This is a trip for people who like walking and have good shoes. Although you can turn around at any point, you still have to make your way back to the ferry. There are no taxis or other public transport on Suomenlinna.
One of the most remarkable parts of Helsinki is its island fortress just 2½ kilometres (1½ miles) from the South Harbour market place, which is where the ferries leave from.
Boats operated by the City of Helsinki reach it in 20 minutes. Private ferries travel farther into the islands. Check departure and return times when you arrive at the market place, and set off early in the day rather than later.
Helsinki had been established for 200 years before work began, in 1748, to build its coastal defences. It had been a sleepy town till then, but Russia’s power was growing and the King of Sweden thought that Helsinki would be a good place for his navy to spend winter. Within 50 years there were more people living on the island fortress than in Helsinki.
In military terms, it was a very sorry fortress. When Finland fell to Russia in 1808, it surrendered without a fight. Its only battle was in 1855, during the Crimean War, when it was helplessly bombarded for three days by the Anglo-French fleet.
There are eight islands in all. The most interesting buildings are located on the two largest. These are Iso Mustasaari, meaning Great Black Island, and Susisaari, meaning Wolf Island. Between them is Artillery Bay, crossed by a low bridge, where some private ferries dock.
The public ferry arrives at Great Black Island. Visitors walk through a vaulted gateway in the long, pink Jetty Barracks by the waterfront. On the other side is an area where soldiers, merchants and artisans were allowed to build houses for their families. Like the Jetty Barracks, these wooden houses date from the Russian period. They were family homes then and they still are.
Also Russian is the towering Alexander Nevsky Church, built in 1854. At that time it had a great onion-shaped dome, surrounded by four smaller cupolas. After independence the Finns thought it gave their capital such an alien silhouette that they changed the roof. A lighthouse was installed in the spire around the same time.
A well-worn path takes the visitor to the bridge to Wolf Island, where the main buildings from the Swedish period are. Just over the bridge on the right is the old dockyard. Ahead, through an arch in a great wall, is the Castle Courtyard. Some of the old buildings remain but many were destroyed during the Crimean War.
After Piper’s Park, the path becomes less well worn. There are many ways across the open ground of Wolf Island to the monumental King’s Gate and the fortifications that guard the sea approach to Helsinki.
Almost a thousand people live in Suomenlinna, many of them artists. With no cars it is an idyllic environment in summer though it can be windy and wet in other seasons.
There is also a local ghost to contend with, a headless colonel killed during a rebellion in 1906, who now restlessly roams Wolf Island, but surely not on summer days.