The town of Mariehamn was founded in 1861 by Tsar Alexander II, named after his wife Maria Alexandrovna, when both Åland and Finland were part of the Russian Empire. Previously, Åland's main town had been Skarpans, which had been built near the Russian fortress of Bomarsund, but it had been destroyed along with the fortress in the Crimean War. Mariehamn grew around the old farm village of Övernäs which was located in the centre of the peninsula where the town is located today. The only remnant of that time is 'Övernässtugan' - the Övernäs cottage - situated in the eastern part of Skillnadsgatan.
Today Mariehamn is a much larger town of some 11,000 people that grew thanks to its long tradition of shipping and sailing. It is compact and busy, the centre of the Åland islands and a key link in the ferry traffic from Finland to Sweden and beyond, as well as a popular stopover for the numerous cruises that operate in the Baltic Sea, benefiting greatly from the region's duty free policies.
Thanks to it's relatively small size, most of Mariehamn's cultural delights, shopping facilities, and dining and nightlife experiences can be found all within walking distance of the town centre. Mariehamn manages to attract over 1.5 million visitors annually, and as a result it always has something happening to entertain. The town's rich maritime heritage has been well preserved in the Sea Quarter, the Åland Maritime Museum, the museum ship Pommern and the villa's of past sea captains, to name a few. There is also an abundance of live music festivals; Mariehamn hosts both a summer and a winter Jazz Festival, rock and pop lovers can enjoy the Rockoff festival, and classical music lovers are treated to the internationally acclaimed Katarina Concerts every year.
There are also plenty of lively bars and pubs in the town, and nightclubs that open until 4am six nights, or mornings, a week, even in winter. Of course, in summer the number of options increase dramatically, with numerous friendly watering holes open around the western and eastern harbours. Dining out in the town is real treat as the restaurants here maintain high stardards in their cuisine and service, and base their meals as much as possible on locally sourced fish, meats and vegetables. As one would expect from an archipelago, fish is particularly good, but perhaps the big surprise is the inclusion of one of the healthiest of the red meats, ostrich, which incredibly is also locally sourced.
Although it is a relatively small town, Mariehamn is the epicentre for tourism in Åland and boasts a wealth of cultural heritage and attractions. There is a fine variety of musical events held throughout the year, including the Katarina Concerts of chamber music, the Åland Country Festival, the Rockoff and Island in the Sun festivals of rock and pop music, and both a winter and summer Jazz festival.
Although most of the activities available in Mariehamn relate to the sea, there is also a fine sports centre in the town with all the usual facilities, a go-cart racing track for petrol heads of all sizes, and stables where you go horse riding. If relaxation is your aim try the spa, take one of the sauna cruises or enjoy a trip on a real historic sailing ship.
Mariehamn restaurants offer excellent service and cuisine, with a range of meals based on fish, meat and vegetables sourced locally. The town has a lively nightlife, with plenty of bars and pubs, and nightclubs that remain open until 4am six nights of the week even in winter.
Mariehamn offers the visitor numerous choices in accommodation, from luxurious hotels to economic but excellently equipped camping sites, as well as bed and breakfasts, hostels, and of course plenty of berths in the many guest harbours for those arriving by boat. Most of the hotels in the town are within a stroll of the picturesque town centre.
Mariehamn is a busy small town where most of the shopping is within reasonable walking distance in the town centre. Around Torggatan there are countless small shops, while shopping along the cobblestone streets you'll discover everything from fashion and home decor to books and handicrafts, where you'll see how local artisans have combined old handicraft techniques with a new creativity using such natural materials clay, glass, wool, leather, wood, and textiles.
Once you've arrived in Mariehamn you'll be pleasantly surprised to discover that the local bus service is free. There are four main routes, running from the town centre north and south, and these will bring visitors to virtually all the local attractions. Service begins at 7am, and buses run approximately every 30 minutes.