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Table of Contents
- The Åland Islands - An Autonomous Area of Finland
- Trip to Åland from Helsinki
- How to Reach Åland?
- What to Do in the Åland Islands
- Practical Tips for the Åland Islands
- Checklist for a Successful Preparation
- Bottom Line
The Åland Islands - An Autonomous Area of Finland
The Åland Islands is an autonomous region of Finland at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea. There are less than 30,000 people living on these 6700 islands and majority of them speak Swedish as their mother tongue. The life on the islands is closer to Swedish lifestyle even though the islands officially belong to Finland.
The Åland Islands is a popular tourist destination in Northern Europe. The islands are extremely peaceful and the scenery is refreshingly beautiful and unique. Every year, more and more travellers find these fascinating islands but still, the islands are not crowded yet. Åland is not a shopping paradise instead it's a unique place to unwind and enjoy nature.
Trip to Åland from Helsinki
In July 2020, we had a trip from Helsinki to the Åland Islands and spent a day there. In this article, we give you tips how to plan a successful getaway to Åland. This itinerary has been tested ourselves so we can guarantee that you will see the best spots of the islands just in a day. If you wish to see more, you can stay a night at a hotel and explore the islands at a slower pace.
How to Reach Åland?
Our Choice: Ferry
We decided to take a ferry from Helsinki to Mariehamn, the capital of the Åland Islands. There are many daily connections between Finnish mainland and the Åland islands where many ferries within Finland-Stockholm route and vice-versa are making a stop. In the summer, cruise companies may also arrange cruising schedules just meant specifically to the Åland Islands so these ferries will stay for a day in the harbour of Mariehamn.
Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic situation, the cruise companies will plan summer schedules of 2021 quite late.
We compared ferry connections on Direct Ferries and made a booking for Viking Line's cruise from Helsinki to Mariehamn. It would have possible to make the booking also on Viking Line's own website but Direct Ferries was able to find connections of many companies simultaneously which made the comparison easier. We also noticed that the price level was surprisingly cheaper than the price offered by Viking Line's own website.
We recommend searching for an overnight ferry from Helsinki to Mariehamn in order to start exploring the islands right away in the morning. These special cruises leave from Helsinki on 30th June, 18th and 22nd July and 7th August.
The Other Option: Flying
We feel that a ferry is the best way to travel to the Åland Islands. However, if you don't like travelling by the sea, your option is to take a plane to Mariehamn. There are many daily flights from Helsinki and Turku to Mariehamn and a flight takes less than an hour.
Compare flight schedules on Skyscanner.
What to Do in the Åland Islands
By experience, we were able to see many sight seeing spots on the islands by moving with our own car and so we recommend renting a car to maximize your time. We recommend renting one from the Mariehamn Airport or from the city center.
From the harbour, you may walk to the city center where the offices of the car rental companies are located in 30 minutes. However, we recommend asking companies to bring the car to the harbour to save time. During a day trip, there is no time to waste.
Since we live in Helsinki, we took our own car with from Helsinki. You may also want to rent a car already in Helsinki to make the journey smoother. Remember to confirm from your rental company that they allow the car to be taken out from the Finnish mainland.
Read our tips how to rent a car successfully.
Not everyone likes driving during a holiday. An alternative way to explore the islands is to attend tours. You will see a little less but an arranged tour may be more relaxing for many travellers.
See what tours GetYourGuide has to offer.
We recommend heading to Kastelholm Castle in Sund municipality early in the morning. Kastelholm Castle is a Swedish-built medieval castle located approximately 25 kilometres northeast of Mariehamn, overlooking a fjord to the south of the village of Kastelholm. Kastelholm is not just a castle but in the Kastelholm area there are Prison Museum Vita Björn, Open-air Museum Jan Karlsgården and of course, cafes and restaurants. You could easily spend the whole day in the area but during a day trip, it's better to make choices and visit only the most interesting sights.
We arrived to Kastelholm area about 8:30 AM and the area was still almost empty. Unfortunately, the castle that time was not open but during this sunny day, we enjoyed exploring the beautiful outdoor areas without crowd for being early birds. If we had had a little more time, we would have absolutely tried Ålandic apple wine in a cosy cafe.
Fortress of Bomarsund
After a few hours in Kastelholm, continuing to the Fortess of Bomarsund in Sund municipality is a good choice. That is what we also did. The driving time from Kastelhom to Bomarsund was only 10 minutes. Luckily in Åland, there are no parking challenges so you can park almost everywhere fast and free of charge.
