, with construction lasting 40 years. At the time, the garrison population exceeded that of Helsinki. Now, less than one thousand people call the island home, however there are over a million visitors each year.
The vast history of this UNESCO world heritage listed island is best experienced with a guided tour. There’s also several cafes, a museum, library and a swimming beach to enjoy.
This island has a lovely restaurant and bar but not a lot else. It’s very small but it’s the perfect spot to stop for lunch after exploring Suomenlinna.
Previously a military base, Vallisaari has only recently been opened to the public. Best explored in summer, there are a few picture perfect cafes and Stand Up Paddle boards for rent.
4. Uunisaari, Liuskasaari & Liuskaluoto
These three connected islands can be reached by a bridge in winter. The rewards of a sauna, cafe and pizza restaurant- Skiffer awaits!
5. Harakka & Särkkä
These two neighbouring islands can be reached by ferry in summer. There’s an art gallery on Harakka and a restaurant on Särkkä.
A favourite with locals, especially in summer, Pihlajasaari can be reached by ferry (JT-Line) from the dock in Ruohosaari or Merisatama. Unfortunately the ferry only runs in summer, making the island inaccessible for half the year. On the island you’ll find a sauna, camp ground, nudist area, swimming beach and seaside terrace restaurant.
This popular island off the north east of the city can be accessed via bridges from Kalasatama or Kulosaari. Once there you’ll find a beach, picnic grounds, restaurant, free tennis courts, and even a high ropes course. Buses also run to and around the island.
8. Korkeasaari Zoo
Home to Helsinki’s Zoo, Korkeasaari houses 150 animal species and 1,000 pant species. Established in 1889, it’s one of the oldest zoos in the world. Access is via a bridge from Mustikkamaa throughout the year and in summer ferries run from the city.
This tiny island is located off the off the coast of the up market district of Kruununhaka. Access is by a bridge and while it’s small, there are some nice walking paths around the island’s foreshore with great views out to the district of Katajanokka. There’s also a restaurant on the island.
This larger island off the west coast of the city is a popular place for locals to go jogging and walking- especially on the weekend. There’s a large open air museum consisting of historical buildings which come alive during summer. On mid-summer’s eve Seurasaari plays host to one of the largest summer celebration bonfires in Helsinki. The island also has several cafes, a restaurant and sauna.
Have you visited any islands off the coast of Helsinki?