Mariehamn – small-town sophistication
With its wooden houses and green parks, the provincial capital of Mariehamn provides the perfect setting for a small-town holiday or a practical starting point for a car or cycling tour through the Åland islands.
With around 11,000 residents, Mariehamn is the largest – and only – city in Åland. It was founded in 1861 by Tsar Alexander II, who gave the town its name, meaning ‘Marie’s Harbour’, after his wife.
Åland’s residents have a long history of being excellent seafarers. Maritime occupations have always been one of the main means of income here, and there is clear evidence of this in Mariehamn. The town is situated between two sea inlets, with harbours on both sides.
The big cruise ships and ferries dock in Västerhamn, Mariehamn’s western harbour. Ferries arrive from Stockholm, Kapellskär, Helsinki, Turku and Tallinn. Västerhamn is also the location of the ÅSS guest marina for visitors who arrive with their own boats.
The Pommern is a wooden cargo ship that serves as a reminder of the era of the windjammers. It is moored outside the Maritime Museum (Hamngatan 2) and is one of the must-see attractions in Mariehamn. The cargo ship used to sail the oceans between England and Australia.
Despite Mariehamn’s small population, it receives some 1.5 million visitors every year. They are served by a wide variety of hotels, bars, shops and other leisure establishments. In the summertime, Mariehamn’s pleasant cafés and restaurants are lively places. That’s when the PAF Open – an international beach volleyball tournament – is held, attracting athletes and spectators from all over the world.
There’s nightlife in the clubs and bars, or even at the tables of the new PAF Casino. The casino is located in the Arkipelag Hotel in central Mariehamn and offers all kinds of gaming fun. Beginners are welcome, and the casino can arrange poker lessons upon request.
Little visitors – and not-so-little ones as well – can relax and enjoy their summer days in Mariehamn’s green Ålandspark recreational park or at the popular Gröna Udden swimming beach. These are excellent spots for a picnic or to sit in one of the pleasant cafés and sample an Åland speciality: pancakes with cardamom and plenty of cream.
Sometimes Mariehamn is referred to as the ‘city of a thousand linden trees’. Beech, birch and linden trees are common here, and there are numerous fine lindens lining the avenue that passes through town. There may not be quite a thousand of them, but it’s definitely worth taking a kilometre-long stroll along the lovely boulevard in any case.