The Archipelago Sea (Finnish Saaristomeri, Swedish Skärgårdshavet) is the part of the Baltic Sea between the main islands of Åland and the Finnish mainland. It is one of the largest archipelagos in the world, by count of islands and islets, with the biggest islands being some ten to twenty kilometres across, some of the inhabited islands less than a kilometre, and thousands of skerries. It lies in Finland Proper more or less between Uusikaupunki in the north and Salo and Hanko in the east.
The nature varies from sea-washed rocks and skerries with bushes creeping by the rock to survive the harsh conditions in the less sheltered regions, through lush vegetation in the inner parts of somewhat bigger islands, to countryside like that in the mainland in the biggest islands. The flora and microfauna is varied even on smaller skerries, as rocks and cracks in the rock give shelter and create small ponds. Also bird life is rich.
The Åland archipelago partly (by some definitions entirely) belongs to the Archipelago Sea. Much of the general description applies, but Åland is not described below.
Most of the Archipelago Sea described below is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Archipelago Sea National Park is in the outer archipelago south of the main islands of Pargas, Nagu and Korpo.
There are several municipalities in the region, formerly more than a dozen. Their centres provide services and each has sights of interest (there are "city" articles on some of them). The administrative division does not correspond to different characteristics, as those vary more by size of individual islands and island groups, and distance to population centres. The administrative borders do count for medical care and such.
- 1 Turku (Swedish: Åbo) by the mouth of Aura River is the main town in the area, former capital of Finland. Good connections to everywhere.
- 2 Kimitoön (Finnish: Kemiönsaari) in the south-east consists of a big coastal island and the archipelagos around it (including former municipalities of Kimito, Västanfjärd and Dragsfjärd). The centre is the rural village Kimito, but the most town-like place is the industrial Dalsbruk.
- 3 Kustavi (Swedish: Gustavs) is a Finnish-speaking municipality in the north, bordering the Bothnian Sea.
- 4 Masku (Swedish: Masko) and 5 Taivassalo (Swedish: Tövsala) by the coast in the north are Finnish-speaking mainly rural municipalities.
- 6 Naantali (Swedish: Nådendal, Latin: Vallis Gratiæ) in the north-east, with the town itself on the mainland. The town has a well-preserved wooden old town, the former convent church, the Moomin world, and the main port besides Turku. Most of the Finnish speaking archipelago (former municipalities Merimasku, 7 Rymättylä (Rimito) and Velkua) belongs to Naantali. There is a roro (car) ferry connection to Kapellskär in Sweden.
- Pargas (Finnish: Parainen) consisting of former 8 Pargas, 9 Nagu, 10 Korpo, 11 Houtskär and 12 Iniö municipalities. The centre of Pargas is the only real (although small) town not on the mainland. The town has a tradition of regarding itself the capital of the archipelago (or its south-western parts). Much of the central and most of the outer archipelago and thus most of the Archipelago Sea National Park belongs to Pargas.
Archipelago Sea National Park
The Archipelago National Park covers most of the archipelago south of the main islands of Pargas, Nagu and Korpo with its "interest area". State owned land in the area mostly belongs to the park proper, but there is cooperation with the inhabitants, so the distinction is of little importance for visitors. Much of the description of remote islands and outer archipelago is about this area. The park is part of the PAN Parks network and forms the core area of the Unesco Biosphere Reserve.
On some of the islands (partly or in whole) belonging to the park there is limited service, such as nature trails, tent sites, campfire places and toilets.
There are limitations to the right to access in parts of the national park, even entry totally forbidden in one remote area and to several bird islands in the season. Care should be taken also in many non-protected areas, not to disturb nesting and out of consideration for locals.
- Nature trails on many island (some reachable by ferry, most only by boat; many businesses offer boat taxi service)
- Underwater nature trail at Stora Hästö, 60° 04,4' N 21° 32,4' E, 5 km south-west from Korpoström: two routes, one that can be followed snorkeling or just by swimming goggles, the other one for divers, with the deepest information board at 10 m. There is also a campsite, campfire site and traditional nature trail on the island.
Minor islands of interest
Many islands are worth visiting, but some of the most famous are described below. There are guest harbours on all of these, but on Bengtskär. Some have full service, some only provide a jetty. Listings roughly from north to south:
- 13 Själö (Finnish: Seili) is a lush island near Nagu Kyrkbacken, with a former lepra hospital, later mental hospital, now a biological research station. Famous for its history. A wooden church remains. The ferry m/s Östern between Nagu Kyrkbacken and Hanka in Rymättylä calls at the island, as part of the "little archipelago ring road", as do m/s Falkö[dead link], on the "Nagu northern route" from Kyrkbacken to Själö, Innamo and northern islands of Korpo, and m/s Norrskär from Turku to Kyrkbacken or farther to Gullkrona.
- 14 Jungfruskär is a lush island in the outer archipelago of Houtskär, quite near the fairways from Mariehamn, with an abundance of species. At its heyday the island group had even their own school, but the last permanent inhabitant left in 1983 and the island served as navy fortress until 1999. The meadows are managed to keep their traditional, quite peculiar character (twigs were used as winter fodder and the trees mended for easier harvest).
- 15 Gullkrona is a small island with a pilot museum. The guest harbour was very popular until it was closed after 2008 and has now been reopened with a new owner, who tries to be true to that time, but also develop it in a child friendly fashion, and use paid staff.
