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Åland is an archipelago in the Gulf of Bothnia, halfway between Sweden and Finland. Though it is officially an autonomous region of Finland, the island group has strong cultural ties with Sweden. Until the early years of the 19th century, Ǻland was a part of the Swedish kingdom and Swedish is still the language spoken in Ǻland today.
With a population of under 30,000 (and that is record population, in Ǻland terms), the islands operate at a calm pace. For travellers, Ǻland is the sort of place where the main attraction is the well-preserved flora and fauna. With thick woodland areas and miles upon miles of coastline, the islands offer a getaway from the modern world. A visit to a local shipwright, whose work seems to have changed little over the past century, will make you believe you have landed in the 19th century.
The Åland archipelo was used by Sweden as a stepping stone to colonize Finland. In 1809 when Finland was annexed by Russia, the Åland island, who were governed from Finland moved to Russia aswell. After the Crimean war, it was decided that the islands, that had always been of great strategic importance were to be demilitarisised. When Finland gained its independence in 1917, many people on the islands wanted the group of islands to go to Sweden. The case was presented to the League of Nations, which ruled that Åland should remain Finnish territory, but that the Swedish language and the culture was to be respected. Åland also gained an autonomous and strictly neutral status.
The Åland Islands is located about halfway between Stockholm and Turku in southern Finland. The archipelago consists of about 6,000 islands, many of which are not more than a rock and basically too small to live on. About 80 islands are inhabited. The archipelago is connected to Åboland archipelago in the east, adjacent to the southwest coast of Finland. The surface of the islands is generally rocky and the soil thin. There are several harbours. The islands' landmass occupies a total area of 1,527 square kilometres and about 90% of the population live on Fasta Åland (the Main Island), which is also the site of the capital town of Mariehamn. Fasta Åland is the largest island in the archipelago, extending over 1,010 square kilometres, more than 66% of the province's land area. It measures approximately 47 kilometres from north to south and 34 kilometres from east to west.
Åland consists of 16 municipalities spread across its islands.
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Kastelholm Castle is located in the northern part of the main island and is worth paying a visit. Partly a ruin today, it was founded in the 1380's and home to many Swedish kings who reigned the combined kingdom of Sweden and Finland from this place. There are guided tours, also in English, but it's only open during the busier summer months.
When the Russians took the islands in the beginning of the 19th century they agreed not to fortify them. In Sund the Russians broke the treaty and started to build a fortress in 1832. Although 22 years later, in 1854, during the Crimean War the still uncompleted fortress was destroyed. Today people can visit the the remains of the Bomarsund Fortress and see many nice cannons.
Looking for some discounts? Then go on the ferry between Sweden and Finland and make sure it makes a stop at Åland, which all of them do. If the ferry stops in one of the major cities then it is possible to purchase some tax free goods. One of the few cheap deals in all of Scandinavia.
The Pommern Museum is located in a unique four masted sailing vessel that was named the Pommern. Built in Glasgow, Scotland this fine ship was launched in 1903. In 1923 she was purchased by Gustaf Erikson in Mariehamn. The ship mainly carried wheat between Australia and England till 1939 when World War II broke out. Since 1957 the Pommern was moored next to the Åland Maritime Museum in the western harbour of Mariehamn.
Because of its location in the waters between Sweden and Finland, the Aland Islands have milder climate than comparable places as far north as this. This means that summers are a little cooler compared to mainland Finland or Sweden, but winters are relatively mild. Summer is from June to August, with average daily highs of around 17 °C or 18 °C while nights are generally around 10 °C. Winter is from December to March, with temperatures during the day around or slightly above zero, while nights are around -5 °C on average in February, the coldest month. Rain (and snow during winter) falls quite evenly throughout the year, but tends to increase from June to December and be a bit lower during the later wintermonths and spring.
Although obviously you can drive to Åland directly, the ferry described below offers you to bring your own car. This gives you maximum freedom on the islands and you don't need to rent a car.
