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Finland Travel Guide

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Canoeing on a lake in Finland (© deviantART - Fotolia.com)
Canoeing on a lake in Finland.

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Introduction

Map of Finnish regions, by Sertmann (Stefan Ertmann - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Finland (Suomi in Finnish) is the EU's fifth largest and most sparsely populated country, with only 16 people per km². One fourth of Finland's 5.4 million inhabitants live in the Helsinki metropolitan area. Only seven cities outside the Greater Helsinki have a population exceeding 100,000, the largest of which being Tampere with 300,000 inhabitants in its urban area.

Finland is a flat country occupied mostly by forests (69% of the land area) and lakes (10%). It is famous for its large population of elks (moose), but is also one of the last regions in Europe where grey wolves, wolverines and brown bears can be found.

Finnish is one of the few languages in Europe that does not belong to the Indo-European linguistic family. Like Estonian, its closest relative, and Hungarian, a much more distant relative, Finnish is an Uralic language.

The Finns are a population isolate due to the fact that they descended from a tiny ancestral population in the Middle Ages. Genetic studies have shown that the Finns (including the Sami in Lapland) have the lowest level of Middle Eastern admixture in Europe, and are consequently the closest living relatives of Paleolithic northern Europeans.

Finland is so far the only Nordic country to have joined the Eurozone. Electronics are the country's largest industry, and Nokia its largest and most famous company. Angry Birds, the popular mobile phone game, was developed in Finland.

Famous people from Finland include (chronologically): the "father of the Finnish written language" Mikael Agricola, the philologist and Kalevala author Elias Lönnrot, the classical composer Jean Sibelius, the ski jumper Matti Nykänen, Linux engineer Linus Torvalds, and the F1 drivers Mika Häkkinen and Kimi Räikkönen.

History

The written history of Finland starts in the 12th and 13th centuries, when its territory was annexed to and Christianised by Sweden. At the time, the Finnish population was of barely 30,000 people. Finland remained an integral part of Sweden until 1809, when it was conquered by the armies of Tsar Alexander I, and became an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire. Finland's population reached the threshold of one million soon afterwards.

In 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution prompted Russia to withdraw from World War I. This led to the declaration of Finland's independence, achieved in December 1917, followed by the Finnish Civil War in the early months of 1918. During the Second World War, Finland lost Finnish Karelia to the Soviet Union. Like Sweden, Finland opted to stay neutral in the Cold War. Industrialisation started only after WWII, but was rapid and efficient. Finland is now one of the most hi-tech and wealthiest countries in the world.

Though not a Germanic country, Finland has close cultural ties with Scandinavian countries and is often mistakenly thought of as a Scandinavian country itself.

Attractions

West Finland

Rauma ※
Rauma (© Mikhail Markovskiy - Fotolia.com)
outstanding The 600 wooden houses of Old Rauma, the colourful city centre, have been designated a World Heritage Site. Though only dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, Old Rauma is truly one of Fennoscandia's most beautiful neighbourhoods.
Tampere
The Old Church (Vanha kirkko), Tampere (© setimino - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Remarkably sited between two lakes, Tampere is a bustling student city and the second largest conurbation after Helsinki. Its industrial history owed it the moniker of "Manchester of Finland".
Turku
Turku Castle (photo by Markus Koljonen - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
very good Turku is Finland's oldest city. For over 500 years under Swedish rule, Turku was Finland's most important city as well as its capital. Turku was designated as European Capital of Culture in 2011.