- 16 Berghamn was once an important fishermen and maritime pilot community, nowadays home to just a few people. There is an Archipelago National Park information hut and a camping site with dry toilet and fireplace. The ferry m/s Baldur from Pärnäs (in Nagu) to Utö calls at the island a few times a week. The island is also on a route of the minor vessel m/s Cheri. Both vessels visit Berghamn only if pre-ordered to do so, and you probably won't be able to return the same day.
- 17 Nötö was traditionally the central village in the archipelago south of the Nagu and Korpo main islands.There is a wooden chapel from the 18th century, a café and a shop on the island. The ferry m/s Baldur from Pärnäs to Utö calls at the island (you may not be able to return the same day). Taxi boat from or to Pärnäs is also an option.
- 18 Aspö is a small community a few kilometers west from Nötö. Chapel built in 1950, after the previous one was devastated by storm(!). Summer café selling fresh smoked fish. Culture and nature trails. Accommodation available at Klevars, reservations by e-mail only: [email protected]. The ferry m/s Baldur from Pärnäs to Utö calls at the island on its way between Nötö and Jurmo.
- 19 Hitis and Rosala are two islands south of Kimitoön, formerly a municipality of their own. The quite large village of Hitis has retained much of the traditional character. It has a wooden chapel from late 17th century (an earlier church was built in the 13th century). Rosala has a Viking centre. Food, sauna and accommodation available, phone +358 2 466-7227, e-mail [email protected]. Ferry from Kasnäs to Rosala (m/s Aura), bridge between the islands.
- 20 Örö is a large island with valuable nature south of Hitis. The island used to be closed for outsiders as a military base (first fort by the Russians 1915), which has protected many otherwise threatened features. It has been part of the national park since 2015, and is being developed for tourism. There are meadows with rare butterflies, old forests and nice cliffs and beaches. Also the military history is interesting; coast artillery batteries, trenches and barracks left to be seen. Marina, camping site, apartments and rooms available. Connections from Kasnäs.
- 21 Jurmo is a remote barren island with very special nature, regarded as a "must" for those boating in the outer archipelago between Nagu and Utö. The island has a chapel due to the remoteness, although traditionally inhabited by only four families (down to one person living there alone in the 1980s). The ferry m/s Baldur from Pärnäs to Utö calls at the island. Accommodation in cottages or at an Archipelago National Park camping site without services.
- 22 Utö is the outermost inhabited island, by the main channel from the Baltic Sea to the ports in the area. It has been a sea pilot base for centuries, was a coast artillery base and has a big lighthouse. Due to this activity there is infrastructure, such as a small school, which in turn make it ideal for people wishing to live in a remote place. The garrison has been turned into a hotel, +358 20-730-8090, e-mail [email protected]. There is a 4-hour ferry connection from Pärnäs in Nagu (by the regional road, m/s Baldur) and in summertime a tour boat connection from Turku (m/s Kökar, via Kyrkbacken, via Pärnäs by request). The island lacks wood or farmland, the village ducking into the little shelter given by the rocks.
- 23 Bengtskär is a skerry in the outer archipelago by the mouth of Gulf of Finland, with the tallest lighthouse in the Nordic countries. Tours from Kasnäs via Rosala (the Viking centre) and from Hangö, with optional dinner, sauna, accommodation etcetera at the lighthouse. Service is provided also for those arriving with own boat, but the island is difficult to reach, due to location and lack of shelter.
History and people
The archipelago has been rising from the sea since the last ice age. People have settled in the bigger islands and made journeys to outer islets for fish, seal and water fowl. The present villages are often from the middle ages.
As the expected standards of living have risen dramatically since the World War, many have left for the towns. Islands that had two hundred inhabitants may now have only one or a few families living there permanently. But those who left often return for vacations (perhaps also when retiring, at least to islands with services), together with large crowds of tourists, yacht cruisers and "summer guests" (people spending the summer at their vacation house).
In the last decades there have also been young families moving out, even to remote islands. Some find a local income, other work on distance or on ships with week on/week off schemes, still others just take a year off.
The conditions in the archipelago differ significantly from those in the mainland. People have a strong local identity. Services are often far away and people are quite self sufficient. Farmland areas are small even in the main islands and people have always got their living in small pieces, such as from fishing, agriculture, sea fowl and seal hunting – and seafaring. Today tourism is an important side income for many. Fishing and navigating the archipelago is in the blood.
There is a huge difference, though, between conditions in the main islands, with road connection to services, and the remote islands, with only daily connections – weather and ice conditions (and whatever) permitting. The remote islands are often inhabited by just one or a few families.
Most businesses are small. Advance bookings are appreciated, and often necessary to get some of the service. On the other hand there is much flexibility; things can usually be arranged, if asked for in time.
Landscape, flora and fauna
The archipelago has a very large number of islands. The exact number depends on the definition of the term "island", as the size of the patches of dry land in the area varies from small rocks peeking out of the water to large islands with several villages or even small towns. If Åland is included, the number of larger islands of over 1 km² (0.4 sq mi) within the Archipelago Sea is 257, whilst the number of smaller isles of over 0.5 ha is about 17,700 (Indonesia has 17,500 islands, the Philippines 7,100). The islands are made of mainly granite and gneiss, two very hard types of rock, made smooth by several ice ages. The sea area is shallow, with a mean depth of 23 m (75 ft), and the islands correspondingly quite low. Most of the channels are not navigable for large ships.
This makes for a labyrinth of varying landscapes. There is clear difference between the "inner", "middle" and "outer" archipelago, where the first is sheltered, often with large islands, while the last is dominated by treeless rocks and skerries washed by the sea in storms. Also quite far out there are island groups with sheltered inner parts.
