The Åland Islands are a demilitarized and autonomous province of Finland. The province has its own flag, licence plates, stamps and top-level Internet domain (.ax). The Åland Islands are situated between Sweden and Finland, in the northern part of the Baltic Sea.
Finland is famous for its 188,000 lakes and 30,000 islands and is sometimes called ‘The land of a thousand lakes’.
Finland is the sixth largest country in Europe in terms of geographic area (338,000 km2). Forest covers 68 per cent of its land area – the highest proportion of any country in the world. Its population is about 5.5 million. Finland’s capital city is Helsinki, which has a population of 613,000.
The Republic of Finland elects its president for a period of four years. Its official languages are Finnish and Swedish. Five per cent of the population are native Swedish-speakers. Swedish is mainly spoken along the coast.
Climate and the Four Seasons
Although Finland is the second northernmost country in the world (a quarter of its total area lies north of the Arctic Circle), its climate is milder than many other areas of the same latitude, partly because of the influence of the warm Gulf Stream.
Finland’s winter climate can be harsh. January and February are the coldest months, but provide all the excitement of winter sports. Temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius are not uncommon in the wintertime. The spring is long, light and cool. The summer months of June to August are mostly delightful, with temperatures of 15-30 degrees Celsius. The early autumn can be beautiful, with fiery bright yellow and red hues.
Light and Dark
It never gets completely dark during the summer and, in the far north, beyond the Arctic Circle, the sun does not set at all for about 73 days. During the dark winter period in the same region, the sun remains below the horizon for 51 days. However, the snow on the ground enhances the light of the moon and stars, and sometimes the northern lights paint the sky green, red and yellow.
Special Status in the EU
The Åland Islands have had a special status in Europe since 1921. They are an autonomous, Swedish-speaking region of Finland. After two separate referendums and after Åland’s parliament gave its consent, Åland joined the EU in 1995, together with Finland, on the condition that Åland’s relationship with the EU would be regulated in a special protocol.
The islands are demilitarized in the sense that no fortifications or permanent military structures are allowed in the area. They are neutralized, meaning that no war operations may take place there. The inhabitants of Åland have the right of domicile (regional citizenship), which, among other things, exempts them from military service and assures them of exclusive rights to own real estate.
In practice, Åland functions almost like an independent country. It has its own parliament (Lagting) with its own political parties and government (Landskapsregering). There are certain areas related to internal affairs in which Åland has the right to make its own decisions, such as education, health services, media, etc.
Åland has had its own flag since 1954. The province has been a member of the Nordic Council, in which all the Scandinavian countries are represented, since 1970.
The City of Mariehamn is a beautiful and laid-back town located on the western shoreline of Åland’s largest island.
Although the number of permanent residents in the province is a mere 11,500, flourishing tourism in Mariehamn has brought with it a wide range of hotels, restaurants, cafés and diverse events. The city is compact, making the whole town very accessible.
For those who wish to travel to Sweden or to the Finnish mainland during their stay in Åland, ferries with affordable rates depart daily from Mariehamn.
Mariehamn and its surroundings offer many interesting activities for you to enjoy in your free time.
In addition to Åland University of Applied Sciences’ student union, Skåhla, which organizes various leisure-time functions for students, other associations also welcome active participants. The city also boasts many spacious sports facilities, which are generally available and equipped for different sports. For more information about current events in Åland, please visit the Åland Official Tourist Gateway.
Fitness and training: Avancia. Träningsverket. Mariebad.
More suggestions can be found on Visit Åland’s website.
Bars and pubs: Arken. Dinos. Indigo.
Internet providers: Ålcom. Sonera.
Cinema: Bio Savoy
Population: 5.5 million
Official languages: Finnish, Swedish
Currency: Euro (€)
Time: GMT +2
Total area: 6,787 km2
Islands: more than 6,700 Inhabited islands: 65