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 the islands just off the coast. Below I describe the main attractions on 10 of the most popular clusters of islands. In summer I’d recommend purchasing an island hopping ticket for 10€ which gives you access to Suomenlinna, Lonna and Vallisaari. While in the cooler months it may be more pleasant to visit one at a time- especially the most intriguing Suomenlinna which has a regular ferry service throughout the year. Other islands can be reached by bridges during winter.
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. The history of the 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.
This island was previously a military base and has only been open to the public in the last few years. Best explored in summer, there’s a few picture perfect cafes and paddle boards for rent.
4. Uunisaari, Liuskasaari & Liuskaluoto
These three connected islands can be reached by a bridge over frozen water in winter, with the rewards of a sauna, cafe and pizza restaurant- Skiffer awaiting you.
5. Harakka & Särkkä
These neighbouring islands can be reached by ferry in summer. There’s an art gallery on Harakka and a restaurant on Särkkä.
This island is a favourite with locals and can be reached by ferry (JT-Line) from the dock in Ruohosaari or Merisatama- but only in summer. There’s a sauna and swimming beach as well as a seaside terrace restaurant.
This popular island off the north east of the city can be accessed via bridges from Kalasatama or Kulosaari. There’s 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
This island is home to Helsinki’s Zoo which 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 all through the year and in summer ferries also 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 other islands and the district of Katajanokka. There’s also a restaurant on the island.
This larger island is off the west coast of the city and is a popular place for locals to go jogging and walking- especially on the weekend. There’s a large open air museum and during mid-summer the island comes alive, hosting one of the largest bonfires in Helsinki. The island also has a few cafes and a restaurant as well as many historical wooden buildings.
Have you visited any islands off the coast of Helsinki?