The bigger islands resemble the coastal regions of continental Finland whereas skerries have a radically different environment. Smaller islands are devoid of trees, but still harbour a rich plantlife. The environment is sunny, has a relatively long growing season and is fertilised by guano. The very low salinity of the Baltic Sea makes splashes of seawater more benign for plant life. On the other hand, nearly constant wind and thin or non-existent soil limit plant growth. While most of the islands are rocky, some are actually extensions of the Salpausselkä ridge system, and thus composed of terminal moraine. Such islands include Örö and Jurmo. The flora and fauna in these islands are more diverse than in their rocky neighbours.
The conditions can vary radically even within one small island. There may be small patches of fresh-water bogs, ponds of fresh water, ponds of brackish water, bushes, meadows, barren rocks, wind-beaten shores and sheltered coves on an island only a few dozen metres in diameter. Many plants have altered phenotypes due to the environment. For example, junipers on small islands grow only to a height less than 0.5 m (1.6 ft), but can cover several square meters.
In contrast to the terrestrial and coastal ecosystems of the islands, the sea itself has a relatively low biodiversity. The reason for this is the brackish nature of the water, with a salinity of just 0.6%: too much for most fresh water species, too little for most salt water ones. The salinity has also varied greatly during the past, making it difficult for species to adapt. However, the great number of individuals indicates a favourable environment. Typical fish species are the Baltic herring, pike, white-fish, perch and flounder.
The islands are a haven for seabirds. The species include mute swan, black guillemot, great crested grebe, common eider, numerous species of sea gulls and three species of terns. Great cormorants live in several colonies. The white-tailed eagle has a significant breeding population.
Day temperatures in the summer are typically 15–25°C. The sea has a moderating effect on the weather, especially when not frozen, giving warm autumns. There is more sunshine and less rain in the archipelago than in the mainland. Winds are varying with westerlies dominating. Storms are unusual, at least in spring and summer.
The main season for visiting the Archipelago Sea is summer, with the peak from Midsummer to middle August, when schools start. Most infrastructure is available from middle May to early September. Earlier spring and later autumn are also very good times to visit, if you like solitude and are prepared to check where to get services and to dress adequately if the weather happens to be cold. Late autumn and winter have their own charm, and there are tourist businesses running year round, but be prepared for darkness and cold.
In the winter ice covers the Archipelago Sea (often all of the northern Baltic Sea), but there is not always enough snow for skiing (other than on the ice, conditions permitting). Shipping continues, sporadically also by some minor lanes, so check locally if you intend to venture out on the ice.
Right to access
Right to access is in practice somewhat restricted in parts of the archipelago. The right comes with the duty not to disturb or cause harm, and where islands are small and rocky, the areas where the right can be exercised may be limited. The nature is often fragile.
Where berries are sparse, they may be better left to locals. There are even locations where wild berries are being taken care of and the land thus also legally regarded as farmland.
When nesting birds or birds with chicks are disturbed, eggs and chicks often get into the beaks of crows and gulls, which are waiting for such opportunities. Thus landing on islets with nesting birds or driving near swimming bird families – or letting even a friendly dog loose – may cause significant damage. Land on islets too unsheltered even for birds, or bigger wooded islands, instead.
- Turku touring, Aurakatu 4, 20100 Turku, ☏ , [email protected]. Tourist information on Turku and Finland Proper.
- Pargas tourist information, Strandvägen 28, ☏ , [email protected]. Also timetable information for the ferries.
- Kimitoön tourist information (offices in Kimito and Dalsbruk), ☏ , [email protected].
While the northern part of the archipelago (Naantali, Kustavi etc.) and the mainland are Finnish speaking, the rest of the archipelago is traditionally Swedish speaking, now officially bilingual. The remote areas are still nearly monolingual. Among those arriving for the summer a majority is Finnish speaking, but Swedish is common. Tourist businesses often advertise in Finnish regardless of language. Minor businesses sometimes use only their own language. Elder people are not necessarily fluent in languages but their mother tongue, but you will survive on English or Finnish.
Place names are sometimes an incomprehensible mix of Finnish and Swedish, as the language border has wandered around. Names of minor islands are often comprehensible and can give a hint on the characteristics of the island (e.g. kobbe, haru, skär, holme, ö and land are all Swedish words for different types of rocks, islets and islands). Maps and charts may use either Finnish or Swedish for any place name, not necessarily corresponding to local majority language. Some maps are more consistent than others.
Be careful with some place names: there may be similar or identically names, not only Fårholmen ("sheep island") and the like, but also Berghamn, Jurmo, Själö and Utö (and Kirjala/Kirjais of Nagu and Pargas, which are not just the Swedish and Finnish names). If not clear from the context, it is common to prefix these with the old municipality name (Korpo Jurmo, Nagu Berghamn etc.) – but the context may not be apparent to you.
Official information to tourists and mariners (including yachts) is nearly always given in Finnish, Swedish and English. The marine authorities are expected to be fluent in all three; many shipping companies and much crew are from the Swedish speaking regions, as is much of the coast guard crew.
Turku is the main starting point for exploring the archipelago.
Coming from Sweden (Stockholm or Norrtälje) you could opt for getting off already in Åland and using the ferry connection from Långnäs to Korpo or through much of Åland with several ferries from Hummelvik to Iniö or Kustavi.
Coming from the east or north, Kimitoön or the northern parts of the archipelago, respectively, are reachable directly.
If arriving by yacht, there is no reason to head for the towns. Just use a suitable channel and start exploring.
