Seriously, I have a little bit mixed feelings about Åland. Indeed, the place is very beautiful, but somehow, I have managed to come back home mentally exhausted. Before visiting it, I thought that nothing can be calmer (and more boring) than the mainland Finland, but I was wrong!
Ok, here is the deal. For me and for many other foreigners, Finland is a nice and comfortable place to live and work. When we travel, we often look for something completely opposite: seas and mountain landscapes or streets full of people and good nightlife. Or, at least something more exciting than endless farmlands, forests, calm city districts with couples walking around with dogs.
I didn’t expect much of Åland, thought it would be at least as interesting as archipelago in Espoo. Well… no.
Åland is completely lifeless, only sometimes you see senior couples and families with kids passing by. At the holiday village we stayed, we saw absolutely no one. Around the islands, there seem to be not many public areas where people gather for picnics and we saw no signs of public grill places during 50 km bicycle ride.
And on top of everything, when we randomly came across a festival, the organizers told us it is going to be “heavy-metal-rock”, which in fact was just country music. (Life is probably so calm, that any loud music sounds like heavy metal to locals)
In my opinion, Åland would be good for someone, who wants even calmer weekend than in mainland Finland. Some of the friends I was traveling with actually enjoyed the trip very much.
For me, it looks like a good place to move when (if) I hit 80.
Åland, few facts
- Åland belongs to Finland, but at the same time hold the autonomy
- Åland has its own laws and own Parliament, no army
- The population speaks Swedish
- This is a tax-free zone
- The economy is dominated by shipping, tourism, farming, and trade.
Everything is average, Åland has a lot of pretty things, but, in my opinion, there is nothing exceptionally good to make it worth visiting.
You would see a little bit of farming, an old castle and some ruins, small swimming areas, and archipelago. There is absolutely nothing that an average traveler hasn’t seen and nothing that you cannot find in mainland Finland.
To be fair, I have to tell that all sights are concentrated around a small, easy to cycle territory.
The cottages are nicely built and are at a beautiful location. But following the best traditions of Finland, the customer service does not exist. The owner of the cottages did not even bother to bring the bedsheets after he told he would do, or to make sure there is enough paper in the bathroom.
5 Things to do Åland
Of course, I won’t describe every sight in detail, it would be a nightmare to explore the islands that deep.
But I will bring a general understanding about how to spend time there.
Obviously, cycling is on top of the list! Islands are advertised for terrific cycling paths, and it is something I would agree to some extent. There is almost no traffic and behind every corner, there is a new interesting view. The territory is mostly flat, which makes the cycling time quite relaxing. But don’t expect anything extraordinary, there is nothing that you cannot find in mainland Finland (but distances would be longer).
2. Next to the lake or sea
Saunas and sunsets next to a lake or sea are probably the best things of Finnish summer. Åland is not an exception. The setting sun and moonlight create colorful reflections in the waters.
3. Farms and animals
While going through the country, you notice a lot of small scenic farms. Many times, me and my friends stopped to take a closer look and take some photos. Yes, pretty cute.
4. Remains of old
It seems, that every place that has a tourist office has to make a guide with around 10-20 pages of text. They have to invent something to fill up the vacuum, so they put some small ruins, old villages, churches, etc.
In Aland, there is a castle, which is kind of interesting, but nothing special if you saw castles before. There is a church, which is same to other thousands of Lutheran churches in Finland. There is an open air museum where they brought old wooden houses, similar to ones you can find in almost any major city in Scandinavia.
5. Maritime and going by sea
Åland is related to maritime industry, but unlike Norway with its charming fishing villages, it is not easily accessible for visitors.
There few maritime museums in Åland and some kayak rent options. Fishing is also popular.
And about the cruise ships.