Åland – a weekend on a Scandinavian island
Where it is and how to get there:
The Åland-islands are more than 6500 mostly small, little tiny (or better: bits of pieces of land) islands, but also some which are bigger in size. They are located in the Baltic sea and belong to Finland. But being Finnish does not automatically conclude in the residents speaking Finnish since they speak and use Swedish as their main language. Anyway, it is really easy to communicate in English too. The Islands are reachable by ferries which are operating twice a day from both Sweden (Stockholm) and Finland (Turku) stopping at the harbour in Mariehamn, the capital of Åland. Even though Scandinavia is expensive, the prices for the ferry are (depending on the season) as low as a pair of socks. (When I mean the price of a pair of socks, I mean a pair bought in Scandinavia and not in Asia!). Mariehamn is with approximately 12000 people the place with the highest population on the islands. It seems like their motto “Island of Peace” is the right one chosen here.
Places to stay:
There are, of course, some hotels or guesthouses for different budgets and different standards. But as I already mentioned, Scandinavia is expensive and so are little islands somewhere in the sea, wherefore finding an affordable place as a student made me look further. And as easy as it is, also people on islands offer Couchsurfing! I definitely recommend this to everybody, since nothing makes it easier to meet the locals. They can give you a lot of useful tips and you probably get to know and see some places which you would not even have thought about otherwise.
If you like camping it is good to know the islands offer small or bigger places to camp for a variating price range depending on the facilities offered. But of course, this is not an option in the middle of winter.
How to get around:
Keep in mind that the Åland-islands are not as touristic as some other places and also have an off-season which is mainly between early October and late April. If you like nature and simple villages, this is definitely a place for you to go. Whether you just want to have a weekend off or do some sightseeing, you should better plan a little bit before booking your ferry.
You might want to rent a bike to get around, which is easily possible by renting one in Mariehamn and enjoy the flat roads. If you want to go to some places further away you are probably better off taking the bus, but be prepared that there is an odd schedule on weekends (if at all) and it is better to go on weekdays. The schedule varies also depending on the season, which is simple to explain: Not all tourist attractions are open and accessible at every time a year wherefore the demand of busses is limited in the off-season. If you still want to go there outside of the summertime, you have the possibility to rent or even bring a car (which makes the ferry as expensive as a pair of converse). Going by car is probably the easiest way to explore more of the islands in a short time. There are little bridges and small, mainly uncharged ferries around the islands which bring you from one island to the next island in often less than 10 minutes. Of course, if you consider going around by car you have to keep in mind that the ferry schedule might vary and some islands are not accessible at all at specific times.
Where to go and what to do:
Åland has some beautiful places and the sea all around. If you end up going there in Winter, you are probably lucky enough to enjoy white sceneries and frozen lakes while drinking a warm drink in a cosy café – a perfect time without any stress to just have some days for yourself. In If you rather have some more things to do, you are better off going between May and September because you have access to more attractions like museums, but also outside activities like kayaking or water sports. The bus schedule is also much more convenient at that time. In summer, not only tourists but also the locals are most excited about Midsummer which is a tradition in a lot of north-European countries to celebrate the long daytime and make the best out of it.
Some attractions around Åland
Mariehamn – the capital
Even though this little place is called the capital, it appears just a little village with some lovely small shops and cafés and some pubs to offer. There is also one nightclub which is open at least once on weekends. Since basically everything on Åland is located close to the sea, you have some nice views over the harbour, little ships and boats and see the one and other person fishing.
This castle around 25km away from Mariehamn and built in the 14th century. Opening times of the museum inside the castle are from May to mid-September but you can still walk around it and take some pictures even if you are not there in the right season.
Ruins of Bormasund
Close to Kastelholms Slott you can find the ruins from Bormasund. Russia started building Bormasund at the end of 1800 but have not been able to finish before the war. You can experience Bormasund any time a year by taking a walk or just driving along the debris.
In general, the Åland-Islands are kept natural and idyllic what makes them really attractive no matter what time of year it is. You can see small red cottages all over the islands and even though summertime has more activities to offer, it should not stop you from experiencing it at other times of the year. The scenery will change with the season and will be beautiful in different ways. There is also always the possibility to just stop by for a couple of hours on a day cruise from either Turku or Stockholm.
More information can be found on the website provided by Åland: VisitAland.