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Visiting Suomenlinna in the Winter

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress is one of the most popular attractions in Helsinki, Finland. The fortress is located on a cluster of islands, not far from downtown. The islands are home to preserved buildings and bastions from the original 17th-century fort, but they also have modern additions like museums and restaurants. It’s also known for its incredible views.

A visit to Suomenlinna requires a lot of time outdoors, and Finland is known for getting quite cold in the winter. Can you visit Suomenlinna during the winter, and is it worth it to do so? The short answer, of course, is yes!

This guide will walk you through a trip to Suomenlinna in the winter. We’ll share general information about the islands, but also get into what is different about Suomenlinna during the colder months. Along the way, we’ll share tips and tricks to make the make the most out of your visit. By the time you’re done reading this post, you’ll know exactly what to expect and how to plan a perfect trip to Suomenlinna in the winter.

About Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna is a former military fortress that sits on a group of islands off the coast of Helsinki. It was built in the 1700s by the Swedish, who historically controlled the land in this area. The fortress fell to Russian forces in 1808, and they controlled the base for the next 100+ years. Finland declared their independence from Russia in 1917 and took over the base shortly after. They gave the base it’s current name, Suomenlinna, which translates to Castle of Finland.

After WWII, Suomenlinna was no longer useful as a military base. In 1973, the facility was handed over to the civilian sector. In 1991, Suomenlinna was named an UNESCO World Heritage site. It has since become one of the most popular attractions in Helsinki and all of Finland. People visit the island all year to see the preserved fortress, learn about its history, and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

The Helsinki Regional Transport Authority operates a ferry to the island regularly, but there is no public transit on or around the islands themselves. In fact, Suomenlinna is a car-free zone (with the exception of service vehicles) and it’s primarily explored on foot.

Today, Suomenlinna is popular with both tourists and locals. It’s free to walk around the island, which is why Suomenlinna is a popular picnic destination for locals in the warmer months. The different museums and attractions have separate entry tickets, and tend to be more popular with tourists.

Things to See at Suomenlinna (Anytime of Year!)

There are several things to see and do at Suomenlinna, and it can feel a little overwhelming at first. However, many of the main attractions are located along a well-marked route (more on that route later), they’re relatively close together, and they don’t take much time. It’s pretty easy to follow the main route and see the highlights in about 2-3 hours.

Here’s what you can see and do at Suomenlinna any time of year.


There are two main museums on Suomenlinna, which are open all year.

The Suomenlinna Museum explores the history of the fortress. It has a few artifacts, a short film, and several informational signs in Finnish and English. It spans two floors, but it’s still quite small. You can cover this museum in about 30 minutes. The Suomenlinna Museum shares a building with a cafe and gift shop, so it makes a great spot to warm up in the winter.

Next is the Military Museum. This museum goes into the history, role and weaponry of the Finnish Military in times of both war and peace. The Military Museum is spread across two different buildings, and takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to see it all.

The first building has full-size tanks and vehicles, scale models and uniforms and several other artifacts. Again, all signs are in both Finnish and English. The second building is more interactive and great for kids. You can try on uniforms, step inside a fighter jet, or crawl inside a fort.

There are a few other museums on the island, but they are only open during the summer season.

Fortress Sites & Architecture

The highlights of Suomenlinna are the remnants of the fort itself. Many of the original buildings and structures have been preserved and can be seen or explored today. There’s a handful of main structures, each of which takes about 15-30 minutes to see.

The Jetty Barracks are the first thing you will see on Suomenlinna when you get off the ferry at the main quay. The hard-to-miss pink building was formerly the barracks where the troops would sleep. Today, the building houses an art gallery, brewery (open in the summer only), visitor center and restaurant.

The next thing you’ll quickly see is Suomenlinna Church. The church was more grandiose in its Russian era, but it was altered to its current state in the early 1900s when it was converted to a Lutheran church. The inside of the church is open for limited hours in the winter, usually on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 12 – 4 PM (always confirm hours on the official website.) At most, the church will take about 15 minutes to visit.

One of the best places to explore is the Great Courtyard and bastion, just past the Suomenlinna Museum. The Great Courtyard is a square with a tomb/monument in the center and former residences around it. On your way there, you’ll pass through a portion of the fortress with a maze of tunnels to explore. These tunnels are adjacent to the Ehrensvärd Museum, but that museum is only open in the summer. Spend 15-20 minutes here enjoying the tunnels and courtyard.

