Åland  (Finnish: Ahvenanmaa) is an autonomous area in the Baltic Sea, consisting of one main island and a surrounding archipelago. While legally a part of Finland, in practice the islands run their own affairs and are rather different from the mainland.
Åland is divided into 15 municipalities and one city Mariehamn.
- Mariehamn (Maarianhamina), the capital
The Åland Islands (pronounced "Oh-lahnd") are a group of small islands officially belonging to Finland but awarded a wide degree of autonomy by a League of Nations decision in 1921 that settled a long-running dispute between Sweden and Finland. Still at the time when Åland was under Russian sovereignty, a treaty was concluded between Russia, France and the United Kingdom at the issue of the Crimean War, by virtue of which the islands were demilitarized. Finland assumed the same obligation upon achieving independence. Among other things, Ålanders have their own parliament, publish their own stamps, are exempt from military service and maintain a special tax status in the European Union.
The archipelago consists of around 80 inhabited islands plus around 6000 uninhabited islands, islets and rocks. The total population is only 26,530 (2004), 90% of which lives on the main island Åland (also known as Fasta (Mainland) Åland), which includes the capital Mariehamn.
The islands are monolingually Swedish, a point of some contention in otherwise bilingual (or, in practice, frequently Finnish monolingual) Finland. English is widely spoken and generally spoken better than Finnish.
Finns from outside Åland, who want to establish resident's rights, not only have to reside for a minimum period but also to exhibit proficiency in Swedish. Moreover, if the Finnish Parliament passes legislation relevant to Åland, they must inform the Åland Assembly in Swedish.
There are plenty of ferry connections between Åland and mainland Sweden and Finland. Primarily for tax reasons, ferries plying between Helsinki and Stockholm all stop off at Mariehamn or the nearby (30km east, approximately) jetty of Långnäs, making this the easiest and cheapest way to get in (although docking often happens at inconvenient times in the middle of the night - the Långnäs stops). Mariehamn also has a small airport that serves flights to mainland Finland and Sweden.
- Mariehamn airport  - the only airport on the islands. There are daily flights from Helsinki and Turku and international flights to/from Stockholm. The flight from Helsinki is less than an hour and the flight from Turku and Stockholm is only half an hour. Mariehamn airport is situated less than 3km north of Mariehamn.
Ferries from Sweden
- From Grisslehamn (Sweden) to Eckerö (Åland) by Eckerölinjen . It takes only two hours to travel between Eckerö and Grisslehamn. There are always buses providing transportation to all ferry depatures, both from Mariehamn and from Stockholm, as well as one bus per day from Uppsala.
- From Kapellskär (Sweden) to Mariehamn (Åland) by Viking Line . It takes two and a half hour to travel between Kapellskär and Mariehamn. There are always buses providing transportation to all ferry depatures from Stockholm.
Ferries from mainland Finland
- From Osnäs (Gustavs, Finland) to Åva (Brändö) by Ålandstrafiken 
- From Galtby (Korpo, Finland) to Kökar by Ålandstrafiken 
Ålandstrafiken ferries are free to pedestrians and to motorists between the smaller islands. For pedestrians bus lines 4 and 5 from Mariehamn go respectively to Hummelvik and Långnäs, each of which is a terminal for a route to the Finnish mainland.
Ferries from Estonia
A combination of ferry between the islands and a bicycle on the islands themselves is the most popular option.
- Archipelago ferries
The trip to Åland through the archipelago is something you will never forget. Choose a route through either the southern or northern archipelago. Bookings can be made for trips to and from an intermediate port. Trips from one destination port to another can only be made if you spend a night on the some of the small islands. The archipelago ferries is served by Ålandstrafiken .
- Kastelholm. A castle located in the northern part is worth paying a visit. Mostly a ruin today, it was home to many Swedish kings who reigned the combined kingdom of Sweden and Finland from this place. There are guided tours, also in English.
- Jan Karlsgarden Open Air Museum - very close to Kastelholm castle - free in 2004.
- The fortress of Bomarsund  was built by the Russians during the years 1830-1854. The establishment was thoroughly ruined during the Crimean War when attacked by the allied English-Frenchmen. On the other side of the channel, next to the bridge of Prästö, is a small museum where pictures and objects from Bomarsund are on display.
- Postvägen  The Mail Road dates back to Queen Kristina´s days in the 17th century, when the Swedish postal service of that time was organized. Today the Mail Road looks different but it is still very much alive.
- The 4-mb POMMERN  in the West Harbour in Mariehamn serves as a memory of the great fleet of sailingships, who once had the town as their homeport.
- Maritime Quarter , a living marine centre with boat-building activity, a smithy and facilities for other traditional handicrafts, alongside a museum and a café.
The official currency is the euro (€). Swedish Krona (SEK) is usually accepted in the peak season.
- Smoked flunder with potato salad.
- Svartbröd, Blackbread, as the name implies the bread is almost black. It is round and quite flat but its most characteristic feature is the taste. The blackbread is sweet. The sweetness originates from the syrup that is added to the dough and from the manner in which the bread is baked in the oven.
- Cheese from the local ÅCA dairy is of high quality. The Kastelholm cheese is particularly recommended, and works well with blackbread. Its roots can be traced back to the 16th century.
- Åland’s pancake. Traditional and delicious Ålands dessert. The pancake is made on grain of rice or semolina and served with stewed plums and whipped cream.
- Stallhagen beer made by Ålands Bryggeri AB and available in most bars and restaurants in the islands. It's a traditional, light lager and there's no doubt where it comes from: the flag of Åland is on the label.
- Tjudö Vineyard  has three own home-distillers. They distils Scandinavian Vodka from the fruits at the vineyard. The apple vodka is called Ålvados, which is a kind of Calvados. They also make wine - Västergårds Äppelvin - with apples that has ripened on the farm's own trees. You can visit the vineyard, walk around among the fruit trees and see how the wine is produced. The guided tour ends in the old threshing house and here you can sample the drinks directly from the wine cellar.
Speaking Swedish and being a part of Finland, the people of Åland regard themselves as a separate nation, and appreciate if you refer them as one.
This page was last edited at 11:44, on 17 February 2009 by Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel. Based on work by Peter Fitzgerald, David Cross, Sietse Snel, Colin Jensen, Tim Sandell, Jani Patokallio and Michele Ann Jenkins, Wikitravel user(s) Blist, Ypsilon, Cacahuate, Jake73 and Episteme, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.