Åland

Not to be confused with Öland, a Swedish island in the southern Baltic Sea.
Capital Mariehamn
Currency Euro (EUR)
Population 28,355 (2011 est.)
Electricity 230V/50Hz (European plug)
Country code +35818
Time zone UTC+2

Åland (Finnish: Ahvenanmaa) is an autonomous area in the Baltic Sea, consisting of a main island and a surrounding archipelago. While legally a part of Finland, in practice the islands run their own affairs and are rather different from the mainland. The less than 30,000 inhabitants speak Swedish.

Municipalities

Åland is divided into 15 municipalities and one city Mariehamn. Most municipalities consist of an island group and surrounding archipelago, a couple are on the "main island" (which in fact consists of a few islands, separated by narrow sounds and connected by bridges).

Understand

Åland

The Åland Islands (pronounced "Oh-lahnd") are a group of small islands officially belonging to Finland but awarded a wide degree of autonomy by a League of Nations decision in 1921, which settled a long-running dispute between Sweden and Finland. Still at the time when Åland was under Russian sovereignty, a treaty was concluded between Russia, France and the United Kingdom at the issue of the Crimean War, by virtue of which the islands were demilitarized. Finland assumed the same obligation upon achieving independence. Among other things, Ålanders have their own parliament, publish their own stamps, are exempt from military service and maintain a special tax status in the European Union.

The archipelago consists of around 80 inhabited islands plus around 6,000 uninhabited islands, islets and rocks. The total population is only 28,000 (2010), 90% of which lives on the main island, known as Fasta (Mainland) Åland, which includes the capital Mariehamn. In local documents "the archipelago" does not include the main island.

Use care when planning activities or relying on community services. Outside Mariehamn the communities are tiny; what looks like a town on the map may be a village of only a few buildings at a cross roads!

In winter many guesthouses, cottage villages and sights (such as Pommern and Kastelholm) are closed. There is not much snow; opportunities for winter sports are limited.

Talk

The islands are monolingually Swedish, a point of some contention in otherwise bilingual (or, in practice, frequently Finnish monolingual) Finland; Närpes, Korsnäs and Larsmo are the only mainland municipalities to be monolingually Swedish. This goes both ways: the Ålanders did not choose to be part of Finland and are often upset by the way their language is forgotten by mainland authorities.

Although Finnish is optionally taught in schools, many Ålanders choose not to study it and some may not want to speak it even if they know it. English is very widely spoken, even by many elderly people, and would be the primary choice if you can't speak Swedish or something closely related to it.

Signs are sometimes bilingual in Swedish and English or Swedish and Finnish, but English or even rudimentary Swedish usually make a better start than Finnish. If your Swedish and English are weak and Finnish seems a good choice, start with Swedish anyway and let the local make the choice about changing languages. Tourism is big, many of the tourists are Finnish and Ålanders know service in Finnish is a bonus, so many struggle to be able to offer it.

Get in

Pommern in the harbour of Mariehamn

There are plenty of ferry connections between Åland and mainland Sweden and Finland. Primarily for tax reasons, ferries plying between Turku, Helsinki or Tallinn and Stockholm all stop off at Mariehamn or the jetty of Långnäs 30 km east, making this the easiest way to get in. The night ferries to and from Turku usually dock at Långnäs, i.e. in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night (don't miss the bus!). In extreme weather or ice conditions sometimes also the ships that should call at Mariehamn call at Långnäs instead, or pass by, which happens a few times yearly.

There is a shorter and cheaper ferry from Grisslehamn in Norrtälje, Sweden, to Eckerö in the west and there are several smaller ferries from mainland Finland via the archipelago municipalities in the east (main routes: Kustavi via Brändö to Sund and Korpo via Kökar to Långnäs).

Mariehamn also has a small airport that serves flights to mainland Finland and Sweden.

Note that the "tax reasons" for ferries going via Åland are due to Åland not belonging to the EU customs union. This means e.g. that wine (exceeding the allowed free import quantity) brought from France for private use elsewhere in Finland might require paperwork. Check details for any goods that may interest customs.

By plane

Ferries from Sweden

The ferries going via Mariehamn or Långnäs may skip calling at Åland (or may call at Långnäs instead of Mariehamn) because of storm, ice or other special conditions. This happens only a few times a year, and passengers to Åland are taken care of, but check with the info desk if it seems you might be affected.

Ferries from mainland Finland

Village in the archipelago, Sottunga.

