I’ve just returned back to mainland Finland after visiting Åland Islands, an autonomous and demilitarised region belonging to Finland. Åland is a completely Swedish speaking archipelago that has been part of Finland since 1920 after the decision made by the League of Nations (some say that this was the biggest achievement that the organisation has made). Åland is a fantastic place to bike around. The islands are quite flat, the bike lanes are in excellent condition and distances are very moderate. So hop on a bike and cycle around with me!
How to get to Åland?
The easiest way to get to Åland is to take a ferry from Helsinki or Turku to the island’s capital Mariehamn (Maarianhamina in Finnish). There are several ferry companies operating, you can compare the fares through Direct Ferries. I suggest comparing the timetables on DirectFerries and booking the trip directly through the boat companys’ (Viking Line, Silja Line or Finnlines) site for cheaper rates. If you sign up for the ferry company’s client programme, you will get further discounts. Most of these ferries continue to Stockholm but do check the current travelling restrictions during the pandemic.
Some boats are quite retro, others, like Viking Grace, are more modern. I think the best option is to take a morning boat from Turku or Helsinki so that you will arrive in Mariehamn in the afternoon. You can purchase a buffet breakfast to have on the boat. It cost 12 euros if booked in advance, and I think it was worth it and a perfect time killer. From Mariehamn harbour, it is a 15-minute walk to the small town centre.
Our biking route
When I planned my biking route, I got inspiration from an article by Kerran elämässä -blog (in Finnish only). We rented bikes through Rono Rent that have their office just outside the boat terminal. 3-gear-bikes with baskets were enough for us.
Day 1. Kastelholm castle
For the first night, we had a room at Hotel Arkipelag (126 € per night) in Mariehamn. The decoration was a bit outdated but they were just renovating some of the rooms. The location, great breakfast and indoor and outdoor pools made this a really good choice for our stay. For breakfast, they were serving local delicacies, like apple juice (Åland produces like 100 % of Finland’s apples), Åland pancakes with plum sauce and cream, and rhubarb shots! With a big brekky in my belly, it was nice to start biking towards our first destination.
Our first stop was a brewery called Stallhagen where Isak tested their beer and I had some lemon-elderflower drink. You can have your lunch here too if you are already hungry.
We didn’t have much time to rest because we had to rush to Smakby restaurant. We wanted to test their lunch (12 euros). Codfish lunch was a great quality for the money – although potatoes were a little bit watery and the second lunch option was run out. The restaurant is owned by a famous chef and tv personality Mikael, Micke, Björklund who also happens to be the winner of Swedish Robinson 2020! We actually met him while having our lunch and he was like the nicest person ever.
Smakby is located next to a stunning Kastelholm castle. We wandered around the castle yards while the sun was setting and visited the open-air museum called Jan Karlsgården. Kastelholm area has so much to see that it’s recommended to stay there overnight. We had booked a room at Kastelholm Gästhem (100 € per night) that is conveniently located just a couple of minutes from the castle or Smakby.
Day 2. To Bomarsund and beyond!
On the second day, we put on our swimmers and headed towards the Bomarsund’s ruins. French-English troops explored the fortress in 1854 and it was never repaired. You can explore the ruins for free. There is also a small summer restaurant Furulundsgården, which offers pub food and Thai dishes. Yes, an interesting combination.
Next, we went over to a tiny island of Prästö. It doesn’t have that much to see, just a tiny museum about Bomarsund (it was closed in early June). We also had a quick swim on a beach located on the island. Then, we took a ferry to a larger island of Vårdö. It had a cute little village centre with food store, church and cute mailboxes (see the article picture). I would have wanted to continue even further to Simskäla island. However, my travel companion was a bit tired, so we turned back to Kastelholm.
Day 3. Back to Mariehamn
It felt that we run out of time because already on the third day, we had to return back to Mariehamn. On the way back, we had lunch and divine carrot cakes at a cute café called Brobackan and Italian gelato at Anna & Aldo. When we arrived in Mariehamn, we had dinner at the restaurant Indigo (cool terrace!) and on the next day, we had a quick lunch at the wonderful Bagarstugan Cafe & Vin. They had cheap and really tasty-looking cakes.
Why should you visit Åland?
Åland is an interesting place with a rich history, beautiful archipelago and adventurous island-hopping possibilities. It is a combination of Finnish and Swedish culture, with a touch of their own unique traditions. The island is super safe and easily accessible by ferries from Finland and (when it’s not a global pandemic) Sweden. It has medieval castles and old ruins, cute capital and several finds for food and cake lovers. People speak Swedish and English, some of them Finnish as well.
So bring or rent a bike and explore the Åland islands!