Mariehamn is the capital, and, with 11,000 citizens, the only town of the Åland islands. The town's Finnish name, Maarianhamina, is rarely used, as the whole population speaks Swedish.
HistoryA youthful town, Mariehamn was founded in 1861 while Åland and Finland formed part of the mighty Russian Empire. Maria, consort of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, gave the town her name.
Mariehamn grew up round the farming village of Övernäs, situated on a peninsula. The harbour's built-in sheltered bays came to be of great importance. The streets of Mariehamn are wide and straight. Housing sites were large from the beginning, but today they have been divided to provide space for several houses. A distinctive feature is the Esplanade, an avenue of lime (linden) trees stretching from west to east, from harbour to harbour.
The Russian heritage is mainly responsible for the layout of the town. It follows the same basic guidelines as can be found in many Russian cities, with large avenues with promenades in the middle of the street. Apart from that, the only Russian signs left from that era is the multitude of tombstones in the graveyards in Åland.
During the Russian times seafaring expanded from shipping local goods to Stockholm to global trade, continuing after the independence. Between the world wars Gustaf Erikson got famous by gradually buying most of the big sailing ships still left in the world, and successfully operating them. One of the former German P-liners acquired by him, Pommern, has become a symbol of Mariehamn. Many of the beautiful wooden houses were built by shipowners. Shipping still contributes considerably to the wealth of the town.
Mariehamn AirportThere is a restaurant in the building, usually open every day. There is no airport bus. There are regular flights from Helsinki operated by Flybe and from Turku and Stockholm by Air Leap (check! new), mainly used by business travellers.
The passenger port is at the western edge of the centre, in Västerhamn.
Viking Line and Tallink cruise ferries travelling between Finland (Helsinki, 8h and Turku, 5h) and Sweden (Stockholm, 6h) dock briefly at Mariehamn or Långnäs. This is not just to let passengers on and off but also to make the routes eligible for on-board tax free sales, Åland being outside the EU VAT area. If the stop is at Långnäs, 25km to the east, there is usually a bus or taxi connection to Mariehamn, costing as much as the boat ticket. Tallink makes a stopover in Mariehamn on the Tallinn–Stockholm route. Viking, Silja and Tallink all use the same terminal. Note that the terminal is not open 24h. Tickets can be bought when a boat is due to leave. Facilities are limited. There are several lockers, a money exchange machine (EUR-SEK), toilets and a customs office. Just outside, there is a café and a small kebab restaurant. Birka Cruises have one daily departure from Stockholm, using their own terminal, facing the Adlon hotel and pizza restaurant.
From mainland Finland another alternative is to take the archipelago ferries hopping from island to island. If you are travelling this way, it is useful to have your own transportation such as a car or a bike. Depending on whether you take the northern or southern route you will land in either Vårdö (1 hour by car to Mariehamn; a quite long road passage also in Brändö) or Långnäs (1/2 hour by car to Mariehamn). It's not cheaper or faster than the direct ferries but certainly more scenic.
From Sweden another option is to take the Viking Line ferry from Kapellskär in Norrtälje, bypassing the long and narrow channels of the Stockholm archipelago. Viking Line operates a bus service between the ferry terminal and Stockholm, Uppsala and Norrtälje centre. Remember to book the bus at the same time as you book the ferry. You can also use buses operated by SL when going to the ferry terminal, with probably cheaper prices, but the buses do not necessarily match the ferry departures. The Kapellskär ferry reduces travel time from about six hours to about four.
There are also other ferries from Norrtälje: Finnferries from Kapellskär via Långnäs (more quiet ro-ro ferries) or Eckerölinjen from Grisslehamn to Eckerö.
The sea can get pretty rough in the autumn, if there are strong winds from the right direction. The Sea of Åland (the part of the Baltic you'll be travelling through) is infamous for its nauseating rolling waves.
