With over 6700 islands, Åland is a special piece of Finland. It's famous for being a much-loved summer resort for us Scandinavians, but why would you visit when it's grey, cold and winter?
Find out in this travel guide!
Tucked between Finland and Sweden, in the very heart of the Baltic Sea, is The Åland Islands. At first glance, there's not much to do in Åland during the winter. There are no tourists as far as the eye can see, and a lot of cafés and popular places are closed for the season.
At a closer look, you can discover how charming Åland really can be – even in the dead of winter. You can explore scenic views like rustic boathouses and a medieval castle with no one in sight, go winter kayaking in the archipelago, ‘fika' with friendly locals, relax in an outdoor jacuzzi or take a dip in a hole in the ice. Or just enjoy the crisp winter air.
Winter in Åland is peaceful and relaxing.
Facts about the Åland Islands
Number of islands: 6 700
Population: 29 000
Currency: Euro (€)
1. It's cheap getting to the Åland Islands
If you are in Scandinavia already, getting to the Åland Islands is a bargain. It's not uncommon that it's cheaper traveling to the Åland Islands than traveling with the metro in Stockholm. You can easily find a round-trip ferry ticket for less than 10€ to Åland.
There are several different ferry routes from various countries including Sweden, Estonia, and Finland. The shortest route leaves from Stockholm with Eckerö Line and takes less than two hours.
You can also fly to the capital Mariehamn, but taking the ferry is a lot cheaper and also an experience in itself as you will pass by majestic coastlines and stunning islands on the way. You can also enjoy good food and entertainment onboard.
2. Kastelholm Castle
Kastelholm Castle in Sund is one of the top attractions in Åland. It's a medieval castle, built in the 14th century. Many kings, royals, and nobles have spent time here, among them the Swedish king Gustav Vasa.
This castle was once in the middle of the Kingdom of Sweden where the Swedish ruler Gustav Vasa, among other kings, spent their time.
Even though the castle museum is only open from May until the middle of September, it's worth going here just to see the castle from the outside and take some great Instagram photos or shots for your photo album. The surrounding fjord area is really beautiful.
If you really want to see the museum you can book a private visit outside of the season for an extra fee.
3. Try Curling in Eckerö
In the beautiful Eckerö in Åland, you can try out curling at Åland Curling Center.
It doesn't matter if you are a beginner or Olympic medalist, everyone is welcome here.
In the trying out package (from 20 €/per person), you get to play and sweep the floor for two hours with an instructor close at hands. You just need to put on your curling shoes, the helmet and hit the ice.
4. Enjoy the idyllic views in Käringsund
Käringsund is an idyllic archipelago village in Eckerö and it's probably one of the most picturesque places in the Åland Islands. Here, the Baltic Sea is lined with around fifty rustic boathouses, reminiscing of a time when fishing was a vital part of Åland.
This is also the location where many scenes from Astrid Lingren's “Seacrow Island” TV series was recorded in the 1960s.
I can only imagine how charming and wonderful this place must be during summer when you can go swimming, buy ice cream, enjoy the beach and sun here.
But it's worth visiting Käringsund even a cold winter day. Especially if you like taking photos. There are so many photogenic places here.
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5. Learn about Åland's History at the Cultural History Museum
At the Cultural History Museum, you can learn all about Åland's history and how people have lived here for several centuries. You will find out how Åland prevented a war between Sweden and Finland and many other fascinating facts from Åland's 7500 years of history.
It's a well-presented museum.
6. Visit the Åland Islands Art Museum
Under the same roof as the Cultural History Museum is Åland Islands Art Museum. The admission fee includes entrance for both museums so it's definitely worth checking out both.
I often think it can be boring to visit art museums, but the Åland Islands Art Museum is probably one of the most interesting I've visited. It's not big, but the small art exhibition features local artists and pop-up exhibitions in an innovative way.
You might, for example, be able to smell artworks to remember them better or take your own artsy photos in a kaleidoscope.
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7. Try Some Fun Winter Activities
With its wide open spaces, narrow coves and lakes, Åland offers several scenic winter adventures.
If the ice is thick enough, the landscape is perfectly made for long-distance skating. If you do not have your own equipment, you can rent it in Åland and also get help from a guide who can arrange everything from equipment to lunch pack.
