Haapasaari archipelago village has a long history

Located in the outer archipelago of Kotka, the village of Haapasaari has been an important staging point in merchant shipping, military operations, and maritime security since the 14th century. It is located along major waterways leading to Novgorod or Vehkalahti (now Hamina).

However, the various reefs surrounding the island have also been feared by seafarers, and the area has been known as the "Devil's Reefs". For this reason, pilots have permanently inhabited the island since the 16th century.

Pilotage was one of the island's main occupations

In addition to fishing, seal hunting and merchant shipping, pilotage was one of the main livelihoods for the people of Haapsaari. The role of the pilots was to guide ships through difficult passages. The chief pilot or alderman (Finnish: oltermanni), acted as leader for others.

Drawing of Haapasaari in the 1800s by landscape painter Aleksei Bogoljubov. Taken from the work Al'bom" morskih"' vidovv'" sěvernago berega Finskago zaliva (Eng. “Album of the Gulf of Finland”).

There was a large number of pilots, as all foreign ships sailing to Hamina or St. Petersburg passed through Haapasaari Island. To further aid navigation, pilots also built nautical signs and fixed beacons in the 18th century. In 1862, a grey granite fixed-beacon lighthouse was built which stood sentry like its predecessors and still dominates the landscape to this day. 

The beacon has been renovated over the years and now serves as a watchtower for the Finnish Navy and Coast Guard. It is still a central part of the island's cultural environment and an important element of the historical landscape.

Haapasaari in the horizon.

During summer, the island fills with holidaymakers

Long-term and traditional pilot activities on the island were discontinued in the 1960s. Piloting and seafaring traditions passed from down through generations was lost. Gradually, permanent inhabitants moved away and now the island is home to only a few people throughout the year. On weekends and especially in summer, the island is filled with residents and holidaymakers.

The island's general historical look has been well preserved, and the old atmosphere and maritime livelihoods are still perceptible. The oldest houses date back to the 18th century. They form a dense and maze-like village community when combined with newer buildings. The stone-walled yards are small and patchy, while the beaches are lined with atmospheric boat sheds, piers, and beach fences.

Haapasaari is a wonderful destination for a day trip, featuring  a small shop, a kiosk, and a museum presenting the island’s history. For those interested in archaeology, three possible sacrificial stones can also be found. In addition, there are many wrecks in the rocky waters around the island. More information on wrecks can be found from the cultural environment service window of the Finnish Heritage Agency.

Read more in the webpage of the Haapasaari Society (in finnish)

Why and how is this location protected?

Haapasaari is a well-preserved example of the constructed environment created by piloting and fishing activities in the eastern Gulf of Finland. Therefore, it has been defined in its entirety as a nationally constructed cultural environment. Read more about the protection!

The island’s old wooden church is a listed building protected under separate church law. Wooden church in the building heritage register.

The island is also a nationally valuable landscape area and belongs to the eastern Gulf of Finland National Park. 


Haapasaari is easily accessible by year-round ferry from Kotka. The journey takes about two and a half hours.

Ferry schedules.

Finnish Heritage Agency's mapservice

N: 6683527, E: 510683 (ETRS-TM35FIN)