Seven island gems in Helsinki’s archipelago

With the viewer standing on Vallisaari island looking towards a Suomenlinna covered with green trees, a water bus passes through the channel between the islands, and towards the right can be seen the bridge that links Iso Mustasaari to Susisaari. On the horizon, the City of Helsinki can be seen with the Helsinki Cathedral recognisable in the centre of the city skyline.
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The sea and the islands are an inseparable part of Helsinki. Each island in the archipelago has its own unique character, and they all boast amazingly diverse nature. Many of the islands are also surprisingly easy to get to by waterbus or ferry. Visitors services that are available in summertime range from guided walks to cafés and even saunas. Listed below are seven unique island gems – visit them all and find your own personal favourite.

Antti Huttunen
Retkipaikka.fi
Antti Huttunen / Retkipaikka

The archipelago of Helsinki consists of more than 300 islands and a shoreline that stretches 130 kilometres, thus making it a unique capita city where you can easily enjoy the hustle and bustle and just as easily escape it by jumping on a ferry. It is perhaps one of those rare cities where within a span of day you can wake up in the city, enjoy the art scene, sip coffee at a café while the world walks by you, and then thrust yourself into the wilderness for a spot of berry picking, if you fancy.

Helsinki offers a diverse range of recreational forests, national parks, and archipelago natural reserves that offer a myriad of experiences. Helsinki’s archipelago also offer diverse range of history, art, beaches, restaurant services and recreational opportunities. Ferries and waterbuses operate to many of the islands, so they are fun and easy to get to.

At the center of the photo in the distance, two people are walking down a forest path on Vallisaari, where the path is surrounded by tall trees and bushes raised up on banks either side.
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Vallisaari – a unique paradise for urban nature 

Vallisaari is truly unique when it comes to urban nature. For many years Vallisaari was a military installation that was closed to the public. This allowed the nature on the island to thrive, especially as the plaster from the mortar used on the old military buildings created extremely fertile soil. Walking through this unique environment, it is easy to forget that you are just a 15-minute ferry ride away from Senate Square in the heart of the nation’s capital. Vallisaari is indeed the perfect destination for a short outing, especially for the wonderful views from the Alexander Battery. 

Kuninkaansaari – the quiet little brother of Vallisaari

The smaller “King’s Island” is connected to Vallisaari by a breakwater. Like its big brother, Kuninkaansaari also has breathtakingly beautiful nature. King Gustav III of Sweden prepared his ships for battle against the Russian tsar on this island, which was given its name in 1773. The forests on the island were badly damaged during the Sveaborg rebellion of 1906, but for the past hundred years they have had time to grow freely and regain their former glory. The forests are now covered by colourful carpets of moss. Also, make sure you check out the stunning shoreline on the southern side of the island, where the smooth granite rocks are often bathed in sunlight. From the highest rocks on the island you can enjoy a wonderful view to the archipelago and the open sea.

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress.
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Suomenlinna – a UNESCO World Heritage Site 

The easiest way to experience Helsinki’s maritime nature is to make an outing to its famous sea fortress. Suomenlinna is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason. Nature and history are everywhere on the string of islands that makes up the fortress. We recommend that you explore the western and southern ends of the Susisaari island in particular. The maritime nature has created miniature paradises between the boulders and in the tiny coves. Suomenlinna is very easy to get to, as you can use your public transport ticket and take the municipal ferry from the Market Square.

Vartiosaari – the finest square kilometre in Finland

Vartiosaari or “Guard Island” features many different varieties of nature and terrain, as well as historic structures and a beautiful national landscape. Best of all, Vartiosaari offers visitor services that guarantee a successful summer outing. The nature on the island ranges from small groves and fields of lichen to meadows and hardwood forests – not to mention the sparse rocks. Here you can really admire the landscape, as over half of the island’s surface area comprises valuable natural areas. If you had to choose the finest square kilometre in Finland, this island gem in Helsinki would certainly be a strong contender! 

Seurasaari – a journey into Finland’s past 

The open-air museum on Seurasaari is definitely worth a visit, and the nice thing is you can get to the island on foot or by bike across a pretty wooden bridge. Surrounded by the beautiful archipelago nature, the open-air museum features historic wooden buildings that have been transported to the island from all corners of Finland. The museum first opened back in 1909, and thanks to its charming milieu, Seurasaari offers a very unique atmosphere. In addition to the open-air museum, Seurasaari is famous for its tame squirrels, which you will no doubt come across as you stroll around the island. In spring and early summer, the southern shore of the island is used by nesting birds, so make sure you don’t disturb them.

With a red, wooden cafe immediately in the foreground on the right, half a dozen people are sitting on the cafe's wooden terrace to the left, the sea stretching towards the horizon behind them.
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Isosaari – an island in the outer archipelago 

Isosaari or “Big Island” is a great destination if you want to experience the open expanses of the outer archipelago. The island has a long history, as it was traditionally used as a landmark and fishermen’s base. Isosaari has also served as a research centre and military base. The sandy beaches and rocky shorelines are perfect for enjoying the fresh sea breezes on a summer’s day. You can also walk along the paths around the island, most of which is covered by forest. You could easily spend an entire day exploring the island and its diverse archipelago nature.

Harakka – a botanist’s dream off the coast of Kaivopuisto

If you are really interested in plants, head for Harakka or “Magpie”, an island with really diverse nature that will impress even the most enthusiastic botanists. In fact, Harakka is home to many more plant species than its modest size would suggest. The nature trails on the island are perfect for exploring the plant life in both summer and winter. You can also visit the Harakka Nature Centre, which presents interesting information about the Baltic Sea, the archipelago nature and sustainability. Previously used by the military, Harakka opened to the public in 1989. You can see the island from the Kaivopuisto park on the mainland and catch the ferry from the Ullanlinna Pier.

 

To find out more about Helsinki's gorgeous nature click here!

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Unique islands are an extraordinary part of Helsinki's archipelago. All island gems boost amazingly diverse nature and they are also easy to get to by ferry.