The Åland Islands: A Unique Experience
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Covered in the Article
- The Åland Islands - An Autonomous Area of Finland
- How to Get to the Åland Islands?
- Touring on the Åland Islands
- Things to See on the Åland Islands
- Practical Information about Åland
- Successful Trip to Åland
- 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. Less than 30,000 people live on these 6700 islands and the majority of them speak Swedish as their mother tongue. life on the islands is closer to the 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.
Our 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 on how to plan a successful getaway to Åland. Because this itinerary has been tested ourselves, 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 Get to the Åland Islands?
Ferry to Åland
We decided to take a ferry from Helsinki to Mariehamn, the capital of the Åland Islands. There are many daily connections between the Finnish mainland and the Åland islands where many ferries within the Finland-Stockholm route and vice-versa are making a stop. In summer, cruise companies may also arrange special schedules just meant for the Åland Islands so these ferries will stay for a day in the harbour of Mariehamn.
We compared ferry connections on Direct Ferries and made a booking for Viking Line's cruise from Helsinki to Mariehamn. It would have been possible to make the booking also on Viking Line's 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 website.
We feel that a ferry is the best way to travel to the Åland Islands. However, if you don't like travelling by sea, your other 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. It is possible to fly to Mariehamn also from Stockholm.
Touring on the Åland Islands
By experience, we were able to see many sightseeing spots on the islands by moving by our car and so we recommend hiring a car to maximize your time. You can hire one from the Mariehamn Airport or the city centre. If you arrive by ferry, you may walk to the city centre in 30 minutes where the offices of the car rental companies are located. 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 car with us already from Helsinki. You may also want to rent a car 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 tip how to hire 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.
Things to See on the Åland Islands
We were only 1 day on the island so we had planned our driving route carefully. Our driving started from the Mariehamn harbour and ended also at the harbour.
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 in the Kastelholm area at about 8:30 am and the area was still almost empty. Unfortunately, the castle was not open but on 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 tried Ålandic apple wine in a cosy cafe.
Fortress of Bomarsund
After a few hours in Kastelholm, continuing to the Fortress 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 pilothouse, 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 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 of the sea. Uffe På Berget is a sightseeing cafe 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 the energy to continue to Eckerö. Eckerö is a small municipality in 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 on a sunny day may be more enjoyable than the museum itself.
Käringsund is another recommended nature spot in Eckerö. In the strait, there is an idyllic guest harbour in a fishing village. You will also find fishing and a hunting museum. It is possible to try paid activities at 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 of Jomala municipality. Mariehamn is a lively summer town with great restaurants and cafes, tiny shops and many people strolling around the centre. You will surely get a feeling of being in a real summer town while enjoying good ice cream in the sunshine.
Before returning to the harbour or the airport, we recommend trying one of the best restaurants in this town. Prepare to have enough time because the service may slow during crowded moments. The price level of the restaurants is quite expensive but you will get value for your money.
Practical Information about Åland
Before you go, understand these practical things about the Åland Islands.
In summers, the daily temperature in Åland ranges typically between 15 and 25 degrees Celcius. The weather type is 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. If you easily get seasick, take with your medicines for motion sickness.
Almost all people talk Swedish as their mother tongue but people have a good command of English too. Even though the Åland Islands belong to Finland, getting customer service in the Finnish language is uncommon.
For people who wish to stay more than a day on the islands, there are a few hotels available. The hotels get easily fully booked so make your reservation early. We recommend comparing prices on Booking.com. The hotels in Åland are slightly more expensive than hotels on the mainland of Finland.
The centre of Mariehamn is small and all the best hotels lie close to each other in the city centre. Everything in Mariehamn can be reached by walking so the exact location isn't a differentiating factor. If you drive, make sure your choice has a parking place.
According to our knowledge, there are only four 4-star hotels in Mariehamn. Hotel Pommern is one on the most well-known having a good reputation. Hotel Savoy is another good option close to Pommern. Hotel Park Ålandia has excellent reviews from previous guests while Hotel Arkipelag looks romantic in the photos. We can't say which of these hotels is the best so we recommend checking them out on Booking.com.
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.
Successful Trip to Åland
Based on our experiences, we created a checklist how to make a successful trip to the Åland Islands.
First, compare ferry prices on Direct Ferries or flight schedules on Skyscanner. Book early to save money. If needed, compare also hotel prices on Booking.com.
Hire a car to see more, because there is no working public transport system in Åland. Read our car hiring tips. Plan an optimal driving route by using Google Maps.
Finally, remember to pack the right clothes according to the weather forecast.
- Does Åland belong to Finland?
- Yes, the Åland Islands are an autonomous area of Finland.
- Does Åland belong to Sweden?
- No, but people speak mainly Swedish on the islands.
- What is the currency of the Åland Islands?
- How to get to the Åland Islands?
- You can fly to Mariehamn or take a ferry from Sweden, Estonia or Finland to the Åland Islands.
- What languages do people speak in the Åland Islands?
- People speak mainly Swedish. English is also widely spoken and some people speak Finnish too.
- Is it expensive on the Åland Islands?
- We would not say that it is expensive on the islands but it is not cheap either.
- Are roads in good condition on the Åland Islands?
- Yes, the roads are in really good condition.
- What kind of visa do I need to visit the Åland Islands?
- You need a valid ID/passport/visa to enter the Schengen area.
Next time 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. Life in Åland differs a lot from living in the mainland of Finland so the experience will be unique.
It is also possible to continue from the islands to Stockholm by ferry. 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!