Houtskär (Finnish: Houtskari) is a former municipality in the Archipelago Sea in Finland Proper. It consists of about 700 islands with 19 villages. Houtskär has about 520 permanent residents but many more are residing there in the summer.
Some of the islands in the south belong to the Archipelago National Park, notably Jungfruskär.
Houtskär is a relatively remote group of islands, located in the middle of the Archipelago Sea. Most of the villages were already mentioned in a manuscript from 1540. In the early 1900s a notable part of young men moved to USA. People have traditionally lived mostly from fishery and exporting the fish to mainland Finland. The municipality was also famous for its skilful boatmakers. Because of the temperate climate and calcareous soil there are some rare plants growing on these islands. Nowadays growing potatoes and vegetables is an important source of income. There are just a few professional fishermen left.
The main island is quite large and most of the people live there. Other permanently inhabited islands are connected either by a cable ferry, a road ferry or a smaller vessel.
Houtskär is mostly Swedish speaking. According to local legend the first permanent residents came from Dalarna in Sweden explaining why the local dialect is different from the rest of the Swedish speaking archipelago. The Swedish word skär actually means a skerry but the name Houtskär is, probably, based on Finnish Hautasaari or Hautasalo, both meaning a grave island. This represents a phenomenon where very old Finnish place names have slowly turned into Swedish similar sounding forms. The name appears first time in 1554 as a chapel under Korpo parish. Already in 1636 an order was given to build a new church in Houtskär to replace the old, decaying one.
Service is usually available in both Swedish and Finnish, as well as in English.
- See also: Archipelago Trail
The main route to the Houtskär islands is along Skärgårdsvägen ("the Archipelago Road", regional road 180). Take highway 1 (E18) or regional road 110 between Helsinki and Turku and turn to Skärgårdsvägen in Kaarina. Continue via Pargas and Nagu to Korpo. There are free road ferries between Pargas and Nagu (Lillmälö–Prostvik, 20 min), Nagu and Korpo (Pärnäs–Retais, 5 min) and Korpo and Houtskär (Galtby–Kittuis, 30 min).
Road ferries M/S Stella and M/S Mergus operate year-round between 1 Galtby ferry harbour and 2 Kittuis ferry harbour. Look at the road signs to get on the right ferry (timetables; services start 5:30–8:00 in the morning and continue to 23:00–24:00, the first service and the ones after 21:05 must usually be booked). These last ferries have a café, at least Stella usually with breakfast and lunch.
The Skärgårdsbuss coaches drive from Turku along Skärgårdsvägen to Korpo, usually via Galtby, allowing a transfer to the ferry and to a coach waiting in Kittuis. Sometimes the other coach may wait already in Galtby (don't take the one going back to Turku).
It pays to step out of your car or the coach on the longer ferry passages, to breath the fresh air and enjoy the wind and the seascapes.
The ferry M/S Antonia operates between Dalen in Iniö and 3 Mossala ferry harbour during the summer season (mid May–early September in 2022) four to five times daily (timetables). Transport fees: adult €10, children €5, bicycles €12, MC/moped €25, car €40, and caravan €75. The fees for vehicles include all passengers. The ferry has a small café. A one-way trip takes about an hour. There are no services in Dalen but a restaurant in Mossala. Iniö has ferry connection from Kustavi in the north.
The smaller ferries serving remote islands (see Get around) year round sometimes call also in Iniö and in Torsholma of Brändö, Åland, and can thus be used for getting in, although the timetables are, and the connections may be, convoluted. They are free but may not take cars. In hard winters they may be replaced by hydrocopters or the like. See Get around below and Archipelago Trail#Houtskär.
The Skärgårdsbuss coaches offer daily connections from Turku to Näsby in Houtskär (lines 901–904; about €23, children 4–11 half price; timetables 5 June–13 August 2023/autumn–spring 2022). You need to change coaches, either in Galtby harbour in Korpo or by taking the ferry and boarding the other coach in Kittuis harbour. Some coaches continue all the way to Mossala, either via Näsby or passing by, leaving 2 km of walking for those going to Näsby. The coaches are operated by TLO, usually using Skärgårdsbuss's white-green livery. Also the Föli route planner has the timetables for coaches from Turku, but it seems to believe these are express services – use "Kittuis", "Näsby" or "Mossala" to search and just get off at your stop (and don't use "bus station" for the Turku end, Föli thinks that's the one in the Port of Turku).
There is a good bike route from Turku to Pargas. Some kilometres after the Pargas centre it gets narrow but continues to the first ferry quay in Lillmälö. In Nagu, Korpo, and Houtskär you mostly have to cope with the road traffic. It is a good strategy to get off the bike when the batch of cars from a ferry is approaching. Otherwise there is usually little traffic on these roads. Stay on right as the local drivers really don't expect a bicyclist after the next turn...
