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 miles of empty wilderness, the Finns are uniquely in tune with their natural surroundings. This is a nation where people can flip from office work to foraging for wild mushrooms in a heartbeat.
The culture of the Finns has been shaped by the historic tug-of-war between Sweden and Russia, leaving dotted enclaves such as Russian-tinted Karelia, and the Swedish-speaking regions of Åland and Ostrobothnia, which culturally, still carry a flag for their former homelands. Even the Finnish language is an anomaly, more closely related to Hungarian than to any other language.
For most, the gateway to Finland is Helsinki. A friendly and surprisingly small capital city, here historic churches rise above tidy public squares and stone wharfs are crowded with market traders and ferryboats. It’s probably the best place to encounter Finland’s famous party spirit, especially during the light nights of midsummer.
Vast areas are protected by Finland’s 35 national parks, providing fantastic opportunities to spot birds, reindeer, elks and bears. 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, dog-sledders, fishermen and watersports enthusiasts. No wonder sisu (meaning “hardiness”) is seen as integral to the Finnish character.
The cosmopolitan south, with its bustling cities and sleek, modern design sensibilities (this is, after all, the home of Alvar Aalto and the Marimekko) seems a long way from rugged Lapland, where the Sámi people have been herding reindeer for millennia. For tourism purposes, Lapland is also the home of Father Christmas, ensuring a busy Christmas season at the Santa theme parks near Rovaniemi.
Perhaps Finland’s most famous contribution to world culture is the sauna – the country has a staggering 1.6 million of them. A steam-bath, ideally after a bracing dip in a wilderness lake, is practically mandatory for all visitors.
338,145 sq km (130,558 sq miles).
5,532,365 (UN estimate 2016).
Head of state:
President Sauli Niinistö since 2012.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Juha Sipilä since 2015.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. European plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Crime levels are low. The tourist season attracts pickpockets in crowded areas. Take sensible precautions and keep your personal belongings, including passports and money, secure.
Driving in Finland during the winter months can be hazardous. Icy road conditions are common. Winter/snow tyres (either studded or non-studded) are a legal requirement from 1 December to 28 February. It is usually necessary to use winter tyres beyond these dates as roads remain icy well into April.
Drinking and driving is a serious offence and you can expect a lengthy prison sentence. The drink drive limit in Finland is 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.
In 2015 there were 260 road deaths in Finland (source: Department for Transport) equating to 4.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population. This compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2015.
See the European Commission, AA and RAC guides on driving in Finland.