Explore the Natural Beauty of Finland
Finland is a Nordic country bordering Russia to the east and Sweden to the northwest, which it separated from after the Finnish Wars of 1808-09. Most of the country remains an unspoilt wilderness with about 10% being covered in around 188,000 lakes. Finland’s main attractions are the Aurora Borealis, colourful lights that appear to dance wildly across the night sky. Known as the Land of the Midnight Sun for its extremely long days in summer, and correspondingly short days in winter, Finland also claims to be the home of Santa Claus and his workshop in Lapland.
Finland is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world and its culture and history make it quite different from other Nordic countries. Its clean and wide open spaces make it a wonderful place for a summer vacation, especially for those who enjoy outdoor activities. The summer solstice is one of the main festivals on the Finnish calendar with bonfires and garden parties to celebrate Midsummer’s Eve.
Finland has flat rolling plains dotted with waterfalls, lakes and islands making it popular as a boating destination. Early spring is a popular time for Finns to head north and enjoy skiing, snowboarding, cross country and winter sports. The best place to visit to see the Aurora Borealis is at Saariselka where you can also go sledding down a mile-long track. However, you need to visit in winter when the skies are dark enough to see this natural phenomenon at its best.
Most of the population in Finland live in or around the southern capital, Helsinki. Its architecture resembles a miniature St Petersburg with many onion domes and grand buildings. Visit the Cathedral, the Sibelius Monument, Parliament House and the City Museum which is housed in a collection of historic buildings including the restored street of Safiankatu. Perhaps the scariest thing to do here is ride the Linnanmaki wooden roller coaster ride. This historical thrill ride relies on gravity to keep it on the tracks and has a diver in each carriage to operate the brakes!
Other highlights which are on the tourist trail include the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress which can be visited on a short ferry ride from Helsinki. This massive fortress is a World Heritage Site and has cannons, catacombs, several museums and many delightful cafés along the waterfront. St Olaf’s Castle, also known as Olavinlinna Castle, was built in 1475 and remains the most northerly mediaeval castle in the world. It is located at Savonlinna and the best time to visit is for the Opera Festival. An even older castle can be found at Hameenlinna and was built in the 13th century.
Those wanting to visit the lakeland area in Eastern Finland will find plenty of holiday cottages complete with their own saunas which are an integral part of Finnish culture. After spending time in the sauna, Finns traditionally jump naked into the nearby lake or icehole! There are many large lakes in this area which are dotted with islands making it very tranquil and scenic. Fishing, canoeing, hunting and swimming are the main activities, but beware of the mosquitos in summer!