photo © Discovering Finland
Tourism Mariehamn & Mariehamn Travel Guide
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.