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Historic Helsinki: Scenic islands and rich maritime nature offer great recreation in ’23

Welcome to Helsinki, where the city commute includes scenic ferry rides to stunning islands!

Good ferry connections give residents and visitors easy access to a large number of scenic islands in the city and its vicinity.

Finland’s capital city Helsinki is strongly flavoured by the sea and islands open to the public little by little.

Islands contrast with the city’s developed, urban shoreline with their splendid nature, and many of them offer visitors excursions to Finland’s history.

 Historic islands of Helsinki
Historic islands of Helsinki

Altogether 27 Helsinki area islands out of 300 are served by regular ferry connections from the city.

15-40-minute rides allow visitors to view and enjoy the local maritime environment, and ferries also take visitors to island destinations beyond the city limits and as far as the idyllic town of Porvoo east of Helsinki. Fine and casual island dining can be found just minutes away from the city’s shoreline.

A 15-minute ferry ride separates Helsinki’s bustling Market Square and the city’s most popular and all-year island destination, the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress. The fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site, dates back to the mid-eighteenth century.

In summer, the Suomenlinna islands also serve visitors with restaurants, cafés, museums and magnificent rocky beaches.

A public transit ferry to Suomenlinna runs from Market Square 1–4 times an hour. A summertime waterbus to Suomenlinna also departs from Market Square and takes visitors to the heart of the most historic parts of the islands.

The former military island of Vallisaari to the east of Suomenlinna is home to magnificent nature and hosts HAM Helsinki Art Museum’s Helsinki Biennial art event throughout the summer of 2023. Artworks are dispersed around the island both outdoors and in historic buildings. A ferry to the island runs from Market Square. More Biennial artworks can be found on the mainland.

Saunas offer a fantastic opportunity for a quick deep dive into Finnish culture. You’ll find that many islands here have saunas of their own. Sauna on the island of Lonnais beloved by locals and visitors alike. However, for the more adventurous souls, things to do in Helsinki include hidden gems like Pikku-Leikosaari are just a short paddle away. If you’re looking for a private experience, you can even book the entire Island of Saunasaari,- or ‘sauna island’. To truly embrace the maritime spirit of the city, you can also enjoy the sauna experience on a sauna ferry.

Pihlajasaari is a popular recreational island for swimming, camping and relaxation on beaches. The island is popular for picnics and has a restaurant. Ferries depart from Merisatama and from Ruoholahti just a few steps from the local Metro stop.

Isosaari is located in Helsinki’s outer archipelago. The 40-minute ferry ride to the island departs from Market Square. The island, which until recent years was occupied by the Finnish Defence Forces, has ample undeveloped areas, a golf course, beaches, good hiking, scenic picnic spots and two restaurants.

Kaunissaari is a large island in the outer Gulf of Finland archipelago an almost two-hour ferry ride away from the eastern mainland. The island has sandy and rocky beaches and a nature trail for hiking. The Kaunissaari ferry departs from a pier a short distance from the Vuosaari Metro stop.

In addition to regular ferry connections, eastern Helsinki islands are served in the summer of 2023 from a pier in Reposaari in Laajasalo by on-demand electric Callboats, which are booked and paid for with a Callboats app. Bout offers “boat taxis” and ride shares all across the seas.

Those who prefer to enjoy water areas and archipelago from abroad only are served by a number of cruises that depart from Market Square.

The physical activity combines with relaxed movement on local waters on boat-sharing Skipperi row boats. Boats are available on several seafronts for three-hour rides. They are free of charge at the Herttoniemi seafront.

“Helsinki’s offering in summer 2023 to both residents and visitors reflects what is best about Helsinki. The city’s maritime environment available to all is a source of well-being, supporting physical health and providing a source of invigoration and recreation. HAM Helsinki Art Museum enriches that exquisite quality of Helsinki by combining well-being with culture at Helsinki Biennial,” says Laura Aalto, Executive Director of the City of Helsinki’s Culture and Leisure Division.

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