Exploring downtown Helsinki and Suomenlinna – a belated Happy Birthday to Finland

On the 6th of December Finland celebrated 100 years as an independent nation and, in honour of the country’s centenary, I thought it high time to return and complete the record of our adventures at the end of August.

After a reacquainting with peace and quiet in the countryside and fully recovered from the excesses of our first crayfish party (read more about both here and here) we headed to Helsinki.

The city is relatively compact as capitals go, and easy to get around on foot or by tram.  It boasts buildings in a wide range of architectural styles, from the Neoclassical grandeur of the Lutheran Cathedral (the green domed building in the pictures above) to the National Romanticism of the central railway station with its towering granite giants.

The waterfront is home to an outdoor market, selling souvenirs and stalls of fresh fruit and vegetables, a taster of the produce on offer inside the nearby Old Market Hall, a covered food market.

Where as the high vaulted hall has served customers since 1889, the area’s newest addition is Allas Sea Pool, offering swimming and saunas right on the water.  If this is too tame a prospect, the dark capsule on the ferris wheel in the picture below provides the means to sauna in the air.

Opposite Allas the ferry to Suomenlinna docks and the short trip out to the six small islands that collectively form a Unesco World Heritage site, is worth it for the views of Helsinki alone.

There’s something for everyone on Suomenlinna.  Perhaps most famous for its 18th century fortress, the island is also home to museums of military and maritime history, shops selling art, crafts and souvenirs, a variety of restaurants (including a Japanese tea room) and a brewery.

A popular option is to have a picnic in one of the many open spaces, either brought with you from the mainland or purchased in the small grocery shop near the main ferry quay.  We chose a peaceful spot above a beach on the island of Kustaanmiekka, furthest from the shore, where we could watch the boats go by.

Suomenlinna is not just a tourist attraction but a district of Helsinki in its own right and home to a population of just under 1,000.  Many of the inhabitants are artists and the houses are beautifully decorated, often with a nautical theme.

A visit to Suomenlinna can easily fill a day and should certainly be on your itinerary if you are planning a visit to Helsinki.  And so we leave Finland by wishing it a happy birthday, may there be many more visits to come.



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