Seurasaari and Korkeasaari share a history as public parks. The City of Helsinki leased out both parks in the late 19th century to the Helsingin Anniskeluyhtiö corporation (present Alko, the national liquor store monopoly) in order to provide a place for workers to participate in healthy outdoor recreation. The islands have developed in different directions since then but they remain firm favourites of tens of thousands of summertime visitors every year.
Seurasaari is a 40-minute bus ride from the city centre and is around 46 hectares in size. It is a popular outdoor park and museum island. Visitors used to arrive by boat, but a white wooden bridge over the water has been there since 1892. The island's squirrels, ducks, swans and geese are well accustomed to humans and welcome visitors, sometimes quite enthusiastically. About a third of the island's area is an open air museum with free admission that introduces visitors to housing and lifestyles of past centuries. The museum features over 30 building complexes and 87 separate buildings which have been brought to the island from different parts of the country. The island also has a kiosk that is open on the weekends, a cafe and a summertime restaurant. The western shore has a beach as well as a swimming facility with a nudist beach. The swimming venue is also open in winter for ice swimming.
The Seurasaari bridge invites you to make a detour to the nearby Pukkisaari islands, reachable via duckboards. The Läntinen Pukkisaari (western Pukkisaari) has a small replica of an Iron Age merchant village.
Korkeasaari (around 22 hectares) island and zoo is one of Helsinki's most popular sights. Situated east of the downtown area at a 20-minute boat ride away, Korkeasaari is one of the world's oldest zoos. The island is open to visitors 364 days a year and closed only on Christmas Eve. In winter, only the brown bears, red-necked wallabies, emus and raccoons can’t be seen as they are either hibernating or kept away from the public. The zoo's 150 animal species offer plenty to admire, but the island is also great for gazing at the sea and the shorelines. Visitors can reach the island via the bridge from the adjacent Mustikkamaa island. In summer, there is also a water bus connection from the Market Square. Read more about the ferry ride to Korkeasaari in the summer 2022.
The 36-hectare Mustikkamaa island has been the favourite outdoor recreation spot of several generations. The City of Helsinki has governed the island since the city itself was founded. It was turned into a public park in 1921. The island houses a summer restaurant founded in the same year, along with a summer theatre, walking paths, a beach and tennis courts. Mustikkamaa's rocks are popular fishing spots and many dogs also find their way to the island. One of the city's newest and also most photogenic bridges is the Isoisänsilta (Grandpa's Bridge) connecting Mustikkamaa with the former harbour zone of Kalasatama. Another way to reach Mustikkamaa is from the Kulosaari metro station.
Tervasaari is a small park island outside the Kruununhaka district. It is linked with the mainland via a causeway. Its name – Tar Island – derives from the tar storages stationed there by merchants in the old days. The last one of these historical tar sheds dates back to 1805.
Lammassaari (around 25 hectares in size) is a protected area near the Vanhankaupunginkoski rapids in Viikki, close to the Arabianranta shore. The duckboards leading to the island are lined with reeds on both sides and offer an experience in itself – it is worth noting that especially in autumn rubber boots may come in handy. The island has 106 private cottages and the common paths are open to all. The island is located in the middle of a world-class conservation area with sightings of around 300 bird species from the American wigeon to the horned grebe. One of the zone's many birdwatching towers is found on Lammassaari.
Despite the island’s name ('Lamb Island'), there are no sheep on Lammassaari. The adjacent island Kuusiluoto has many however. This small island can be reached via duckboards and visitors can take in the old-time charm of quaint villas, summercamp facilities and professional fishers. Sheep graze on the island freely in summer. Watch out – they are friendly but also very interested in the contents of picnic baskets.
Rajasaari is an island belonging to the Taka-Töölö district very close to the popular Sibelius Monument. Most of the island is a fenced off dog park where dogs can roam around and swim freely. Anyone is welcome to visit the island but a wet welcome from a dog is never far. The rocks of the islands make for a good dogwatching spot, as well as for observing passing canoes, rowboats, or the Prime Minister of Finland, whose residence is found on the opposite shore. The President's residence is also almost visible from the island.