Midnight sun, northern lights and superb saunas
Drawing strong influences both from its easterly neighbour, Russia, and from its western one, Sweden, Finland remains one of Europe’s most enigmatic countries. It’s a land best known for its laconic, pithy people with a penchant for kicking back in a sauna au naturel, for its bizarre annual festivals and for creating those quirky, hippo-like fairytale characters, the Moomins – its strangeness is a good part of the country’s charm. And while it’s far from a budgeteer’s paradise, there are definitely ways to save – especially if you know where to drink.
The Finnish landscape is flat and punctuated by huge forests and lakes, with the drama heightening as you head north. The south is still peppered with stunning bodies of water, however. The capital, Helsinki, straddles several islands, brightened by brilliant fin-de-siècle architecture and superb collections of late modern and contemporary artworks. Former capital Turku is a cultural beacon too. Stretching from the thrumming industrial city of Tampere to the Russian border in the east, the vast waters of the Lake Region provide a natural means of transport for the timber industry – indeed, water here is a more common sight than land, with many towns lying on narrow ridges between lakes. North of here, the gradually rising fells and forests of Lapland are Finland’s most alluring terrain and are home to the Sámi, semi-nomadic reindeer herders. For a few months on either side of midsummer, the midnight sun is visible from much of the region; in the dead of winter the north of the country is shrouded in polar darkness.
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