Eccentricity and mystery
Drawing strong cultural influences both from its easterly neighbour, Russia, and from the West, Finland remains one of Northern Europe’s most enigmatic countries.
It’s a land best known for its laconic, pithy people with a penchant for kicking back in a sauna au naturel, and for its quirky and bizarre annual festivals – indeed its strangeness is a good part of the country’s charm. The Finnish landscape is mostly flat and punctuated by huge forests and lakes, but has wide regional variations. A cruise to Finland will take you to the south whose scenery may be least dramatic, but this is more than compensated by the capital, Helsinki, with its brilliant fin-de-siècle architecture and superb collections of late modern and contemporary artworks, as well as the former capital of Turku, with some great museums and nightlife.
Stretching from the Russian border in the east to the industrial city of Tampere, the vast waters of the Lake Region provide a natural means of transport for the timber industry – indeed, water here is a more common sight than land, with many towns lying on narrow ridges between lakes. North of here, the gradually rising fells and forests of Lapland are Finland’s most alluring terrain and are home to the Sámi, semi-nomadic reindeer herders.