Turku has good connections from the rest of Finland. If coming from the east (Helsinki), book a ticket to Kupittaa in the east end of the centre (otherwise you get a journey via Toijala near Tampere, as of September 2022).
Turku has good coach connections.
Kimitoön can be reached by coach from Turku or Helsinki. If coming from the east, also check services from Salo and Raseborg.
Pargas, Nagu, Korpo and Houtskär are reachable by coach from Turku and, mostly with transfer, from Helsinki. In season, they are also reachable by coach, bus and ferry via the northern archipelago, via Kustavi and Iniö to Houtskär or via Rymättylä to Nagu.
The northern archipelago is reachable by coach via Turku. Transfer earlier is possible from some coaches from Uusikaupunki.
Turku has good road connections. You can also reach the archipelago directly.
From Sweden you take the ferry to Turku, Eckerö, Mariehamn, Långnäs or Naantali. See below.
- From Sweden
Cruise ferries from Stockholm (Viking Line and Silja Line) pass through the archipelago each early morning and evening on their way to Turku. They call at either Långnäs (not much but a pier) or Mariehamn before reaching the Archipelago Sea. You may opt to get off there and continue from Åland by smaller ferries, or head for Turku. There are also ferries from Grisslehamn to Eckerö in western Åland.
If you have a vehicle (e.g. a car or bike) you can also use the more quiet ropax ferries twice or thrice daily from Kapellskär to Naantali (Finnlines). Some of the ferries call at Långnäs. Lunch and dinner is included at least in some tickets, which makes price comparisons with the cruise ferries a bit convoluted.
- From Åland
There are a few ferry connections from Åland directly to the archipelago, either from Långnäs to Korpo, or from Vårdö through much of the Åland archipelago (via Brändö) to Kustavi, Iniö and possibly Houtskär. The fares on the ferries of Åland depend on whether you are staying a night on one of the islands en route. If you have the time it is probably worthwhile to do so (you might need a receipt from the hotel or campsite to get the reduction). Ålandstrafiken (phone +358 18 525-100, e-mail in[email protected]) administers ferries and coaches in Åland.
You can also board a ferry from Sweden at Mariehamn or Långnäs.
- From Turku
In summertime there are a couple of minor ships going from Turku: to Nagu (m/s Norrskär; Själö and Kyrkbacken most days) or to other islands in the Archipelago Sea. Some of these routes are suitable for a one day return trip. As a way to get out to Nagu they are clearly more expensive than the bus, but the joy of the cruise is included. They depart from Aura river, downstream from Martinsilta bridge. These vessels do not take cars.
The Sea of Åland is narrow enough for a passage with nearly any vessel on a day with good weather. Over the Gulf of Finland the passage is a bit and directly from Gotland much longer, but no problem for most yachts (with a competent skipper). Regardless where you are coming from, you do want to use official channels to enter the archipelago, unless arriving in daytime and nice weather. You may also need to follow these until you have cleared with immigration and customs; usually calling a customs station by VHF or phone is enough, unless arriving from Russia or from outside the Baltic Sea.
The custom routes lead to Mariehamn in Åland and Utö. Eckerö is one option when coming from Sweden. The fairway from Hanko to Kimitoön is the normal choice from the east. From north, either enter via the Isokari/Enskär lighthouse or by a fairway through the outer parts of the archipelago off Uusikaupunki (see also Bothnian Sea National Park). Coming via Åland, there are several options for the remaining distance.
- See also: Archipelago Trail
The best way of getting around is by boat, but few visitors are lucky enough to have one handy. You might want to go on a boat tour of some kind anyway, see "By ferry" and "By yacht" below. Many cottages have at least a rowing boat available.
Major villages on the major islands are generally reachable by car and coach. For minor islands ferries or even small craft (taxi, chartered or own) may be needed. Distances are not too great, so bikes are useful (two or three hundred kilometres in total for the Archipelago ring road).
Traffic to islands off the main roads is severely affected by sea ice in the winter. Many ferry connections are replaced with hydrocopters or hovercraft, which much less capacity, when ice hinders ferry traffic. In late winter there are also ice roads, which often can carry cars; in good winters there are official ice roads in addition to those maintained by locals. When ferry traffic is suspended, always get local advice, and make sure you understand the implications.
The archipelago consists mainly of large islands by the coast, a band of large island from east to west in the middle (connected by the "Archipelago road", regional road 180; the bridges between Kaarina and Pargas centre will be replaced 2022–2025; the construction work may mean some traffic disruption) and minor islands and island groups everywhere. The Archipelago road is in summertime connected with the northern coast by ferries, to something called the "Archipelago ring road", marketed to tourists.
There are "road ferries" connecting the major islands with the mainland, and also connecting some minor islands to adjacent larger islands. These are considered part of the road infrastructure, even a few that are privately operated.
There are also more ship-like ferries servicing remote inhabited islands typically once or twice a day. They typically have capacity only for a few cars and were earlier operated by the maritime administration.
There are also some comparable boats partly or entirely for tourists. They sometimes have additional services, such as guiding, a bar or a proper restaurant.
For uninhabited islands you usually need a boat of your own. There are taxi boat services available.
Coach connections are usually adequate to reach the intended destination, with some planning, but not very good for getting around.
TLO of Turku operates the main services from Turku to Pargas and farther along Skärgårdsvägen (the latter with "Skärgårdsbuss" coaches). Vainion Liikenne operates many of the coach connections in the area, either directly or through e.g. Skärgårdsvägen Ab. Timetables are also available through Matkahuolto. See also Föli, especially for Turku, Kaarina and Naantali and for regional services from there, and opas.matka.fi. Not all services are necessarily found and you should do a sanity check on those shown, but in most cases all three route planners work well. Actual timetables are also available at least for some lines as of 2023: Vainio PDF booklet, Skärgårdsbuss timetables, Föli timetable index (links to PDF booklet and to PDFs on individual groups of lines).