1) Ålandstrafiken ferries are free to pedestrians but quite expensive for motorists, especially if not staying overnight in the archipelago, see Archipelago ferries below. There are parking lots at the harbours in each end, for those continuing by foot, bike or bus. For pedestrians bus lines 4 and 5 from Mariehamn go respectively to Hummelvik (4.50€) and Långnäs (4.30€), each of which is a terminal for a route to the Finnish mainland.

2) The public service ferries in the Archipelago Sea (e.g. Ferryway above) are probably free, at least for pedestrians.

Ferries from Estonia

Small craft

The passage from Sweden over the Sea of Åland is short enough for nearly any boat in nice weather (but check forecasts!). Coming from Finland, there is just a small gap in the archipelago (Skiftet). Having a boat will allow you to fully enjoy the archipelago; see also cruising on small craft.

Get around

Typical road on Åland

By bike

A combination of ferry between the islands and a bicycle on the islands themselves is the most popular option (keep the receipt if paying for the ferry: valid all the season). There are well developed facilities for bicycles including dedicated cycle paths along many roads and ferries exclusively for bicycles.

By car

There is a good road network and the island can be crossed by car in less than an hour between furthest points. Traffic is very light all over the island including in Mariehamn. Car rental should be arranged in Sweden or mainland Finland although it might be possible to rent a car at the airport. Fuel is widely available at organized points around the island and is similar in price to say mainland Sweden.

By bus

There are bus connections to most parts of the main islands, served by Ålandstrafiken .

Archipelago ferries

The archipelago ferries are served by Ålandstrafiken .

The trip to Åland through the archipelago is something you will never forget. Choose a route through either the southern or northern archipelago.

Bookings can be made for trips to and from an "intermediate" port, but not from one "destination" port to another (mainland Åland to "mainland" Finland). Transit with motor vehicles have a much higher fee than travelling to some of the islands (e.g. motorcycle/car in season 70/140€ vs 20+20/30+30€). Spending a night on some of the smaller islands is probably worthwhile anyhow (you will need the receipt or a similar document to get the reduction).

There are parking lots at Hummelvik, Långnäs and Svinö, so you can leave your car unless you need it at the destination.

The Vårdö main islands can be reached from the mainland by free cable ferry, for other archipelago municipalities you need the archipelago ferries.

See

Note many major tourist spots are only open during late spring and summer and during closed times can only be viewed from the outside.

Kastelholm castle
In the Open Air Museum

Do

Hiking, bathing, enjoying the silent countryside.

Buy

The official currency is the euro (€). Swedish krona (SEK) is usually accepted in most shops and restaurants during the peak season, but the exchange rate is typically not very good, so it is significantly cheaper to pay in euros or by card. Compare rates with local banks first.

Please note: Shopping in Åland is very expensive. Due to import of most goods, with sometimes insurmountable difficulties in filling the stores with enough supplies, prices in most stores are in the EU highs, mostly 10–50 percent higher than in the Stockholm or Helsinki metropolitan areas. Prices on some groceries can be even higher, with oatmeal and gruel selling at more than double the price in, say, Stockholm or Helsinki.

SALT in the maritime district of the east harbor of Mariehamn has a selection of local artisan crafts including textiles and glassware made in Åland, next to a maritime museum and local jewellery shop.

Åland has its own postal service and stamps unique to the island, these make excellent inexpensive souvenirs. There are post offices in several towns and in Mariehamn.

In general, souvenir shopping in Åland is difficult. The island is not well presented for international tourists and there are only small displays of the typical souvenirs such as keychains, postcards and mugs. A few of the stores along Torggatan in downtown Mariehamn have these, as well as museums and some of the larger grocery stores.

Local beer, apple juice and apple liquors are tasty and available (Åland produces a third of Finland's apples).

Eat

Åland pancake with jam and whipped cream
See also: Nordic cuisine

Some food items to look for:

Most restaurants are in Mariehamn. Do not expect to find fast food outlets elsewhere on the islands. Some restaurants have limited hours of service and some are not open every day. Guest houses can usually arrange dinner, but you might have to book it beforehand.

Drink

Sleep

There are hotels in Mariehamn, but otherwise you will probably sleep at some kind of guest house, cottage or camping site. The host can often offer activities special for the site, such as fishing trips, deer watching and game dinner or guiding at the local sight.

The right to access is not necessarily regarded to include camping on Åland, due to the islands' small size and fragile nature.

Respect

Åland has its own parliament, its own executive government and is generally autonomous from Finland. The cultural heritage though is mostly Swedish.

Speaking Swedish and being a part of Finland, the people of Åland regard themselves as a separate and autonomous nation, and appreciate if you refer to them as one.

Go next

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