There are numerous options of getting there by ferry from Sweden, Finland and Estonia.
Cars can be rented on several of the islands and on some routes you can take your car between the islands. Both international and local companies offer rental cars and you need your national driver's licence or international driving permit. Traffic drives on the right and rules are strictly obeyed. RBS biluthyrning offers the best deals and friendly services. They have a wide range of cars and special 24-hour deals. There are 4 main roads on the mainland, conveniently number 1 to 4. Number 1 goes from Mariehamn to Eckerö, number 2 from Mariehamn to Godby, Kastelholm, Bomarsund and onwards to the ferry to Vardo, number 3 between Mariehamn and Langnas and number 4 branches off from Godby (route 2) towards Geta in the northwest of the mainland. All these roads and most minor roads are paved and well signposted.
A better option than renting a car, is to take a bike and ride yourself across many of the rather flat islands, using a combination of ferries and bikes. There are many designated bike paths and routes and you'll find several places that rent bikes in the capital and a few outside. Note that, although it's rather flat, it generally goes up and down a bit and outside the summer season it is generally too cold and a rental car is a better option. Also, with just a few days on the main island, it's better to rent a car if you want to see some more remote parts.
Buses operates on most islands and you can find schedules, routes and prices at the Alandstrafiken website. Buses usually run once every 2 hours on most routes and if there is room, you can also take your bicycle.
There are a number of ferries operating services between the islands. You can find ferries, schedules, routes and prices at the Alandstrafiken website. The ferries are always free to passengers and bicycles (and to motorists if they are staying on any of the smaller islands). A few small short routes are free as well for cars if not staying on any island, like the one to Vardo.
As an autonomous region of Finland, the same rules apply to the Åland Islands.
See also: Money Matters
Åland has adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side of the 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents coins has the image of the heraldic lion on it, as it can also be found on the coat of arms of Finland. On the €1 coin, two swans fly above a typical Finnish lanscape, and on the €2 coin an image of the fruit and the leaves of the cloudberry is printed. Although the image side is different from other countries, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
There is a €5 commemorative coin that was issued in 2006 to celibrate the 150th Anniversary of Demilitarisation of the Åland Islands. It's unlikely that you will encounter this coin, as most of them ended in the hands of collectors.
While the Euro is Åland's official currency, the Swedish Krona (SEK) also circulates freely in the country. Check the Swedish Currency for details.
Although Åland is a semi-autonomous region that officially is part of Finland, most people speak Swedish. 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, so would be the primary choice if you can't speak Swedish or something closely related to it.
Outside Mariehamn, you will find few places other than some small supermarkets open for business outside the May-September period.
In the capital though there are several good choices, from decent restaurants to take-away places. There are absolutely no fast food outlets on the island. Some restaurants have limited hours of service and some aren't open every day. Guest houses can usually arrange dinner, but you might have to book it beforehand.
Some of the typical dishes on the islands include:
Many sleeping options are only open from around May (some even later) to early September. From October to April, you will find many places, especially outside Mariehamn, closed for business. The right to access is not regarded to include camping on Åland, due to small islands and fragile nature.
|Bomans Gästhem||Vardobyvag 75 Vardo||Guesthouse||-|
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Aland. It is recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November.
See also: Travel Safety
Åland is probably one of the safest areas anywhere on this planet and it doesn't even have the same city problems you can face in neighbouring Sweden or Finland. Just keep you valuables with you and not unattended on a beach or in your car, and you are unlikely to face any problems.
Quite a few hotels, restaurants and bars offer wifi. You won't find dedicated internet cafes on the islands, but the library in Mariehamn and a few smaller local ones usually have 1 or several computers where you can use internet for free (mostly there is a time limit).
See also: International Telephone Calls
The international country code for Aland is 358. Mobile Phone coverage is excellent like the rest of Scandinavia.
Posten Ǻland is the postal system of the islands. It offers fast and reliable services. Post offices are open from earyly morning till late afternoon, but outside Mariehamn they might not be open all day.
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