If escaping the summer vacation hordes and reconnecting with the last true wilderness in a land of magical landscapes sounds like your cup of tea, Finland can offer all that and more. As a summer destination, Finland has something for both culture-hungry city-hoppers and independent backpackers seeking an escape from the bustle of modern life. Find unspoiled forests and lakelands on your doorstep, nature trails and fresh, cool forests. Towns and cities buzz with activity and long, sunny days encourage the outdoor lifestyle.
Soak up the cool cafè-culture of the two great southern cities, Helsinki and Tampere, where modern art museums rub shoulders with traditional farmer's markets. Further north in Saariselkä, Santa's elves take a summer vacation experiencing a safari, Lapland-style, visiting reindeer corals and enjoying hikes in Urho Kekkonen National park.
The vast swathes of untouched forests mean that Finland is ideal for nature enthusiasts, with a rich variety of fauna and flora. Spot elk, wolves, bears and lynx on a wilderness tour and taste the sweet, golden liqueur made from distilled Lakka berries, or cloudberries which grow in abundance across the north of the country.
Responsible travelers will enjoy the range of outdoor activities and outstanding natural beauty Finland boasts. Two PAN certificate national parks; 200,000 lakes; exotic wildlife and well organised cycle and rail networks make the country a great alternative summer vacation to the crowded, blistering hot madness of the Mediterranean. And of course, the north offers 24-hours a day of pure, summer sunshine
Sail into sophisticated Helsinki
Sipping fresh coffee on the grass to the strains of a string quartet as sleek cruise liners sail into Helsinki's harbour is just one way to while away a relaxing afternoon in the stylish "White City of the North". Being cooped up during the long winter months means that residents take to the streets in the summer; whole families on bikes, on foot, in cafes and picnicking in parks. Many have wooden summer houses on some of the 315 islands around and upon which the city is built.
This is the land of the sauna and most hotels have one at the disposition of guests. The invigorating experience does wonders for the complexion and your mental wellbeing as the clear, rosy-cheeked faces of the Finns can attest. Don't be surprised during your stay to see groups or young couples walking briskly along the city's waterside pathways swinging ski-sticks: this is Nordic walking, a summer keep-fit routine beloved by Finns and energetic way to enjoy the city and waterfront, as well as being great practice for the winter sports season. Bars, clubs, art galleries and museums run cultural events throughout the summer as do the concert halls and sports venues.
If you're more gourmet traveler than sporty adventurer you can join the locals at the open air fruit and vegetable market on the harbour front, where mountains of plump berries from nearby forests and producers jostle for space alongside heaps of tasty porcini mushrooms - something you might not expect to find outside of an Italian trattoria! The covered market is a great place for a browse and a snack of locally pickled Baltic herring, locally cured and smoked salmon and all sorts of preserved meats including wind-dried reindeer from Lapland washed down with a shot of Finnish vodka.
Sailing into Helsinki is the best way to appreciate the splendour of the city on the sea. GuildTravel offer a tour from London to Helsinki via Stockholm including a cruise across the Baltic to Helsinki where you'll be put up in a four star hotel for the night. Tallink Silja which run the cruise were recently awarded the ISO 14001:2004 certificate for international environmental management. Passengers can pre-book a one-day Helsinki pass giving them free access to museums across the city and free use of local transport.
Cycle through the archipelago
Turku's archipelago is home to over 20,000 islands and skerries. Discover the islands through a range of activities; kayaking, walking, sailing and cycling. Island hopping is a great way to witness the natural diversity that inhabits the archipelago, and cycling is a peaceful and green way of exploring. Cycle across the ring route along connecting bridges and take ferries to the islands of Korppoo, Kustavi and Naantali. Various packages are available that include accommodation and bicycle hire in the price, these can last for 8 days and give you the chance to stay overnight on some of the islands.
The national rail service will allow you to travel on most trains with your bike. Taking the train is an easy and environmentally friendly way of seeing the sites, it accounts for only one percent of the carbon emissions in Finland.
Tampere & the thousand lakes
The charming university town of Tampere straddles two large lakes and is the perfect setting to begin a discovery trail across Finland's fantastic lake region. Tampere was recently named Fair Trade city, the first in Finland. Being a university town it is bustling and youthful with a busy calendar of cultural events throughout the summer. With 200 lakes within the city limits, locals live in harmony with their watery landscape, often sailing in the summer to nearby Viikinsari island, to enjoy its sandy beaches.
Tampere's lakes offer a glimpse of the lakeland paradise that lies beyond. Finland's 188,888 lakes stretch across an area reaching far up north and all the way to the Russian border and with that many to choose from, you're unlikely not to find what you want.
Log cabins provide the cosy retreat to complement a zen-like backdrop of glistening cool waters, shady birch forests and tranquil afternoons stretching out on a boat with a book while you fish. An evening sauna and swim in the endless twilight before a tasty dinner of grilled fish on the terrace is a treat if you're feeling romantic. Cycle tours, nature observation and hiking will suit the more energetic visitor with the promise of fresh local home-cooked meals at the end of a busy day. Responsible Travel offers log cabins in the north of the lakeland region which satisfy all of the above criteria.
Midnight sunbathing in magical Lapland
Do something totally different and visit Lapland in the summer under the glow of the midnight sun. For a vacation outside the box, visit Saariselkä and Rovaniemi, where for two months of the summer, the sun never sets below the horizon, dancing circles in the sky over a wild landscape of tremendous beauty and freshness.
Home of the Sami people, Europe's largest indigenous ethnic group, Lapland's cultural heritage of reindeer herding, game hunting and fishing is still visible in resorts such as Saariselkä which organizes trips to visit the Sami museum at Inari and the Northern Lapland Nature Centre. Take the kids to have a go at gold panning when you're not cycling along verdant, wooded trails or rubber-rafting down the Juutua rapids.
Made up of several villages grouped together at the meeting point between the Kemijoki and Ounasjoki Rivers, Rovaniemi, Lapland's largest city boasts some stunning modern architecture and great nature sports opportunities including exhilarating summer bobsleighing and riverboat or jeep safaris. Berry and mushroom picking on a midnight sun walk topped off with a glass of sparkling wine as you gaze over the rolling arctic hills is one of the safaris you can opt for, along with horse-back trails and wellbeing retreats in the peaceful silence of the fells.
Visit Finland in summer and you'll have something unusual and unique to boast about when you come home. Sunshine at three in the morning, roaming lynx and elk, feasts of wild fruits and smoked fish in the inspiring landscape of the Sami people and the pure, fresh air of a wild and natural paradise.
Words by Emma Jamieson