According to a UN-sponsored report, Finland is the happiest country in the world ‒ no wonder, since it offers a great combination of culture and adventure. Enjoy the impressive architectural variety of Helsinki, marvel at the wonderful Arctic museum in Rovaniemi and choose from a host of wilderness sports in Finnish Lapland beyond.
Finland’s capital is a dramatically watery city, curving around a bay in the Baltic Sea and diffusing over an archipelago linked by bridges and ferries. From its three harbours to its boulevards and quieter neighbourhoods, it is packed with striking architecture and exudes its own brand of Nordic cool. Come in summer for endless days and outdoor café culture; in winter enjoy indoor art venues and Christmas markets filled with aromas of glögg, or mulled wine. At the heart of Helsinki, the imposing domed cathedral and Senate Square emanate Neoclassical grandeur. Just south is the Design District, encompassing galleries and stylish boutiques as well as the wonderful Design Museum and the Museum of Finnish Architecture. North from here is extraordinary Temppeliaukio Church, carved into sheer rock. Don’t miss, too, Modernist Finlandia Hall by seminal architect Alvar Aalto, the bold Art Nouveau central station (held to be the most beautiful station in the world) and the much-loved Sibelius monument and park, honouring Finland’s acclaimed composer. Perhaps best of all, head out to the great 18th-century fortress of Suomenlinna on an island to the south (see our experiences section).
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In Lapland, there are more reindeer than people ‒ and indeed any of the region’s other splendid creatures, from bears to wolverines and eagles. This great wilderness is set over northern Norway, Sweden, Russia and Finland, and is home to the reindeer-herding Sami people ‒ the only remaining indigenous group in Europe. Stretching across the top third of Finland, Finnish Lapland offers the cleanest air in the world, according to WHO data, and is a haven for walking, fat biking and foraging in summer, and for snowmobiling, dog sledding and skiing (downhill as well as cross-country) during winter. The Aurora Borealis can be seen dancing across the night sky in autumn and winter; the midnight sun presents golden light in summer. Head to the Urho Kekkonen National Park to take in some of the area’s most breathtaking scenery, from immense gorges and canyons, to tumbling rivers and spruce forests. Legend holds that Santa Claus (known as Joulupukki in Finnish) hails from the remote fell of Korvatunturi in the park.
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Capital of Finnish Lapland and gateway to a vast wilderness, Rovaniemi lies just five miles south of the Arctic Circle. This is a great base for adventures. In summer, walk in the midnight sun, go fat biking, try your hand at fly fishing, take a boat ride on one of the many nearby lakes, and more. There’s a huge range of winter activities, as well, from dog sledding and reindeer sleigh rides to snowmobiling and ice fishing. This is an intriguing town, too; almost completely destroyed during World War II, Rovaniemi was rebuilt by Finland’s great architect Alvar Aalto, who designed the street plan in the shape of a reindeer head and antlers, and today the town is dotted with reindeer sculptures. You’ll get an absorbing insight into the region at Rovaniemi’s Arktikum, a remarkable museum and science centre exploring the Arctic and the history of Finnish Lapland.