Blessed with generally warm, fine summers and cold winters with heaps of snow, Finland is a country best enjoyed outdoors.
In the summer months, the sun barely sets, leading people to refer to Finland as ‘the land of the midnight sun’. These long days mean there is plenty of time to enjoy northern Finland’s vast wilderness areas where reindeer and elk roam free. The Sami people, many of whom still farm reindeer here, live across an area that covers Norway, Sweden and Finland. Another popular activity is bear watching. Close to the Russian border, the long daylight hours make the perfect conditions for observing the rare European Brown Bear in its natural habitat.
In the winter, the snow comes and covers the tundra with fresh, white powder and the country positively comes alive! From snow-shoeing to cross-country skiing and from dog sledding to snow-mobiling, the snow-covered landscape becomes an adventure playground for people of all ages.
One of the most fascinating of the Nordic countries, with Russia to its east, Sweden to the west and Norway to the north, Finland, with a population of only 5,400,000, has resolutely retained its distinctive character. Despite once being ruled by the Swedes (prior to 1809) and the Russian Empire (1809 to 1917), Finland has kept its own language and its own way of living.
Besides having almost diametrically opposed neighbours, in Finland other contrasts are a clear as night and day – literally. In winter, daylight can be like dusk and in summer the sun is still beaming at 10pm. It is almost impossible to overstate how much the seasons play a starring role in life here. After the long winter, the short spring is celebrated with gusto – not something normally associated with the hard-working Finns. Summer is spent in the Lakelands region – lakes that make up some 10% of the mass of the country, with plenty of fishing, swimming and biking, as well as celebrating the sunshine with endless festivals. As the autumnal colours move in, the summer swimsuits are put away and snow skis come out of the closet for a wax.
This connection with the seasons and nature is no more evident than in northern Finland. In the north of Lapland, there is almost constant sun in summer and a surreal twilight in winter – excellent for seeing the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) in all their glowing majesty. While herding reindeer is the life for some in the north, in the sophisticated capital city of Helsinki, it's a different story.
A city of around 590,000 inhabitants, Helsinki is known for its high tech industrial nous thanks to companies such as mobile communications firm Nokia. Yet it's still a very laid-back city, with grand Art Nouveau buildings and a city centre that's easily navigable on foot or by trouble-free public transport. From here, the southern and western coastal towns and islands are easily accessible.
While Finland is renowned for its contemporary design, and its functional, understated furniture and glassware in particular, it's hard to believe that the mostly reserved inhabitants of this modern welfare state have a tendency to produce amazing rally and Formula One drivers, and have such a soft spot for whimsy, saunas and, well, weirdness. While the Finns like to think they 'own' Santa Claus, they also enjoy air guitar, wife carrying, and mobile phone throwing as participatory events.