The easternmost islands of Finland are actually an autonomous region, with many islanders feeling more affinity with Sweden than with Finland, and Swedish being the main language. Either way, foreigners are assured a generous welcome. Åland is a popular summer destination for many people, but is less busy than the Swedish waters.
The largest chunk of land, Åland, is surrounded by around 6000 other islands, of which only about 300 are inhabited. There are many delightful harbours and anchorages, only a few of which we've yet discovered.
Mariehamn is the only major town in the area, and consequently the most popular spot. The western marina, close to the ferry berths, is the one most used by foreigners, as it is nearer to Sweden, but you can get woken up by the ferries at 3AM. The Eastern marina is more popular with locals, and is closer to the town, but from Sweden, requires a lengthy detour. Despite the efforts of the ferry companies (who mainly put in at Mariehamn to gain duty-free status) the town retains a good deal of its charm. Mariehamn hosts a Jazz festival in July.
A few miles behind Mariehamn, in the centre of Åland, lies the Lumparn, a 10 mile square sheet of hazard-free water almost completely surrounded by land. To get to it from Mariehamn means traversing the short Lemstroms Canal. The canal is spanned by a lifting bridge which opens hourly. Its a strange sensation crossing the Lumparn, knowing that you can sail without worrying about rocks for a bit. Reputedly created by a meteorite, it is bordered on the east by the delightfully named Lumparland.
To the northeast of the Lumparn is Bomarsund, a strategically important cut on the shores of which lie the ruins of a fortress, planned by the Russians to be a major outpost. The fortress took ages to build and was then overrun in a few days by the British. Nowadays it is a protected monument.
The guest harbour is at the southern end of a high-sided fjord (Notvik). When you enter the fjord, high on the hill are the remains of the fort, with the guns poking ominously out at you. A couple of times a year the island hosts a Russian festival, with local crafts and entertainments. When were were there they put on an outdoor play with a rather riskè plot. The 'Russian' balalaika group hailed from Stockholm...
The bridge over Bomarsund is fixed at 2.5m, so most boats transit Prästosundet to the east.
This old viking harbour is a popular spot, as its on the main drag from Stockholm to Helsinki, and is closer to Sweden than Mariehamn is anyway. Its run by a charming couple, who will provide an up to date weather forecast and freshly baked rolls before you get up in the morning. There is a small museum on the island celebrating the old pilot station, but many people make for Rödhamn because of the wood burning sauna.
Because of its strategic spot, the harbour can get busy, but there is usually room to anchor in the bay, or the bay opposite. There is no water or electricity.
Degerby is a small village on the main route towards the Finnish mainland. There are two marinas, with the southern one being larger and more accessible but rather open to northerly blows. Nearby is a good restaurant. The showers are actually in a new swimming pool complex, the facilities of which are available. There is one supermarket and a bank a short walk away.
At the far south eastern extremity of the area is the island of Kökar. There are three marinas. Probably the best is Helsö, to the north of the island. Sandvik, further south is associated with the local camping site and is closer to the center of the island. Locals prefer Karlby in the center of the island, but this is an advanced topic as the route is winding and tricky. If you don't fancy that, local boat trips will take you from either of the other marinas. A major attraction is Källskär, to the south of the the main island. The boat trip out to the island is said to be the best experience in the region.