Your comprehensive travel guide to Finland - All in one place!
Finland has had a turbulent history. Occupied by the Swedes and later the Russians, the country was finally granted independence in 1917. A number of hallmarks of this colorful past remain scattered throughout the country, in the form of captivating ruins, meandering cobblestone streets, and towering fortresses.
However, Finland is mostly famous for its incredible natural beauty. Crystal clear lakes, stunning island archipelagos, and towards the north, pristine winter wonderlands dominate the landscape. Meanwhile, modern cities and towns stay in tune with the times by offering world-class dining and accommodation options.
History and Government
The first inhabitants of Finland were the Sami (Lapp) people. When Finnish speakers migrated to Finland in the first millennium B.C., the Sami were forced to move northward to the arctic regions, with which they are traditionally associated.
By 1809 the whole of Finland was conquered by Alexander I of Russia, who set up Finland as a grand duchy. The period of Russification (1809–1914) sapped Finnish political power and made Russian the country's official language. When Russia became engulfed by the March Revolution of 1917, Finland seized the opportunity to declare independence on Dec. 6, 1917.
The USSR attacked Finland on Nov. 30, 1939, after Finland refused to give in to Soviet territorial demands. The Finns staged a strong defense for three months before being forced to cede to the Soviets 41,440 sq km. Under German pressure, the Finns joined the Nazis against Russia in 1941, but they were defeated again and forced to cede the Petsamo area to the USSR. In 1948, a treaty of friendship and mutual assistance was signed by the two nations. Finland continued to pursue a foreign policy of nonalignment throughout the cold-war era.
Finland became a member of the European Union in Jan. 1995. On Jan. 1, 1999, Finland, along with ten other European countries, adopted the euro as its currency. In 2000, Tarja Halonen, who had been Finland's foreign minister, became its first woman president.
Finland is mostly a flat land, with more than 70% of it covered by thick forest. In the southern areas, water seems a more common sight than land as countless clear water lakes are everywhere.
To the north of the Arctic Circle, the terrain rises into the hills and low mountains of Lapland. The country's highest point, Haltiatunturi, at 1,328 meters, stands on the edge of its border with Norway. The Aland Islands sits in the middle of the Gulf of Bothnia between Finland and Sweden. It contains almost three hundred islands and over 6,000 small rocky islands.
Directly east, in the Archipelago Sea and merging with the Aland Islands and Finland's southwestern coastline stand literally tens of thousands of islands, mostly small, with some of the larger ones inhabited.
The population of Finland is approximately 5.5 million. Finland is a very sparsely populated country. The population is concentrated particularly in the large cities and urban areas. More than a million people live in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. Finnish and Swedish are Finland’s national languages. Finnish as a native language is spoken by nearly 4.9 million people while Swedish is the native language of just under 300,000 people. The most prominent languages after Finnish and Swedish are Russian, Estonian, English, Somali and Arabic.
The population of Finland includes a variety of minorities with a different language, culture or religion from the majority of Finns. Traditional Finnish minorities include the Swedish-speaking Finns, Sami, Romani, Jews and Tatars. In addition, many immigrants have arrived in Finland from Russia, Estonia, the Balkans, Somalia and Iraq, for example.
Present-Day Finland was part of the Kunda culture up to 5000BC, and from 4200BC to 2000BC it belonged to the Comb Ceramic culture. The Kiukainen culture arrived in the southwestern coastal region around 2000BC. The Swedish crown began incorporating Finland from 1100 to 1200, but the Novgorod tried to gain control of the area, and this resulted in numerous wars which Russia and Muscovy joined from 1400 to 1700. The Swedish dominance in the Baltic region ended in 1721 with the signing of the Nystad peace treaty. The area was annexed to Russia in 1809 for over a century. Both the Russian and Swedish cultures influenced Karelia (the place where the Russian and the Swedish fought).
Food and Drink
Traditional Finnish cuisine comprises seasonal food heavily reliant on staples like potatoes, cabbages and turnips. Cold smoked fish are also common dishes. Salmon marinated in sugar, salt and dill are also popular. Its origins can be traced to the middle ages when ancient chefs cured the fish by burying it in the sand. Finnish meatballs are gaining in international popularity. They are made from either beef or reindeer and mixed with breadcrumbs and chopped onions. Made of powdered rye flour and malt rye, Mammi is a traditional sweet Finnish Easter dish whose origins stem from the 13th century.
Although there are only a few notable Finland holidays and celebrations, they are worth experiencing, especially the ones close to the Christmas season. Celebrations typically have historical, religious and seasonal themes (such as the Midsummer Festival). While most Finnish holidays are intimate affairs with close family, there are many interesting events that tourists can take part in throughout the year.
Best Time to Visit
It really depends on what it is the visitor is doing on Finland vacations. The months of February and March are better for winter activities than December and January as there is a little more daylight. The snow season in northern Finland begins in November and lasts at least until May. The best times to see the Northern Lights are spring and fall. However, in Lapland, the lights shine about every other clear night between September and March. In southern Finland, they are visible on about 10 to 20 nights a year. If you see that the night sky is clear and starry, your chances of seeing the Northern Lights are good. Summer is warm to hot with plenty of sunshine. The fall is a wonderful time to see the colours of reds, browns and yellows. The colours are especially exceptional in Lapland.