The capital of the Åland Islands, Mariehamn is the administrative center of a region that is quite unique. The islands are self-governing, but, at the same time, constitute a part of Finland. Even so, Finnish is not the language spoken here: The islanders all speak Swedish, and the local culture is Swedish (but should you want to address the people that you meet in Finnish, most of them are okay with that too).
If you’ve heard of these islands before, chances are that you have been told about the characteristic nature of this island community. You need only spend a couple of hours here to experience how nature seems to change in unpredictable ways. Particularly if you see the area close up, for example, from a kayak.
With only 28,000 inhabitants spread over an area of 5,219 square miles/13,517 square kilometers there are plenty of opportunities to experience undisturbed moments while cycling, fishing, kayaking, or enjoying other outdoor activities.
At the same time, the town of Mariehamn is within easy reach of some of the largest cities of this region of the world. Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is only hours away. The same goes for Helsinki, Finland’s capital. Turku, Finland’s fifth largest city, is even closer. St. Petersburg, Russia, is not far away, either.
Over the years, the proximity to both Finland and Sweden has left its marks on the Åland Islands – as exemplified by the mixture of nationality, language and culture. In fact, when Sweden was a state of some power in the 17th century, Finland was a part of the kingdom of Sweden.
Factors like these have left the inhabitants of the Åland Islands with a heritage that they are quite proud of – and one that they are rather careful of.
If you cruise to (or arrive from) destinations such as Stockholm, Helsinki and Turku, you will likely find that the characteristic archipelago provides the natural link between Mariehamn and the larger cities. Sometimes referred to in connection with the Åland Islands – then branded as the Scandinavian Islands – the neighbouring Stockholm and Turku archipelagos not only provide impressive sceneries but also numerous opportunities for outdoor activities.
Cruise ships dock at Mariehamn’s Western Harbor. The distance to the town center is about 0.3 miles/500 metres. Mariehamn is situated on an isthmus between two bays. It is possible to walk from one side of the isthmus to the other in about 15 minutes. For passengers who prefer not to walk, the town of Mariehamn offers a complimentary shuttle service in connection with cruise ship calls.
- 100 years ago, at the beginning of the 1900s, the Åland Islands was home to the world’s largest fleet of sailing ships. One of them remains to this day: the Pommern. Moored at the port of Mariehamn, this four-masted bark is the only one of its kind, worldwide, to still be in its original condition. The ship is now a museum, open during summer.
- As a reflection of Mariehamn’s maritime past, the town features a Maritime Quarter. Smaller boats continue to be built here, and there is a smithy and facilities for other traditional handicrafts as well as a museum and a café. You will find the Maritime Quarter just north of Mariehamn’s Eastern Harbor (on the opposite side of the town, when you arrive to the town on a cruise ship).
- The Russian army started the construction of the Bomarsund Fortress in 1832, reflecting an ambition to create a military outpost in the Baltic Sea (Sweden had lost the Åland Islands to Russia during a war in 1808-1809). A British/French force captured the unfinished fortress in 1854. A small museum, the Bomarsundsmuseet (situated close to the fortress) tells the story about this period of time on the Åland Islands. Distance from Mariehamn: 21.5 miles/35 kilometers
- En route to the Bomarsund Fortress you will pass the Kastelholm Castle, which is the only mediaeval castle on the Åland Islands. It was mentioned for the first time in writing in 1388. Gustav Wasa, a Swedish king during the 16th century, spent some time at the castle, as did two of his sons (one of them as a prisoner to his younger brother). Over the years, the castle has also been under siege a couple of times. Distance from Mariehamn: 14 miles/22.5 kilometers
- There are more reasons than the actual castle to visit the Kastelholm Castle. Nearby, you will find the Jan Karlsgården open-air museum, built as a typical Åland farm in the second half of the 19th century. Other attractions include a former prison, the Vita Björn, and a restaurant.
- The Tjudö Vingård (Tjudö Vineyard) produces wines from fruits and berries picked on the farm. Tjudö also has a distillery, producing the so-called “Ålvados” – Ålandic Calvados. Distance from Mariehamn: 18 miles/29 kilometers
Outdoor experiences. Whether you’re into kayaking, fishing or mountain climbing: when it comes to the great outdoors, Åland has everything that you might wish for.
Shore excursions in and around Mariehamn include:
- A visit to the Tjudö Vineyard (see above under Do Not Miss) – including the possibility to taste local wine made from fruits and berries, as well as the local variant of calvados: Ålvados.
- If you are more into beer, the Stallhagen brewery might be your preferred choice.
- Other tours put focus on the Bomarsund Fortress and/or the Kastelholm Castle (see above under Do Not Miss).
- The Åland Islands offer many opportunities for playing a round of golf.
- A kayak safari is another option.
- And there are many other possibilities to get active in the Åland Islands.
Mariehamn being situated on an island, you will probably need a boat to get from here. That’s no problem at all, should you wish to depart by other means than with the cruise ship that you arrived on. There are several ferry routes connecting Mariehamn with some of the most well-known destinations in the Baltic, such as Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn and Turku.
Link to Åland Official Tourist Gateway for cruise.
[googleMap name=”Maarianhamina” directions_to=”false”]Maarianhamina, Finland[/googleMap]
Avid Cruiser Posts, Photographs and Videos Featuring Mariehamn & the Aland Islands.