Compared to many European capital cities, Helsinki is manageable in size and it’s surrounded by nature. Finland is covered to 70% by forest and if you are visiting Helsinki, a great way to get a glimpse of that is to take one of the sightseeing trips by boat! Within a few minutes of leaving the harbor at the heart of the city, you’ll start to see islands covered in trees.
Our open top boat makes its way out of the busy harbor, past the large ferries and cruise ships, and towards the many islands surrounding Helsinki. I had expected the fortress of Suomenlinna to be one of the highlights of the trip, but it turned out to be the peace and quiet ride after that was eye opening! It’s amazing how quickly we are among the many islands covered in trees, with rocky beaches. Weekend houses and the Finn’s beloved sauna houses dot the shoreline, hidden among the trees. You can have a nature getaway within 15 minutes or so from downtown Helsinki, and many of the locals seem to take advantage of that! From city-owned recreational areas to old-style, wooden cottages to massive, stone & glass villas, there is a weekend getaway at every budget. People are enjoying the great summer weather in kayaks, sailboats and small motor boats. We have to slow down a few times to make our way through narrow canals and under bridges and that’s ok. Nobody is in a hurry and the boat ride makes for a very relaxing and peaceful exploration of the green islands that differentiate Helsinki from other capitals!
The tourist boats leave from the harbor at Market Square, across from the city hall. There are similar tours offered by different operators. I took Gray Line, which was part of the Helsinki Card package. The tour takes about 1 ½ hours and leaves multiple times a day, starting at 10:30 in the morning. Tickets are available at the pier or before departure at the boar and are EUR24 per adult, EUR12 for children. The boat has indoor and outdoor seating and a cafe with drinks and snacks on board. The tour is guided in Finnish, English, German and Russian via loudspeaker and written information is available in a number of other languages. If you plan to take photos, I’d recommend to sit on the right side of the boat – the boat is making a loop counterclockwise and the best sights are on that side. It is very relaxing – I went on the first boat in the morning as a relaxed start into my trip, but it would be equally nice to rest your legs on the boat after walking around Helsinki for a while… enjoy the trip!