Summer is no doubt the most beautiful and eventful time in Helsinki. With a huge influx of tourists pouring into this humble city, it could get crowded sometimes. Therefore, if you are done exploring Helsinki’s Top places to see and have at least an extra day to spare, we say it’s an amazing opportunity for a getaway from the hustle and bustle of city.
For a day trip from Helsinki, there are actually many destinations to consider, such as Nuuksio, Porvoo, Turku or Tallinn.
So, why do we suggest island hopping, you ask?
Because Helsinki is blessed with a long coastline and over 300 islands in its archipelago, it is absolutely wonderful to get to explore some of these islands. And we believe that the easiest route for Helsinki first-time island hoppers is Suomenlinna, Vallisaari and Lonna. Before you even arrive in Helsinki, you probably have already known that Suomenlinna is a must-see destination, which you get to visit all year round. On the other hand, visiting Lonna and Vallisaari is only possible during summer, so you are in for a treat.
Geographically speaking, all these 3 islands are located in Helsinki. However, thanks to lush vegetation and the serene atmosphere, it feels like being in a faraway land.
Now, let’s follow our step-by-step guide to get you ready for your new adventure.
Getting an island hopping ticket
The island hopping ticket costs 10 euros and is valid for a day once activated. Even though it is possible to buy the tickets when you are at the harbor, we strongly recommend to book online in advance with JT Line. The ticket will then be sent to your email and you can just show it from your phone for the staff to scan upon boarding.
The boat leaves from the Market Square (Kauppatori). You will see the JT Line sign there so don’t worry about getting lost or confused.
In addition, be aware that it will take at least half a day for you to thorough explore all 3 islands. In case you have your flight out in the evening, make sure you arrange your schedule well. We highly recommend an early start in the morning so you could have plenty of exploring time.
So, now that you have the ticket, what should you expect from those three island?
Recommended length of stay: 1 hour
From Market Square, the boat starts leaving for Vallisaari with a stop at Lonna on the way. If it is a warm summer day, it is great to sit on the upper deck in order to admire the best of Helsinki city skyline.
Lonna is a small island just 10 minutes away from the harbor. Despite its humble size, Lonna has a great history. Its name was once Peregovornyin saari, meaning Negotiation island, towards the end of the Finnish war, and later Dogovornyin saari, meaning Treaty island, when the Russians took control. Only in 2014, this island was opened again for recreational purposes.
The main services on this tiny island is sauna and restaurant. You could reserve a 2-hour session in advance (recommended) or by walk-in if there are still slots. Their saunas are wood heated with a large terrace viewing the scenic archipelago. On the other hand, Lonna restaurant offers visitors traditional island cuisine with a modern twist. A great thing about their menu is that it is changed regularly depending on the available seasonal ingredients which caters to both meat-lovers and vegetarians.
As you start early in the morning, we suggest leaving Lonna till the end of the trip, if you want to experience their sauna or dine in the restaurant.
Recommended length of stay: at least 2 hours
Around 20 minutes away from Market Square, Vallisaari is a 2-in-1 package deal as you get to see two different islands: Vallisaari and Kuninkaansaari.
When getting off the boat, follow the left track to reach Kuninkaansaari first. If you come to seek solitude and peace, here is the perfect place for you. Apart from being a historical military site, Kuninkaansaari has an amazing lush forest. On a quiet day, it feels like you are alone exploring a long-lost, mysterious land. There are deteriorated structure of past maintenance base on the far end of this island. Get in the tunnel, don’t you dare?
Following the main path, you will arrive at a small sandy beach, the Sand Cove, where you can take a swim and enjoy a picnic while soaking up the sunlight and sea breeze. We highly suggest packing food with you as services are only on Vallisaari side and pretty pricey.
Not far from the beach lies over-75-year-old sauna, The Box, that you can rent for a few hours. However, we find the price rather expensive and a bit far from the water, so think twice if you want to go for it.