For those with a yacht of their own (or a chartered one), Mariehamn is conveniently between Sweden and the Finnish mainland, with only a short passage over the Sea of Åland. There are two marinas, one in the west harbour (Västerhamn) and one in the east (Österhamn). The distance between them by sea is considerable, so know your plans.
address: VästerhamnPommern (earlier name Mneme) is a windjammer turned into a museum ship, kept in original shape. She is a four masted barque built at J. Reid & Co shipyard in Glasgow in 1903. She soon became one of the Flying P-Liners, the famous sailing ships of the German shipping company F. Laeisz. Later she belonged to Gustaf Erikson of Åland, who used her (and the rest of his windjammers) to carry grain from the Spencer Gulf area in Australia to harbours in England or Ireland until the outbreak of World War II. She was thus one of the last cargo-carrying large sailing ships. In 2018-19, Pommern was placed into a dock, to lessen stress on her hull. Tickets to go aboard her are sold at the nearby Åland Maritime Museum.
address: Hamngatan 2This museum preserves memories of the sailing ships, one of its exhibits being the red-brown captain’s saloon from the famous four-masted barque Herzogin Cecilie, originally German, later one of Gustaf Erikson’s ships. She ran aground off the coast of England in 1936 and before she sank her saloon was salvaged and brought to Åland. You can see all sorts of ship paraphernalia from sextants to sails, souvenirs sailors brought home from their travels and learn about e.g. shipbuilding and the 19th century seaman's hotel in Mariehamn and try out being a captain in the museum's ship simulator. Also English literature for sale.
Maritime quarteraddress: Eastern harbourBoat building traditions are kept alive at the Maritime Quarter in the eastern Harbour. Among the red sheds there is a boatyard and a smithy as well as a boat and shipbuilding museum. Several small ships have been built there, including the galeas Albanus and the schooner Linden.
Åland Museum and Åland Art Museumphone: +358 18 254-26address: Storagatan 1The Åland Museum exhibits the history of Åland from prehistoric times up to the present day. The Åland Art Museum displays pictures by both old and young Åland artists. The Mariehamn Gallery model of Mariehamn in the 1920s with its wooden houses has been moved to a separate location.
Lilla holmenPark island with peacocks, rabbits etc.
Gröna udden beach
MariebadSwimming hall. Also outdoor swimming, water slide, spa facilities etc.
- The is the northern part of Torggatan. Shops usually close at 17:00 or 17:30 on weekdays and at 14:00 on Saturdays. Some close at 20:00 on Thursdays. Most shops accept Visa and MasterCard, but some of them do not accept Visa Electron. ATM's ("OTTO") are scarce. There are some in the city centre, outside the four bank offices along Torggatan. One is situated in Strandnäs, at the Ålandsbanken bank office.
address: Sparvägen 1Just outside the city border in Jomala is Maxinge, probably the largest shopping mall on the islands. About 20 different stores and a couple of places to eat and drink.
Most prices are somewhat higher than on the Finnish and Swedish mainland. There is both local produce and what is typically found on either mainland.
Restaurant PommernArranged with ship's fittings. The menu is delicious and some items are quite cheap.
Restaurang Sittkoffska Gårdenphone: +358 18 17612address: Torggatan 13Food largely from local ingredients, at least some dishes with an unorthodox touch.
Marie Baraddress: Köpmansgatan 1Cozy corner café with a cool retro-looking neon sign. Fresh sandwiches, bakeries, coffee and tea.
Gröna Uddens CampingBy beach and wood a (1–2 km?) walk from the centre. Playground for children. Basic kitchen in the cottages and in a service building, which also houses toilets and showers.
Kungsnäs stugoraddress: Önningebyvägen 510
Strandbergs Stugoraddress: Varvsvägen L 183
address: Neptunigatan 52Inexpensive, especially for singles. Very close to the main ferry port. Open all year.
address: Neptunigatan 41
Pensionat Solhemaddress: Lökskärsvägen
Övernäsgårdenaddress: Östra Ytternäsvägen2 and 4 person chalets also available
phone: +358 18 16444address: Storagatan 5A bed and breakfast hotel open only in the summer season.
phone: +358 18 21511address: Godbyvägen 21
phone: +358 18 15555address: Norragatan 8-10
phone: +358 18 15400address: Hamngatan 7
phone: +358 18 14130address: Norra Esplanadgatan 3
phone: +358 18 16333address: Hamngatan 1
phone: +358 18 2402address: Strandgatan 31
phone: +358 18 15400address: Nygatan 12