General overview

Suomenlinna has adopted a  pragmatic approach of gradual improvements to the accessibility of the huge site. To date, the site is not fully accessible and has thus emphasised the provision of clear access information, including on access obstacles. This allows visitors to optimally plan and anticipate their visit.

Principal access interventions :

  1. information about access and its limitations
  2. access to buildings

Location :

Suomenlinna is situated on a group of islands on the Baltic sea just off Helsinki.

Description :

The 18th century maritime fortress of Suomenlinna is spread over a 200 acre (80 hectares) site situated on hilly islands. The main island is a “town within town” and is inhabited by 900 people.

Find out more :

Crédits :

The Governing Board of Suomenlinna
the names of joint copy right holders are mentioned next the photos.

Written by Marcus Weisen.


Heritage Significance and attractivity

  • a rare witness of 18th century Swedish military architecture, classed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991
  • Suomenlinna was a Russian garrison fortress town in 19th century (until 1917)
  • one of the few extensive sites which evokes the urban, historical and military atmosphere of 18th and 19th century Finland
  • 825,000 visitors a year (in a country of 5 millions inhabitants)

Access challenges

Suomenlinna has only recently transformed from a fortress to a major tourist site with modern facilities for visitors. There is a modest access to most of the public spaces. At the time of the access audit (2006‒2010), challenges included:

• sections of the pathways, totalling nearly 7 miles in length (10 km), have steep slopes
• long stretches have uneven paving (cobbles, paving stones)
• Suomenlinna is a car-free zone
• access information was unavailable


• Suomenlinna fortress has been restored and developed for visitors bit by bit over a period of 20 years. Gradual access improvements are part of this approach.
• The Governing Body of Suomenlinna commissioned an access audit from the Threshold Association, a cross-disability and human rights organisation.
• Suomenlinna did not have a strategic access plan. However, as a result of the audit and subsequent work, accessibility has been included in the current (six year) strategic plan. Accessibility improvements are planned as part of the programme of renovation of the pathways.
• Reliable and comprehensive access information has been created.
• The accessibility works undertaken appear to be an example of a pragmatic project carried out with a limited budget. As such, it may serve as an inspiration for a number of heritage sites in Europe.


Outdoor pathways

• The main visitor route, which totals 1.9 miles (3 km) in length presents many accessibility challenges, sections are in uneven cobbles and pavement stones or in sand. There are several areas with steep slopes with gradients of up to 14 %.

Accès au ferryAccessibilité aux personnes en fauteuil des passerelles d'accès au ferry

1 – The ramp at the arrival of the ferry.
2 – The accessible local public transport ferry: clear information on the accessibility of ferries from Kauppatori harbour the city centre is available on the Suomenlinna website.

Access to buildings on the wheelchair route

• There is a modest access to most of the public spaces.
• The new visitor centre built near to the main ferry stop and housed in renovated army barracks, is accessible via a ramp.
• Several accessible toilets are located in the public buildings along the visitor trail. However, some un-surmountable access obstacles remain, due to the steep nature of the landscape.

Le nouveau centre d'accueil aménagé à proximité du ferry.

3 – The main ferry stop. Behind is the new visitor centre, housed in a former army barrack.

L’entrée de l'office de tourisme avant les travaux.L’entrée de l'office de tourisme après les travaux : installation d'une rampe temporaire.

4 – The entry to the tourist office before the works.
5 – The entry to the tourist office after the works, with a temporary ramp.

Avant travaux, une marche située à l’entrée de la boutique entrave l’accès.Après travaux, la rampe permet l'accès, mais reste cependant raide (une pente dans les normes exigerait ici une intervention sur le cheminement).

6 – The museum shop before the works.
7 – After the works, the ramp provides access, but remains steep.

Information about access and its limitations

The communication of reliable and comprehensive access information, in particular for visitors with mobility difficulties is the strength of the project :

•  The website provides detailed access information, including on the accessibility of the ferries and encourages visitors with wheelchairs to be accompanied.  The realism of the photos (showing users during the visit and the uneven surfaces of the pathways) re-enforces clarity of information.
• The recommended wheelchair route of a length of 0.9 miles (1.5 km) can be downloaded from the website. This comprises challenging sections of the pathways. Information is given about the location of access difficulties (gradient, uneven surfaces).

Le plan du cheminement recommandé donne des informations précises sur l'accessibilité et les obstacles existants.Au centre d'accueil : le panneau d'information de Suomenlinna avec son plan en relief a été conçu pour tous.

8 – The map of the recommended trail provides clear information about access and access obstacles.
9 – At the visitor centre: an inclusively designed information panel with a tactile model of Suomenlinna islands (Its scale allows for detail to be shown. Its considerable height and vertical position may not be ergonomically optimal).


In this project, emphasis was on the provision of information: this needs to serve visitors and enable them to make their own choices. The project raises important question about the need for reliable, concise yet comprehensive access information.

Access improvements have been made step by step, in a less constraining legal context than e.g. in France and in the UK. Involvement with the audit process and raised awareness about inclusive design led to accessibility becoming a part of the strategic plan.

Photos : courtesy of the Board of Governors of Suomenlinna. The names of joint copyright holders is mentioned next individual photos.

Players and processes


• Client: The Governing Body of Suomenlinna
• Manager/Contractor: The Governing Body of Suomenlinna
• Experts : The Threshold Association, architect Niina Kilpelä


Suomenlinna commissioned an accessibility audit from The Threshold Association, a cross disability and human rights organisation. The audit covered mobility, seeing, hearing and easy understanding (e.g. via signage).

The Threshold Association made a series of recommendations, notably about the accessibility of pathways, the creation of accessible view points, signage, lighting, the installation of induction loops and information.

Suomenlinna used the audit as a guiding tool and put part of the recommendations into practice.

The recommendations for improved visual accessibility and hearing accessibility have not, to date, been the object of a practical implementation.  However, the new visitor centre now has a tactile model of the islands.

Pictures and maps