Suomenlinna may be a military base and only have a population of about 850 but it attracts around 700,000 tourists a year, among them Helsinki residents who come to roam the meadows, sniff the sea air and wander the historic cobbled streets. The islands are accessible via a 20-minute ferry ride that runs from Kauppatori (Helsinki’s market square) or a service boat that leaves from the Katajanokka neighbourhood. Since 1973 The Governing Body (part of the Ministry of Education) is in charge of the islands’ conservation (the fortress is a unesco World Heritage site) in addition to managing 200 buildings and 80 hectares of land. There are only 13 private properties – the rest of the housing is for the army. The houses were built for merchants and the villas for officers; there are 330 apartments for rent but due to a high demand, it’s difficult to find a free one. The owner of Suomenlinna Toy Museum, Petra Tandefelt, is part of the close-knit community. “I love the village feeling and we’re close to Helsinki’s centre,” she says.
Heikki Hetemäki bought his wooden villa in 1989 from the son of a military officer who inherited property. “It’s a good place for small children to grow up. The air is cleaner and there are almost no cars. There’s a kindergarten, a shop and tennis and yachting in the summer,” he says.
The army still operates on the island and have their own officers’ club there, but the atoll is better known for its festivals than its military drills, hosting happenings such as the Viapori Winter Blues music festival and Les Lumières, an open-air theatre event. Despite Suomenlinna’s tough appearance, the area is a living, breathing part of Helsinki away from the capital’s bustling streets.
There is only a basic hostel on Suomenlinna so visitors tend to stay at hotels such as this premium option in Helsinki and take a day trip to the islands.
This restored 1930s submarine was one of a few to serve in the Finnish Navy. Sitting on the shores of Susisaari, it is the last of its kind in Finland.
Hytti Glass Studio
+ 358 09 668 727
The Hytti association operates a glass studio in the Virtue Bastion on the Susisaari island. Glassblowing is demonstrated upon request.
Suomenlinna Toy Museum
The museum exhibits old toys dating back to the early 19th century and also includes pieces such as a rare Schuco Charlie Chaplin figurine.
Pot Viapori Ceramic Studio
Sells unique products crafted by independent ceramists, who organise joint exhibitions during the tourist season.
Jetty Barracks Gallery
Run by the Helsinki Artists’ Association which organises exhibitions of contemporary art.
Eat & Drink
At the southern tip of the island, Walhalla was opened in 1952 to entertain guests of the Olympic Games in Helsinki. There is gourmet food and wines – try the house pizza with gherkin and sour cream.
Nested in a garden, Piper offers pastries and refreshments, as well as a glorious view of the Gulf of Finland.
In addition to tasty pies and coffee, the café offers art and cultural events.
Owner of Suomenlinna’s Toy Museum
“Even though this is a small village, I feel freedom living here. People are mostly very polite and sensible.”
Suomenlinna’s significance in the historical defence of three states – Sweden, Russia and Finland respectively – is of special importance. The sea fortress began construction in 1748 (under Swedish control) directed by military architect Augustin Ehrensvärd and it was a key post in many wars. In 1788 it defended the Swedes from Russia; in the War of Finland, 1808-09, the fortress surrendered to the Russian army and it was active during the Crimean War in 1855 when the British and French allied with Turkey to deprive the Russian Navy of a route to the Baltic Sea and from there to the Atlantic.
In 1856 the Russians started to repair much of the damage and continued to do so under the command of the Tsarist autocracy (looking to safeguard Saint Petersburg) until the Russian revolution in 1917, when Finland also gained its independence. The newly installed government took over the island 1918 to 1973 when the Finnish military transferred selected properties to civil administration via a state body: the Governing Body of Suomenlinna, a branch of the Minister of Education and Culture.
In Finland when you own a property you also own the land on which it is built. Property owners become “share holders” in a housing company, paying a monthly sum to cover the costs for maintenance services. Sellers need to pay 1.6 per cent of the sale price to the Finnish government plus a commission fee to the estate agent. In the case of JYA Housing, which is currently dealing with the sale of a 93 sq m flat on the island, this will be 4.3 per cent of the asking price. In 2011 for the first time a broker got involved in the sale of a property in Suomenlinna. Before then if you wanted to buy property you had to go through the military or the close-knit network of families living there.
1 bedroom - €350,000 (estimated)
2 bedrooms - €499,000
3 bedrooms - €650,000 (estimated)
JYA Housing Pakilantie 71,
+ 358 290 004 000
JYA Housing is a group of friendly professionals who specialise in the sale of residential property in southern Finland.