The autonomous Finnish province of Åland is located in the Baltic Sea, at the southern end of the Gulf of Bothnia between mainland Finland and Sweden.
The Åland archipelago consists of around 6 500 islands, but only more than 60 are inhabited. Åland has its own taxation system, its own postage stamps, its own flag and Swedish as its only official language. For travellers, the Åland islands offer activities from adventurous island-hopping to boating, fishing, golfing and lots more. It’s easy to get from one island to another thanks to the many bridges and ferries, and Åland’s roads are terrific for cycling holidays.
The Åland archipelago consists of more than 6 500 islands – most are rocky islets, but more than 60 are inhabited. There are around 25 000 residents on the Åland islands, who make their living primarily from tourism, maritime occupations and banking.
Hopping from island to island is the way to do sightseeing in Åland. Thanks to ferries and bridges, it can be done on boat, kayak, car or bicycle. And skates in the winter!
Mariehamn was founded in 1861 by Czar Alexander II, who gave the town its name, meaning ‘Marie’s Harbour’, after his wife. There are only 11 000 residents in Mariehamn, yet the city receives up to 1.5 million visitors per year. In the summertime, Mariehamn’s pleasant cafés and restaurants are lively places.
Capital Mariehamn is the largest – and only – city in Åland. Its wooden houses and green parks provide a great setting for a small-town holiday or a starting point for a tour of the Åland islands.
Åland’s residents are excellent seafarers. Maritime occupations, such as sailing and fishing, have always been some of the main means of income here.
Åland’s autonomous status means that the island group has its own government, language and cultural policy. Since 1922, Åland has had its own parliament as well as a representative in the Finnish national parliament. Finnish legislation applies in matters concerning foreign policy, civil and criminal law, customs and monetary policy.
Mariehamn provides the perfect setting for a small-town family holiday. It’s often referred to as the ‘city of a thousand linden trees’. Beech and birch are also common here.
A local sight not to be missed is the Pommern, a wooden cargo ship (or windjammer) built in the early 20th century.
Now moored outside the Maritime Museum in the western harbour of Mariehamn, the Pommern used to sail the oceans between England and Australia. To make the most out of the experience, a guided tour is recommended.
Little visitors to Mariehamn will enjoy the Lilla Holmen island, were children can swim, climb in the pirate ship or visit the birds in the bird house. Worth a visit is also the popular Gröna Udden beach. These are excellent spots for a picnic and sampling an Åland speciality: pancakes with cardamom and plenty of whipped cream.
In a country where people move en masse to the countryside in the summer and where forest coverage is 75%, it's no wonder ecological tourism has taken off so rapidly and steadily. Old farms are opening their doors to visitors from all over the world and their organic food can be gobbled or just nibbled while watching sheep pasturing in a green meadow.