Picture: Jussi Hellstén / Visit Finland
The area immediately to the south of the city itself is littered with small islets, many of which have scheduled boat connections in the summer months.
One of the most interesting is Harakka (“Magpie”), a birdwatchers’ paradise just a few dozen metres from the quay known as Merisatama.
Numerous artists’ studios here also guarantee that Harakka offers interesting, often avant-gardist exhibitions and events around the year.
Boats to Harakka leave from Ullanlinna near the Café Ursula.
The newest island attraction in Helsinki is Vallisaari, a former military island that has opened to visitors recently.
The enchanting island has beautiful fortifications and wild nature with the richest range of species in the Helsinki metropolitan area.
The island can be reached by waterbus from the Market Square during the summer season.
Another newcomer is Lonna that opened to visitors a few years ago. The small island has a restaurant, café and waffle bar where you can even buy a ready-packed picnic basket.
Pihlajasaari is one of the most popular islands. It has an official nude beach, and free camping at weekends. Boats to Pihlajasaari leave from Eira, near the Café Carusel.
In the summer it is possible to eat out in Helsinki well away from the city noise and exhaust fumes on several island restaurants.
One of the best known is Saaristo in a lovely wooden villa on a small island right next to the Kaivopuisto Park and the Olympia Terminal, where the large white Silja Line ferries tie up.
It is only a short boat ride away from the Olympia Terminal.
Särkänlinna (on the little islet known as Särkkä) is housed in an old arms store that can accommodate 120 people.
Don’t be alarmed here if the floor of the restaurant dining room seems to be sloping towards the kitchen.
The effect is a memory from the previous use of the building: the floor was built on a slight continuous slope so that cannon balls could easily be rolled from the store to the guns.
Close by this popular restaurant you can also find Uunisaari (literally “Oven Island”), which is known for its beach and its saunas.
Here, too, there is a pleasant restaurant with a busy terrace.
The Merisatama quay also offers a boat-hop of a few minutes to Sirpalesaari, where there is a summer restaurant, Saari.
This place is highly popular in the late summer when the crayfish season is in full swing. Merisatama is, by the way, also the boarding point for trips to the city-owned beach islands of Pihlajasaari, located a couple of kilometres offshore.
There is a camping area on the islands, and a unisex nudist beach.
Swinging back towards the South Harbour, the yacht club NJK has a restaurant on the island of Valkosaari, right in the heart of the harbour.
The large panorama windows of the building, which dates from 1900, provide a dazzling view of the Market Square and the passenger vessels coming in and out of the harbour.