From Turku, there are connections at least to
- Pargas centre (€6/€3) every hour or half an hour, except some hours in the night (TLO)
- Pargas centre, Nagu, Korpo and Houtskär (often with a transfer at Galtby in Korpo), a few times a day (Skärgårdsbuss)
- Kimito and Dalsbruk about once an hour in daytime, with a few connections e.g. to Kasnäs and Västanfjärd (often transfer at Dalsbruk)
- Taivassalo and Kustavi about once an hour in daytime on weekdays, a few times at weekends.
- The ferry pier at Heponiemi (Laupunen), with a ferry to Iniö (Kannvik) two or three times a day.
- The ferry pier at Vuosnainen (Swedish: Osnäs), with ferry to Brändö (Ramsvik, Åva) in Åland, once a day; off season special arrangements to get past Kustavi
- Naantali, with connections to Rymättylä and Merimasku, the former about once an hour, with some gaps and the last bus in the afternoon, the latter a few times a day.
On schooldays you may be able to use buses intended for school children, often not mentioned in the timetables and sometimes by another company. Ask locally.
On the main islands you can get to most places by car. There are some ferry passages that may have considerable queues or where car capacity is severely limited.
The ferry connections along the Arhipelago road are very busy when people are heading for their summer cottages in the archipelago, or returning, i.e. Friday evenings outbound and Sunday afternoons inbound in late spring and summer. The worst passage, "Prostvik" between Pargas and Nagu, can have queues of several hours.
On non-road ferries car capacity is often very limited. You should consider leaving your car on shore if you intend to return. There is often not much road to drive on the minor islands anyhow, or even parking. Large vehicles, such as caravans, can be a special problem. You might want to call the ferry in advance to ask for advice.
Taxis are available, often minivans for 1+8 persons in the countryside. You might want to check phone numbers of local taxi drivers, calling them directly is sometimes more effective than going via the central system.
Don't depend on taxis being available in the night, pre-book with a specific taxi company (not the call centre) or have a plan B. The duty to be on call – and indeed the possibility of distributing watches across companies – was abandoned with the deregulation of taxis.
The roads generally have quite little traffic and are thus good for biking, but they are rather narrow. The main problem is the practice of speeding from one ferry to the next along the Archipelago road. There are bikeways near towns and major villages, e.g. from Turku to Pargas centre and somewhat farther (watch out for tight turns where the bikeway changes sides, often just after a good downhill stretch).
Distances are not too great and the landscape is mostly flat. There may be a long way between services, so e.g. accommodation and dinners should be planned in advance.
You can usually get the bike on a bus, but at the discretion of the driver. Price for a bike is about half of a normal ticket or a flat €6. Bikes are free on most ferries.
There are several types of ferries, tour boats and similar. In winter some of the services are suspended because of sea ice, usually with connections with hovercraft or hydrocopter instead, with severe limitations on capacity. The ferries along Skärgårdsvägen keep going year round, but in severe winters there may occasionally be delays.
Road ferries (Swedish: landsvägsfärja, Finnish: lautta or lossi) connect the main islands and some near-by islands and are considered part of the road system (no fees, except possibly on a few on private roads). They usually drive by timetable except when there are queues, with a stop for some hours in the night. The size varies from cable ferries capable of a lorry, connecting islands over a sound of a few hundred metres, to the 66-metre Stella of the half-an-hour Korpo–Houtskär passage, taking tandem trailers, lots of cars and 250 passengers, and with a café serving meals.
The coaches are allowed on board past any queues, as are other vehicles of locals with a special permit. The queue may be long and may start without warning behind a tight turn, so drive carefully, and mind oncoming traffic when there is a queue on the other side. Where queues are expected there is often a kiosk near the quay, where you can take a coffee or ice cream while waiting (but the coach will drive directly on board).
When aboard, wait for the ferry to leave, step out of the car or coach, feel the fresh air and enjoy the landscape, at least on the longer passages. There are passenger lounges on some ferries (sometimes well hidden), where you might be able to have a coffee. Make sure you return to your vehicle in time. Car drivers should remember to shut off the lights while waiting for the ferry, to leave as little room as possible to the car in front (unless there is abundant space), to use the hand brake and to shut off the motor.
Shiplike ferries[dead link] (Swedish: förbindelsefartyg, Finnish: yhteysalus) connect the remote inhabited islands with the major ones, typically once or twice a day. The starting points are mostly reachable by coach. They take passengers, bikes, freight and usually a few cars. Take your car aboard only if you are going to need it (check procedure). The ferries often call at the islands only when needed (make sure you are noticed!), at some islands only on special request beforehand ("y" in the timetable: often the preceding day, "x": being visible at the quay may be enough). The trips are free or heavily subsidised on most routes, a 2016 proposal to reintroduce fees was turned down.
These ferries can be used for island hopping or for a one day tour in the outer archipelago. There is usually some kind of Spartan café and nice views, but few other attractions on board. With some luck there are locals willing to chat. If island hopping, make sure you can get back or have accommodation for the night – there may be no spot to put a tent without permission and you probably want to ask for hospitality before there is a fait accompli.
