If you know me, you know I love the sea in wintertime. Not being an avid sunbather, there is something about bodies of water in the cold, how calm and sharp everything looks when no one’s around. That’s why, jetlagged, with only a half day to explore Helsinki and a -3 C degrees weather, I decided to visit the one and only UNESCO site the city boasts – Suomenlinna and its fortress.
Suomenlinna is one of the islands in front of the city. To reach it, you can get one of the ferries that leave the harbour every 20 minutes (5 EUR return, about a 15 minute ride each way). You want to take the city ferry, not the private tours, which will be more expensive; once you are in the big square in front of the harbour, the private tours will be the ones with flashy signs on the right (do go have a look at the covered market in that direction, though!), while the cheaper city-managed ferry will be on the left (walk in the general direction of the ferry wheel, beyond the market stands). The latter has the added advantage of being included in your Helsinki card if you have one – or other day transport tickets.
The entire island can be visited in about one hour if you’re in a rush, or you can enjoy a day trip there. The combination of the unseasonable cold and my inflexible timing (I arrived in the late afternoon after checking in at my hostel in Helsinki) meant that only 4 or 5 other people rode the ferry with me, and that most of the time I could not see another living being apart from wild geese walking the cute streets of Suomenlinna.
The only few people I saw there were, in fact, locals! I had no idea, but part of the historical buildings are currently inhabited (which is probably why ferries to/from the island are so frequent and run so late, I would imagine, despite all museums and cafes closing around 6 pm). The red building below, for instance, had kids’ bikes parked outside.
My walk from the small harbour to the King’s Gate (below) was absolutely delightful and kept me warm in the ridiculous temperatures with which Finland welcomed me. There is at least one restaurant next to King’s Gate that was open that evening – so you wouldn’t starve if you decided to stay late. The locals were very friendly and, like all Finns, spoke good English (so they pointed me in the right direction when I managed to get lost). My only regret is not having more time to visit again the day after, when the museum were open!