Finland is in Northern Europe and has borders with Russia to the East, Norway to the North and Sweden to the West. The country is thoroughly modern with well-planned and comfortable small towns and cities, but still offers vast areas of unspoiled nature. Finland has approximately 188,000 lakes (about 10% of the country) and a similar number of islands. In the northernmost part of the country the Northern Lights can be seen in the winter and midnight sun in the summer. Finns also claim the mythical mountain of Korvatunturi as the home of Santa Claus, and a burgeoning tourist industry in Lapland caters to Santa fans. Despite living in one of the most technologically developed countries in the world, the Finns love to head to their summer cottages in the warmer months to enjoy all manner of relaxing pastimes including sauna, swimming, fishing and barbecuing.
Finland is divided into the following provinces (lääni):
1. Southern Finland — the southern stretch of coastline up to the Russian border, including the capital Helsinki and the historical province of Uusimaa (Nyland)
2. Western Finland — the coastal areas, the old capital Turku, Finland's number two city Tampere and the southern parts of the historical province of Ostrobothnia (Pohjanmaa, Österbotten).
3. Eastern Finland — forests and lakes by the Russian border, including Savonia (Savo)
4. Oulu — Kajanaland (Kainuu) and northern Ostrobothnia, named after the technology city of Oulu
5. Finnish Lapland — tundra and reindeer above the Arctic Circle
6. The Åland Islands — an autonomous and monolingually Swedish group of islands off the southwestern coast of Finland
While a convenient and unambiguous bureaucratic division, the provinces do not really correspond to geographical or cultural boundaries very well. Other terms you may hear include Tavastia (Häme), covering a large area of central Finland around Tampere, and Karelia (Karjala) to the far east, the bulk of which was lost to the Soviet Union in World War II (still a sore topic in some circles).
* Helsinki — the "Daughter of the Baltic", Finland's capital and largest city by far. Helsinki pulls off the trick of being something of an international metropolis while still retaining a small-town feel. The best time to visit is in summer, when Finns peel off their overcoats and flock to outdoor bars and cafes to enjoy the sunshine.
* Jyväskylä — a university town located in Central Finland. There is a nature preservation area just a few hundred meters off the city center. The area is located on the bank of the Tourujoki-river. There are also six other recreational 'nature paths' in Jyväskylä. Ice skating is available on Lake Jyväsjärvi in the winter once the ice is thick enough.
* Oulu — a technology city at the end of the Gulf of Bothnia. Hosts the International Air Guitar Festival every year. Also is home to Nallikari and its Eden sea resort. Summer visit is preferred, but you can bathe outside all year round in Eden's cozy temperature of +26°C. A bone-chilling dip in the freezing Oulu river can also be made in at the swimming spot (maauimala) of Tuira all year round. Quite close to Raatti swimming hall are the remaining ruins of the Castle of Oulu. Their café, Linnankahvila is open daily during summertime. It lies on the remaining premises of the Castle of Oulu after the explosion of gunpowder deposit (by a bulb of lightning) in the 18th century.
* Pori — an industrial city at the western coast, known from its annual Pori Jazz festival.
* Rovaniemi — gateway to Lapland, largest city in Europe measured from the surface area. Various arctic safari companies, many of which are on the west bank of the river, can arrange all sorts of cold and snowy activities like snowmobile safaris and dog sledding. Santa Claus Village, 8 km north of Rovaniemi and right on the Arctic Circle, is a tourist trap if there ever was one – but few tourists can miss the chance to meet Santa himself. Apart from meeting the man, there are also other attractions like small-scale sledding hills for kids. The village hosts also several safari companies organising different types of activities. During dark times the village has nicely lit ice sculptures. Another Santa attraction, Santapark, is nearby.
* Savonlinna — The main attraction, St. Olaf's castle, was built in 1475. The yearly Opera Festival is also popular and is hosted at Olaf's.
* Tampere — an industrial town, home to the Lenin Museum and Spy Museum, in the middle of other big cities in Southern Finland. There are also many other museums and historic churches. Tampere features a large number of highly unusual museums. These include the Chain and Handcuffs Exhibition, the Coffee Cup Museum, the Finnish Hockey Hall Of Fame, the Finnish Refrigeration Museum, Moominvalley, the Museum Centre Vapriikki, the Museum of Dolls and Costumes Hatanpää Mansion, the Sara Hildén Art Museum, Spy Museum and the Tampere Art Museum.
* Turku — the former capital on the western coast. Medieval castle and cathedral. Some of