What's shocking about Finland's 388,000 square kilometers is that almost three-quarters of it is totally covered by forest; one-tenth is covered by water; and is made up of some 30,000 islands (with 98,000 more scattered throughout its 188,000 lakes).
Its geography defines Finland, but doesn't pigeon-hole it. Sure, it gets cold up in parts reaching into the Artic Circle, but then do what the Finns do; cross-country or downhill ski, snowboard, or spend the night drinking at an ice bar, and sleeping in an ice hotel. You can't leave out seeing the Northern Lights from September to March.
Come summer, the long dark days stretch into almost 24-hour sunshine in the Arctic Tundra. EVeryone heads outdoors to drink at the bars and cafes, and celebrate at the Midsummer Party.
Helsinki, Finland's capital city, is hustling and bustling year 'round. But really you should use the summer's sun to your advantage to go whitewater rafting and canoeing. However, take the time to see some of Helsinki's Swedish and Russian architecture.
Just because Finland is both a winter wonderland, and offers spectacular summer sports, doesn't mean it's without its historical stuff. Towns like Turku offers a medieval castle, a Cathedral, museum, and for fun boat bars. And Karelia, close to the Russian border, is an area that's got all sorts of little villages that have a festival (or two) going on.
Finland's a fun loving country with festivals like the Wife-Carrying World Championships, and Sleepyhead Day where someone in the family or town is thrown into the sea. You'll find all sorts of "Sleepyhead Day" events going on every July 27th.
One of the best things about festivals (and just about anywhere in Finland) is eating. Finland offers some of the freshest salmon and herring dishes you can sink your teeth into. Vodka bars are popular--which might or might not go great with elk, reindeer, and bear meat, depending on your taste.
When you're totally wiped out tired after all the sports and sightseeing, there are literally thousands of saunas in Finland, which are wonderful for the body and mind. You're supposed to take a cold plunge after sitting in one--and there's no shortage of that here, either.
Getting around Finland to all these fantastic sites and saunas is easy enough with lots of ferries to shuttle you from island to island. A Helsinki Card offers unlimited rides on the city's public transportation, as well as offering discounts to its many museums. More money left over for sauna visits and reindeer burgers then.
Outside the capital there are trains, car rentals, bike rentals, and bus service to get you around. Waterbuses are another simple and efficient way to get from place to place.
And what magnificent places they'll take you, too. All you need is to have your passport ready (or your European Union ID Card)--no visa or onward ticket required. All the quicker you can get to Finland's berry liquers, like Artic Bramble and Artic Cranberry--they'll help to keep you warm.
Photo by Taneli Lahtinen
Photo by Alexandr Bormotin