Utö is an island far out in the Archipelago Sea, with its lighthouse welcoming ships arriving to south-western Finland from the Baltic Sea. It lacks wood or farmland, the village ducking into the little shelter given by the rocks. The permanent population is a few dozen people.
Utö is the southernmost inhabited island in Finland, 80 km (50 mi) from the mainland, by the main fairway from the Baltic Sea to Turku and Naantali. As such it was important early on, with maritime pilots inhabiting the island since the 18th century and the first lighthouse built in 1753. The current lighthouse was built in 1814 and its current outfit is from 1935. The island was shared between the four pilot families.
The island was first mentioned in a letter by king Gustav Vasa in 1550 saying that there is a stone cairn on the island. A dutch nautical guide from 1592 knows that the island called Wttoy has a mast with a barrel and one must circumnavigate the island from west. A pilot station was established in 1697.
The island got heavy coastal artillery during World War I. The garrison was turned into a hotel in 2005. The island had long been a popular destination, but this made the island much more accessible. Even though the military personnel left the island, there are still some equipment and the cannons are ready to use.
Due to the pilot station, lighthouse and military there is some infrastructure on the island, such as a small primary school and a library, making the island ideal for people wishing to stay or live far from everything. There are a few dozens year-round inhabitants but many more people in summertime.
As an island far out it has been involved in several tragic accidents, notably the shipwreck of Draken av Nystad in 1929, the loss of coastal defence ship Ilmarinen, which was sunk by a mine in World War II, the shipwreck of the US freighter m/s Park Victory on nearby rocks in 1947 and the sinking of cruise ferry m/s Estonia in the open sea in 1994.
The climate is relatively mild because of the sea, but wind and moisture make the temperature feel colder.
Like on many of the islands in the Archipelago Sea, the population is traditionally Swedish-speaking; to the extent that the island does not even have a Finnish name. Of those moving here, though, many are Finnish.
- m/s Kökar (Check whether the route is serviced.). Summertime, twice weekly. From Turku (downstream from Martinsilta, right bank of Aura) via Nagu Kyrkbacken, calling also at Pärnäs by request. Bar, some food served. €30 from Turku, €25 from Nagu.
- 1 m/s Baldur (ex Eivor), ☏ . Year round, more or less daily. From Pärnäs via a few other islands. Coach stop and parking in Pärnäs. Some departures and arrivals have coach connection to Turku. Some food and breweries available. Arrives to the ferry jetty next to the hotel. In winter and at some occations replaced with m/s Kökar. In summer (1.6–31.8.2020) departures M–W with return in the evening after ½–3 hr on Utö (no coach connection), Th–Sa with return the next day. Off season (1.9.2020–2.6.2021) departures M W with return the same day, Th–Sa with return next day. Be on board 10 min before departure. When the services match the coaches, you can wait in the ferry or the terminal in Pärnäs. Free.
- 2 Utö guest harbour, ☏ . Literally in the middle of the village. The east side of the long jetty may be used by visitors. Operated by café Hannas horisont. €15/night.
In summer the ferry arrives M–W 13:00, Th Sa 18.15 and F 23:15. Returns M–W Su in the evening, F Sa in the morning. The ferry spends ½, 1 or 3 hr or the night on the island. The timetables are similar in winter.
The island is small enough to get around by foot: 81 hectares (200 acres). Private cars are not allowed.
The west part of the island as well as a small area surrounding the monitoring tower close to the chapel are closed military areas. Outside the roads there are old military constructions including trenches and weapons emplacements. Watch your steps!
- The barren landscape and the sea.
- Birds. As the island is the last before the sea, many migrating birds rest here before or after the tough journey, making it one of the best birdwatching locations in Finland. Birdlife is rich except for midwinter.
- 1 Utö Lighthouse. Guided tours daily in summertime. There is an old chapel in the top floor but no public access to the lantern room. tour €10.
- 2 Utö hembygdsmuseum Stenhuset (Utö museum Stenhuset). 24 Jun–4 Aug: W 15:00–18:00, Su 11:00–13:00, other days 16:00–18:00. A small museum telling about life on Utö. The building itself was built in 1753 and it is the oldest remaining building on the island. adults €3, children €1.50.
- 3 The (new) chapel (Bönehuset). always open. A new chapel was built in 1907–1909 because some of the oldest islanders couldn't climb to the chapel in the lighthouse anymore. At the altar there is a chandelier with the names of the ten men lost with Park Victory and thank you letters from the men rescued and the US embassy are framed hung on the wall of the chapel. Service is held once a year, usually at the Midsummer Sunday. Free.
- 4 The graveyard. Sand was brought for the graveyard in 1962, earlier the deceased were transported to Jurmo. There is a memorial for those taken by the sea. On the meadow next to the graveyard there is a lonely grave of a German sailor named Buchwald. His body was found on the shore in December 1916.
- 5 Draken memorial. A monument to the victims of the Draken av Nystad shipwreck. The vessel was lost in a severe storm 12 November 1929. The sailors managed to get to an islet just a hundred metres away, but the villagers' attempts to help them were futile. When the storm ceased, only a few were still alive.
- Enjoy the peace.
- Rowing boats for hire.
- Scuba diving to S/S Park Victory, a Victory class steamship built during World War II, with home port in Newport, Virginia, lost during the Christmas Night 1947 (see memorials in the new chapel). Diving not arranged by the locals, contact diving clubs elsewhere. Parts of the ship risk collapse, so due care is required.
There is a small grocery store on the island: Utö handel. Beside normal produce it sells a beer dedicated to the island and some souvenirs, such as picture-heavy trilingual books about the island or the Archipelago Sea. There are more souvenirs for sale at Hannas Horisont.
- 1 Utö handel, ☏ . Open year round twice a day about two hours each time. Check the times from Facebook. Groceries and some hardware. Mail service.
Eat and drink
- 1 Utö havshotel, Enskärsvägen 23, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 8:00–10:00, 12:00–14:00 and 17:00–18:00/18:00–20:00 (winter/summer); Sundays only for groups. Breakfast €12 for non-guests, lunch €14, dinner buffet €28 when available, also à la carte.
- 2 Hannas horisont, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Café
- 1 Utö havshotell, Enskärsvägen 23, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Hotel in former military barracks. Different types of accommodation, mostly double rooms. Restaurant. €80–160.
- 2 Hannas horisont, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. B&B. Café. Souvenirs.
- Private attached homes. By agreement.
- 3 Camping site. The camping site is by the road, next to the weather station. Small site but the terrain is good and the place is quite well sheltered from the winds behind some military constructions. No services. The 1 dry toilets are 430 m away. Free.