Finland became an independent nation in 1917. Before then, it had been governed by Sweden and Russia. A sizeable Swedish-speaking minority still lives in the western part of the country, in particular on the autonomous Åland islands. Finns differ from other Scandinavians in that they have a different kind of language, closer to the language of the Sami. Today there are over five million Finns, living in a welfare state with possibly the highest quality of life in world.
Finland is often called the land of a thousand lakes, and with good reason. There is actually nearly 200,000 lakes in Finland. The largest, Saimaa, is the fourth largest lake in Europe. Most of the land is covered with forest. In the south-west there is an archipelago that includes the Åland islands. Most of the people live in the south, where also the capital and largest city is, Helsinki. Other large cities are Tampere, Turku and Oulu.
The nature of Finland is one of its major tourist attractions. The archipelago and Lakeland regions give many opportunities for fishing and boating. The vast, scarcely populated Lapland region in the north also draws many travelers who want to experience the midnight sun and the northern lights. The area also has a rich wildlife, including reindeer, bears, lemmings, wolves and wolverines. The provincial capital Rovaniemi also has many tourists. as it is believed by some that Santa Claus lives outside it. There are also many opportunities for skiing, in mountains as well as on cross country ski trails. Levi and Saariselkä are two of the most popular ski resorts.
Among the attractions in Helsiniki is the Helsinki cathedral and Temppeliauko Church, which is built into the rock. On an island outside the city is the fortress of Suomenlinna or Sveaborg. There are also many castles worth visiting, including Olavinlinna and Turku. Turku was the centre of Swedish Finland, and the castle was built in the 13th century.
The large cities, Helsinki, Tampere and Turku, are also excellent for shopping. Among the best buys are textile, ceramics and glass products, and the Design District in Helinsiki has some of the best fashion stores in the country. There are also many markets and market halls, some of the most popular for shopping are in Kuopio and Oulu.