Some of the important lines:
- from Kasnäs on Kimitoön to Rosala (connected to Hitis, a few kilometres of road)
- from Kasnäs westward to Vänö
- "Nagu södra rutt": the Archipelago Sea south of Nagu, long journey to mostly small islands
- "The transversal route": islands south of Nagu, close to the main islands
- "The Utö route": from Pärnäs to Nötö, Jurmo and Utö (some services also Aspö or Nagu Berghamn)
- "Nagu norra rutt": islands north of Nagu and Korpo, from Kyrkbacken to Norrskata
- "Houtskärs ruttområde": between Houtskär and Iniö, including Brändö in Åland
- "Iniö tilläggsrutt": islands in the Iniö archipelago, mostly west of the main islands
Tour boats and similar private vessels service some popular destinations. They are more probable to have guiding, restaurants and other additional services.
- from Turku to Naantali (steamship)
- from Turku to Vepsä
- from Turku via Själö to Nagu Kyrkbacken
- from Nagu via Själö to Rymättylä
- from Kasnäs to Örö
- from Kasnäs to Bengtskär
By taxi boats and crewed charter motorboats
There are taxi boats or crewed charter boats available for most areas, and other vessels can sometimes be used in a similar fashion. You may want to ask locally. Most places with accommodation have contacts or boats of their own.
If you pay per mile or per hour you should ask for an estimate beforehand, as the service probably is quite expensive.
Some taxi boats:
- Aspö Gästservice at Aspö between Utö and Nagu, phone +358 400-669-865, +358 500-829-862.
- Nauvon charterveneet, Nagu, Stefan Asplund, phone +358 400-740-484, e-mail [email protected]
- Kasnäs Taxibåt at Kasnäs, phone +358 400-824-806, e-mail: [email protected]
- Mickelsson Anders & Co, phone +358 40-534-6114
- Pensar-Charter, phone +358 2 465-8130
- Ralf Danielsson at Lökholm, phone +358 400-431-383
- Östen Mattsson at Jurmo, phone +358 2 464-7137
By yacht and small boats
- See also: Boating in Finland#Archipelago Sea
The archipelago is a wonderful place for small craft cruising. Mostly the waters are open enough for relaxed sailing, but the landscape is constantly changing. There are myriads of islands to land on when you feel like, and guest harbours not too far away.
You might come by yacht (one or a few days from Estonia or the Stockholm region, a week from Germany or Poland), have friends with a yacht here – or charter a yacht or other boat.
Most waters are sheltered, so with some care and checking weather forecasts you might get along with any vessel. Small boats are ideal to get around near the place where you are staying (a cottage, pension or the like). For longer journeys a yacht with cooking and sleeping facilities is probably what you want (but an oversize yacht will make mooring in nature harbours difficult).
Crewed chartering is considered expensive. Usually full service charter is offered for a day trip, while bare boat chartering is the norm for longer journeys. You might get a skipper for your one-week charter by asking, but unless you ask for (and pay!) full service, you should not assume he or she will wash your dishes.
- S/y Belmont, phone +358 45-871-8444, e-mail: [email protected]. Price for a day (Swan 51, 2–3 crew, max 18 passengers, meals and service included) €3200.
- Midnight Sun Sailing, phone +358 2 428-100 or +46 8 717-0345, e-mail: [email protected], skippered or bareboat – or skippered until you are confident. Price for a week €3100–6000 (boat, skipper for one day, up to 10 customers).
- Finlandia Sailing, phone +358 400-421-050, e-mail [email protected], crewed or bareboat.
- Archipelago Searide, phone +358 40-516-0916, e-mail [email protected]. Fast motor yachts.
- Buster Rent, phone +358 20-769-1270, e-mail [email protected]. Open or semi-open motor boats. Turku, Raisio, Dalsbruk or trailered to where you need it. From €150–440/day, €400–800/weekend, €700–1700/week.
Prices for bare boat yacht charter can be expected to be in the €1000–5000 range for a week, depending on boat, season et cetera.
Navigating the archipelago is not like navigating the open sea. It is a maze. Take a good look at the (large scale) chart before deciding whether you are up to it. GPS is a valuable tool, but you should not trust the navigation to it. If you have local friends they might come (or find somebody willing) to act as skipper or pilot. For charts and harbour books, see Boating in Finland.
Beware of traffic in the main shipping lanes. Cruise ferries will approach in more than 20 knots (40 km/h) and will often not be able to stop or turn. Listening to VTS, VHF channel 71, you can get early warnings (after first noting the names of relevant locations, and getting a feel for the communication).
There are some areas protected for military reasons, where anchoring is restricted and deviating from official channels prohibited, especially when there are foreigners aboard. In these areas also chart markings are partly lacking, with depth figures more sparse (and perhaps more unreliable) than usual. There are also military shooting areas (any actual shooting will be broadcast and ignorant vessels will be chased away, but some care is due).
The permanently inhabited islands, at least the remote ones, tend to have some kind of guest harbour and service for tourists. For electricity, waste bins and showers you should head for the bigger ones, but sauna, freshly smoked fish, handicraft or a nature trail may be available anywhere.
Weather reports are available on VHF (check Turku Radio working channels for your location beforehand), Navtex, FM radio, TV and Internet (desktop/mobile), by SMS and at bigger marinas. Use the forecasts for mariners, as weather on land may be quite different. Wind in the outer archipelago is usually much stronger than in sheltered waters.
For emergencies at sea (or anything that might develop into one) the maritime rescue centre (MRCC Turku), VHF 70/16 or phone +358 294-1001, are the ones to contact. The general emergency number 112 often has a pretty obscure picture of the conditions in the archipelago (you tell coordinates and name of island and they ask for a street address; try to stay calm), but can also be contacted, especially if you have no marine VHF and mobile phone signal is bad (for 112, the phone can use any operator), they will send the coast guard or lifeboat association to help you if needed.
