Saturday 5 September 2015

Helsinki Suomenlinna Islands Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 4.2 km (2.6 miles), terrain: some small hills

Helsinki running routes:
Helsinki Essential downtown route
Helsinki North route

Western shore route
Soumenlinna Fortress island route
For more running routes, see Route List.  

Here's a short Helsinki run that will transport you into a whole different ambience and era: a run through the linked fortress islands of Suomenlinna, out in the approaches to Helsinki harbor.

The old fortifications were built in the 1700s and 1800s in wood and stone, and have that typical Scandinavian feel to them-- with brightly colored wooden buildings scattered among smooth rock outcroppings. 
Looking out over Artillery Bay
The fortifications are spread out among several islands linked by bridges. Everywhere you go, there are ramparts and cliffs with vistas out over the Gulf of Finland and endless islands stretching to the horizon. Seagulls dive and sailboats slide past the rocky shores.

Even getting to the islands is a worthwhile experience, taking a ferry from Kauppatori market square, downtown. The ferry glides past a variety of other islands until the boat stops at the foot of the fortress walls. The service runs a few times each hour and costs €5.
Kauppatori market square
Most of the fortress walls and buildings were built by the Swedes, who ruled Finland for 600 years, to guard the Gulf of Finland. Then the Russians took over Finland 200 years ago, after they besieged the fort in 1808 and the fort surrendered. The defenses were extended during the Russian administration, giving the islands much their present appearance, an eclectic collection of wooden, brick, stone and plaster buildings of all imaginable types: homes, barracks, sheds, administrative buildings, boatyards, workshops and -- of course -- ramparts, gate-towers and bunkers, with cannons everywhere.
Cannons along the cliffs
The Finns took over the fort when they gained independence in 1917, but the stone walls had little use in modern warfare. The last military units left the islands in the 1970s, leaving only the Finnish Naval Academy still there. Now, 800 civilians have moved into many old buildings.

Arriving with the ferry at Iso Mustasaari island, you can see the church tower from a distance as you approach the island. The tower doubles as a lighthouse. So now you're here, let's get going!
Arriving at the island
The ferry landing faces a long pink building, the jetty barracks, with its own little clock-tower. Run towards the tower, on the left, then run through the archway through the building. Now continue straight uphill past the church in its park on the left and some picturesque wooden houses on the right side of the rocky dirt street. Most of the buildings are still in use as homes or cafes.

You'll then pass some fortress walls on the right side, and then continue up past the brick military museum and some scenic yellow buildings. You'll see an open area over the rocky cliffs on the right side, where you can get a great view over a little bay (Artillery Bay) to the next island, Susisaari.

Now turn around and head back downhill the same way, past the military museum, to the spot (with a signpost) where the main path turns left to go down to the bridge over the bay, past the Suomenlinna Museum.
The bridge to Susisaari
Cross the bridge and follow the cobblestone street straight into the island as it heads a bit uphill and curves to the right. The street goes through an archway in the defensive walls and you come out into a courtyard with a graceful monument, erected by the Swedes.
The monument, with the brass cannon in the background: run that way!
Now just keep left, run past the short, brass cannons, more walls and then past a little park on the right with a pond. The path then turns right and leads out to the west side of the island, to a narrow bay with a tiny sand beach where people swim in nice weather.
Cove with the beach
Now head uphill past the yellow wooden shed (the public toilets), to where a long row of big cannons begins. You're now up on a cliff lined with such cannon, with the Helsinki skyline off across the water to the north.

Now just run south along the shore, with sailboats criss-crossing the waters around you.
The Hobbit bunkers
The interior of the island is full of rounded earthen bunkers that look like Hobbit houses.

Follow the shore path as it curves to the left and heads into another walled fort.
Sailboat off of King's Gate
Now head north out of the fort, exiting through the stone gateway (the King's Gate) to the next shoreline path, this one down closer to the water. There are more old cannons up along the left, pointing upwards at strange angles, seemingly frozen in time.
The cannon junkyard
Now run northwards along the water and try to stay on one of the paths that keep you along the eastern edge of the island, just to take a different way back. You'll eventually come around to a Finnish submarine, the Vesikko, sitting on shore. Continue running along the water of Artillery Bay.
House along the shore
Now you'll return to the bridge that you crossed earlier, and now cross it again. But this time,  we'll follow a different street back to the start. At the first chance after the bridge, turn left through the gate in the red-brick wall to follow a back-street along the shipyard on our return to the start.

In the next courtyard, keep right, to run past some workshops. You'll be behind the first wall that you ran past earlier, across from the church. When you come to the first archway that takes you through the wall on the right side, take it.

Now you'll find yourself facing the church park again. So now, just turn left and head out under the clock tower and back to the ferry landing.

NOTE: If you want to add more distance, now head westwards over the bridge with the white railings and run through the two small islands to the west. The first island, Pikku Mustasaari, is home to the Naval Academy and isn't open to tourists, but you can run past it to the next island, where you can loop it and head back to the ferry landing again.
Bridge to Pikku Mustasaari in evening light

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