Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Seurasaari Island in Helsinki

Touring Helsinki in a motorhome is an experience by itself. Sightseeing in an unharried and unhurried manner is certainly viable when travelling in a campervan. Of course you need to make a list of the places you want to visit when in Helsinki and one recommended tourist site is the famous Seurasaari Island, just a few kilometres away from the city.

Seurasaari is a small island made famous by its Open-Air Museum and its nudist beach! The island is a tranquil and quiet oasis right in the heart of Helsinki. The Open-Air Museum was founded in 1909. The intention was to represent the last 400 years of Finnish way of life by the presentation of authentic houses and cottages, manors and farmsteads. The buildings were uprooted from their original locations and were transported to Seurasaari Island’s Open-Air Museum.

A midsommer bonfire in Seurasaari
Photo by Ralf Roletschek, Wikimedia Commons

The first group of structures relocated to Seurasaari Island was the Niemelä farm in Konginkangas from Central Finland. Most of the structures came from the 18th and 19th centuries and comprised mostly of wooden farm structures. The museum owes its existence to Axel Olai Hekel, a leading Finn ethnologist and vernacular architect. His mission was to collect typical buildings from different regions and provinces of Finland. Currently, there are 85 buildings in the museum the oldest of which is the 1686 Karuna Church. Very few buildings have been added in recent years as other provinces in Finland are into the preservation of their old buildings too.

The picturesque bridge from the mainland to the Seurasaari is a “must cross” One can take the bus number 24 from Lasipalatsi then cross the wooden bridge to the island or one can take a boat from the Market Square to the island. There are guides in costumes that are all part of the Open-Air Museum.

The best time to visit Seurasaari is during the summer. Plenty of tourists and Helsinkians troop to the islands to “breathe” in the peaceful rural scene. The island is teeming with wildlife as in hares and squirrels that live in the lush forests of the island. The island is at its elements during the Midsummer when a newly-wed couple is tasked to light a huge bonfire or juhannuskokko that is built on a small islet off the island. Tourists and locals alike stand side by side as they watch the crackling bonfire. Some are on Seurasaari Island and some are on boats anchored near the bonfire.

There are trails and paths that lead to two nudist beaches - one for men and one for women. There is no common nudist beach so one can stay safe “nude” in their own beaches. It is alright to swim in the nudist beach during winter months. Of course! But bear in mind that there are no saunas in the island. Only a hole in the ice to jump in! Cold!

There are restaurants, kiosks and cafés on the island should tourist have the urge to have a snack or meal. It is also alright to bring your own snacks and water. It is also alright to bring nuts to feed the squirrels.

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