Top 5 Islands to Visit in Helsinki this summer
One of the many advantages of studying at Aalto University over the summer is getting to enjoy the Helsinki archipelago to its fullest. Helsinki is a maritime city surrounded by hundreds of islands, many of which have tons of great attractions and regular ferry services. Whether you’re staying in downtown Helsinki or a 10-minute metro ride away at the campus in Otaniemi, reaching these islands is fast, easy, and cheap – and it’s one of the best ways to savor everything that the Finnish summer has to offer!
Known mostly to locals, Pihlajasaari is a hidden gem of the Helsinki archipelago. The island sports nature trails, rentable saunas, and sandy beaches – including one with ridiculously cute changing booths! Other attractions on the island include an old mansion-turned-restaurant, a campground, and one of Finland’s only naturist beaches.
Ferries connect Pihlajasaari to both the Ruoholahti district and the southern Kaivopuisto park. Despite not leaving from the Market Square, students staying at Aalto University’s campus in Otaniemi can easily reach these ferries, as Ruoholahti is only 3 metro stations away.
Located only 100 meters off the coast of the Kaivopuisto park, Harakka (sometimes written Harakan saari) is a favorite place for art and nature lovers alike. The large, central building is an old chemical laboratory, which has since been converted into an art house that hosts frequently changing exhibitions. Walking around the island, you will encounter many sea birds and as well as Sabotage – a sculpture by H. R. Giger that you can step into and merge with the ground itself!
Harakka can be reached with a brief ferry ride that leaves from the southern coast of the Kaivopuisto park. While Harakka does not have its own restaurants, the tiny islands of Uunisaari and Särkkä are just next door and can be accessed with their own ferries from Kaivopuisto.
If walking around nature isn’t your thing, the tiny island of Lonna is the place to go! Lonna makes great use of its limited space by hosting a restaurant, a bar/café, a rentable sauna, and event venues. The trendy island offers great views of downtown Helsinki and the surrounding archipelago, and it’s one of Helsinki’s best places for a relaxed evening of food and drinks with friends.
Like the remaining islands on this list, Lonna can be reached with a short ferry ride that leaves from the central Market Square, just south of the Helsinki Cathedral.
Much like its more popular neighbor Suomenlinna, Vallisaari used to be exclusively used by the Finnish Defence Forces. It has since been opened to the public as a nature destination, featuring majestic Russian fortifications overgrown with dense plant life. The island is home to dozens of rare or endangered plant and animal species, including the large Eurasian eagle-owl. It is an increasingly popular location for hiking, picnics, and taking in the untamed Finnish nature.
Vallisaari can be reached via a ferry that leaves from the Market Square. However, visitors should note that the island is not for the faint of heart – some parts of it are completely off-limits due to dangerous buildings and unexploded munitions. The island also has limited facilities. Visitors should read the island’s rules online and make sure to stick to marked paths when exploring.
1. Suomenlinna Sea Fortress
A former military fortress, Suomenlinna is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason – it is among the most historically significant and beautiful locations in all of Finland. Almost a thousand people live in its cute, historic town, which is accented by narrow cobblestone streets and a unique, central lighthouse church. Just beyond the island’s 19th-century buildings lie its old military installations, with bastions, artillery batteries, and tunnels for the public to explore. Suomenlinna is among Helsinki’s most popular destinations for tourists and locals alike, with many restaurants, museums, and sightseeing opportunities available throughout the summer. Those not interested in its history will still find the island to be one of the most exceptional and picturesque places in the city, with great picnic spots to boot!
Of the islands listed, Suomenlinna is also the easiest and cheapest to reach. A 15-minute ferry ride leaves frequently from the central Market Square, and (uniquely) its fare is included in a standard HSL public transport ticket. There’s no excuse – Suomenlinna is a must-see for any student in Finland, and it’s just one of the many reasons why studying in Finland is such an extraordinary experience.
Aalto University Summer School offers high-quality academic courses and programs for the summer teaching period and has something for everyone!