Finland is part of Scandinavia, a geographical region in northern Europe, and shares land borders with Norway, Sweden, and Russia. The Baltic Sea borders the country to the south and southwest. The coastline in this part of the country is speckled with nearly 180,000 small islands. Finland’s remote northern province, known as Lapland, sits above the Arctic Circle.
The Finnish landscape is mostly flat, though the Scandinavian Mountains stretch into the northwestern part of the country. Finland is heavily forested, with over 70 percent of the country covered by thick woodlands. Called “land of a thousand lakes,” Finland actually has 187,888 of them.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
A majority of the people living in Finland were born and raised in the country, and nearly 90 percent of the population speaks Finnish. Finland is also home to the Sami, a herding people once known as the Lapps. They live in Lapland, where they herd reindeer.
Many Finnish cultural customs reflect its forested landscape. While other European cultures historically viewed forests as dark and threatening, the Finns see forests as places of shelter and adventure. Today, many Finns have second homes in the woods to escape city life.
Another popular Finnish tradition is taking a sauna—steaming in a superheated room—and then jumping into an icy lake. The country of some five million people is home to about 1.5 million saunas. Much of the population has saunas in their home, and many big companies have saunas for their employees. Finnish saunas are almost always constructed with wood from birch trees.
Finns pride themselves as being the global capital of heavy metal music. They boast more than 50 metal bands per 100,000 people—that’s more metal bands per person than any other country in the world. The country hosts a number of metal music festivals every year, mostly during the summer.
Finland is located so far north that much of the country receives nearly 24 hours of sunlight during the summer. But the winters are freezing and start in December and can last until May, with 24-hour sunless nights. The northern lights, or aurora borealis, can be seen in the Lapland region of Finland regularly in the fall, winter, and spring.
Lapland is home to Finland’s largest national parks. Nearly 30 percent of the region is protected by the government, and the barren landscape is occupied mostly by reindeer and the Sami people.
Finland’s forests are primarily filled with Scots pine, Norway spruce, and birch blanket trees. Brown bears, elk, gray wolves, wolverines, and lynx (the only wild cat species in the country) all roam the woods. Finland’s coastal islands are home to numerous species of seabirds, like the Arctic tern and black-backed gull.
Ducks and other waterfowl live in the thousands of lakes scattered throughout the country. The endangered Saimaa ringed seal, one of just three lake seal species in the world, is found only in the Saimaa lake system of southeastern Finland.
Finland is a parliamentary republic. The parliament (called Eduskunta) is the legislative branch of the government; it’s led by a president, who—along with parliament members—is elected by the public. The president appoints a prime minister to lead the cabinet, which is the executive branch. The prime minister is the head of the government, but the president is the head of the armed forces. In 2003, Finland made history when both their president and prime minister were women, the first time that had happened in Europe.
Finland had been one of the best-performing economies in Europe before 2009, but recently an aging population has slowed down the exchange of goods and money in the country. Currently over 75 percent of the labor force works in the service industry, such as in hotels and restaurants. The country’s top business is manufacturing, particularly in the wood, metals, and electronics industries.
The first inhabitants of present-day Finland arrived about 9,000 years ago. Those early people were the ancestors of Lapland’s current Sami herders.
For much of the Viking era (A.D. 793–1066), many countries fought for control of Finland. During this time, the Finns supplied furs to Vikings, who passed through the country on their way to Russia. When the Viking era ended in the 11th century, both the Russians and the Swedes tried to claim Finland. The conflict between Russia and Sweden evolved into a religious rivalry, resulting in the pope—the head of the Catholic Church—declaring Finland a Swedish territory in 1120. Finland remained a part of Sweden until 1809, when Russia won control of the country.
More than a hundred years later, in 1917, Finland finally declared independence from Russia after the Russian Revolution, when Russian citizens overthrew their leader to form an elected government. Finland has remained an independent country ever since.