Helsinki & the Southern Coast -- More than 25% of Finland's people live in Helsinki, the capital of the country and the center of entertainment and culture; it's also a crossroads between western and eastern Europe. The eastern and central areas of the south are characterized by fertile farmland, crisscrossed by many rivers. The western land in the south has many shallow lakes and ridges. Porvoo, 48km (30 miles) northeast of Helsinki, was founded by the Swedes in 1346. It was the site of the first Finnish Diet, when the country became a Grand Duchy. Kotka is home to the Langinkoski Imperial Fishing Lodge, used by Czar Alexander III.
Turku & the Åland Islands -- The city of Turku, Finland's oldest city and former capital, is on the west coast. Its location on the Gulf of Bothnia, combined with a mild climate (its port remains ice-free year-round), have made this city an important center for trade and commerce. Naantali, 19km (12 miles) northwest of Turku, is one of the finest examples of a medieval Finnish town. At the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia, only 120km (75 miles) from Stockholm, are the Åland Islands (about 6,500 in total). Only about 80 of the islands are inhabited, and all of their residents speak Swedish. The only significant town in the Ålands is Mariehamn, a fishing and tourist community founded in 1861.
The Lake Region -- Central Finland is home to thousands of lakes created millions of years ago by glaciers. This region is an important tourist area, with many resorts along the shores of the lakes. In this region you'll find Tampere, Finland's second-largest city. Although an industrial city, Tampere's location on an isthmus nestled between two lakes provides an enchanting backdrop for this young, vibrant city. Lahti is on the shores of Lake Vesijärvi, the gateway to Finland's most scenic lake systems. The resort of Lappeenranta, founded in 1649 just 16km (10 miles) from the Russian border, has been one of Finland's most popular spa resorts. Here you'll find Linnoitus, a fortress that was used by the Swedes and the Russians to stave off hostile attacks along this contested border. Imatra, in the southeast near the Russian border, is as close to St. Petersburg as it is to Helsinki. Outside town is the Imatra Rapids, one of Europe's most powerful waterfalls. The most visited town in the Lake Region is Savonlinna. Because of its strategic location on the Saimaa waterway, many battles have been waged for control of its 15th-century castle, Olavinlinna. This spa town was also a favorite resort of the Russian tsars.
Finnish Lapland -- Lapland makes up more than one-third of Finland. Known throughout the world, this is the land of the midnight sun, reindeer, and the Sami, with their traditional garb. Lapland is largely forested and untamed; bears and wolves still rule the land. Fishing and logging are the mainstays of the economy. Eight kilometers (5 miles) south of the Arctic Circle, the capital city, Rovaniemi, is a modern new town, rebuilt after the Nazis destroyed it during their retreat from Finland. The port of Kemi, which is situated at the mouth of the Kemikoji River, is the transit point for the many thousands of logs that are felled in Lapland, floated downriver, and either loaded onto seagoing barges or transformed into lumber and paper products on-site. The village of Tankavaara is a major destination for those hunting for gold. Its rivers are ripe for gold panning. The Sami village of Inari, on the shores of Lake Inari, is a thriving community that depends on reindeer farming and tourism. Not far from here is Finland's largest ski resort, Saariselk. Lapland is also home to Finland's largest national park, Lemmenjoki, and countless panoramic waterfalls and swift rivers.