If you're coming by a yacht there are full service guest marinas in Näsby and Mossala, and a guest harbour also by the Björkö village. The one in Näsby is reached by long sounds, Mossala is in the north and Björkö is in the west. There are guest harbours also at some islands not reachable by road.
The main road leads from Kittuis to Mossala across two short ferry passages (Roslax–Kivimo and Björkö–Nordanlands/Mossala). The main village, Näsby, is on the east coast of the main island 2 km from this road, before Roslax, 11 km from Kittuis and 16 km from Mossala.
These roads are paved, but otherwise there are just gravel roads. The main road is not only narrow but also crooked and hilly. In general, you won't see too far what's ahead (but legends has that when it was built, locals thought it looked like an airstrip – and locals know what's ahead unless you are there).
In Näsby everything is within walking distance. For longer trips biking is an easy way to get around. Ask for renting a bike from your accommodation. Houtskär has an internal bus route but during the tourist season it serves mostly between Kittuis ferry jetty and Näsby. Mossala is mostly served twice a day by the Skärgårdsbuss coaches (lines 903–904).
The cable ferries to Kivimo (Roslax–Kivimo), Mossala (Björkö–Mossala), and Saverkeit (Näsby–Saverkeit) run when needed.
Smaller islands are served by ship-like ferries. These mostly don't carry your car. M/S Finnö operates Houtskär northern route reaching Brändö and Iniö (timetable May–December 2022) and M/S Kivimo the overlapping Iniö route (timetables). They operate out of Näsby and (more frequently) Roslax, 5 km towards Mossala (and harbours of Iniö). The timetables are fairly complex, and the service must usually be requested by phone at latest the previous day.
There is no public transportation to Jungfruskär. Ask for water taxi (Swedish: taxibåt, Finnish: taksivene) service or look for arranged tours.
With a yacht or kayak all small islands are in reach. Don't land on islets with nesting birds. There are kayaks for rent at some lodging businesses.
- Taxi Peter Juslin: ☏
- Taxi Roger Tengström: ☏
- Valopilkku (taxi app)
Näsby is perhaps one of the most idyllic villages in Finland.
- 1 The Houtskär church (Houtskär kyrka), Näsby. Wooden cross church build in 1703 on a small hill in the middle of Näsby village. Free.
- 2 The Archipelago Museum (Houtskärs Skärgårdsmuseum), Sankt Andreas väg 11, ☏ . June 24th–August 11th: M–F 12:00–19:00, Sa–Su 12:00–16:00. Exhibition on traditional handicrafts, boats and scale models, and fishing equipments. €4, children under 12 free.
- The scenic view of boat houses in 3 Björkö and 4 Hyppeis.
- 5 Borgberget observation tower. Observation tower on a hill in the Järvis village. Free.
- 6 Mossala observation tower. Observation tower in Mossala Island Resort. A view to Mossala fjärden, a circular structure that never turned into a volcano. Free.
- 7 Jungfruskär (access only by boat). This small group of islands is considered as one of the most valuable nature spots in south-western Finland. The elder-flowered orchid, Adam och Eve, is flowering on its wooded meadows in June. This centuries old fishing village later became a navy fortress but was opened to public in early 2000s and now most of the islands belong to the Archipelago National Park, some are privately owned. The right to access is restricted, leave no trace! Excursion harbour with toilets. Camping site. Nature trail.
Boating, fishing, enjoy the nature.
- Sankt Andreas kulturstig (in Näsby). A culture trail with info boards around Näsby village. Free.
- 1 Houtskärs fårfarm (Houtskarin lammastila), Ankokvägen 30 (ask for directions, don't trust the navigator), ☏ (Katja), (Roy), firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: M/Tu 16:00, for weekends off season F 12:00, check-out: Su/M 16:00. Finnsheep sheep farm. Sheep products for sale. Stay a week as shepherd. Three different houses/cottages with beds for 2–6 persons each, pets welcome in two of them. Solar power, gas stove, sauna, outhouse privy, no running water (the house might have modern facilities). €450–600/week + €18/person; off season €450/week + €18/person, €250/weekend + €9/person; children under 14 half price; linen €15/person; cleaning €80.
- 1 M-Market Houtskär, Näsbyvägen 178, ☏ , email@example.com. Summertime: M–F 09:00–20:00, Sa 09:00–18:00, Su 10:00–16:00. Groceries, mail service, self-care drugs, fuel, Alko pick-up point
A gracery shop in Björkö village has been closed since 2016 but is still shown on most maps.
