This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2016. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
If you had have asked me a few years ago if I knew where the Åland Islands were, my answer would have been a blank stare.
I had no idea they even existed. But as I started planning my trip to the Nordics, the Finland tourism board invited me and a bunch of other travel bloggers to check out some of the Finnish Islands, including Åland.
As Finland was still left uncoloured on my world travel map, I jumped at the chance to add in this new country.
The early morning trip to the ferry terminal in Stockholm had me feeling a little sleepier than normal, but I wasn’t letting it dampen my mood. My jaw dropped as I watched countless islands of the archipelago float past, the ferry expertly weaving between them as we made our way from Sweden to Åland.
When we landed in Mariehamn, I took a great breath of the fresh air that smelled faintly of pine trees and sea water. We were standing in Åland’s capital – a small city nestled comfortably in the arms of the nature surrounding it.
I discovered that Åland is a destination for the neighbouring people that inhabit the mainlands of Finland and Sweden, who travel here for their summer vacations. But these tourists have no expectations of beaches and palm trees – instead, they come to relax in a place so serene that you could almost forget about billions of other people out there in the world.
Over the course of my two days in Åland, our guides told us a number of cool facts about our current location. Here’s a few that might inspire you to include Åland in your next Nordics trip itinerary!
1. Åland is autonomous
While Åland is technically a part of Finland, it has its own parliament, flag, stamps, and license plates. It can pass its own laws in regards to health care, education, industry, and transport, but it still has to follow Finnish law for foreign affairs, criminal law, and customs.
If you decide that you want to buy a house in Åland, then too bad – there’s a law that states only residents can be in possession of property. Either you or one of your parents have to have been born in Åland, or you have to be a Finnish citizen who has lived in Åland for 5 years.
Swedish, not Finnish, is the official language of Åland, and all publication and documents sent to Åland must be in Swedish. Åland is also a part of the EU and the Nordic Council.
2. It has 20,000 islands
There are 28,500 people in Åland, and there are 20,000 islands – which means that there is one island for roughly every 1.5 people! Only 6700 of the islands are named, and only 60 are inhabited, as most of them are small and rocky.
Many of the Åland people have summer houses on the smaller islands. Most of the time, you will have to own a boat to get there in the summer, or use a hovercraft or snowmobile to get to your island when the water freezes over in the winter.
3. You can camp basically anywhere for free
In Åland, there is a rule called Everyman’s Right. It means that you can camp anywhere, as long as you don’t stay more than a few nights in the one place, don’t light an open campfire, and aren’t too close to a house on someone’s private property.
So this means that if you have a boat or a kayak and decide to go and explore one of those 20,000 islands in Åland, you can pack a tent, pick any spot to come ashore, and set yourself up for the night with only the local wildlife as your neighbours.
4. Every home has a sauna
The Finns are obsessed (and I mean really obsessed) with saunas. Instead of basking in the sun like those of us who live in warmer climates, they head to the sauna, usually after dinner, and regularly pop out for a cold shower or dip in the nearest lake.
This obsession means that every home has access to a sauna, whether it be a private sauna inside the house, an external sauna that is shared between neighbours, or a shared sauna for an apartment building.
5. The local moose go island hopping
Unfortunately I wasn’t lucky enough to see one, but apparently the local moose have a habit of swimming between islands in their search for food.
So, when you decide to go camping on your secluded island which didn’t have a moose on it when you arrived, you may wake up to find a few rather large visitors wandering around.
6. Most houses are the same red colour
There is a reason that most of the houses in Åland are the same red colour. The paint, named ‘Falu Red’, was made from copper found in a Swedish mine in Dalarna. The copper was oxidised to get rid of the iron, which produced a by-product called red soil.
It was discovered that the minerals in this red soil help preserve wood from rot, so they decided to make it into a paint and then started slapping it on nearly every house in Sweden, Finland, and Norway.
How to get to the Åland Islands:
You can fly into Mariehamn from Stockholm or Helsinki, but arriving by ferry is the most popular choice. There are ferries that head to Åland regularly from Stockholm, Helsinki, Turku, and Tallinn.
The ferry takes around 5 hours to get to Mariehamn from either Stockholm and Turku, which is the perfect amount of time to divide between taking photos from the sun deck and eating your way through the buffet. Who wouldn’t want to consume way too many desserts while effortlessly making your way between countries?
If you’ll be travelling as a family then you can utilise the kids club on board then relax on the deck. Otherwise, there are a number of bar/nightclub/casino options to pass the time.