Kustaanmiekka is one of the most beautiful and interesting areas of Suomenlinna. There is a walkway that follows along the southern seawall with sandbanks, artillery and underground shelters. The water-side walkway offers incredible sea views, but also the most fortress-y experience. During the winter, this pathway can get slippery and potentially dangerous, so be sure to be careful. The walk talks about 20 minutes, but isn’t much longer than the main path.

King’s Gate is the main attraction. Historically, this was the main entrance, if you will, of the fort. Today, it is the pinnacle of your visit, as it’s located at the very end of main walking route on the southern tip of the island. There are great views around here, and some really cool fortress walls to explore. Budget for about 15-30 minutes here. In the summer time, there’s a waterbus stop here to take you back to Helsinki. But in the wintertime, this is where you will need to turn back and head to the main quay.

Other Sites

The main museums and fortress sites are all located along the main walking route (the Blue Route – again, more on that later.) There are a handful of other things to see if you want to venture off a bit.

Most notably, is the Dry Dock, which is still used today to repair wooden sailing ships. It is one of the oldest working dry docks in Europe. The docks themselves are closed to the public, but there’s an observation deck just beyond Great Courtyard.

There’s also a prisoner-of-war camp memorial, which is just east of the main quay, about 100 meters past the Jetty Baracks. The memorial, which is carved into two stones, is there to honor the 8,000 prisoners who were kept imprisoned on the island after the civil war between 1918-1919.

Cafes & Restaurants

A trip to Suomenlinna can take several hours, so you’re likely to work up an appetite. There are several restaurants and cafes around the island, some of which are open all year. You can review the map and opening hours for the full list, but it’s worth mentioning the three main cafes that are open all year and great for a winter visit.

Cafe Vanille is a great option for a coffee or snack to start your day. It’s located in a charming pink house across from Suomenlinna Church. They usually open at 11:30 AM everyday.

If you arrive before Cafe Vanille opens, carry on to Suomenlinna Centre Cafe. It’s another quick-service option that has a selection of light meals and snacks, as well as drinks. This one usually opens the earliest, and comes at a perfect location in the middle of the main walking route. It’s located in the same building as the Suomenlinna Museum, and there are also bathrooms and free wifi.

The final and furtherest option for food during the winter season is Restaurant Alderfelt. It is a table-service restaurant and is the nicest and most expensive option of these three. They’re open most days starting at noon, but are usually closed on Mondays and Tuesdays in the winter. (Tip! You can make reservations in advance here, which are nice to have but not required.)

What is Different about Suomenlinna in the Winter vs Summer?

There’s plenty to see and do on Suomenlinna all year, but some things are definitely different in the winter. Here are some key differences to know about. Some of these items we’ll cover in more detail later in this post.

  • Some attractions are closed. Some of the most notable sites closed for the winter season are the Toy Museum, Vesikko Submarine, Ehrensvärd Museum, and a handful of dining options.
  • Limited hours. Even the places that are open in the winter aren’t open every day or as long. For example, the brewery is only open a few days a week and the museums and cafes open a little later.
  • Ferries run less frequently. In the winter, ferries usually run ever 40 minutes to 1 hour, while in the summer, they usually run every 20 minutes.
  • No waterbus service. In the summer only, there is a waterbus that goes from downtown Helsinki and makes multiple stops at Suomenlinna (Artillery Bay, King’s Gate and Lonna.) In the winter, the only ferry service to Suomenlinna is the HSL-operated ferry that runs from Market Square downtown Helsinki to the main quay on the north end of Suomenlinna.
  • Lower crowds. Plenty of people visit Suomenlinna in the winter, just fewer than do in the summer. That usually means the ferries, attractions and pathways are all a little less crowded in the winter. Overall, that makes the experience a bit more relaxed.
  • Different views. While the fortress itself is the reason most people go to Suomenlinna, the views of and from the island are one of the main reasons people love it so much. In the summer, the island is a vibrant display of green grass, blue waters and colorful flowers. Meanwhile, a winter visit is likely to be a snow-covered wonderland, looking out over icy waters.
  • Keep to the sidewalks. They do a good job of keeping the main sidewalks and walking path clear throughout the winter. While in the summer, you can venture off the beaten path, it’s a bit harder to do that during the winter months. It’s also just less necessary, because you probably aren’t picnicking and the off-the-path attractions aren’t open.
  • Visits are usually shorter. As a result of all of these factors, a visit to Suomenlinna is usually shorter in the winter than the summer. There is less to see, fewer crowds, and people generally want to spend less time lingering outside in the cold.

