Fortresses on the Water: The Heartbeat of Finland

For many American travelers, vacation is the time to multitask: the chance to indulge in relaxing experiences as well as educate themselves and their children on international happenings. And though it may not be the first choice, Finland is a great place to do just that: the country is chock-full of medieval castles and fortresses near which cultural festivals, open-air museums, millennia-old towns, modern glassworks shops, gardens, stunning forests, and extensive lakes abound.

Looking for a great way to experience all of these essential sites as well as the famous Scandinavian summer’s 24-hour sunlight? Contact us to plan a tour of Finland's castles and fortresses like those below with fascinating cultural tours and direct access to local and international history. You'll soak up plenty of the local culture and enjoy an outstanding amount of time to explore thanks to the Midnight Sun.

Suomenlinna Fortress | Helsinki

In the early 1700s, superpower Sweden (encompassing Finland) sought to rally its defenses against neighbor Russia, building both a massive fortress that would contain a naval fleet in Helsinki. Only 20 years previous, Sweden had lost its hold on Estonia, and Russia now loomed across the narrow strip of water between Helsinki and Tallinn (known as Reval, or Revel, until 1918).

The fortress was deemed Viapori Fortress, and was used off and on by the Swedes until it was surrendered to Russia in 1808. Though the Russians expanded Viapori’s borders and added a church, its importance continued to decline until World War I, after which it was given into the hands of the newly independent Finnish government and renamed Suomenlinna Fortress.

Turku Castle | Turku

At over 700 years old, Turku Castle has been everything from a palace to a prison, and its museum is currently one of Finland’s most popular tourist destinations. From 1280 A.D. on, the castle was used consecutively as a military fortress and bastion, administrative center, storehouse, church, museum, as well as living quarters for sheriffs, commanders, regents, dukes, and governor-generals. The transfers of power this single site has seen is staggering: Eastland (the original name of Finland) – Sweden/Kalmar Union (with multiple changes in between as the power struggle between Sweden and the Kalmar Union—a united nation of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway—became more and more complex) – Sweden – Russia – Finland.

Häme Castle | Hämeenlinna

Häme Castle lives up to its ghostly exterior in the picture above: an impressive medieval royal fortress built in the 13th century, this castle was still in use as a prison as recently as 1972. Now a fascinating historical monument hovering near the waters of Lake Vanajavesi with guided day tours in English (pre-booked except in June) through the structure, it stands as tribute to both its creation during the post-Crusade era and the ensuing Middle Ages.

Olavinlinna Castle | Savonlinna

A surprisingly popular spot for the local opera festival, an annual Christmas market, and the day of the saint for which the castle was named—St. Olav—Olavinlinna Castle began as the creation of Knight Erik Axelsson Tott, who wanted to protect the Savo area from Russian attacks in the mid-1400s. The castle is the source of many different local legends, including that of the innocent young daughter of the ruling lord, buried alive in its walls.

Surprised by the history Finland has to offer? There’s a lot more we can tell you about—and we’re willing to share—but as always, it’s really best if you see it yourself. Contact us today to get started on your trip to Finland!