The Metropolitan area of Helsinki, which includes the nearby cities of Vantaa and Espoo, is the largest urban concentration in Finland, with a population in the region of one million. Finland's capital, Helsinki, is the country's busiest port, and stretches across a number of Baltic islands and peninsulas, while the suburbs spread out into the surrounding forests.
Southern Finland is the most densely populated region of the country, and the region richest in cultural heritage, packed with attractions and places of historic interest to visit. The recorded history of Finland began here, and it is in Southern Finland that the oldest traces of human habitation have been found. The region extends from close to the Russian border in the east to Uusikaupunki on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, and includes the inland towns of Kouvola, Lahti and Hämeenlinna, and the coastal towns of Kotka, Porvoo, Turku and Naantali, home to the Moomin World theme park for children, with delightful views of Europe's largest archipelago.
The long coast of Western Finland provides travellers with a veritable smörgåsbord of Finnish culture and history, across the full range of Finnish landscapes - from the scattered islands of the archipelago in the south, over the cultivated plains of Ostrobothnia, to the rolling hills and fells with their unique aapa bogs as you draw closer to Lapland.
The region of Finland known as Lakeland, stretching from Kuhmo and Kajaani in the north to Savonlinna and Tampere in the south, was formed by glacial melt at the end of the last Ice Age and is the largest lake district in Europe. With more water than land, it is hardly surprising that Finnish Lakeland is a natural paradise, not just for anglers but for all who love pure, clean waters. The many towns and cities in the region that have developed next to the lakes and rivers here are diverse and full of character, joined by meandering roads through forests and cultivated farm lands.
Stretching from the Bay of Bothnia to Russia in the east, the Oulu and Kajaani region was known as the Province of Oulu up until the end of 2009. The principal towns in the region are Oulu, Raahe, Pudasjärvi, Kajaani, Kuhmo, and Kuusamo, and it is home to two of the largest ski resorts in the country, Syöte and Ruka.
For many visitors Lapland is the most exotic of Finnish destinations; certainly it is one that is not quickly forgotten by those who come here. Sparsely populated, it provides a wide range of unique experiences in nature, whether hiking across Europe's last wildernesses, fishing some of the best salmon rivers in the world, whitewater rafting, or even panning for gold; and all the while breathing in air that has been identified as the cleanest in Europe.
Off Finland's south-west coast lies the Åland archipelago, an autonomous Swedish-speaking province of Finland with its own administration, flag and stamps, whose ancient Swedish culture can be traced back to pagan times. Åland is a demilitarized zone, so no armed forces may be stationed here and no fortifications may be built on the islands.