Suomenlinna Fortress

Helsinki is surrounded by the islands of its archipelago, and pleasant summer days can be spent on the ferries and excursion boats that run between them (mostly leaving from the Market Square).

One favourite excursion goes to Suomenlinna ('Castle of Finland'), a vast fortress that sprawls across a cluster of eight small islands to the south-east of Helsinki, at the end of a 15-minute ferry-boat journey. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Suomenlinna was the largest military installation built by the Swedes to protect their eastern empire from the Russians. Dating from the 1740s, it had Vauban-style, star-shaped ramparts among its 8km (5 miles) of walls, plus a huge shipyard, barracks and arsenals.

Its military record, however, was less than glorious: when first under threat in 1808, it quickly capitulated, and Finland fell to the Russians. This history has however meant that Suomenlinna is largely intact. It is more than just a fortress: it has several military museums, plus restaurants and cafés, and is a popular picnicking spot. It is also a residential area with 900 inhabitants, with a still-active shipyard, an artists' colony, and an entertainment centre famed for its avant-garde theatre and concerts.

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