In commercial partnership with Visit Raseborg
Ekenäs old town, a colorful array of quaint houses and passageways, looks like something out of a painting. Given its picturesque appearance and proximity to the nature paradise of Ramsholmen, as well as the reasonable travel time for most Finns, the area is surprisingly quiet outside of the summer season. As summer fades, the streets of Ekenäs grow silent. Yet, it’s hard to imagine this hidden treasure more stunning than in this moment of peaceful bliss. This scenic spot is just a train or bus ride away!
As we set off on our Ekenäs sightseeing trip, the cool October day was already turning to dusk. A sunflower peeking out from behind a wooden fence caught my attention. It seemed to be gazing at the sun and sea, and turned out to perfectly encapsulate the evening ahead: the scenery of our Ekenäs trip was fit for a postcard, filled with sunlight and lovely shades of “ruska”, Finland’s autumn colours!
Walking through Laivuri park, we marveled at what might be the thickest trees I have ever seen. In the other direction the blue sea glimmered beautifully, yet another view fit for a postcard.
My adventure buddy Karoliina turned her gaze up from the roots of the gigantic trees and spotted a bell hanging high up. The bell is a monument to the artist Helene Schjerfbeck, made for anyone to ring by pulling the string handle that hangs on a pillar. The sound travels far with the sea, even to Ramsholmen forest where the artist was said to enjoyed painting. Schjerfbeck lived in Ekenäs during the year 1925–1941, even having a nearby street named after her.
In one step we had left the park and were surrounded by the charming passageways of the old town. My mind was already somewhere much further, as far as Åland or even a storybook, with quaint houses and polished alleys. The magnificent features of the landscape contained captivating intricate details, such as the blocks named after sea animals. Among them were shark, whale, seal and many more, in Swedish.
The streets and alleys had revealing names such as “glove-maker’s” street and “hatter’s” street – the latter immediately brought to mind Alice in Wonderland. The names actually signify the town’s history, which is deeply rooted in the working class of the past. Nowadays the old working-class homes are mostly vacation homes. For those tickled by the thought, there were a few houses with “For Sale” signs in the windows!
Read more here about Ekenäs old town and other guides.
We stopped by the church. The current church building was completed in 1842. The original church was a small wooden building built in 1600, and in between there was a stone church that was burned down in a fire. The current church looks like a white stone giant towering over the low-lying wooden houses of Ekenäs old town.
Porcelain statues, teddy bears, and special mirror installations were on display in the house windows, which I figured were “gossip mirrors”. These allow those inside the house to see what’s happening on the street and who is walking there (with who!) without being seen. A great method of observation, and probably a spectacular source of gossip back in the day.
I liked that bulletins had been put up on the streets about people who influenced the area. Some were familiar, but most were completely new to me. One of the new names included Olof Bäckström (below), but I learned that he was the one to invent Fiskars scissors! These bulletins were scattered around town, a great addition for independent travelers.
Karo and I walked around solely on intuition, choosing to take whichever street or alley looked inviting. The setting sun of the October evening cast moody shades of light on the landscape only seen at this time of the year. The late autumn light is a magical sight by the sea of the south coast, and it beautifully complimented the nature and old town of Ekenäs. The rays of light refracted by windows and colourful shades completed the scenery with contrasts and effects.
We arrived at Raippatori. It was a small, cobble-stoned square between the old town and beach. The spot’s gloomier history aside, I enjoyed the sparks of colour: the yellow, red, and green shades from the buildings, trees, and vines were almost too much against the blue sky!
Raippatori is reminded of its history not only by its name, ”whip market”, but also by the still standing pole of shame in the market. There was a time “when crimes were punished by public whipping”, as mentioned on Visit Raseborg’s website. The current atmosphere here does not at all give away its past.
Our journey continued from the pole of shame to another narrow passageway. The colours of the houses and fences continued to intensify, competing for saturation in different shades of red. The sunny weather forecast for the evening did not disappoint; the place would be stunning in any weather at any time of year, but on our trip it felt like nothing could be better than a sunny autumn evening in Ekenäs.
The city of Ekenäs was founded in 1546. Four years before Helsinki! Back then it was a small fishing village and Sweden’s king Gustav I gave it city rights. Most of the preserved buildings to this day are from the 1700’s and 1800’s. To think! But if you look around you, the charming houses speak for themselves.
Though the houses are not quite as old, it’s mind-boggling to think that the same passageways we were walking have been there since the 1500’s. It’s difficult to imagine what the world looked like back then, it feels so distant. At the same time, my heart is filled with warmth and comfort by the thought that my ancestors might have walked these same streets on their daily errands. 100, 200, or even 500 years ago – these streets already existed.
The air was calm. There were few other pedestrians, some passageways were totally empty. It was peaceful and clean; I noticed that the only “trash” on the streets were shriveled leaves from the trees, which were swept by the gentle sea breeze and rustled softly against the cobblestone asphalt.
