Helsinki’s archipelago is one of the most beautiful in the world. Dispersed from the city’s shorelines are roughly 330 islands of all shapes and sizes, decorated with captivating forests, historic fortresses, and sandy beaches. A quick getaway to Helsinki’s island paradises are a must while visiting the Finnish capital!
Built in the 18th century, Suomenlinna was originally used as a sea fortress to counter naval pressure from Russia. The island’s infrastructure is intricate and includes tunnels, cannons, and old grave sites. Today, Suomenlinna is home to roughly 800 people, and it hosts countless visitors who seek out the beautiful landscapes that play host to events ranging from art exhibitions to picnics.
A highly sought after destination (especially in the summer), this UNESCO World Heritage site is easily (and affordably) accessible by ferry; tickets (provided by Helsinki Region Transport) are just €5. The ferry leaves from the east side of Market Square and offers unforgettable views of the city during the 15 to 20-minute commute.
Pihlajasaari is made up of two small islands (an east and west section) linked by a short bridge. With no permanent residents, the islands are used primarily by visitors making the most out of the summer sunshine. During these months, visitors are able to enjoy the islands’ wooded trails, green groves, and sandy beaches, experiences made more immersive by the weekend campsites located on eastern Pihlajasaari, which can be pre-booked for €15. Before heading over to the eastern side, though, note that there is a nude beach on the island (except for Wednesdays and Sundays, when clothing is required)!
If you decide to visit this pair of islands, note that there are two piers to choose from: Merisatama and Ruoholahti. No matter which you decide on, the company JT-Line (which allows online booking) will be shuttling you and charging €7.50 for their round-trip services.
Though Vartiosaari is dotted with summer villas (unlike most of the Helsinki archipelago), the island can be enjoyed year-round as many people use it for cross-country skiing and ice skating. But no matter the season, the diverse ecosystems and landscapes will make you want to extend your stay. Located just off of the city’s eastern banks, Vartiosaari can be reached by the ferry that leaves from Reposalmentie. The short journey costs €2, but you’ll want to check the seasonal timetable before planning your trip.
On the outer edges of Helsinki’s archipelago lies Kaunissaari, an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. The island’s appeal can be attributed to its pristine fishing ponds and sandy beaches, as well as its amenities that include cooking shelters, campsites, and a stunning nature trail. What makes Kaunissaari even more attractive, however, is its remoteness. The ferry ride (which leaves from Nordsjö and Fagerö and costs €22) takes almost an hour, adding an extra element to the adventure!
Seurasaari’s draws in visitors with its enchanting open-air museum, a peaceful and intriguing space celebrating Finland’s rich history that dates back nearly 400 years. Furnishing the open-air museum are traditional wooden structures such as windmills and farmhouses, creating an atmosphere unlike any other throughout the city.
Seurasaari is also unique due to its easy accessibility — a bridge stretches from mainland to the island’s shores, allowing visitors to reach the island (just north of the city) by foot. To get to the bridge, take the number 24 bus from downtown, and enjoy the scenic route that takes you right to the short bridge leading to Finland’s largest open-air museum.
The natural beauty that comprises Harakka has made the island a popular destination for quite some time. A walking trail snakes through the landscape and offers expansive views of Helsinki’s collection of islands, while diverse flora and fauna are dispersed across the terrain, making the island a popular place for birding during spring. A short, €5 boat ride will bring you to the island, leaving from the jetty beside Café Ursula in Kaivopuisto Park.
Header photo by Carlos Santos