Finland, in Northern Europe is a thoroughly modern welfare state 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. Except for a small highland region in the extreme northwest, the country is a lowland less than 600 ft (180 m) above sea level. Off the southwest coast are the Swedish-populated Åland Islands (581 sq mi; 1,505 sq km), which have had an autonomous status since 1921.
Finland is a land of contrasts with unspoilt nature, Swedish castles, Russian churches to the reindeers of the indigenous Sami people in Lapland in the north. The upbeat, modern capital city of Helsinki is packed with tourist attractions with galleries, museums and cafes, but beyond, in the countryside, there are miles of pristine wilderness to explore in the cold air. The country is also embracing the future and is one of the most hi-tech countries in the world, with Internet connections per head of population surpassing that of the USA and UK.