The ultimate guide to the Åland islands
Until a few weeks ago I had no idea of the existence of Åland, often referred to as the Aland islands. This group of islands is located in between Sweden and Finland and although they speak Swedish, this autonomous region is part of Finland (are you still with me?). During my visit to Finland I got the chance to visit the islands, so I’m sure you can understand I couldn’t say no! It was so easy to fall in love with these islands… it was like a winter fairytale. So now I’m telling everyone who wants to hear it they have to go and visit Åland (pronounce as: Oh-land)!
Åland should de-fi-ni-te-ly be your next holiday destination, but I’ll also give you a lot of practical tips in this travel guide: how to get to Åland, what to do, where to stay and where to eat – so the only thing you have to do is book your ticket to Helsinki and go!
Facts about Åland
Size: Åland exists of over 26.000 islands (yep, you’ve read that right) of which 65 are inhabited. The complete area takes up 1580 km², of which over 88% is water.
Population: There are about 29.000 Alanders living in the area, around 40% of them live in the capital Mariehamn.
Language: The official language of Åland is Swedish, both on the streets and in the official communication with the Finnish government. It’s an autonomous region with its own parliament, flag and anthem, but it’s still part of Finland.
Money: Just like in Finland, you can use your euros to pay in Åland. Prices can be compared to The Netherlands (where I live), though sometimes it’s a tiny bit more expensive. It’s a lot cheaper than Norway though.
Climate: Because of it’s southern location, Åland has the warmest climate of all of Finland (it’s about two degrees warmer than Helsinki). During winter it’s cold, during summer it’s warm. When I visited Åland in January it didn’t get any colder than -2, but sometimes the temperatures can suddenly drop to -20. I thought it wasn’t too bad, although the wind was pretty cold.
How do you get to the Åland islands?
There’s three places in Scandinavia that are connected to Mariehamn, the capital of Åland: Stockholm, Helsinki and Turku (a big city in Finland). The easiest thing would be to fly to one of these cities. I would recommend either Finnair or KLM (my fave <3), but you could also look for tickets on Skyscanner.
From all three locations there’s two ways of getting to the Åland islands: by plane or by boat. Mariehamn has a tiny airport, which has flights leaving to Stockholm, Helsinki and Turku a few times a day. Sometimes the flights to Helsinki have a layover in Turku to pick up extra passengers. The operating airlines are Finnair and Nextjet.
Flying might be the quickest option, but these flights get expensive quite quickly. So your best option would be to take the Vikingline night ferry. I got on the ferry in Helsinki in the evening, had a lovely meal, had a drink in the bar, went to bed in my cabin, and arrived at 4:25 am (ouch) in Mariehamn. On our way back we left around 11:30 pm, and arrived at 10:10 am in Helsinki after a good night of sleep and some lovely breakfast. The ferry goes from Helsinki to Stockholm, but makes an extra stop in Mariehamn. A one way ticket, including cabin and buffet, is around €100 which might not seem cheap, but this actually includes your trip and a night on the boat! That’s much cheaper than booking a plane ticket and a hotel separately. (And also a great idea if you want to travel from Helsinki to Stockholm!)
Things do in Åland
Like I said: Åland is just beautiful. It’s incredibly peaceful, and there’s no such thing as “busy” (in winter anyway!). A local told me that she sometimes gets a bit annoyed during the evening rush, which consists of five (!) cars. I wanted to tell you about twelve things you can do during your stay on the Aland islands. We stayed at the main island. And yes, you’re staying in nature (and not a vibrant metropolis) so it’s mainly sport activities :-).
1. Cross country skiing
Let’s start off with what I liked the least: nordic skiing! I’m quite an alright skier, so I was pretty optimistic about my cross country skiing skills. After all, I’m good with normal skis?! But nope. Cross country skiing is hell on earth. I fell four times and three weeks later my elbow still hurts from one of the falls. Believe it or not, but it’s actually much more like ice skating than skiing (and I can’t ice skate). But alright, if you want to: in the town of Jomala you can go cross country skiing along a beautiful route.
2. Nordic Walking
I wouldn’t expect to be nordic walking somewhere in the next 25 years, but to be honest it was quite fun. As soon as you get past the awkward feeling (I mean, you’re not poking into anything with these sticks, you just kind of wave them around) it’s actually quite a fun and active way of moving and walking. It’s quite windy on the islands though, so make sure to bring a beanie or some protection for your face, if you decide to go during winter.
3. Walking or hiking
Obviously you can just go for a walk or hike without those silly sticks. The islands is packed with walking trails, throughout the never ending forests and beautiful lakes that you’ll find everywhere.
4. Cycling or mountain biking
Because there’s so little traffic on the island, it’s a perfect place to go cycling. And you’ll see some stunning views with those lakes right next to the road. If you’re into more active cycling, then there’s a few good mountain bike trails you can go on.
I didn’t do it myself, as it was way too cold, but during summer the lakes of Åland are supposedly a great place to go kayaking. I can imagine you can even take your kayak to the uninhabited islands, which seems pretty cool!