Ferry Suomenlinna in the Winter

Suomenlinna is an island fortress, which means you’ll need a boat to get there. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy, cheap and convenient to do that — even in the winter.

The Helsinki Regional Transport Authority (HSL) operates regular ferry service from downtown Helsinki to Suomenlinna all year. This is the same HSL that operates the trams, trains and buses throughout Helsinki. The ferry uses the same ticketing system as these other modes of transit.

Read More! We have a detailed guide that explains exactly How to Take Public Transit in Helsinki. This post covers the ferry, as well as other modes of transit in Helsinki.

The ferry departs from Market Square (Kauppatori) in downtown Helsinki. The ferry terminal is right across the street from the Presidential Palace along the Port of Helsinki. There is only one ferry (#19) that runs from this terminal, and it only goes to Suomenlinna. (Read: You don’t have to worry about getting on the wrong ferry.)

The ferry runs every 40 minutes to 1 hour in the winter. (It runs a bit more frequently during the warmer months.) Check the ferry schedule in the HSL Journey Planner. There is also a digital sign at the terminal with upcoming ferry times.

You will need a ticket for Zones AB to ride the ferry to Suomenlinna. You can buy a paper ticket from the kiosks at the downtown ferry terminal. If you buy a single-ride paper ticket from the kiosk, it is valid immediately and good for 2 hours on all Helsinki public transit, including the ferry.

You can also buy a ticket in the HSL app (cell service required). You must activate the ticket before you board the ferry. (The default in the app is to activate the ticket immediately, but you can also set it for a specific time in the future.) An active ticket in the app will display as a moving image.

As long as you have a valid and active ticket (paper or digital), you can simply board the ferry. You do not need to scan your ticket at the card reader when you enter. You will only need to show your ticket onboard if an inspector asks you to. Failure to display an active ticket will result in a hefty fine, so don’t risk it.

Tip: Even if it’s cold, be sure to step outside to check out the view of downtown Helsinki from the ferry.

The HSL ferry only makes one stop at Suomenlinna at the main quay on the north end of the island. The trip takes about 15 minutes. The ferry has both indoor and outdoor seating available.

The return journey is very similar. Since there’s only one ferry stop on the island in the winter time, you’ll leave Suomenlinna from the same place you arrived. There are also ticket kiosks at the Suomenlinna ferry stop as well, or you can buy tickets in the app.

Suomenlinna Winter Hours — What’s Open & What’s Not

The islands of Suomenlinna, including the walkways, viewpoints and park spaces, are open every day. However, the indoor sites and facilities on the islands are individually operated and have different hours. Some locations are open all year, and some are only open seasonally — aka closed in the winter.

The exact definition of winter isn’t official and varies by location. For example, the Toy Museum usually opens for the season after Easter, while the submarine doesn’t open until May. For the most up-to-date information about hours and openings, check the website here.

The Suomenlinna website posts the exact hours by date, and things change by season, month and day. This section will give you a general idea of what to expect, but it is not an official resource. Notes about closures and hours should serve as a loose guideline, and you should always double check before your trip.

Open in the Winter

  • Suomenlinna Museum
  • Military Museum (Closed Tuesdays)
  • Suomenlinna Visitor Center
  • Suomenlinna Church (Open Thursday-Saturday)
  • HAA Gallery at Jerry Barracks (Closed Mondays)
  • Dining: Suomenlinna Brewery, Viapori Deli, Cafe Silo, Bastion Bistro, Café Vanille, Linna bar, Suomenlinna Centre Café, Restaurant Adlerfelt (hours vary by location)

Closed in the Winter

  • Toy Museum (Closed October-March)
  • Submarine Vesikko (Closed October–April)
  • Ehrensvärd Museum (Closed October-April)
  • Customs Museum (Closed -May)
  • Dining: Café Samovarbar at Suomenlinna Toy Museum, Café Bar Valimo, Café Piper, Walhalla Restaurant, Pizzeria Nikolai, Lonna restaurant

Getting Around Suomenlinna — The Blue Route (Anytime of year!)

With some exceptions, Suomenlinna is a car-free zone. There is also no public transportation, bike rentals or shuttles around the island, either. Instead, Suomenlinna is best explored on foot.*

*Note: Visiting Suomenlinna may be difficult (though not impossible) for people with mobility impairments. There is an alternate route for wheeled mobility devices that avoids some major hills, but the terrain is still challenging. Read more about accessibility here.

