Top things to do in the Åland islands

4 minute read

Credits: Daniel Eriksson

Discover top things to do in Åland

The Åland archipelago consists of around 6,500 islands, but just over 60 are inhabited. If you want peace and calm, go island-hopping, or just stay put in charming Mariehamn, the world’s smallest metropolis.

Åland is located in the Coast and Archipelago region. Here’s a selection of top things to do in in this lovely place, including birthday celebrations for a special anniversary in 2022.

If you want to stay in an authentic Finnish cottage, look no further than Klobben! These 10 historic fisherman’s sheds are located in the Silverskär Islands.

Charming Mariehamn

Mariehamn was founded in 1861 by Russia’s Czar Alexander II, who named the town, meaning “Marie’s Harbour”, after his wife. There are just 30,000 inhabitants on all the Åland islands, 12,000 of which live in Mariehamn, but don’t let this slight number fool you – Mariehamn is a lively place, especially in summer: the city receives up to 1.5 million visitors a year.

Mariehamn’s 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. In comparison to its modest size, Mariehamn is packed with restaurants, hotels, cafes, museums and culture. According to the locals, it’s the world’s smallest metropolis.

Credits: Rebecka Eriksson / Visit Åland

Cycling in Åland

Åland feels almost created to be toured on a bike: the roads are flat, and ferries and bridges creating cycle-friendly links between the numerous islands; all routes and destinations are suitable for families, with short distances and highlighted paths; you can bring your own bike on the ferry or easily rent one in Mariehamn. The sightseeing starts as soon as you hop on the saddle!

Credits : Visit Åland
Credits: Tiina Tahvanainen / Visit Åland

Get to know the history of Kastelholm castle

First mentioned in historical records dating from 1388, Kastelholm Castle is where Swedish kings, including Gustav Vasa, spent time. For centuries, the main east-west route across the Swedish Empire passed through Åland. Now, the castle is open to the public from May to mid-September.

Credits : Sara Terho
Credits: Sara Terho

Spend time on the water

Credits: Daniel Eriksson / Visit Åland

Bikes aren’t the only way to explore Åland – you can hop from island to island on boat or by kayak, too. When paddling in the waters between the islands, it’s possible to spend an entire day without encountering anyone besides the occasional seal and – if you’re lucky – a white-tailed eagle. If you plan to visit in the winter, why not try skating instead? Often, the ice is free of snow and many guides are available to show you various long-distance routes you can take.

If you have a hard time choosing from the many islands, take a trip to Kökar. The ferry leaves from Lumparland, just a 30 km-drive from Mariehamn. From Lumparland, it’s a 150min-ferry ride through the maze of small islands. Kökar is an isolated island where the ruins of a medieval Franciscan monastery are the main attraction. With around 250 residents, Kökar is the second-smallest municipality in Finland. 

Credits : Daniel Eriksson / Visit Åland
Credits: Timo Nieminen

Go golfing

If golf is your thing, you’ve come to the right place. Åland has an impressive three 18-hole courses and a long golf season. Åland Golf Club, a lush facility with two courses, is located next to Kastelholm Castle. If you head the westernmost part of Åland, you’ll find the beautiful Eckerö Golf, which has a large driving range and lies just five minutes from the harbour where the Eckerö Linjen ferries arrive from the mainland. 

Credits: Visit Åland

The ruins of Bomarsund

The Russian Czar’s granite fortress, built to house for 2,000 Russian armed forces, workers and prisoners, was destroyed by the British and French soldiers during the Crimean War in the mid 1850’s. Nowadays, visitors can explore the gigantic ruins for free, making it a great setting for a family adventure. There’s also a café and restaurant at the nearby campground.

Credits: Visit Åland / Tiina Tahvanainen

Pommern and Maritime museum

Pommern is a four-masted barque, an almost 100m long ship that used to haul cargo all the way to Australia. It was built in 1903 and turned into a museum in the 1950’s. To make the most out of the experience a guided tour is recommended, where experts can regale you with facts and tales from the ship’s fascinating history. The ship sits outside the Maritime Museum in the western harbour of Mariehamn.

Credits: Visit Åland

Åland with kids: Lilla Holmen island

All in all, Åland is a family-friendly destination. But the smallest visitors to Mariehamn will especially enjoy Lilla Holmen island, where children can swim, climb in a pirate ship and visit the birds in the bird house. The popular Gröna Udden beach is just a stone’s throw away, where excellent picnic spots and places to sample an Åland speciality – pancakes with cardamom and plenty of whipped cream – can be found.

Credits : Visit Åland
Credits: Visit Åland / Daniel Eriksson

Celebrate 100 years of autonomy

Since 1922, Åland has had its own parliament as well as a representative in the Finnish national parliament. The island group is autonomous concerning government, cultural policy and language – Swedish is the only official language despite being a Finnish region. However, Finnish legislation applies in matters concerning foreign policy, civil and criminal law, customs and monetary policy. This special arrangement was made by the League of Nations in the years that followed the end of the First World War, the Russian revolution and Finland’s declaration of independence.

This means that in 2022, Åland will celebrate its 100th anniversary of autonomy. The entire year will be packed with special events, with official celebrations beginning in June 2022 and lasting until the end of the year. For more detailed information, go to the Visit Åland site.

Credits: Vastavalo / Minna Suhonen

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