There are so many hidden gems in the world that most people aren’t aware of–Åland, Finland is one of those places. And I can’t wait to tell you about our time there.
I have learned to be careful when using the word vacation when talking about our trips as a family. This simple change in the verbiage has helped me set the right expectations in various locations.
However, repeatedly, we choose to go on these trips for a variety of reasons. I think I have found one equation that makes family trips with young kids optimal.
Are you ready for it?
There is a good chance most people are not aware of this cluster of islands as it is a small archipelago about halfway between Finland and Sweden.
So what is there to do?
Because of the size of the archipelago, you have the flexibility to see almost everything within few days if you are willing to drive, or you can concentrate on one side of it and still see a lot.
We didn’t want to spend all of our time in the car as we love being and roaming outside. So we chose to do one bigger activity each day, but not try to see it all.
You will arrive in Mariehamn whether you are coming from Finland or Sweden. We stayed in Geta and visited Eckerö, Mariehamn and Sund on our day trips.
We rented a house that was surrounded by a forest and about 200 feet from the beach. It gave the kids built-in entertainment just outside the front door.
This is how I picture childhood play; sticks, rocks, wandering through the woods and climbing on boulders for hours. We also had access to a canoe, which was fun for the kids.
2. Kastelhomn Castle
On our second day there, we visited the Kastelhomn Castle, built in the 1300s while Finland was under Swedish rule. There was a treasure hunt for kids within the castle, dress-up clothes and extraordinary staircases and dungeons to explore.
And due to the size of the castle, it was very manageable for the kids to walk through it all. It does not have the “wow effect” that castles in some other European countries have, but we enjoyed being immersed in the history of it.
Entrance fees were very reasonable:
- Adults – €6
- Children 7-17 years old – €4.50
- Seniors& students €4.50
Next to the castle is an open-air museum with twenty buildings that give you an idea of farm life in Åland in the 1800s. We could go in and out of the buildings, which was fascinating for everyone and enjoyable for the kids.
The open-air museum was free. I love free activities while travelling.
If you find yourself there during Christmas time, you can visit Åland’s largest Christmas market on the first weekend of December.
3. Old Churches and the Country Side
We spent our Sunday driving around the island, visiting different old churches, and enjoying the picturesque countryside. We listened to the Les Miserables soundtrack and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.
These wooden windmills just made my day. They were all over the island.
4. Bomarsund Fortress
I would visit the Bomarsund Fortress. It was built by the Russians in 1809 when Åland belonged to Russia. And then destroyed by the English and French forces during the Crimean war. For those who want to learn more about the history, you can find it here.
It was a glorious sunny day, and the kids can run around and climb on the ruins of the fortress.
5. Maritime Museum
Out of the multiple museums on the island, we chose to visit the Maritime Museum in Mariehamn. It was the right size for anyone to walk around and stay engaged. Also, it was not crowded while we were there, which was a huge plus. Is it just me, or does it frustrate you when you try to experience something new and get elbowed as you move from exhibit to exhibit?
Also, the prices were excellent: adults’ pass costs €10, and kids’ pass costs (7-17) €6. In addition, you get a second visit for free. So if you didn’t get to spend enough time there, you could go back the next day.
You were also able to visit The Pommar, the only four-masted merchant sailing ship in the world still in its original state. Of course, you probably wouldn’t go out of your way to find a four-masted merchant sailing ship, but it is pretty cool to have visited one. And I am glad that I was not a sailor during that time.
6. Degersand Beach
We drove to a Degersand, Eckerö, a long and shallow beach in a lovely bay on our last day. Unfortunately, we were there a bit offseason, so the water wasn’t super warm. However, you can still have a blast playing on the beach and splashing in the water. The plus side was that we were the only people there, except for one older couple who were happy to see us playing on the beach.
There was a camping ground right by the beach, so you could even camp there if you chose to go that route for your visit.
I would wholeheartedly recommend Åland as a place to visit. And you might even want to make it an epic adventure. You can do more possible activities; you just need to be creative enough to find ones that you and your family will truly enjoy.