Åland Islands – sunny piece of paradise at the crossroads of two cultures
Located in the southwest of Finland, the archipelago paradise of Åland consists of more than 6,700 islands, 60 of them being inhabited. Flat reddish granite, endless seascapes with red boathouses, lush and diverse nature and the relaxed, cheerful island life invite you for a visit.
In 2022, Åland Islands celebrate their 100th anniversary of being autonomous. While the islands belong to Finland, they are located only 40 kilometres from Mainland Sweden, the local language being Swedish. Like the other Finnish archipelago destinations, also Åland Islands are at their finest during the beautiful summer months. The sea climate and ferry trips are more enjoyable in warm weather, nature trails at their prettiest, summer cafes thriving and Åland's only city, Mariehamn, full of life.
Sympathetic and compact Mariehamn
Pastel-colored wooden villas built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries decorate Mariehamn, a maritime town of about 12,000 inhabitants. Stroll around the city, and you can truly still sense the life of the past. To get a view from above, you can walk from Badhusparken to Badhusberget, where a view over the city opens up in front of your eyes.
Along the main street, Torggatan you can find delightful little boutiques and several idyllic cafes, which atmosphere takes you back in time. An excellent choice for those with a sweet tooth is, for example, Bagarstugan Café & Vin, where the selection of home-baked delicacies also includes the Åland classic, ålandspannkaka – a delicious pancake that includes rice pudding.
Even though the compact city center itself is very quickly walked through, the city still has interesting attractions that are worth a visit.
One such attraction is the unique museum ship Pommern, built in 1903. She’s the only four-masted cargo sailing ship in the world that has been preserved in her original condition. On a ship visit, you time travel more than a hundred years back in time to the time when the Åland ship owner Gustaf Erikson and his crew defied the high foam heads and sailed to Australia.
Another great place to visit for anyone interested in archipelago life is the Åland Maritime Museum. The museum has an impressive collection of miniature models of sailing ships and objects representing Åland's maritime heritage – the collection even includes an authentic pirate flag from the 18th century! There is also plenty to explore for the youngest ones of the family. Maritime history is alive also in Mariehamn's beautiful, postcard-like Maritime quarter, where you can explore boat carvings and rustic boathouses, and purchase local craft and design products as souvenirs.
If you wish to spend time in nature also during your visit to the city, pack your lunch and head towards the nearby Nåtö nature reserve. The nature trail, which is about three kilometres long, passes through green flower fields and beautiful coastal rock landscapes.
The diverse mainland of Åland
The largest island of Finland's sea area offers plenty to see also outside Mariehamn. You can explore the island by bicycle, car or boat, or even hop on a local bus.
Within a good 20-minute drive from Mariehamn is located the medieval Kastelholm Castle with its long and colorful history. If only the solid walls of the well-preserved, 14th-century castle ruins could speak, they could tell you the most exciting stories, as the castle has seen both sieges and fires. You can get the most out of your visit by participating in a guided tour, which is organised in Finnish, Swedish and English. Children can join a pirate tour adventure in the castle.
Another destination oozing with history is the ruins of the Fortress of Bomarsund. The construction of Åland's largest construction project took place between 1330 and 1854, until the fortress was thoroughly destroyed in the fire of the Åland War. In fact, the building of the fortress was never actually completed. Today, the ruins can be explored on a 4.2-kilometer hiking trail that takes you through a varied natural and cultural landscape to wonderful viewing points.
Åland is also known for its amazing culinary experiences unlike any other, numerous microbreweries and delicious limonade. The restaurants vary from farms to fine dining and use local ingredients and season’s harvest as much as possible, which has been common in the archipelago already for centuries. Food-lovers should head, for example, to the oasis of local flavours Smakbyn, try the brewery of Staghallen serving local food, or visit the lovely Mormors Gröna Hus. Get the best ice creams from Mattas gårdsmejer farm and explore the wonderful soft drinks from Amalias Limonadfabrik. A good tip for crisps lovers is a visit to the Taffel factory, where you can taste delicious crisps made just moments ago.
On the north side of the main island, in Havsvidden, the reddish solid rocks polished by the ice age stand out and the seascape is breathtakingly beautiful, regardless of the season. At the cosy Havsvidden Resort, you can stay either in a hotel room or in your own rock villa with a sea view. Finland's westernmost point Eckerö, known as amongst the sunniest places in the Nordics, also offers a versatile destination for a day trip or an overnight stay.
Charming smaller islands
Between mainland Åland and mainland Finland, you can take the southern or northern line island ferry that stops at the smaller islands. On the southern line, for example, there is a small piece of paradise – the idyllic Kökar island group, where you can admire the romantic red archipelago cottages and majestic nature.
Soak up Kökar’s cute atmosphere and breathe in the fresh air, wander the 7-8-kilometer-long Kalen nature trail, pay a visit to the Peders Aplagård apple farm, and go see the unique sea-inspired Kökar church and the fascinating ruins of the Franciscan monastery from the 15th century. You can also rent a canoe and with a hint of luck, come across seals splashing in the water.
Throughout the Åland archipelago, you can find several nature and hiking trails that take you to see diverse terrain, ancient remains, beautiful sea views and cultural sites. You can also discover the islands by rental bikes or admire the archipelago from the seaside in a canoe.
One of Finland's oldest lighthouses, the Sälskär lighthouse, is located in the outer archipelago of Åland, northwest of the main island. During the summertime, you can join a guided tour from the Hällö pier in Geta. The gorgeous, whitewashed lighthouse rises up to about 30 meters, and it was lit for the first time in September 1868. Sälskär lighthouse has been called the most beautiful lighthouse in the Baltic Sea.
Did you know that Åland is also a dream destination for frisbee golfers? The island group is home to possibly the world's largest frisbee golf course, Åland DiscGolfPark that can be accessed free of charge. Try one of the 16 courses or play them all – the most ambitious can, with the help of local guides, tour all the courses in one day, although this could take up to 20 hours!
Finnair flies to Mariehamn a few times a week.