Other attractions

very good Mariehamn
very good Oulu
good Naantali
good Vaasa

Central Finland

Helsinki
Helsinki (© Nici Heuke - Fotolia.com)
must-see Finland's capital and largest city, Helsinki is a city of arts, renowned for its Neoclassical and Contemporary architecture and its vibrant cultural scene. Helsinki was even designated the World Design Capital for 2012. A highly liveable city, the northernmost EU capital was built across a number of islands and peninsulas jutting into the Baltic Sea. Prominent among them is the World Heritage Site of Suomenlinna, an inhabited sea fortress built on six islands in 1748 as protection against Russian expansionism.
Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park
Reindeer, Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park (© Vladimir Melnikov - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Covering an area of 1,020 km² (394 sq mi) of primeval forest, Pallas-Yllästunturi is the third-largest Finnish national park. It is also the most visited, attracting nearly half a million nature lovers annually. The park is located at the country's northern extremity, along the border with Sweden and Norway, and is ideal for hiking or skiing. Reindeer husbandry is practiced by the indigenous Sami people.
Porvoo
Porvoo (© eugenesergeev - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Founded in the 14th century, Porvoo is one of Finland's six medieval towns. The exquisite wooden city centre was built in the 19th-century, during the Russian era, and is now protected by the UNESCO. In 1809, the Diet of Porvoo established the Grand Duchy of Finland as part of Tsar Alexander I's empire.
Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi (photo by Pöllö - Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
very good Rovaniemi is the administrative capital of the province of Lapland. It is famous around the world for being the official home town of Santa Claus. Understandably, the star attraction is the Santa Claus Village, an amusement park where children will be able to visit the Santa Claus Main Post Office and the bearded man's office. The other reason to visit Rovaniemi is for the outstanding Arktikum, a state-of-the-art museum dedicated to the Arctic fauna, flora, and its indigenous peoples across Europe, Asia and North America. Rovaniemi is also home to the world's most northern branch of McDonald's.

Other attractions

good Jyväskylä
good Lahti

East Finland

Oulanka National Park
Oulanka National Park (photo by Lysy - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
outstanding Spreading along the Russian border, Oulanka is one of Finland's most popular national parks, thanks to the spectacular 80km Karhunkierros ("Bear's Ring") Hiking Trail. The park is composed of untouched boreal pine forests, with sandy banks and rapids. It serves as a refuge for endangered species such as bears, lynx and wolverines. Like the adjacent Paanajärvi National Park, on the Russian side of the border, Oulanka is one of Europe's 11 PAN (Protected Area Network) Parks - an organisation founded in 1998 by the WWF that aims to protect Europe's wildernesses.
Urho Kekkonen National Park
Urho Kekkonen National Park
outstanding Named after Urho Kekkonen, former President and Prime Minister of Finland, this is Finland's second largest national park, extending over 2,550 km² (985 sq mi). Located in the Lapland region, it provides excellent hiking opportunities all year round in one of Europe's last true wilderness area. It is also a prime location to view the northern lights.
Olavinlinna Castle
Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna (© Tanya - Fotolia.com)
very good Also known as Olofsborg in Swedish, or St. Olaf's Castle in English, Olavinlinna is a 15th century castle in Savonlinna. It was built on an island in the Kyrönsalmi strait to protect Sweden's border with Russia, following Ivan III's conquest of the Novgorod Republic. Olavinlinna is the world's northernmost medieval stone fortress still standing.
Verla
Verla Mill Museum (photo by Pöllö - Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
very good Verla is a well preserved 19th-century mill village located in Jaala, 150 km north-east of Helsinki. The Verla Groundwood and Board Mill was founded in 1882 by Gottlieb Kreidl and Louis Haenel, and continued to operate until 1964. As a living monument to the early days of the Finnish forest industry, it became a World Heritage Site in 1996.

Other attractions

good Ivalo
good Kuopio
good Lappeenranta

Travel Community

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Eupedia's Rating System

Cities, towns, villages & historic buildings

  • : Moderately interesting - nice for a quick stop
  • : Recommended - to visit if you have time
  • : Outstanding place - really deserves to be seen
  • : Best of the country - shouldn't be missed
  • : Best of Europe

Natural attractions

  • : Moderately interesting
  • : Recommended
  • : Highly recommended
  • : World-class natural attraction
  • ※ : UNESCO World Heritage site


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