Finland is the big surprise of the Nordic countries, a natural wonderland with more trees than people and more islands than any other nation in the world. With endless miles of wilderness and 188,000 lakes on their doorstep, the Finns are uniquely in tune with their surroundings. Even committed urbanites retreat to wooden cottages in the country during the brief, warm summers to swim and fish in the lakes and gather wild berries and mushrooms in the woods, before unwinding with a sauna and a glass of kossu (Finnish vodka).
The culture of the Finns has been shaped by the historic tug-of-war between Sweden and Russia, a story written large in the language and customs of Karelia and the Swedish-speaking regions of Åland and Ostrobothnia. Even the Finnish language is something of an anomaly, more closely related to Hungarian than to any other language. In the far north, Lapland is dominated by the hardy culture of the Sámi, rugged reindeer herders who have been following a semi-nomadic existence for thousands of years. Finland's most famous contribution to world culture is the sauna - the country has a staggering 1.6 million of them.
Around 10% of Finland is covered by water and 69% of the country is covered by forests, providing a natural adventure playground for trekkers, mountain-bikers, cross-country skiers, fishermen and watersports enthusiasts. Around 8,000 sq km (3,088 sq miles) are protected by Finland's 35 national parks, providing fantastic opportunities to spot birds, reindeer, elks and bears.
In modern times, the Finns have become famous for their technological innovations - this is the home of Nokia - and their flair for design. The reputations of architect Alvar Aalto and the Marimekko design studio extend far beyond these shores. The Finns are also famous for their party spirit, celebrated with gusto during Finland's festivals and the endless days of midsummer, when the sun barely dips below the horizon. During the snow-dazzled winters, life continues at full pace with the aid of snow tyres, skis and dog sleds.
Southwestern seaside city Turku has the chance to impress the whole continent as a European Capital of Culture for 2011.