The best-kept secret on Kuninkaansaari is still a little more down the rugged path: Nolla Cabin – A minimal modern cabin hidden amidst the wooded landscape. With one side facing the secluded woods while the other glazed facade viewing the beautiful sea, needless to say, this cabin is the perfect hideaway for love birds. Could it be any more romantic? So if you want to enjoy a two-person world with your loved one, book this cabin right here.
After you finish exploring Kuninkaansaari, it’s time to head to Vallisaari. Similar to other islands in this itinerary, Vallisaari has its fair share of long interesting history. Not only was it known as the former home island of pilots, but it was also called Lampisaari, meaning Pond Island, as the seafarers came here to seek drinking water.
The island had been asleep for over the past decades, until 2016 when it was reopened as a unique tourist destination.
The main attraction on this island is Alexander’s Battery (Aleksanterin patteri), which was built under Russian rule in order to demonstrate their military power. Nowadays, you can come here to enjoy the amazing view to Suomenllinna and Helsinki city.
If you have packed some food with you, it is ideal to stop by The Meadow to enjoy a picnic. Otherwise, there are a couple of eateries where you can grab a quick bite, though we must say the views and ambiance are not as great as savoring your packed lunch on a green grass field full of warm sunlight and summer breeze.
Recommended length of stay: at least 2 hours
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress is a top tourist attraction in Helsinki for a reason: It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, shaped by three different historical eras. Apart from its rich history, this beautiful island is a harmonious combination of nature and old architecture, making it a remarkable place to visit. In case you don’t have time for a full island hopping trip, you can easily catch a ferry to reach Suomenlinna directly from Market Square.
JT Line will drop you off at the dock next to Suomenlinna Museum. From there, you can start exploring the island. The best way to understand its history is to join a guided tour. However, if you want to wander on your own, then it is helpful to grab a map from the museum before taking off.
Since we are both architecture nerds, it is wonderful to just ramble Suomenlinna’s cobblestoned streets and admire the beauty and spirit of old buildings.
Moreover, in addition to museums and historic sites to see, Suomenlinna is also full of cafes and restaurants, many of which come with a terrace where you can sit down and relax after a long walk. When we did this trip, we decided to grab our lunch at Valimo, which turned out to be an unexpected yet love surprise. Hidden away in a corner of Suomenlinna, Valimo is a little gem that offers good food and cozy ambiance.
If you a lot of time to spend in Suomenlinna, we strongly recommend finding a quiet spot on higher rocks to enjoy the beautiful Finnish nature, savor your packed sandwich or maybe read a book.
On your ride back to town, don’t forget to snap as many photos of the city skyline as you get the best sight from the boat.
Additional travel tips to make your journey more fantastic
- Wearing the right clothes is crucial as Finnish weather can be very unpredictable. It can be pretty cold and windy, especially at early and later summer. Thus, consider bringing a light wind-breaker jacket with you. There is a lot of walking on rugged forest paths or cobbletoned streets, comfortable footwear is a must. Waterproof shoes would prove useful as it may rain more towards the end of the summer. Also, you may want to bring along a small towel and swimsuit.
- Both Suomenlinna and Vallisaari are ideal places for picnicking by the sea. Unless you want to dine in a restaurant, we highly recommend bringing your own refreshments: sandwiches, bread and cheese, fruits (Finnish strawberries are the best), nuts, some wine or juice, etc. Be creative!
- Being an early bird definitely pays off. We made our way to the harbor an hour before the boat trip started. Helsinki was still a sleeping beauty this early so we had a pleasant and peaceful stroll around the best attractions: Helsinki Cathedral, Uspenski Cathedral, Esplanadi Park, Old Market Hall, etc.
In a nutshell, taking an island hopping day trip from Helsinki center is an amazing way to see the Finnish archipelago, get to know Finland’s history better and enjoy a lovely escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. We did it. We loved it. And we definitely would like to do it again, with an overnight stay in the woods.