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Cruising Helsinki's Islands and Waters


Screenshot 2023-11-26 130453A quick map glance tells you that Helsinki, like its Swedish counter-part of Stockholm, has a lot of water and a lot of islands—over 300 of them—so a cruise through the harbor and archipelago seemed like an obvious choice.

The two-hour cruises, run by several companies, start off from the South Harbor, an area that's full of casual food kiosks, craft markets and more.


It's no longer the main commercial waterfront, but it's busy with boats of other kinds, including one of the docks for the cruise ferries that sail to other Baltic ports.


Along with the ferry, the first sights include what every city seems to need these days: a giant Ferris wheel with views over the city, modeled after the London Eye. Helsinki's SkyWheel is unique, though: One of its cabins is a VIP gondola with plush leather seats, and another is the (so it's said) world's only sauna on a Ferris wheel.


The cruise routes starts by weaving a path between the mainland and the close-in islands, with views of some large and unusual restaurants that are summer favorites. The two here are NJK on Valkosaari (saari is Finnish for island) and Saaristo restaurant on Klippan island (Saaristo means archipelago). On the land side, a tree-lined walk faces buildings that include embassies.


At other points, the shore includes park land and marinas, along with stern sea walls.


When I first saw the next scene, I thought I was looking at picnic piers, but later found they are one of thirteen carpet-washing piers around the city's waters. Families come to wash their carpets in sea water, and then hang them to dry on racks behind the piers. Mika Lappalainen

A monument to sailors lost at sea, topped with an eternally-lit lantern, is visible from the boat. It was built in 1979, and stands in a park, perhaps ironically near a luxury housing development.


Among the most significant islands of Helsinki is the group of eight called Suomenlinna. Six of the islands were fortified in 1748 by Finland's Swedish rulers as a defense against Russian ambitions. When Finland was ceded to Russia in 1809, Suomenlinna became a major Russian naval base until 1917. Finland's military turned it over to civilian use in 1973, and it's become a popular place for picnics, outings and summer homes.


The rocky shores of some of the smaller islands, many of which have no permanent residents other than birds and other wildlife, sport a variety of small structures including fishing cabins and signal huts, which provide guidance for sailing at night.


Helsinki is expanding out from its central core, building new neighborhoods in a number of places, some quite far out.


That expansion has led to a number of projects to keep the new areas linked to the city and to allow commuter traffic without a huge expansion of highways for cars. One of the key projects, if you'll pardon some lengthy words, is the Tuleva Kruunuvuorensilta that will, when finished in 2028, connect Korkeasaari and Kruunuvuorenranta. Short name: The Crown Bridges.


Construction is well underway on the bridge, which will be the longest and tallest bridge in Finland, and will carry only pedestrians, cyclists and two new city tram lines—no cars, thank you.


The tour boat passes under the bridge project twice, once under one major span, and then, coming around an island that the bridge will pass over, back under the other side.


More islets and islands above, and below, a building that was once the largest hotel in Finland, and is now a corporate headquarters building.


Heading back toward the end of the cruise, there are a variety of small craft to be seen...


And, just before reaching the pier, views of the city's two cathedrals which share an unusual link. When Russia made Helsinki the capital of Finland in 1812 and began to turn the small village into a city, Tsar Alexander I set aside 15% of the salt import tax into a fund to build the two churches, one for the Lutherans and one for the Orthodox. Both built in the mid 19th century, they stand only blocks apart.



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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