When most people think of Finland they picture a cold northern land, home to Santa Claus and his reindeer, and of the snow-bound arctic. However, there is another Finland, one that might come as a surprise to visitors. Although Finland is located in the northeastern corner of Europe, and endures a long and cold winter, it is also blessed with unusually warm summers where daylight lasts just as long as the winter nights. Towards the end of July in 2010 Finland recorded its hottest temperature, when the mercury reached 37.2ºC (99ºF) in the Karelian city of Joensuu.
From the end of June onwards Finland is generally quite warm, and although 37.2ºC was a record temperatures in the 30s are not so unusual here. Thanks to the sunlight that lasts for most of the day, the temperature of the water in Finland's abundant lakes is perfect for swimming and every other kind of water activity. And with over 188,000 lakes to choose from, water sports are among the most popular summer activities for Finns and tourists alike.
With 10% of Finland covered in water, it should come as no surprise that boating activities are so popular, and the countries vast lake systems make canoeing and kayaking the ideal way to explore much of Finland's interior, while enjoying the natural beauty of the environment in an ecologically sound manner. Moving silently across the waterways allows the visitor to encounter much of Finland's amazing fauna that would be spooked by noise, including the rare and protected Saimaa seals in their natural habitat. The vastness of the Saimaa lake system, which is the largest water system in Europe covering a total area of 4,400 square kilometres, 1,700 square kilometres of which are waters, is also perfect for sailing, as is the network of lakes dominated by Lake Kallavesi in the Savo region around Kuopio.
There are an astounding 30,000 islands scattered among the archipelagos off the coast of Finland, making its coastal waters a haven for sailors and boaters. Sailors are attracted here for a number of reasons, but key among them is the incredible natural beauty to be found, especially in the three National Parks. The largest of these is the Archipelago National Park which covers some 500 square kilometres, and is located to the south of Turku. Ekenäs Archipelago National Park in the Gulf of Finland is considerably smaller, at just 52 square kilometres, and is a part of the Nyland archipelago. The Eastern Gulf of Finland National Park includes the outer archipelago of the easternmost coastal municipalities, and contains 100 islands and islets scattered across a large open sea area, which is 60 kilometres wide, and far from the mainland or the inhabited islands. Although the remarkable Kvarken Archipelago is not a National Park, it is nonetheless a boating paradise, being a collection of wilderness-like islands among a labyrinthe of rocks and islets. In 2006 it was added to UNESCO World Heritage List.
With 69% of the country covered by forests, and 10% by lakes, and thanks to the fact that Finland is sparcely populated, it is one of the great destinations in Europe for birders. Of course, another factor in its popularity is its location as the easternmost country in Europe, which means that Finland has many species of birds that are not easy to get to see elsewhere, including Blyth's Reed Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Arctic Warbler, Pine Grosbeak, Yellow-breasted Bunting and Little Bunting. Other rarely encountered species include the Black and Great spotted woodpeckers; Pygmy, Great Grey, and Snowy owls; White tailed and Golden eagles; Merlin; Pink footed geese; Willow and Siberian tits; Black grouse and Capercaillie. There is an especially large number of birds of prey, including some 23 types of kites, hawks, and eagles, 9 types of falcon, 11 types of owl, and the osprey. In all, there are some 450 species of birds to be found in Finland.
Finland is an ideal destination for tourists who want to explore a country on two wheels, thanks to its sparse population, excellent roads and relatively little traffic. Most of the country is flat with gentle rolling hills, and the scenery is varied, with lakes and forests, farmland and small rural communities. All major towns, and indeed most of the lesser ones too, have well marked cycling paths, and the percentage of the Finnish population who commute to and from work on bicycles is quite high, though not as high as in the Nederlands. For those who want greater challenges, there are some National Parks where well signed cycle routes can bring the mountain biker over more rugged terrain. This is especially true in parts of Lapland where the land is considerably more hilly, and in some case mountainous, than in Southern and Central Finland.
One of the best cycling routes in Finland is the historic King's Road which traces the old postal route between Helsinki and Turku and covers a distance of just over 250km. Since the 1300s this route has been travelled by Kings, couriers, travellers, and armies, and along the way there are numerous mansions and manors, taverns and inns which were first built to accommodate those using this scenic road.
