Finland

Despite some stereotypes Finland is not just a wild land behind the Arctic Circle with reindeers as an integral part of the landscape. This lovely country is closer than you may think. Extraordinary wildlife and flora, thousands of lakes, vast forests and picturesque islands make Finland the perfect destination for nature lovers. Moreover, the whole country is sprinkled with adorable towns and interesting sights. Come to this  the charming birthplace of Santa Claus to experience a bit of remoteness and mystery.

However exotic Finland seems to be, most of us have at least heard about the famous Finnish sauna. Indeed, spending time inside the sauna is an important element of Finnish culture. The sauna serves as a place to purify both the body and mind, but a stay in the hot steamy room is also a popular way of meeting up with friends and family, a social event often accompanied by  eating and drinking. A session inside a  real Finnish sauna, with birch boughs, lake-bathing or rolling in the snow afterwards, is really worth trying during your stay.

Finland's climate is not very friendly for travelers. In the summer the sun doesn't set, whereas winters are usually very cold, so if you want to visit the country in the winter, be well-prepared. As many other northern countries, where  temperatures are on the low side, Finland has a long tradition of vodka drinking. There are also many other well-known customs and trademarks coming from Finland, including Santa Claus (or Joulupukki), heavy metal music, genius architect Alvar Aalto, and the popular cell-phone company Nokia. In general, Finnish culture is a mixture of its own heritage with Nordic, Baltic and Russian influences.

Unspoiled nature is Finland’s ace in the hole. You shouldn't miss the Aland Islands, 6,000 or so flat, rural islands that own their own flag and boast a distinctive culture. The Lake Region, consisting of thousands of picturesque lakes and islands taking up one third of the country is another place of keen interest. It's the best destination for people who like peace, quiet and miraculous nature, but also for water sports admirers and fans of fishing, with its rivers and brooks full of fish. Another of Finland's great attractions  is the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and the Midnight Sun. The latter is celebrated during the traditional Midsummer Festival, organised in the day of summer solstice.

One should perhaps start ones trip to  Finland from its capital, Helsinki. Youwill find there excellent museums, scenic waterways, outstanding architecture and a warm, lively atmosphere. While visiting Helsinki, don’t forget to go to the Market Square, the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, and the outstanding Suomelinna – a fortress built on 6 islands, a Unesco World Heritage site. An 800 year old port, Turku is another place worth watching. Many of its old buildings have unfortunately given way to more modern ones, but the port still retains a watery charm, a few great buildings including the huge Medieval Turku Castle and some good museums. Another hightlight  is St Olaf's Castle, located in Savolinna, near the largest Finnish lake – the Saimaa. If you want to try something really Finnish, drop in to Kuopio to taste kalakukko – a bread baked with fish inside.

All in all, Finland is a great country to visit, dotted with adorable cities and towns, with buildings ranging from Medieval fairy-tale castles to modern constructions and countless lakes and forests. Besides all this, Finland has a well-developed transportation system, including railway, buses, water transportation and a number of airports (Helsinki’s the major one). Should you decide to visit Finland, rest assured that  all these attractions and more await you!