The Åland Islands are paradise islands à la Scandinavia! Located in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland, the autonomous islands belonging to Finland are easily reached by a scenic ferry trip from Finland or Sweden. From medieval castles to foodie finds and luxury hotels, here are a dozen reasons to visit the Åland Islands.
Mariehamn is the capital of the Åland Islands with 11,000 inhabitants – almost half of the islands’ population live in the city. Mariehamn’s harbour used to be the home of the world’s largest oceanic sailing ships, and nowadays visitors can still feel the influence and importance of the sea when visiting the cute and cosy capital. Mariehamn city centre is located only a short stroll away from the historic port and offers restaurants, cafés, museums and shops as well as beaches.
Kastelholm Castle is a medieval castle located in Sund, about twenty-five kilometres from Mariehamn. The construction of the castle began in the 1380s when Finland was part of Sweden. The castle was inhabited by many Swedish royal figures during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, and it is one of only five surviving Finnish medieval fortresses with architectural significance. Kastelhom Castle was damaged in the 1599 civil war and then again by a fire in 1745. Nowadays, after decades of renovations, Kastelholm Castle plays an important part in the Åland Islands’ tourist industry.
Åland Islands may not be the next tropical beach destination like Bali or Bahamas, but the beaches here still have an undoubtable allure. With over 6,000 separate islands there are plenty of beaches to choose from. Try the sandy beach of Lilla Holmen near the city centre Mariehamn, the scenic Nabben Beach near Mariehamn or sunbathe and swim at Bamböleviken.
A visit to Åland’s Maritime Museum is an invigorating plunge into the islands’ maritime history. The museum exhibits include 150 model ships and also a genuine pirate ship flag from the 1700s, complete with skull-and-crossbones! Visitors will also get a grasp of traditional shipbuilding via shipbuilding facilities which are built around original equipment. But the main attraction is the magnificent Pommern, a Scottish-built four-mast barque which in its heyday used to sail all the way to Australia. Pommern is currently under renovation and visits are only available on guided tours. The Maritime Museum is open all year round. After the museum, take a stroll around Mariehamn’s picturesque Maritime Quarter.
Åland’s oldest and largest brewery, Stallhagen, was established in 2004 by a group of beer enthusiasts. The brewery’s modest aim was to cater craft beer for Åland’s markets, but the products have since spread to neighbouring Finland and Sweden. The brewery organises tours and there is also a fabulous gastropub on the premises. Step in, take a seat and sip away!
The flat and scenic terrain and the relatively short distances make the Åland Islands a cyclist’s paradise – especially if you are not after too much excertion. There are various bike rental spots around the Åland Islands but the handiest way is to pick up a bike from Mariehamn when you arrive at its harbour. People used to go round the islands with tents and spirit stoves but nowadays there are plenty of indoor accommodation possibilities and restaurants available for the more leisurely minded cyclists, too. There are several marked cycling routes around the islands, although the remote parts may not have separate cycling paths. Åland Tourist Information is always happy to help you with any arrangements on your trip, or you can buy The Tourist and Cycle Map from Mariehamn’s bookstore.
For Ålanders, the Kobba Klintar used to be like the Statue of Liberty: once the seamen saw it on the horizon, they knew that home was close. Kobba Klintar’s idyllic pilot station dates from 1861 and functions now as a summer café. The old foghorn still works, and to delight visitors, it is also used during the high season. Kobba Klintar is locted only ten minutes away from Mariehamn and makes a perfect spot for a kayaking expedition. Try Paddelpoden or Kobba Klintars Vänners kayak rentals or guided tours.
In recent years, the Åland Islands with its locally produced food has become a bit of a foodie hot spot. Try the local ‘hemvete‘ bread or black bread for breakfast with strong filter coffee. Pop into a restaurant for lunch and you will find delicious gravadlax – or, if you are a bit more adventurous foodie, opt for the pickled herring or the “Ledholmare” baltic herring burger. For lighter snacks try the smoothies made of a local yoghurt flavoured with the superfood sea buckthorn. And despite its seaside surroundings, the Åland Islands also produce high-quality meats, such as lamb, beef, pork and even deer and elk.
Apart from the Swedish influenced food, there are also some traces of Finland’s Russian period apparent in the islands, especially in Sund, where Russian minced meat pastries are still baked. And whatever you are eating, wash it down with locally produced milk, apple juice or cider.
One of the most remote lighthouses in Finland, Säskär Lighthouse makes a perfect day trip when visiting the Åland Islands. The visits are only available by guided tours on Wednesday evenings or by pre-booking. The 150-year-old, majestic lighthouse was built in 1868 and automated in 1949. A trip to the lighthouse takes about four to five hours, but the memories of it will last a lifetime.
If you are into remote places and island living, Kökar in the Åland Islands is the perfect spot for you! Kökar consists of one larger island surrounded by thousands of smaller ones, and it forms the outermost southern part of Åland. The first inhabitants who came to the island about three thousand years ago are believed to be seal hunters, and fishery remained the islands’ main industry for hundreds of years to come. Today, there are 280 inhabitants in Kökar, and the remote islands lure visitors to their rocky shores by their arid landscape and picturesque coves. You can reach Kökar directly from Finland or Sweden, or from Marienhamn first by taking a bus to Långnäs and then hopping on a ferry to Kökar – the ferry takes over two hours and has a café on board!
Located in northern Åland, HavsVidden Resort offers a dose of luxury enhanced by the beautiful seaside landscape which surrounds it. The hotel buildings are perched on the rocky seashore and offer amazing sunset views in summer months. There is a popular restaurant in the hotel, as well as a bar. HavsVidden’s stylish bathhouse features a sauna, pool and jacuzzi, and massage treatments are also available here. HavsVidden is the perfect place to de-stress and take in the arid beauty of the Åland Islands.
One reason to visit Åland Islands from Finland is the ferry trip itself. Going on a mini-cruise is a popular holiday experience for the Finns, and the ferries glide slowly between Finland, Sweden and Estonia on a daily basis. There are multiple bigger ferry companies, such as Tallink Silja, Viking Line and Eckerö Line, that stop at Mariehamn, and also smaller ferries operating between Turku archipelago and the Åland Islands. Rather than staying indoors shopping, sit down on the deck and let the beautiful, bright blue Scandinavian seaside scenery calm your body and mind.