If you want to travel between the mainland of Finland and the main island of Åland, you only have two options to choose from, at least when taking a car with you. You either jump on a ship going between Helsinki/Turku and Stockholm, or then you drive through the archipelago, using Ålandstrafiken’s ferries. The first one is for sure the easiest, fastest and most popular option, but the latter gives you the possibility to explore the smaller islands on the way. On our recent trip to Åland, we used both, the ship to Mariehamn (although, it was directly from Tallinn this time), and the ferries on the way back. This was my first experience traveling through the archipelago from Mariehamn, and I must say, a few things about how Ålandstrafiken works did stand out on our trip.
Our original idea was to drive through the archipelago in one day, but we ended up staying for one night on a smaller island just like I told on the previous post, mainly due to the absurd pricing of Ålandstrafiken. By saying absurd I mean that the company charges you more than double the price if you go straight through the archipelago rather than spend a night on the way. During the summer season, the transit fare is 118€, whereas for example, the first leg from Hummelvik to Brändö is only 32€ and the second leg from Brändö to Vartsala is 21€, so the difference is actually 65€ depending on whether you stay on the island for the night or not. I do not know about you, but isn’t it usually the other way around for pretty much all the tickets?
After we found out about this absurd pricing, we did weigh our options for some time – should we drive through or stay on one of the islands for one night? We ended up staying for the night in Lappo, which, like I wrote on the previous post, was probably the best thing on the whole trip to Åland. But still, even after we had to say that thanks to this, we got to see the best part of Åland, I still can’t help but to feel a little bit irritated about the whole thing.
The ferries are rather popular during the summertime, and once we booked our stay in Lappo, we were advised to book a place in the ferry well in advance to make sure we’d make it to the departure we wanted to. Luckily Ålandstrafiken has a pretty good online booking system and the booking is rather effortless. You are even able to pay the fare right away online. What happens once you travel with the ferry, is what is more extraordinary, at least based on our experiences. We ended up booking only the Hummelvik-Lappo leg in advance. Once arriving to the harbor, we were directed to the right line based on our disembarkation port. After that, we were soon signalled to board the ferry. On the gate, we were only asked if we had booked in advance or not, but no-one actually bothered to ask for any confirmation. Somehow this felt really strange, you’d think that they’d want proof of it, but no. No-one asked anything when we left the ferry in Lappo either, but I thought that maybe this was just a one-time mistake by the crew.
But then, on the next morning, we continued the trip from Brändö to Vartsala – the trip with the other leg of the trip where you need to pay for the ferry. This time, we did not have a reservation. In Åva harbour there are two lines, one for those with a pre-booked place on the ferry, and one for those without reservation. Unlike everyone else, we drove to the latter line, apparently being the only ones without a booking. The line of all the cars with the pre-booked place on the ferry was long and for a while I actually thought that we’d not make it to this ferry and would have to wait for 6 hours for the next one. But surprisingly, the ferry can take more cars in than what we thought and we were allowed to board too. As we were clearly in the line where those with no booking were supposed to be – and the only ones in there, I was sure that we’d be asked to pay for the fee. Surprisingly no-one made a single gesture towards that, not when boarding, nor when arriving to the harbor. So there clearly is something really badly wrong with how Ålandstrafiken takes care of the payments. Basically we could’ve gone the whole way form Hummelvik to Vartsala without paying a single penny if we had not booked the first part of the trip in advance..
Otherwise Ålandstrafiken did not offer any surprises. The ferries stayed well on schedule and the trips were smooth. The cruise from Hummelvik to Lappo took two hours, and the parts from Lappo to Brändö, and the one from Brändö to Vartsala around 30 minutes. The ferry schedules are also often perfectly aligned so that there is just enough time to drive through Brändö for you to make it to the next one right before it takes off, so the trip between the mainland and main island of Åland is a smooth one in terms of schedules as well.
What comes to the ferries, I must say they have seen their best days. We used three different ones during the trip and all of them for sure were kept clean, but it seemed like the decor was just the type you’d imagine it to have been in the 80’s. Cozy and comfortable – yet badly outdated. Also, the service on the ferries was rather ok and you could by snacks, beverages and hot meals from the cafe at reasonable prices. So I’d say that all in all, travelling with Ålandtrafiken can be recommendable when travelling in the region.