Lying to the north along the Baltic Sea is an outdoorsman’s paradise of emerald forests edging up to countless pristine lakes. While Finland is the seventh largest country in terms of land area, it is one of the smallest in terms of population density; Finland has population of only five million. Some 6,200 square miles of protected parks and preserves found in the country’s borders are available to explore during a Finland cruise, making it one of the world leaders in environment sustainability and no doubt contributing to the preservation of some of the cleanest air and water quality in all of Europe. Travelers enjoying trekking, fishing, wildlife viewing, skiing, and canoeing will love to tour this country.
Historically a Grand Duchy of the Swedish Kingdom and later of Russia, the Finnish culture has been able to maintain and cultivate traditions that is distinctly their own. During your cruise of Finland you’ll have plenty of opportunities to become familiar with the local culture. The majority (about 94%) of the population is of Finnish descent; the country has only recently begun to open its borders to an influx of immigrants equal to that of its Nordic neighbors. Presently the culture is being increasingly exposed to outside influences, and with the fall of the Soviet Union, Finns have become determined to globalize and have attained a great deal of success.
Come and experience the culture for yourself on a Finland cruise! You may be invited to take a sauna in one of the two million saunas located across the country, amounting to almost one per household. During your trip, eat the sausage, rye breads, and fruits that have made Finns world-renown for their cuisine options. Relax while fishing or sailing in the Arctic north where the sun stays visible for a consecutive fifty days during the summer. Finland offers travelers a truly unique cultural experience coupled with breathtaking scenery that is sure to cause any person to fall in love with this remarkable country.
Pre 20th Century
For seven centuries Finland was a province and then a Grand Duchy of the Swedish Kingdom from the 12th to 19th century. Precariously situated between the heavily Protestant Swedish people and the Eastern Orthodox Russians, it is not surprising that the region became a battleground between the two countries. From 1696-1697 severe famines wiped out a third of all Finns, and the following years during the 1700s were marked by bitter wars with Russia. The fighting ended in 1809 when Finland surrendered to Russia, eventually becoming a Grand Duchy of Russia during the latter half of the 19th century. Gaining a certain amount of autonomy, Finnish nationalism spread and fever for independence was only encouraged when Russification began its oppression. The country’s passion for its nationalism is just as evident when you travel to Finland today.
The dawn of the Communist Revolution and the removal of the tsar from power gave the Finnish senate a window of opportunity to declare independence, which they did so on December 6, 1917. Internal violence ensued between Russian supporters and Finnish nationalists. After 108 days of civil war, about 30,000 Finnish were dead, and the nationalists claimed a weary victory. The local politics could do little to heal the wounds, and the massacres that occurred during ‘peacetime’ are still being discovered today. Anticommunist violence broke out in the early 1930s, and the Soviet Union invaded parts of Karelia in the Winter War of 1939. During your Finland travel you will notice how isolated the country is; this isolation prevented help from the Western allies, thus Finland called upon Germany for help in taking back portions of Karelia that were in Russian possession. The Soviets staged another advance in the summer of 1944, and the Finns looked for peace, while at the same time attempting to oust the Germans from Lapland in a bitter war, which lasted until the conclusion of WWII. Finland endured enormous military defeat and faced huge economic disaster due to the reparations imposed by the Soviets. The Finns ceded the Karelian Isthmus and the following presidency of Urho Kekkonen from 1956-1981 became a huge challenge of balancing efforts to globalize without provoking the giant easterly neighbor.
Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Finns took the opportunity to free themselves from the restrictions imposed by the Paris treaties of 1947. Finns made great effort to convert the former farming/forestry economy into a more diversified and modern economy. Finland voted to join the European Union in late 1994, and has generally taken positions of neutrality and military nonalignment in other matters. Aside from their UN peacekeeping duties, Finland has no other military responsibilities other than maintaining a strong independent defense. The Finns have managed to build their economy and have become one of the most globalized nations in the world. Finland travel also offers a chance to explore, what the UN has also determined as the 5th ranking country to have the best standard of living.
While the country has an individual culture, today many Finns are increasingly encountering foreign cultural influences outside their previously defined sphere. This includes Russia and the Baltic regions, as well as influence from Sweden and Germany. Karelian culture, as particularly expressed in music, is seen as the one of the purest expressions of Finnic myths and beliefs. Some minorities existing within Finland’s borders, including the Sami, have maintained their own distinct cultural characteristics as well. The majority, however, (about 94% of the total population) is of Finnish descent and is divided into two slightly different cultural categories. The Ethnic Finns have a cultural focus on lakes and woods and are generally strongly connected to nature. The Finland-Swede culture is considered the more outward and urbanized culture exhibited mostly by people living in the coastal areas. The differences between the two are very slight, displaying only minor differences in accents and vocabulary.