By canoe or kayak
The perhaps best way to explore the Archipelago Sea is by sea kayak. Renting one (and getting it trailered to a place of your choosing) should be easy. If you do not have much experience, you should try to get on an organised tour. Kayaks and tours e.g.:
- Aavameri, ☏ , [email protected]. High quality equipment and full service guided trips and supported solo expeditions with transportation from/to Turku. Also help with route planning and maps. Equipped sea kayak €40 first day, €35 consecutive days, delivery or pick up Turku/Pargas/Nagu/Kimito €40; hiking mattresses and sleeping bags for two, tent and camping stove €56/night. Evening tour with guide (2,5–3 hours) from Ruissalo, Turku, €55. Day tour with guide (ca 7 hours, 4–8 persons, lunch included) from Ruissalo/Airisto strand/Pargas port/Kasnäs/Rosala/Rymättylä €95/adult, €50/child. Four days' tour with guide and tent accommodation (own food, 4–8 persons) €440/person, with accommodation indoors €560/person.
- MyKayak, ☏ . Single €30/day, €40/24hr, €20/additional day, €140/week, tandem €45/65/30/200, delivery/pick up from €30. Overnight tour with guide, 2×lunch, sauna, tent accommodation (sleeping bags not included) e.g. €223/person.
Some of the advice for yachters is equally adequate for canoers, but some is not. You should look out not only for the big ships, but also for powerboats. Staying near the shore and traversing channels quickly is the standard advice. Many think topographical maps are more useful than sea charts when canoeing (you'll mostly be on the shallow non-chartered waters), but copy the relevant info from charts or harbour books.
You should get a grip both of the main island countryside and the harsh outer archipelago. Some kind of boat trip is highly recommended.
The seascapes, cliffs and birdlife are the prime sights for many. Gnarled pine trees, stripes of different colours in the smooth bare rock, dwarf-grown plants in the cracks – and then a flowering meadow a bit farther from the shore. Many of the smaller villages and individual farms have retained their traditional look.
There are many medieval stone churches and wooden chapels from the 18th century.
Mansions open for visitors include Söderlångvik on Kimitoön and Louhisaari in Askainen. The medieval castle Qvidja is privately owned (and only the lower storeys of the keep are left), but there are some public events arranged on its grounds. The bishop's castle ruins on Kuusisto can be visited for free.
Most former parish villages and some of the others have local history museums on varying themes, such as the industrial museum in Pargas, the Maritime House in Nagu, the museum on traditional boats in Houtskär, the archipelago dwellers' museum in Kustavi and the herring tmuseum in Rymättylä. The lock museum in Björkboda, Sagalund history revival, the ironworks museum in Dalsbruk and the Viking Centre in Rosala are all described in the Kimitoön article.
- Hanko-Uusikaupunki by boat
- The Archipelago Trail or Archipelago ring road (Skärgårdens ringväg, Saariston Rengastie) is a ring road in the archipelago with small ferries connecting most of the major islands in the central and northern part of the Archipelago Sea. It is very popular among motoring and bicycling holiday makers.
- Canoeing and kayaking: no rapids, but excellent area for longer trips, even for weeks.
- Sailing: by anything from a wind surf board to sailing ships. See above for yacht sailing. Sailing ship trips are arranged at least with the "jakt" Eugenia (+358 440-427-862).
- Bird watching, especially in the spring, when birds are passing on their way to the Arctic (the Arktica) and local sea fowl are preparing to nest.
- Fishing. You need an easily available fishing card for most fishing, and often a right to use specific waters. The easiest solution is to use local services or go fishing with a local friend.
- Swimming. The water is not too warm in the outer archipelago, but you may have access to a sauna. In sheltered areas the temperature is what you would expect in Finland.
- Social dance evenings, arranged in many villages.
- Music festivals and other events
- Pargas orgeldagar, ☏ . Annual organ and chamber music festival in June, concerts in Pargas and elsewhere.
- Baltic Jazz, ☏ , [email protected]. Relaxed music festival annually in July in Dalsbruk, Kimitoön.
- Korpo Sea Jazz, ☏ , [email protected]. Annual music festival in July, concerts in Korpo and elsewhere. Some concerts free, others €8–25.
- Nagu kammarmusikdagar, [email protected]. Annual chamber music festival in July in Nagu. Mostly €18/15/10.
- Midsummer and end-of-season (forneldarnas natt/muinaistulien yö), celebrated publicly in many villages.
There are surprisingly many good restaurants in the archipelago, and also in guesthouses and the like, the food tends to be very good. You can of course find a mediocre pizza or greasy fried potatoes at least in the towns and larger villages, if you go to the right places (there are also good pizza restaurants).
It is hardly surprising that fish plays an important role in the local cuisine.
Baltic herring (strömming) is the traditional staple, but as it is so cheap, it is seldom seen in fine dining restaurants, other than as pickled in smörgåsbord settings (where imported herring, sill, is used alongside). The herring is tasty, though, also as main course, and can very well be tried when found. At guesthouses and the like it is quite commonly served.
Salmon is regarded the gentry of fish, although farmed rainbow trout (and later also farmed salmon) has blurred the picture. Salmon (lax) will be one option in any proper restaurant and rainbow trout (regnbåge) is often served at less expensive ones. These are quite safe options, but as the people of the archipelago were not gentry, this is not traditional food.
