When the nights are long in Finland (and they can be very, very long) there s much more to do than huddle inside with a vodka or two. You can ski across vast frozen lakes or relax in a sauna, beating yourself ever so gently with a fragrant branch of birch leaves to loosen the travel grime. During the months of the midnight sun, coastal regions, including the Turku archipelago and Åland Islands, are a sailing and fishing paradise. Inland, the largest unspoilt wilderness in Europe attracts thousands of trekkers every year.
In the south the capital Helsinki has over 30 art galleries and museums, while in the north Santa Claus kicks back 364 days a year. Where else in the world can you take a reindeer tour or an icebreaker cruise then hit the green for some midnight golf?
Full country name: Finland
Area: 338,000 sq km
Capitals: Helsinki (pop: 560,000)
People: 98% Finns, Gypsies, Samis
Languages: Finnish & Swedish (English is widely spoken in tourist establishments)
Religion: Lutheran & Orthodox
Government: Democratic republic
President: Tarja Halonen
GDP: Paavo Lipponen
GDP per head: US$118.3 billion
Annual growth: US$22,900
Major industries: 2.6%
Major trading partners: Metals and engineering equipment, telecommunications, timber and paper products
Visas: Most western nationals, including Americans, citizens of EU countries, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Malaysians, Singaporeans and most South Americans do not need a visa.
Health risks: Slippery pavements. If you re mushroom picking, make sure you know what you re eating.
Time: GMT/UTC +2
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to go
Whatever time of year you visit Finland, there s something happening. Most museums and galleries are open year-round, and there is as much to do in the depths of winter as there is at the height of summer. Nevertheless, you ll probably have a better time if you come in the warmer months, either in summer or anytime from May to September. As well as the advantages of warm weather, summer is the time of the midnight sun.
Winter north of the Arctic Circle is a chilly confluence of strange bluish light and encroaching melancholy. Despite snow falls from November, it stays pretty sludgy until late winter: skiing isn t great until February, the coldest month, and you can ski in Lapland right through to June.
You have a legal right to walk, cycle, paddle a canoe or even camp almost anywhere in Finland. Nordic skiing is popular and there are cross-country trails of varying difficulty. Downhill skiers go to Lapland, or to resorts such as Koli in North Karelia or Ruka in Kuusamo.
Hiking or trekking is best from June to September (May in the south). Wilderness huts line the northern trails and are available without charge. Most of them have unlocked doors, basic bunks, cooking facilities, leftover dry food, a pile of dry firewood and even a wilderness telephone. You should always leave the hut as it was - replace the used firewood and clean the place. For the easiest hikes, go to areas such as Ruunaa in Karelia or try a national park. Routes such as Karhunkierros and the Lemmenjoki are very scenic.
Boating can be enjoyed on both sea and lake but the prime sailing region, the Turku archipelago, is demanding to navigate. Canoeing is best on the lakes or around Turunmaa and Åland archipelagos in summer. There are wild rapids in Lapland and North Karelia.