I keep on forgetting how much I love yoga, but when I went to a class at Yogahouset So Ham in Mariehamn I felt really rested. The teacher has such a peaceful voice! Her English is really good, so you can always tag along for a class (€13).
7. Swimming + sauna
You can always go for a swim in one of the many lakes, but if you’re like me and don’t really like swimming in open waters, then Mariebad is the place to go for you. You can just swim some laps, but you can also (like a real Finnish person) use the saunas. Or, like I did, just relax with your friends in the jacuzzi for an hour.
8. Bomarsund fort
Not the sportive type and rather visit a historical spot? I’m pretty sure you’ll like the ruins of the Bomarsund fort. The fort used to be the most impressive building on the islands (and was built by the Russians), but it got almost completely destroyed during the battle of Bomarsund, which took place during the Krim war in 1854. Across the fort you’ll find a beautiful lake with a gorgeous view.
Sure enough, Mariehamn is the capital, but don’t expect too much of a metropolis. Over 10.000 people live in Mariehamn, which makes it more of a big village. Then again, this also means everything is within walking distance, so it’s perfect for just wandering around the shopping streets and along the water.
10. Åland Maritime Museum
You can find the best museum of Finland in Mariehamn (not my words, but an official titel)! Even for people without a big interest in ships, the Maritime Museum is quite fun to visit. As it turns out, the museum is really interactive: you can climb up the mast, have a look at the decor of an old boat, see a real, original pirate flag and even find out what a whale’s penis looks like. I mean, come on!
11. Höga C at Cafe Uffe på berge
One of the things I always try to do on any trip is go to a lookout point. At Åland, Höga C is the place to go. You can climb up the wooden tower which will treat you at a beautiful panoramic view of the area. You can have a drink at the nearby cafe while enjoying your view, but it was closed when we were there.
12. Rent your own island
For all the diva’s in here *raises her hand* this is quite a cool fact: you can rent your own island on Åland! It’s not as expensive as you might think: prices start at $160 a night for four people. It’s perfect for a VIP stay with your squad!
The best restaurants on Åland
When you think about countries with a delicious cuisine, you might be thinking about Italy or Greece. But Finland can definitely add itself to the list. Not only is their food incredibly tasty, it’s also really fresh and locally sourced. In Finland I had nothing but great food, but Åland was even better! Yum!
Dinos Bar & Grill
60 North Bar & Cafe
We were actually a bit surprised when we went to the airport to have lunch, but it turns out there’s a really good restaurant there. I had some fantastic smoked salmon that I still dream about at night. Website | Location
The award for the cutest cafe on Åland goes to Bagarstugan, without a doubt. The cafe has been split up in different areas full of cute tables and floral wallpaper. Apart from delicious cakes, cinnamon rolls, tea and coffee, they also serve really good lunch. I had an amazing fish soup and the greatest Daim pie ever. Website | Location
This brewery comes with a great story: years ago people discovered a beer in a shipwreck from 1850 (if I’m not mistaken). They managed to recreate the recipe, and this beer is being brewed and sold in Brewery Stallhagen ever since. But they have good food too! They change the menu every day, depending on what ingredients and food got delivered. The kitchen is behind a big window, so you can watch from the restaurant what’s going on. Really cool! Website | Location
Where to stay on the Aland islands?
I was on Åland for only two nights, but I’ll share some other options apart from my own hotel, so you can check out the different price categories and choose a hotel that matches your budget.
Hotel Arkipelag Mariehamn – It’s not cheap, but this was such a great hotel. It has a phenomenal view of the water, a swimming pool and a fantastic breakfast buffet, which all together made it an amazing place to stay. I thought the bed was extremely comfortable as well, and not just because I got to sleep some more after a wake up call at 4 am. So soft, so nice: highly recommended.
From €140 per night. Check out the prices here.
Hotel Pommern – This is a four star hotel as well, but a bit cheaper than the previous one. Hotel Pommern has quite a central location and offers a bike rental and a sauna (how Finnish!). The hotel also has a few rooms suited for families.
From €100 per night. Check out the prices here. | Source picture
Strandnas Hotel – For people who don’t need luxury, this might be a better option. The 59 rooms of this hotel have a central location as well, and all have their own bathroom. The rooms are small, but have everything you need (including breakfast).
From €70 per night. Check out the prices here. | Source picture
If you feel adventurous and would rather go camping, your best bet is to have a look at this website. Åland has 17 camping grounds, all located in the fantastic Scandinavian nature.
From €10 per night.
That’s it: the complete travel guide for the Åland islands. I hope this post showed you how beautiful this area is and you’re just as excited as I am (while I’m not even really an outdoor person!). Enjoy your holiday in Finland, and send me a postcard if you decide to visit Åland! ;-)
Do you have some tips for a holiday on Åland?
I got invited by Visit Åland to visit the Aland islands, as part of NBE Finland. All opinions are 100% my own. This article contains affiliate links.