Sheep products can be bought at Houtskärs fårfarm in Björkö by – or just stop to caress the sheep.
Eat and drink
- 1 Grill café Skagen, Näsby (Näsby Guest Marina), ☏ . May–September, in shoulder season weekends only. €13–17.
- 2 Hotel Hyppeis Värdshus, Hyppeisvägen 540, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. lunch 11:00–14:30, dinner 15:00–21:00. June–August Lunch from €12, dinner €28–60.
- 3 Mossala Restaurant, Mossala, ☏ , email@example.com. 13 May–23 July 2022: breakfast M–Sa 08:00–10:00 Su 09:00–11:00, à la carte M–Th 11:00–21:00 F 11:00–22:00, Su 12:00–21:00; 24 July–14 August breakfast 08:00–10:00, snacks M–Sa 11:00–16:00 Su 12:00–16:00, à la carte M–Th 16:00–22:00 F–Sa 16:00–23:00 Su 16:00–22:00. À la carte and breakfast. Café. Small bar. €20–25, children €9, snacks €11–16.
- 4 Pub Pelago, Björkö. A pub that seems to be open during the summer months every now and then.
- 5 Sybarit (former Houtskärs Gästgifveri), Näsbyvägen 189 (Näsby), firstname.lastname@example.org. Restaurant with home-like food. Breakfast, lunch and à la carte. Also rooms.
- 2 Hotel Hyppeis Värdshus, Hyppeisvägen 540, ☏ , email@example.com. In 2021 open 1 May–24 August, restaurant 14 June–22 August. Also family rooms. Pets welcome in some of the rooms. Breakfast included. €130.
- 3 Sybarit (former Houtskärs Gästgifveri), Näsbyvägen 189 (Näsby, near end), firstname.lastname@example.org. Rooms. Restaurant with home-like food. Breakfast, lunch and à la carte.
- 4 Tuulenlatva (Windy Hill's Inn), Houtskärsvägen 109, ☏ , email@example.com. B&B with unique rooms €110–130/night.
- 5 Skärgårdsskolan, Näsbyvägen 259 (Näsby, on the hill before the ferry quay), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 17:00–20:00 or by agreement, check-out: 10:00 or by agreement. B&B in boarding school, in summer or on agreement. Originally a folkhögskola providing post-school education primarily for youth living in the archipelago, in the 1980s mostly gap year students from elsewhere. Nowadays mostly short courses for adults and school camps for youth. Most rooms double, a few larger ones (for 3–8+) available. Also cottages (4 persons). Linen and breakfast included. Shared toilets and showers. Silence requested 21:00–08:00. No smoking, no alcohol. Pets allowed in some rooms. Lunch and dinner may be available. double €85, extra bed €25, baby bed €10; single €65; cottage €60+€15/person.
Camping and cabins
- 6 Mossala Island Resort, Mossala, ☏ , email@example.com. Cabins, camping site, caravans. Guest marina. Restaurant. Nature trail and observing tower. Activities include fishing, SUP boarding, kite boarding and disc golf. Tent €20 (WC and shower included), caravans €30.
- 7 Kittuis Camping & Caravan, Houtskärsvägen 6 (by Kittuis ferry quay), ☏ , (either number may be obsolete), firstname.lastname@example.org. Camping site
- 8 Skärgårdsskolan, Näsbyvägen 259, ☏ , email@example.com. Cabins with B&B for meetings, courses and camp schools. Smoking and alcohol consumption are forbidden.
- 9 Näsby gästhamn (Näsby), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest marina. Fuel, sewage pump, laundrettes, water, electricity, showers, sauna, Wi-Fi, restaurant, bikes for hire.
- 10 Mossala Island Resort, Mossala, ☏ , email@example.com. Cabins, camping site, caravans. Guest marina. Restaurant. Nature trail and observing tower. Activities from fishing to disc golf.
- 11 [dead link] Nåtö, Nåtö (on Nåtö island), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. B&B and a small guest marina (not for sailing boats!) far in the archipelago. Fishing. Nature trail. Accessible by M/S Karolina.
- 12 Själö Guest Harbour (on the Själö island by Skiftet – not to be confused with Själö in Nagu), ☏ . Guest marina for 1–2 boats. Sheep farm.
Postal code: 21760 Houtskär (all islands)
The ticks are extremely common. If you are driving, beware of elks and deer at dusk. There is a health care station in Näsby (restricted hours).
- Iniö to the north or Korpo to the south-east. You could also complete the Archipelago Trail.
- A tour to one of the more distant islands of the Archipelago Sea.
- The Åland islands, reachable by M/S Karoliina and M/S Satava. Check the timetables carefully. A more straight-forward ferry from Galtby also takes cars.