The Fortress of Bomarsund was once the most magnificent structure on the Åland islands. Now it is an open-air museum free to visit. On the other side of the bridge on Prästö Island, there is also an old pilot house, with great views of the Bomarsund area and inside you can learn about the history of the fortress.
Taffel Factory Shop
From Bomarsund, we drove a few minutes back to Taffel Factory Shop still staying in Sund. The Åland Islands is not a place for shopping but there is something you should buy: fresh potato chips. The Taffel Factory has been founded already in 1969 but currently, it is owned by Orkla. But people in Åland and Finland are still loving the Taffel brand.
We had a 30-minute shopping break in the factory shop. Unfortunately, a big bus of Estonian travellers arrived at the same time and the small shop became really crowded.
Cafe: Uffe på Berget
After we had visited three interesting sights, it was time to enjoy coffee and local sweets together with a great view to the sea. Uffe På Berget is a sightseeing cade in Finström municipality close to Taffel Factory Shop. It is located high on the rocks above the road. There is also a free sightseeing tower. This café is an absolute must-see in the Åland islands. They have awesome service and great bakeries and of course good coffee with a big bonus of the great view atop the rocks!
After having a fresh coffee in Cafe på Uffe, we had energy to continue to Eckerö. Eckerö is a small municipality in the Eastern Åland. Driving took more than 30 minutes but the route went along scenic areas.
In Eckerö, we visited three interesting spots: Eckerö Post & Customs House, Eckerö Church and Käringsunds strait.
The Eckerö Post and Custom’s House was the Russian border post to Sweden for over one hundred years. Nowadays, the house is a museum having interesting exhibitions. There is no need to see the exhibitions if you just wish to enjoy the scenic outdoor area near the house. Having a picnic on the rocks in a sunny day may be more enjoyable than the museum itself.
Käringsund is another recommend nature spot in Eckerö. In the strait, there is an idyllic guest harbour in a fishing village. You will also find a fishing and a hunting museum. It is possible to try paid activities in Käringsund Resort & Conference Hotel.
Before leaving back from Eckerö, visiting Eckerö Church is a must.
Last Stop: Mariehamn Town
After driving around the Åland Islands, it was time to return to Mariehamn, the capital of the islands south from Jomala municipality. Mariehamn is a lively summer town with great restaurants and cafes, tiny shops and many people strolling around the center. You will surely get a feeling being in a real summer town while enjoying good ice cream under the sunshine.
Before returning to the harbour or to the airport, we recommend you trying one of the best restaurants in this town. Prepare to have enough time because the service may slow during the crowded moments. The price level of the restaurants is quite expensive but you will get value for you money.
Practical Tips for the Åland Islands
Before you go, understand these practical things about the Åland Islands.
Weather in the Åland Islands
In summers, the daily temperature in Åland ranges typically between 15 and 25 degrees Celcius. The weather type in unstable: Some days are sunny and calm but rainy and windy days are not uncommon. Check the weather forecast a few days before the trip and pack the right clothes with. If you easily get sea sickness, take with you medicines for motion sickness.
Almost all the people talk Swedish as the mother tongue but people have a good command of English too. Even though the Åland Islands belong to Finland, getting customer service in Finnish language is uncommon.
If you wish to stay more than a day on the islands, there are only few ordinary hotels available. They easily get fully booked so make your reservation early. We recommend comparing prices on HotelsCombined.
For example, check these 4-star hotels in Mariehamn:
The crime rate on the islands is really low. There is no need to take any extra precautions which you would normally do while visiting top European city destinations.
Checklist for a Successful Preparation
- Compare ferry prices on Direct Ferries or flight schedules on Skyscanner. Make bookings early.
- If needed, compare hotel prices on HotelsCombined.
- Rent a car and you will see more. Read our car renting tips.
- Plan the optimal driving route by using Google Maps.
- Pack the right clothes with according to the weather forecast.
Next time when you visit Helsinki, reserve a few extra days to see the Åland Islands. Take a ferry from Helsinki to Mariehamn and explore the islands with a rental car in a day. The life in Åland differs a lot from the life in the mainland of Finland so the experience will be definitely unique.
It is also possible to continue from the islands to Stockholm by a ferry. Actually, the Åland Islands is a good stopover destination while travelling in the Nordic countries. Åland is a must-see destination especially for travellers who are nature-lovers.
Have you been to the Åland Islands? Comment below!
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For Your Next Journey
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