Discover Finland's wide open spaces, lakes and arctic mystery, as well as its urban sophistication. Catch the midnight sun, the Northern Lights and the icy northern wilderness. You'll appreciate the huge contrast with the busy capital, Helsinki, and the stimulating cultural attractions of provincial cities like Tampere. You might know Finland as the traditional home of Santa Claus and Tove Janssen's classic children's characters, the Moomins. But learn about its most famous composer, Sibelius, who is celebrated throughout the country.
A prosperous and progressive, yet sparsely populated, nation on the northern fringe of Europe, Finland won its independence from Russia in 1917. You'll notice the influence of its eastern neighbour throughout its cities - distinctive Orthodox churches vie for attention with contemporary architecture. But escape the few urban centres and you'll soon find yourself in vast open spaces, natural forests, and lakelands in the south. In the arctic north the ancient Sami culture takes over, with herds of reindeer wandering the tundra.
Start with elegant Helsinki and take in its grand boulevards, Sibelius Monument, dedicated to the composer, and the city's striking white Neoclassical Cathedral. Head to the inland city of Tampere for a taste of Finnish arts and culture, especially its annual theatre festival each August. Visit the west coast of Finland to explore Rauma's UNESCO-listed Old Town, but also go south to see the former capital of Turku with its medieval castle and cathedral.
Finland is a land of almost 200,000 lakes, mainly in the south, and nearly as many islands and coniferous forests. In the summer, you can cruise on boats through the southern Saimaa Lake District or hire a lakeside cottage for hiking through the Linnansaari and Kolovesi National Parks. Travel north to Rovaniemi and Utsjoki in the semi-autonomous Arctic Sami region, where life is based on reindeer herding, hunting and fishing. In the bitter north, you can marvel at the spectacle of the Northern Lights, and in summer experience 24-hour daylight. Or go skiing and snow-shoeing through the forested wilderness of Lappland.