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A summer on the Aland Islands, between Sweden and Finland

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Aland Islands

Would you like to tour Northern Europe this summer? Summer is the best time of year to walk around here without freezing and the scenery comes alive wonderfully. One of the most curious and special destinations that we can visit are the Aland Islands.

The Alands are a autonomous region of Finland where Swedish is mostly spoken, they rest at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia, in the baltic sea, and if there is a main island that concentrates most of the population, there are thousands of other islands and islets where practically no one lives. Beyond, almost 40 kilometers of open sea, is the coast of Sweden. With so much water around, it’s no coincidence that its name in primitive Norwegian means Land of Water.

the aland islands

Aland Islands

Humans first arrived on these remote, frigid islands 7,000 years ago when the islands reemerged from the depths after being engulfed by continental ice during the last ice age. First hunters and gatherers, then farmers, later they still came into contact with the Vikings whose passage left ruins, tombs and castles.

In the 13th century they were incorporated into the Swedish Empire and then Sweden handed them over to Russia so later they became part of the Grand Duchy of Finland. At the time of the Crimean War the English and French used to roam here and after the defeat of Russia all the islands were demilitarized and still are today. In 1919, its settlers formally requested to secede from Finland and join Sweden.

A terrain

they did not succeed but it was decided that the Aland Islands were an independent and self-governing territory, with its own representation in the Finnish government. They weren’t even in danger during World War II. Today they have their own stamps, their own police and even their own airline, Air Aland.

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Tourism in the Aland Islands

Foglo in the Aland Islands

as I said above most of the population lives on the island of Fasta, seat of the capital Mariehamn. Fasta is the largest island in the group and covers just over a thousand square kilometres. Its economy is based on cargo, trade and tourism. In this order.

But do we speak Swedish or Finnish here? Most speak Swedish, is the official language and the first language of more than 90% of the population. Finnish is spoken by very few people. How to get to the Aland Islands? Good by ferry. The ferry connects the islands with the mainland and the Finnish region of Turunmaa. The best is that passengers travel for free. Yes, free! If you travel by car, you have to pay a little and make the corresponding reservation, but if you travel on foot, you travel for free. Bright!

Kayaks in the Aland Islands

The gateway to the islands is the town of Mariehamna charming port city which easily explored on foot or by rental bike. Also by bus, but not so much fun. You get off at the port and walking 10 minutes you get to the center. A charming boulevard is the main artery, it is lined with trees and bordered by old buildings, among which the old church of Saint Göran stands out. Directly opposite is the tourist office, so you can stop and do some research.

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The majority of shops, cafes and restaurants are located along the pedestrian street of Torggatan, in the central area of ​​the city. Here is the Parliament, City Hall and other government buildings. And if you see a statue of a woman, take a picture because of her the city is called Mariehamn: it is the tsarina Maria Aleksandrovna. As I said before, it is better to go there in summer because the city has a lot of greenery and you can enjoy its parks and beach, harbor and marina.

There are many restaurant boats, many guided tours to take by bike or boat, and one can explore the city on foot or use the public transport system. There are buses that go to the north and others to the south. They run every hour in summer and during opening hours. They cost 2 euros and allow you to do the whole tour. For a more scenic visit, you can hop on the Röde Om mini train, but it only runs in the summer.

Ruins in Åland

Another interesting visit is the Aland Maritime History Museum which is located in Vasterhamn. It is a two-storey building entirely dedicated to maritime trade, which is the leitmotif of the islands. There’s a ship simulator, of an English ship from 1936, so you walk into the captain’s cabin and it moves and all, and there’s also an exhibition of curiosities that sailors from the islands may have brought back from their travels . Engines, models, activities for children add to the experience. This is actually a very well thought out museum.

And for the same ticket you can go see the Pommern, a steel four-master which is in its original state. It is unique in the world and every summer since 1957 it has been operating as a museum. This ship built in Glasgow for a German company was launched in 1903 and in 1923 it was purchased by a sailor named Erikson, owner of the largest commercial fleet in the world. She sailed until 1939 and carried grain between Australia and England.

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Ship Pommern

do some get on the ferry This is what you need to do to get a good idea of ​​what the islands are like. And since it’s free, it’s almost obligatory from a tourist point of view. The destinations are numerous: Föglö, Sottunga, Kökar, for example. Each destination has its charms but I wouldn’t leave without visiting the ruins of the 15th century Franciscan monastery at Kötlar (just two hours by ferry), or the Bronze Age settlement of Otterböte, for example, both Kokar.

Summer in the Alands

What is certain is that the beautiful Aland Islands can give us an incredible insight into Nordic culture in general, of its nature, its cuisine and its history. They are between Sweden and Finland and also have their roots in Russian history. Monasteries, castles, fortresses, their ruins are here and there. Its natural landscapes allow us to enjoy outdoor adventures such as walks, bike rides, kayaking or diving in frozen waters. The gastronomy also deserves to be commented on because the menus based on fish and shellfish, the craft beers and the chocolates made with cocoa brought back from South America are some of the things to try.

Fishing in the Alands

If you do not know the Aland Islands but they attract you I recommend you visit the official tourism website to gather more information and plan your trip. The site is great and gives you practical information on how to travel there and between the islands, what to eat, what to do, where to stay, maps and a full calendar of events. Visit Åland!

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