From Turku you can easily hop aboard a ferry and visit the Åland islands, set amongst the beautiful Turku archipelago which numbers 20,000 islands and stretches from the city out into the sea towards Sweden. The Åland islands are quite small, so cycling around them is easy and there are convenient ferrys to allow island hopping, and a wide range of accommodation types available.
10% of Finland is covered by water, with 187,888 lakes and 647 rivers, and a coastline of over 1,100 km long, excluding islands and coastal indentations. Within these waters there are 67 species of fish, thriving in pristine waters, surrounded by some of the most beautiful and peaceful landscapes in Europe. In 2008, almost 300,000 foreign travellers went fishing during their vacation in Finland, making fishing the most popular summer activity amongst international visitors to the country.
Finland's waters cater for every type of angler, whether they prefer fly-fishing, spinning, jigging, trolling, or simply relaxing with a rod and line - for which no licence is required.
The pristine waters of Lapland are teeming with Arctic char, salmon, grayling, brown trout, and rainbow trout, as well as some of the largest perch in the country. Further south in the Lake District the main game species here zander, pike, and perch, but there are also brown trout and landlocked salmon, as well as burbot and whitefish in the deeper lakes. Off the southern coasts, among tens of thousands of islands scattered amongst the archipelagos, there are large stocks of pike, zander, and perch, as well as whitefish, burbot, sea trout, Atlantic salmon, Baltic herring, flounder, and various cyprinids.
Although golf came to Finland quite late, the sport has been growing in popularity and there are now 128 clubs with over 132,000 members. The boom began in the 1980s and has continued since, with 150 courses now open in every part of the country. The golfing season is between May and September, the majority of courses are 18 holes and quite spacious. Facilities at Finnish golf courses are typically of a high standard, with green fees very affordable. Come midsummer in Finland, twenty-one hours of sunlight each day mean that you can tee off well into the night, which is an unforgettable experience.
As Finland is one of the largest countries in Europe, and one of the most sparcely populated, there are literally thousands of square kilometres of unspoilt forests, fells, and islands where visitors can enjoy the incredible natural beauty that abounds. Trails snake throughout the country, and hikers can roam for days without meeting another person. Scattered across the country you'll discover 36 National Parks, a dozen Wilderness Areas, and countless hiking and trekking trails.
In addition, there are 9 designated hiking areas in Finland, 7 of which are state-owned and a part of the Natura 2000 network. The facilities provided in the National Hiking Areas include, but are not limited to, well marked hiking, skiing and nature trails, lean-to shelters, and camp sites. Usually you can find a visitor or outdoors centre where information about the region and its nature is made readily available, and in many places there are rental cabins available.
One of Europe's last wildernesses, Finland is covered with endless forests and lakes, and much of Finland is utterly unspoilt, making it ideal for horse riding. On horseback you get the chance to penetrate the depths of these forests and to venture into part of the unspoilt landscape that may be too challenging to reach on foot. In these old forests live owls, woodpeckers, grouse, elk, bears, wolves, lynx and wolverine. From horseback you will get the closest views of this wonderful wildlife as well as the opportunity to ride over rugged ridges and river valleys, rapids and canyons, thick forests and fens.
There are very few truly wild places in Europe, the north east of Finland is one of the last and one of the best. Summertime brings out brown bears, wolves, wolverines, moose, reindeer and other mammals as they take advantage of the bountiful food before the freezing winter. There are plenty of tour companies operating in Finland which provide expert local guides to help visitors get the best out of their wildlife experience, many of them specialising in bears and allowing as much time as desired to be spent in specially made hides in the forests watching these magnificent animals go about their business. Truly, this is a photographers and wildlife lovers paradise.
Other wildlife tours you can enjoy include trips high into the Arctic on the western edge of the vast Siberian taiga forest to look for owls, Gyr Falcon, drumming woodpeckers & displaying Capercaillies or visits to the vast Oulanka National Park to see reindeer and elk, and the many other mammals that populate this wilderness.