Both in summer and winter, the country thus offers lots of possibilities for outdoor sport enthusiasts and nature lovers. As one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe, Finland is also a destination for all those who are looking for peace and quiet and who want to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.Due to its location on the edge of Europe, between Sweden and Russia, Finland creates on an area of about 338,000 square kilometers a geographical, scenic and cultural connection between East and West.
Geography and landscape
Although Helsinki, the capital and with 621,000 inhabitants biggest city of Finland, is situated near the south coast, it constitutes the country's economic, political and cultural center. Off the southwest coast, a great number of inhabited and uninhabited islands form a unique archipelago with rocks and cliffs. Large parts of the Finnish Archipelago are protected in national parks. Bordering the Archipelago, the Åland Islands form an autonomous region of Finland consisting of several thousand, mostly uninhabited, islands. Flat beaches and abraded rocks are distinctive of this region. The Finnisch Lakeland in the southeast of the country is an area of countless lakes between forests and chains of hills. One can see clearly that glaciers once shaped the hilly landscape. Lake Saimaa as Finland's largest lake is also part of the Finnish Lakeland. The 7 km long Punkaharju Ridge separates Lake Puruvesi and Lake Pihlajavesi and is ideally suited for hiking tours. Koli National Park and the Koli mountain are situated in the north of the lakeland. Lapland in the north of Finland is characterized by treeless plateaus, the so-called fells, dense coniferous forests and moor landscapes. The polar climate reminds us that the North Pole is not far away. In Lapland, you can explore Finland's highest mountains, led by the 1328 m high Halti, which makes Northern Finland a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts. Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, named after a mountain, is located in Western Lapland.
Due to Finland's geographical situation near the North Pole, the sun never sets for a few weeks in summer whereas in wintertime, the Finns almost never get to see it. But there is literally a bright spot in the dark during the winter months: Northern Lights shimmering in various forms and colors across the night sky.
Flora and fauna
According to estimates, there are 77 billions of trees which are higher than 1.30 m. So it is hardly surprising that 76 percent of the Finnish land surface is covered with trees. Conifers such as fir, spruce and pine are distinctive of Finland. Deciduous trees such as maple, oak, limetree and ash grow only at the southwest coast and on the islands of the Archipelago as the climate in the rest of the country is too cold. Solely the birch, the Finnish national tree, braves the climate. Lots of different mosses and lichens cover the ground of endless forests like a carpet in which you can find mushrooms and berries, such as blueberries, wild strawberries and currants, enough and to spare. Northern Finland is the place where the rare cloudberry grows.
Many tourists hope to get a glimpse of a brown bear during their trip to Finland. Currently, between 1000 and 1500 of those animals are supposed to live in Finland, especially on the border region with Russia. Since brown bears are very shy animals, it is unlikely to see one in the wild. Apart from the brown bear, there are wolves, lynxes and wolverines living in the Finnish forests. Still, there are comparatively few predators, which leads to an increase in the population of moose. In fall and winter, it is not uncommon to encounter a moose or, in Northern Finland, a reindeer on the road during the twilight hours. Linnansaari National Park at Lake Saimaa is the home of the rare Saimaa ringed seal, one of the only two species of freshwater seals in the world.
One of the biggest differences between the Finns and their Scandinavian neighbors is the language. Unlike Swedish, for example, the Finnish language belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group and therefore bears, apart from a few loan words such as banaani, posti and hotelli, no similarities with Indo-Germanic languages. Within the Finno-Ugric languages, which are nowadays spoken by about 23 million people, the Estonian language is relatively closely related to the Finnish, whereas the Hungarian language is a quite distant relative. What makes it so difficult for speakers of Indo-Germanic languages to learn Finnish is the fact that there are huge differences in grammar. Certain parts of speech like articles and prepositions are just as absent as a differentiation between the genders. “Hän” is the term for “he” and “she” both. Instead, there are 15 different cases integrating most information in the noun. There is often only a change in the ending, but it occurs just as frequently that the whole word changes, as one can see in the example of the word “talo” (=house): Whereas “talon” means “into the house”, “talasto” means “of/from the house”. Due to its many vowels, even more as in Italian, the Finnish language is very sonorous. Finnish in itself is a logical language without many exceptions. Besides, almost all letters are pronounced in the same way as in German.
But even those who do not succeed in learning some Finnish phrases will get along well in Finland: As in all Scandinavian countries, many people there speak English quite well. Since the Finns are quite shy when it comes to talking in a foreign language, however, there is no harm in having some Finnish language skills in order to start a conversation with them.