Likewise, it’s also not ideal for strollers. If you have a young child, consider baby wearing instead. We talk through baby wearing and review our favorite carriers in this post.

To help guide the way, there’s a main walking route that passes through the most popular parts of the island, called the Blue Route. Most of the island’s main attractions that are open all year are located along the Blue Route.

Beyond that, there’s a web of other paths and walkways you can venture off and explore. These paths tend to be more rocky, narrow and/or hilly. Many of seasonal attractions are located off the blue route, along these off-shoot paths. These paths are also nice if you want to take a different route back to the main quay after walking the Blue Route to King’s Gate.

Note: If you venture off the Blue Route, there are still plenty of signs and maps along the way.

The Blue Route is marked throughout the island by blue signs. At most intersections, there’s a signpost that points to different attractions on the islands and how far away they are. The signs are (mostly) in Finnish and English. The next stop on the Blue Route is posted on a blue sign, as opposed to the standard black.

For most of the way, the Blue Route is about as wide as a 2-lane street and either paved, gravel or cobble stone. Some sections are relatively smooth, but other sections are bumpy, uneven or unpaved entirely. Likewise, some portions are flat while others are quite hilly.

The Blue Route starts at the main quay ferry stop (near the Jetty Barracks) and ends at Kings Gate. The full route is about 1 mile (1.5 km) from end to end. The Blue Route is not a loop. In order to get back to the ferry at the main quay, you must walk the route back in the other direction. The blue signs are not useful in reverse, but there is a sign for the ferry at every signpost along the route.

Suomenlinna Winter Walking Route

During the summer months, there are more reasons to veer off the main route. There are museums and restaurants scattered across the islands, people search for the best picnic spot and/or the best views, and it’s a beautiful area to explore and spend a day outdoors.

However, in the wintertime, the Blue Route is definitely the way to go. It’s the most direct route through the top sights and attractions that are open year long. The indoor locations are also great to warm up along the way. Plus, it’s the safest option for the winter terrain and weather.

The Blue Route (plus some other main roads and pathways) are regularly plowed and gritted after snowfall. Based on our experience and other blogs and reviews, the snow management on the island is usually pretty good.

That said, there are some dangers to pay attention to. First, is ice. Helsinki is cold in the winter, but it’s not uncommon for temps to pop above freezing from time to time. The melting and refreezing snow creates ice that is often hidden, patchy, or otherwise unexpected.

We did have to slide down one icy hill on our bottom. Turned out to be the highlight of our kid’s day.

The snow can also hide other dangers. There are some steep cliffs around the island, especially if you walk around the seawall artillery on the way to King’s Gate. It’s harder to see exactly where the walkways end and the cliffs begin when they’re covered in snow. The snow also easily covers up holes and rocks and other sorts of things that could potentially be dangerous.

Finally, don’t assume that all paths are in the same shape as the Blue Route. If you venture off the main route (on purpose or on accident) the paths might be more slippery or the snow might be deeper than you expect.

Overall, though, we felt safe on the Blue Route in the winter, including with a young child. We visited Suomenlinna with a 3-year-old, and we were comfortable letting them walk on their own on the Blue Route for most of the way.

When we ventured off the Blue Route along the seawall though, things were definitely different. That leg was pretty icy and also very close to the cliffs. During that portion, we kept our toddler very close and held their hand almost the entire way. We’d still recommend it (if it was safe to do so), but was definitely tougher than the blue route.