Sparsely populated with many expanses of heavily forested land, the country has only five million inhabitants, ranking 162nd in population density. When you are on a tour of Finland you are likely to hear both Finnish and Swedish. These are the two official languages of the country, but Finnish is spoken amongst 92% of the population. The Finnish language is often very hard for foreigners to understand, and is considered to be one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. Perhaps in recognition of this great communication barrier, the majority of Finns speak English very well, so most travelers should not have a problem communicating during their trip. Other minority languages include Russian and Estonian, and three derisions from Sami. The rights of minority groups to protect their culture and language are protected by Finnish law, but only the Sami languages are considered to be an official minority language. About 500,000 Finns had to emigrate between the period of 1939 and 1970 due to poor economic conditions and political instability with the constant threat of a Soviet takeover. Since the late 1990s Finland has begun to receive refugees at a rate similar to that of other Nordic countries, although the total ethnic minority populations still remain far lower in Finland than elsewhere.
The primary religion you can expect to encounter on your Finland tour is the evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. This is the most practiced religion; about 84% of Finns are members. A minority belong to the Finnish Orthodox Church, which is the only other official state church of Finland. There also exists a small portion of other Protestant denominations, Catholics, Muslims, Jews and some who claim to be unaffiliated.
When taking a Finland tour, you cannot help but consider enjoying their widely celebrated saunas. Well known throughout the world for their adherence to taking a sauna at least once a week, the Finns have incorporated this practice into their culture. Used for relating with friends and family, and for mental and physical relaxation, the sauna is not considered a luxury, but rather a necessity. For the five million people who live in Finland, over 2 million saunas are found, amounting to at least one per household. The whole process of a sauna bath lasts about 30 minutes to 2 hours and consists of a number of repeated cycles. First one needs to undress and take a shower without soap. Next one enters the sauna ranging from about 80°C to 100°C in temperature and sit back for about 10-30 minutes allowing the heat to penetrate and open the pores in their skin. Next, exit and cool down outside or take a dip in a pool or lake. The cycle is not usually considered complete at a lakeside cottage without a cool swim. Should the lake be frozen, some may even cut a hole in the ice to jump in. Then they return to the sauna to repeat the cycle all over again. There is no limit as to the number of cycles, however two cycles is considered a minimum. At the end of all the cycles, one takes a shower with soap to clean off. While many do take saunas in coed settings or as a whole family, unspoken social rules govern which situations are appropriate. Almost all public saunas are divided into same sex only rooms. Should you travel to a Finnish home, being invited to take a sauna is considered a nice gesture, and one should be wary of declining the invitation for fear of offending the host.
For those yearning for a nature paradise, a Finland tour is for you! With the largest unspoiled wilderness in all of Europe and its nearly 200,000 lakes, the country offers an outdoor sportsman’s multiple activity options and an escape from the urbanized lifestyle. Finland offers spectacular water and air quality, demonstrated in its beautiful green woods edging up to lakeshores. Helsinki, Finland’s capital city is the cleanest in all of Europe.
Leading the world in environmental sustainability, some 6,200 square miles of protected parks and reserves can be found in Finland’s borders. Lemmenjoki National Park is the largest of these parks and a must for any tour of Finland. The park treats trekkers to desolate wilderness, arctic landscapes and waterfalls. Nineteen of the reserves are specific areas established for scientific reasons and to conserve nature for research. These strict nature reserves, as opposed to the national parks, do not often permit travelers, although some do make small trail systems open to the public. Wilderness reserves have also been established in more remote areas to preserve their natural character. Such reserves are primarily located in northern Lapland.
A Finland tour is also ideal for travelers who enjoy trekking, fishing, wildlife viewing, and other outdoor activities. In wintertime many ski resorts in the north offer excellent cross-country and alpine skiing. With the midnight sun in summer (particularly in the north where the sun does not set at all) one can enjoy great fishing and canoeing, sailing, and other coastal adventures on their trip. A truly amazing out-of-doors wonderland, visitors to Finland are sure to enjoy their visit to this wilderness treasure!
Traveling to Finland invites the opportunity to try new foods and sample delicacies you might not encounter at home. Finland has had a long history of heavy cuisine and hearty foods that are not necessarily good for the body, but great for the soul. In recent years, Finland has altered and improved their country’s cuisine to encourage a more healthy diet. Combining traditional country with upper-class cuisine, Finns enjoy fine cuisine but consume it in moderation. While still embracing the ever-popular sausage (Makkara), which is similar to a bratwurst, Finns have now turned to new cooking methods and entrees decreasing the amount of salt and animal fat consumption. Whether you opt for the healthier version or not, be sure to try some of Makkara on your Finland tour. Using healthier alternatives such as rye bread products and offering increasing proportions of fruits and vegetables in boxed or prepared meals, the Finns have now gained a worldwide renown for their healthy eating habits.
