Finland's capital, Helsinki, commands the southern coast and shelters more than one-tenth of the country's population. Towns were first settled in the southwest, where the culture of the South Coast and the Åland Islands has a decidedly Swedish influence. Northern Finland—Finnish Lapland—straddles the Arctic Circle and is sparsely populated. Finland's central region is dominated by the Lakelands, the country's vacation belt.
Helsinki. The mark of a storied Swedish and Russian heritage is overlaid with cool and calm Finnish character in the seaside capital city. Helsinki is a place to work as it hosts innumerable conferences and power-meetings and, increasingly, a place to play, owing to its repertoire of fine restaurants and its chic bar-lounge scene.
Southwestern Coast and the Ålands. Along the southwest coast resides the former capital, home to the country's most impressive medieval fortress, as well as Finland's best beaches set among former Russian villas. In summer, the living is breezy as many Finns and Swedes head to cottages on one of the thousands of gorgeous Åland Islands or party shamelessly on the ferries crossing to and from Stockholm.
The Lakelands. The recipe for a traditional Finnish summer requires a cabin, a sauna, a lake, and little else, and many Finns maintain all three ingredients here. Other regional attractions include the city of Tampere, a curious combination of high-tech industry and high culture, and a number of towns with medieval castles and big summer music and theater festivals.
Lapland. Europe's largest wilderness is the scene of hiking trails among brilliant foliage, endlessly skiable snowfields before the breathtakingly beautiful Northern Lights, the Sami (Northern Europe's indigenous people), and Santa Claus. It falls almost entirely within the Arctic Circle and its forests, rivers, and mountains are both at the root of sisu (unwaivering determination) and a great source of tranquillity, two qualities Finns value almost above all else.
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