Sample Winter Suomenlinna Itinerary

  • 9 AM: Fuel up with breakfast at Old Market Hall. (Closed Sundays)
  • 10 AM: Take the Ferry to Suomenlinna. (Check the schedule in the HSL Journey Planner)
  • 10:30 AM: Head straight to the pink Jetty Barracks and get grounded at the Suomenlinna Visitor Centre. There’s a small, free museum exhibit, maps and visitor info, plus free wifi if needed. The HAA Gallery is a small art gallery in the same building.
  • 11 AM: Take a peak at Suomenlinna Church and then grab a warm drink at Café Vanille. (Note: The inside of the church is usually only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 12 – 4 PM. If you’re visiting on one of these days, consider stopping at the church again on your way back to the ferry later.)
  • 11:30 AM: Follow the Blue Route path for about a quarter mile to the Suomenlinna Museum. The building also has a gift shop, cafe, bathrooms and seating, so it’s a great pit stop even if you choose to not pay for museum entry.
  • Noon: Get an easy light lunch at Suomenlinna Centre Café or enjoy a sit-down meal at Restaurant Adlerfelt. Note: The timing on the rest of this itinerary assumes the quicker option.
  • 12:30 PM: Cross over the bridge and follow the path toward the Great Courtyard. On your way, take some time to explore the stone tunnels of the bastion on the way.
  • 1 PM: Continue on past Piper’s Park and the yellow building of Café Piper (closed during the winter). When the path splits and you see cannons along the water, you’ve reached Kustaanmiekka. If it’s safe to do so, take the path along the seawall for the most epic views.
  • 1:30 PM: That path ends back on the Blue Route and leads right to King’s Gate, where the journey ends. After King’s Gate — which was a dead end during our winter visit — turn around and follow signs toward the Military Museum and ferry.
  • 2 PM: Finally, end your visit at the Military Museum. Don’t forget to visit both buildings. (Closed on Tuesdays.)
  • 3 PM: Return to the main quay and take the ferry back to mainland Helsinki.

Read more! This day trip to Suomenlinna fits perfectly into any Helsinki itinerary. If you’re looking for more things to do in Finland’s capital, be sure to check out our complete guide and itinerary for 3 Days in Helsinki.

Tips for Visiting Suomenlinna in the Winter

  1. Split up the museums. The two museums are located close together on the blue route, but don’t do them back-to-back. Stop at one on the way out and one on the way back. That will give you a place to warm up in the middle of the Blue Route in both directions.
  2. Use the free wifi at the Suomenlinna Centre to buy your return ferry ticket. There are a few ticket kiosks at the ferry terminal on Suomenlinna, but they can be crowded. Save time and buy your ticket (Zones AB) in the app. Just be sure to see the ticket activation time to begin 15 minutes before the ferry’s scheduled departure. The free wifi here is important if you don’t have international data to buy tickets at the ferry stop.
  3. You don’t need to get there early. Most attractions on Suomenlinna open around 10 or 11 AM. During the winter, you don’t need to rush to beat the crowds. It’s much less crowded than in the summer, so you can head out at your leisure.
  4. Wear good boots. Suomenlinna in the winter requires a lot of walking outside on snow, slush and ice. Ideally, wear boots that are comfortable, warm, waterproof and have good traction. The most popular boots we saw on Suomenlinna and around Finland were the Sorel Caribou Boots.
  5. Consider crampons. We saw a ton of people with these during our visit. They aren’t necessary, but would definitely be nice to have in icy conditions. You can buy slip-on crampons on Amazon for under $20. (Note: These are typically TSA-approved for carry-on bags, but it’s at the agent’s discretion, so you might want to check them to be safe.)
  6. Pick the right day for Suomenlinna. If you’re in Helsinki for multiple days, you might have some flexibility on when you visit Suomenlinna. Pay attention to what days of the week places are open and closed. For example, the church is only open Thursday – Saturday and the Military Museum is closed on Tuesdays. Since it requires a lot of time outdoors, also prioritize good weather.
  7. Try the Glogi! During the winter months, warm up with a hot mug of Glogi. It’s the Finns’ take on mulled wine, and is often served with raisins, almonds and a gingerbread cookie. It’s available at Suomenlinna Centre Cafe.
  8. Walk the Kustaanmiekka seawall. The only time I’d recommend veering off the Blue Route — and only if it’s safe to do so — is to walk the waterfront path along the artillery and sand banks at Kustaanmiekka. The Blue Route to King’s Gate is quite boring compared to this waterfront path.
  9. Take a tour. One-hour guided tours of Suomenlinna are offered on Fridays at Saturdays at 1 PM. It’s a paid tour, and you can buy tickets online or at the Suomenlinna Museum where the tour begins. It’s a good option if you want to learn more of the history and ask questions.
  10. Highlights for kids. Suomenlinna in the winter can be tough for kids, but it’s definitely doable and can be really fun. Be sure to visit the second building of the Military Museum, which has some great interactive exhibits for kids. There’s also a small playground nearby, though it’s basically an ice rink in the winter so be very careful! Our 3-year-old also really loved the cannons, riding the ferry, and of course getting a new stuffy at the gift shop.

I hope you enjoy your visit to Suomenlinna in the winter time! I’d love to hear about your experience, and any tips you might add to this list. Let me know in the comments.