As an alternative to salmon, you will find zander (gös) or common whitefish (sik). Local specialities include pike (gädda), European perch (abborre) and flounder (flundra).
Seafowl was important food after the winter, but hunting birds in spring is now forbidden. Elk is hunted in autumn, but seldom seen on restaurant menus, other game even more rarely. For those wanting meat, an alternative to beef is lamb (lamm); both cattle and sheep are used to maintain traditional open landscapes, as when the population was larger and more self-sufficient.
Potatoes will be served to any traditional food. You will also get bread (especially in guesthouse settings), and the archipelago speciality is the dark, compact and sweet rye bread skärgårdslimpa. You may also find svartbröd (thin, even more dark and compact), which is mostly attributed to Åland.
As fields are small, most farmers concentrate on labour intensive products, such as vegetables. Local tomatoes, potatoes, salad, apples, berries and jams are commonly encountered. Such produce is often sold on open air markets, and some on farms and in speciality shops.
The night life is mostly lame. For real action visit a festival or Turku and Naantali on the mainland. There is some action in a few population centres and by some guest harbours. There are restaurants and bars in most village centres.
Potable water is scarce in the wild. The sea water is not too salty (up to about 0.5 %, less in the inner archipelago) and clean enough for most purposes, except in harbours and when there are large amounts of cyanobacteria. Ask for water e.g. at camping sites and gas stations (or at any house). Water is always available in major guest harbours.
There are few hotels in the archipelago, but quite a lot of small businesses offering accommodation: pensions, guest houses, bed and breakfast, cottages. Clean and nice, but not many stars (there probably is no TV or toilet in your room). Booking in advance is highly recommended as there may be few rooms. Some service (even dinner!) may be unavailable unless ordered in advance. Nowadays there are also businesses catering for tourist used to stars, also for those used to real luxury.
Many places are closed off-season. They may still be able to arrange something.
Here are some of the bigger ones (see also the destinations above):
- Hotels and hotel like
- Hotell Strandbo (Nagu Kyrkbacken). Traditional wooden houses by the marina, with all kinds of services nearby. Hotel like standard and prices.
- Airisto Strand (near the ferry between Pargas and Nagu). With a popular marina. Summer cottage village nearby. Most guests conference groups. Nightclub etc.
- Kasnäs Skärgårdsbad (Kasnäs). Modern, with accommodation in small houses. Spa. Big marina nearby.
- Hotel Kalkstrand (Pargas centre). Hotel. Services and nightlife of the town available. Marina nearby.
There are camping sites, but not everywhere. In the national park there are camping sites with some service on twelve islands, without service on four more.
The right to access gives you permission to put your tent nearly anywhere except in people's yards and on cultivated land, but there are two problems: you have to get drinking water from somewhere and there may not be any suitable spot (in the remote islands all land that is not too rocky may be put in use).
If cruising around you will probably sleep in your yacht, like everybody else in the harbour. Choosing the right anchorages, you can also use your tent.
Water is cold, especially away from the shore, typically 10–15°C in open waters in the yachting season. Even an able swimmer will often not be able to make it to the shore after falling overboard. Use due care – including life jackets. For children the most dangerous place is the (rocky) shore and the pier.
Do not trust ice without local advice. There may be spots of open water, cracks or even shipping lanes obscured by thin ice and snow. Driving on the ice, even on official ice roads, requires special safety measures. See also ice safety.
Ticks in the area may carry Lyme disease (borreliosis) or TBE (tick-borne meningoencephalitis). Especially when in high grass you should put your trousers inside your socks, and inspect your (or – preferably – your fellow's) body before going to sleep, to remove any ticks found (often not yet attached). You might ask for tools and advice at a pharmacy. Insect repellents containing 50% DEET applied to skin mainly around ankles, wrists, neck and hair, where tick usually enter first, contribute to prevention also against ticks. Borreliosis is easily treated in the early stage, while symptoms are mild or lacking, but both are nasty at a later stage. If you get neurological symptoms later, remember to tell about the ticks.
In warm calm periods there may be "algal bloom" of cyanobacteria, which are potentially poisonous. Drinking even modest amounts of such water can be unhealthy and it is irritating for the skin. Small children and pets should not be let into the water (adults probably keep away anyway, just looking at it). The phenomenon should not be confused with pollen, which also can aggregate in surprising amounts.
The nearest pharmacy, health care centre or ambulance may be quite some distance from where you are. Try to be prepared to help yourself for quite a while. The Emergency Response Centre (phone 112) is responsible for a huge area and probably asks for municipality and street address – but they are equipped to use any other way to tell where you are, such as GPS coordinates or GSM cell locating. They are able to send any help available, such as coast guard vessels or helicopters, but they will decide for themselves what help to send. Try to be calm and answer their questions.
If you need medical services in non-emergencies and do not want to interrupt the voyage for the public healthcare, there is a private service, Skärgårdsdoktorn (phone: +358 600-100-33), which can reach you on any island by boat. Skärgårdsdoktorn also visits varying harbours and has a clinic in Pargas.
- The inland of Finland Proper.
- Uusikaupunki is at at the northern end of the archipelago, with cruises to Bothnian Sea National Park.
- To the west are the Åland islands (at the border:1 Brändö, 2 Sottunga, 3 Kökar) and the 4 Stockholm archipelago, which are geographically similar to the Archipelago Sea, the Stockholm archipelago a lot busier.
- 5 Gotland, 280 km (150 nautical miles) to south-west.
- Sail east-south-east to 6 Hanko.
- Estonia to the south-east has drastically different looking coast from what you've seen here. First land is the island of 7 Hiiumaa.