Some other fun winter activities include skiing, winter kayaking, parasailing, kite racing, ice bathing, hiking, and mountain biking. Åland is very bike-friendly as roads, ferries and, bridges connect the islands.
If you would rather spend time indoors, there's adventure bathing, bowling, spa and fitness facilities in Mariehamn.
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8. See the View from Café Uffe på Berget
Café Uffe på Berget is one of Åland's most known and visited summer cafés.
When the sun is shining, you can enjoy everything from Åland pancake and ice cream to a cold crafted beer to the beautiful view of the bay.
Just next to the café is the 30-meter (98 feet) high viewing tower, Höga C, which offers Åland's best views. Sounds great, huh?
Unfortunately, in winter, both the café and tower is closed, but the beautiful view from Café Uffe på Berget still remains. Bring some hot chocolate, cinnamon buns, and sit pad and enjoy a ‘fika' with a view.
FOOD & DRINKS ON THE ÅLAND ISLANDS
9. Dine at PubStallhagen
In the middle of Åland, in Grelsby, is Stallhagen, a microbrewery serving high-quality craft beers.
In the same building as the brewery is Stallhagen's own restaurant, PubStallhagen. This award-winning gastropub is not to be missed! They serve traditional home cooked food made with locally produced ingredients. And it tastes so amazing!
I ate here three times, on three different occasions, and each meal was just perfect. You can see through a glass window as the chefs prepare your meal and just enjoy the cozy surrounding while you sip a handmade slow beer.
It's almost worth traveling to Åland just to eat at PubStallhagen.
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10. Taste Åland Islands gourmet delights
Åland boasts with some fantastic dishes and products like gourmet butter, prizewinning cheeses, lemonade, craft beer, fish soup, and ‘hemvetebröd' (black bread). Take the opportunity to taste the local gourmet delights and buy some treats to take home.
You can also experience Åland's countryside by visiting different farms. Taste local products and meet the farmers in their own environment.
We headed to Mattas gårdsmejeri in Finby to visit the couple Jennifer and Lars-Johan who run the family business. Matta's farm has been in Jennifer's family for over 200 years.
Today, they make everything from their own ice cream and diced salad cheese to cream cheese and farm yogurt.
Say hello to the cows and shop the farm's organic dairy products in their own shop.
11. Enjoy a coffee at Baka! Bageri & Konditori
After being out in the winter cold, there's hardly anything better than taking refuge in a cozy café for a cup of coffee (or for a ‘fika' as we say in Swedish).
The little pastry shop and bakery BAKA! is located right next to Kastelholms Castle and offers everything from freshly baked Åland bread to tasty sandwiches, organic coffee, and cute pastries.
12. Fine dining at Kvarter5 in Mariehamn
A fancy dinner or lunch tip in the capital Mariehamn is Kvarter5. The menu is based on Nordic flavors with seasonal local ingredients.
On the menu, you can find everything from house burger with truffle mayonnaise and savoy cabbage rolls to a cauliflower soup.
Check out Kvarter5's homepage to see what's on the menu.
Find more restaurants in Mariehamn
WHERE TO STAY IN ÅLAND
If you want to stay in Åland, a good starting point is to check out hotels in the capital Mariehamn. If you want to indulge, the place to be is the resort Havsvidden in Northern Åland. Here you can check into a modern cliff house, relax in an outdoor jacuzzi and enjoy the sauna.
We checked in at the cozy Pensionat Stalldalen in Godby, which is about a 20-minute drive from Mariehamn. If you're looking for an outdoorsy getaway, this a great place to be. Stalldalen can serve you many winter activities.
You can, for example, go long-distance skating on lake Långsjön (which is just outside the window), go hiking, cycling or cross-country skiing into the surrounding woods. Worth mentioning, the gastropub Stallhagen is just a stone's throw away.
Rent a private island
Did you know that you can rent your own private island in Åland? It probably doesn't feel as attractive during the winter months as it does during the summer, but the opportunity exists! There are 6700 official islands, so you can just pick and choose.
At Visit Ålands website you can search for an island to rent.
In short, it's definitely worth traveling to Åland even during the off-season. It's especially perfect if you want to enjoy a truly peaceful and quiet getaway without any stress.
Life in Åland is wonderfully relaxed.