Even without a map, it felt like were always exactly where we needed to be. Next we arrived completely by chance at a square, Raatihuoneentori, lined with cafes and restaurants. Café Schjerfbeck was already closed, but it looked cute and the windows mirrored the park’s autumn colours wonderfully. I walked a small round in the park (bottom right picture below) and noticed some city bikes. It would have been a great option for sightseeing the area if I had noticed early. You can read more about city bikes here.
Market days at Raatihuoneentori are year-round on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I will have to come back when there’s snow to see the area in a totally different way!
Ekenäs old town hall below. So magnificent!
At the edge of the square was a map of the old town. This map is a great guide of the area if you prefer more organized sightseeing than Karo and me. We were more tempted by the freedom of letting our thoughts and feet guide us instead of the map. Laivuri park, which we passed through in the beginning of our trip, is seen on the bottom right of the map (Laivurin puisto).
Karo luckily noticed that cafe Cafferien at the edge of the square was still open. The time was quarter to five, so we had 15 minutes. The café was bustling with teens spending time together, mothers and children, as well as older folks. We ordered coffee and cake – the vegan raspberry pie with oat vanilla sauce was delicious – and we had just enough time to enjoy them peacefully. It was the perfect pitstop before the next leg of our journey, as our city break was about to be swapped out for a nature hike.
After the coffee, we meandered through the town to our starting point, from where we would start heading in the opposite direction. First we wandered for a moment on the silent Kuninkaankatu (“king’s street”), which was full of brick-and-mortar stores that had already closed for the day. I already knew the story behind this, as I read beforehand that this was the first pedestrian street in our whole country, and the stores still close in the “old tradition” at five o’clock.
For those who enjoy shopping and dining, I recommend Ekenäs as a day trip in the sense that shops and cafes are mostly open during the daytime. My introverted heart was less interested in the services available but could have burst from joy at the quiet and exquisite views that provided endless photo opportunities.
As we once again passed Laivuri park’s giant trees, Helene’s bell, and Villa Skeppet, we were soon back at the parking lot where our car was waiting. The car could wait a little longer, however, as we went past and found the starting point for the hiking paths of Ramsholmen. The guidepost effectively displayed the main features of the area, and we took a picture as a backup on our journey.
Though Ramsholmen is most often spoken of, the entire area also includes Hagen and Högholmen. Wooden bridges connect the islands, and the route’s charm comes from the European-style grove’s magical atmosphere and the sea views. The views are best admired by choosing paths that occasionally escape the forest’s shade to open shores.
The sun approached the horizon, producing a jungle of cool shadows and warm rays of light. The main track was solid and wide, but smaller paths strayed here and there. We once again allowed our feet to guide us. We crossed paths with dog walkers, photographers, parents with their children, runners, walkers, and cyclists. Many smiled and greeted us.
At the first bridge, we stopped to take in the scenery so elegantly painted by the sun and the running water below us.
I must shamefully admit that I am unfamiliar with the tree species in the area. Some trees seemed to reach the sky, at the least. The few I could recognize were maple and common hazel. Many spots on the ground were covered in a carpet of maple leaves, their colour enriched by the refracted light.
The refracted sunlight is a reason why I recommend Ramsholmen specifically as an evening stroll destination. Why not a morning walk as well! The thick shade of the grove is in striking contrast with the bright sunlight on the shores, and in many places we felt like were shifting between worlds as we stepped from light to dark and vice versa.
The next bridge is longer than the first, and the scenery totally different. The bridge stretched across reeds openly while water flowed narrowly beneath it. The gold-tinted reeds swayed in the wind and gave the archipelago an authentic touch.
As we moved onward, the route narrowed and was totally covered in leaves in some places, but it was still easy to follow throughout the trip. Our surroundings switched between blue-green pines of the coniferous forest and grove filled with green foliage and yellow-orange leaves on the ground.
Most of Ramsholmen is wheelchair-accessible, but the area of Högholmen is not suitable for wheelchairs. The coniferous forest was particularly uneven.
On the way back, we had one last cherry on top of our Ekenäs cake. This was watching the sunset on the beach, and it was timed perfectly! The passage shaded by the common hazel led us to the beach, where the bright orange light awaited us.
As we arrived to the beach, it was empty. It would have been an amazing spot to go swimming if we had brought swimsuits and towels. There was even a changing cubicle conveniently there. Next time!
The sun gives off the most intense rays and fullest colours just before it dips beneath the horizon. We were able to enjoy the breathtaking view of the final orange rays shining on the forest floor. Dusk began to descend on our way back to the car, and had just about taken over as we arrived.
We were given one final goodbye from Ramsholmen on our way back. Above, the light of the setting sun shining through the treetops set the autumn colours into blazing flames.
In addition, I noticed a small movement from a bush on the side of the road. A deer crossed the road, seemingly quite tame as it let us pass quite close by it once it had made its way to the shelter of the forest.
Though I had guessed that Ekenäs old town and Ramsholmen were beautiful destinations, I have to say that the trip exceeded my expectations. The area is also so close to Helsinki metropolitan area that most can visit relatively easily. It’s vital to remember your camera, as a more photogenic place is hard to even imagine! There is plenty of accommodation available in the region, so I would warmly recommend a mini-vacation here for those who have the chance.