Breakfast is the main family meal of the day, and usually contains toast or porridge, with fruit or juice to provide the necessary daily vitamins. Milk is still a common drink, and Finland is a world leader in coffee consumption. Low fat dairy products are preferred, and lightness and low sodium content are as important to the cooks as is flavor. Farmed salmon is the most common Finnish choice, and smoked fish of all varieties is easily avaible in any market. Finnish meat counters have amazing variety. Mincemeat is a best seller, along with chicken, ham, bologna, elk during hunting season, and reindeer during autumn. Travelers from all over the world enjoy local Finnish meats during their tour of the country. The meats are high quality. Sandwiches are easy to make as shops sell rye bread sliced or pre-cut. Berries are plentiful – blueberry sauce a common commodity across the nation.
Be sure to sample some of the local wines and liquers on your Finland tour. Theses drinks have been growing in popularity. Koskenkorva Viina is the common clear spirit drink. Finnish desserts are often pastries, with Mammi being a traditional easter malt porridge that is baked and served cold later with sugar and milk. Salmiakki is a salty confectionery that is well loved in many Nordic countries, however generally loathed outside of Europe. Finland is truly developing its own style of culinary art, with many delighting in making meals from scratch. Increasing growth in demand for gourmet dining experiences along with the priority placed on a healthy diet, the Finnish cuisine will continue to evolve and is sure to introduce some inventive new dishes in the future.
The seventh largest country in Europe, two thirds of Finland’s area is heavily forested, while the other third is arctic zone. Containing nearly 200,000 lakes, almost 10% of Finland’s area is covered in water, including marshes and bogs. The terrain is mostly low and flat, with rolling plains and low hills peaking at Mt. Haltiatunturi at 4357 ft. Finland boasts 1250 km of coastline to explore during your Finland cruise. Situated on an isostatic uplift, Finland is one of the few countries in the world whose area is still growing, by about 2.7 square miles per year. Another curious feature to note before you plan a trip to Finland is the arctic zone territory in the north where the midnight sun is experienced every year. In this region, the sun does not set for about 73 days at a time during summer and likewise does not rise for about 51 straight days in winter. The capital city of Helsinki is the largest metropolitan area in the country and is the northernmost national capital in Europe.
Finland’s government, with a constitution last adopted in March of 2000, is a republic based on a Swedish civil law system. If you are planning on traveling to Finland soon, the current chief of state is President Tarja Halonen, elected by popular vote to a six-year term in 2000. The President then appoints the prime minister from the majority party, or the majority coalition, with the parliament’s approval. The presidency is formally responsible for foreign policy, while the bulk of the executive power lies in the cabinet headed by the prime minister. The Parliament (Eduskunta) is a unicameral assembly with 200 representatives popularly elected on a proportional basis to four-year terms. The three largest political parties are Kesk, Social Democratic Party, and Kok amounting to about 68% combined of the last election in 2003. The judicial courts are divided into a civil and criminal branch, and an administrative branch. Each branch has its own Supreme Court. A Finland political fact you might find interesting when traveling within the country; Finland does not have a constitutional judicial system – the courts do not have the authority to declare laws unconstitutional. Rather such laws are put to a vote by the Parliament. When conflict does arise between a law and the constitution, in theory the constitution takes precedence.
Southern Finland is predominantly a northern temperate climate, while Northern Finland borders on a sub-arctic climate with cold and occasionally severe winters. Despite its latitude, Finland is surprisingly warm due to the Gulf Stream current from the Atlantic and other bodies of water, which act as a moderating influence on the climate. This somewhat temperate climate invites travelers to explore the region on a Finland cruise. Summers are sunny, particularly in the Baltic southwest coast, with temperatures ranging between 55°F and 71°F in July. Rain is mild in the summer, and become like sleet in the winter.
With over two thirds of the country covered in forests, woodland wildlife is abundant, yet often hard to spot. The forests are home to wild bears, wolves, elk, beavers and many other species that have all but vanished from other parts of Europe. Bears and wolves are rarely encountered unless one travels on an organized wildlife viewing trip to eastern Finland. Elk sightings are more common and Lapland residents have to be careful of driving into reindeer. While hunting is allowed, particularly in rural areas, the licenses and season quotas are strictly monitored to ensure the protection of the wild populations.
Bird watching is an extremely popular pastime in Finland given the diversity of species found, and is equally popular activity for any Finland trip. The country provides the habitat for five species of grouse, ten owl species, Wryneck, Woodpeckers, eagles, cranes, waders, passerines, and warblers. The best times to views these birds are during spring when the mating season calls them out of their nests more often. The nature reserves and national parks offer great wildlife viewing opportunities.
The Brown Bear, the national animal of Finland, is actually rarely found in the forests. With an estimated 1000 bears inhabiting the eastern regions, hunting is still permitted. Most bears will often cross over to the Russian side of the eastern border during hunting season, and may return in spring after hibernation. Wolverine and deer likewise are elusive, but there are the rare enthusiasts willing to camp out on their Finland trip in the eastern regions…they may get lucky and spot these mammals.