If you see only one place in Helsinki in the summer, make it the World Heritage Site of Suomenlinna. The “Gibraltar of the North” was once the greatest sea fortress in the Baltic that was built by the Swedish in the mid-1700s at great expense to protect their eastern flank. But when the Russians invaded in February 1808, the bulk of the unprepared and bankrupt Swedish army hastily withdrew, allowing the Russians to conquer Helsinki without a fight and besiege the fortress. With no reinforcements in sight, commander Carl Olof Cronstedt surrendered unconditionally two months later, and Finland was ceded to the Russians. Cronstedt’s actions probably saved countless civilian lives, but King Gustav IV needed a scapegoat and sentenced him to death for treason; fortunately, the losing king was himself soon overthrown, and Cronstedt lived out his years gardening.
Today’s Suomenlinna is still living in its own time with only old buildings, few cars, fewer than a thousand inhabitants and lots of old fortifications, catacombs and cast iron cannons. But it’s not just a museum. You see the sprawling island complex is spread over four islands and houses restaurants, cafes, theaters and museums, and is a very popular place for locals to have a picnic on a summer day. It was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1991 as a unique monument to European military architecture.
The HSL ferry from Market Square is the cheapest and most convenient way of getting there. It runs every half hour and the cost is included if you get a day ticket for the transportation network (8 euro). For me the best part was the southern end where there were multiple gun emplacements and bunkers. The bunkers were buried and so it looks like rolling hills. I think it resembles the Hobbit village. 🙂