Lapland casts a powerful spell and irresistibly haunts the imagination and memory. There is something lonely and intangible here that makes it magic. The midnight sun, the Sámi peoples, the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) and wandering reindeer are all components of this, as is good old ho-ho-ho himself, who ‘officially’ resides here.
Turku & Finland's South Coast
Anchoring the country's southwest is Finland's former capital, Turku. This striking seafaring city stretches along its broad river from its Gothic cathedral to its medieval castle and vibrant harbour, and challenges Helsinki’s cultural cred with excellent galleries, museums, restaurants and rocking music festivals that electrify the summer air.
Finland's West Coast
Stretching for 500km along the sandy shoreline, Finland's west coast harbours a cache of historic old wooden towns such as Uusikaupunki, Kristinestad and Unesco-listed Rauma, founded at the height of the Swedish empire. The area still retains strong links with neighbouring Sverige (Sweden), with Swedish spoken almost everywhere.
Tampere & Häme
Modern cities and traditional settlements exist side by side in this historic region, where you can explore Finland’s rural past at ancient wooden churches, its unsettled history at Hämeenlinna’s castle, and its industrial heritage at Tampere’s textile factories. Lahti excels in two major 21st-century Finnish exports: technology and classical music.
If you’re looking for wilderness, powerful history and even the Finnish soul, your search starts here. Densely forested and gloriously remote, the region is a paradise for nature lovers. Bears, wolverines and wolves roam freely across the Russian frontier, and animal hides allow visitors a close encounter.
The glorious Åland archipelago is a geopolitical anomaly: the islands belong to Finland, speak Swedish, but have their own parliament, fly their own blue-gold-and-red flag, issue their own stamps and have their own web suffix: ‘dot ax’. Their ‘special relationship’ with the EU means they can sell duty free and make their own gambling laws.
Scenic Tampere, set between two vast lakes, has a down-to-earth vitality that makes it a favourite for many visitors. Through its centre churns the Tammerkoski rapids, whose grassy banks contrast with the red brick of the imposing fabric mills that once drove the city's economy. Regenerated industrial buildings now house quirky museums, enticing shops, pubs, cinemas and cafes.
The historic castle and cathedral point to the city’s rich cultural history when it was capital, and contemporary Turku is a hotbed of experimental art and vibrant festivals, thanks in part to its spirited population from its university (the country's second largest), who make Turku’s nightlife young and fun.
A tourism boomtown, the ‘official’ terrestrial residence of Santa Claus is the capital of Finnish Lapland and a more-or-less obligatory northern stop. Its wonderful Arktikum museum is the perfect introduction to the mysteries of these latitudes, and Rovaniemi is a good place to organise activities from. It’s also Lapland's transport hub.