A 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 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 Airport (IATA: MHQ) is just 3km north of the city centre. There 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 the Swedish airline Nextjet, mainly used by business travellers. Flights from Turku operated by the business airline Turku Air are the most expensive at €180 and do not run on weekends.
Viking Line and Silja Line car ferries travelling between Finland (Helsinki, 8h and Turku, 5h) and Sweden (Stockholm, 6h) dock briefly at Mariehamn or Långnäs (in the night). 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, though it is not permitted to use this route to go from Mariehamn to Stockholm. Viking, Silja and Tallink all use the same terminal in the Western port. The terminal is 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 in the Western port, 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) or Långnäs (1/2 hour by car to Mariehamn). It's not cheaper or faster than the direct ferries but certainly more scenic.
Boats going from central Stockholm are relatively slow, because they need to travel a long way through the narrow passages of Stockholm's archipelago. Some of them also stop in Mariehamn in the middle of the night. A better option is to take Viking Line's ferry from Kapellskär to Mariehamn. Viking Line operates a bus service between the ferry terminal and nearby Swedish cities such as Stockholm, Uppsala and Norrtälje. You can also use buses operated by SL when going to the ferry terminal, but the price is different and the buses do not necessarily match the ferry departures. Remember to book the bus at the same time as you book the ferry. The Kapellskär ferry reduces travel time from about six hours to about four.
Please note that the sea can get pretty rough in the autumn. 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 and one in the east. The distance between them by sea is considerable, so know your plans.
As of late 2015 there are two bus lines operated by the ferry company Viking Line. Your other options to get around is by taxi, car, bike or foot. The town is quite compact, a car is mostly useful to get to the surroundings.
- Pommern, Western harbour. the ship is accessible May–September. The Pommern (earlier name Mneme) is a windjammer turned into a museum ship. She is a four masted barque that was built 1903 in Glasgow at J. Reid & Co shipyard. She is 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. Pommern was thus one of the last cargo-carrying large sailing ships. Tickets to enter Pommern are sold at the nearby Åland Maritime Museum.
- The Åland Maritime Museum (Ålands sjöfartsmuseum), Hamngatan 2. This 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. adults €10, children €6.
- Maritime quarter, Eastern harbour. Boat 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 galleass Albanus and the schooner Linden.
- Åland Museum, Storagatan 1. The 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 and the Mariehamn Gallery at the Western Harbour has a model of Mariehamn in the 1920's with its wooden houses. Closed for rebuilding, plans to re-open in 2014.
- Lilla holmen. Park island with peacocks, rabbits etc. Free.
- Gröna udden beach. Free.
- Mariebad. M 12–22, Tu–F 10–22, Sa–Su 10–18. Swimming hall. Also outdoor swimming, water slide, spa facilities etc. €9/5.
The shopping street 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.
- Maxinge, Sparvägen 1 (4 km north of downtown). Just 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 Pommern. In the same building as Hotel Pommern (a fair walk from the ship Pommern) is arranged with ship's fittings. The menu is delicious and some items are quite cheap.
- Restaurang Sittkoffska Gården, Torggatan 13 (Sittkoffska Gallerian), ☎ +358 18 17612. M–F 10:00–20:00, food from 11:00, Su closed. Food largely from local ingredients, at least some dishes with an unorthodox touch.
- Marie Bar, Köpmansgatan 1 (next to the bus station). Mo-Sa 07:00-16:00. Cozy corner café with a cool retro-looking neon sign. Fresh sandwiches, bakeries, coffee and tea.
Nightlife in Mariehamn is sparse and revolves around the two restaurants "Dino's" and "Indigo" – although heavily frequented by locals they don't compare well to establishments in larger cities. Between midnight and 02:00 those restaurants close, and almost everybody migrates to the nearby nightclub "Arken". Considering Åland's history (a Swedish archipelago until 1809, then Russian and later Finnish since 1918 – Ålanders speak Swedish, they use some Russian expressions and they drink like Finns) the later hours are dominated by the occasional bar-brawl, heavily intoxicated teens and vomiting. The "Arken" closes at 04:00, and then it's all over.
- Guesthouse Kronan, Neptunigatan 52. Inexpensive, especially for singles. Very close to the main ferry port. Open all year.
- Guesthouse Neptun, Neptunigatan 41.
- Hotel Esplanad, Storagatan 5, ☎ +358 18 16444, fax: +358 18 14141, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A bed and breakfast hotel open only in the summer season.
- Park Alandia Hotel, Norra Esplanadgatan 3, ☎ +358 18 14130, fax: +358 18 17130, e-mail: email@example.com.
Mariehamn is the natural starting point for all the other destinations on Åland such as Kastelholm Castle and Bomarsund Fortress ruins in Sund or the Post and Customs museum in Eckerö.