Visit This Underrated European Country For Incredible Outdoor Views And Activities

Sandwiched between family-friendly Sweden and Russia, Finland has a reputation as the quirky cousin of the Scandinavian countries. The Finns have the most saunas per capita in the world, enough to get the entire population of the country naked at the same time — as a nation, they don't get bashful about getting undressed in front of others. It is the land of Santa Claus, the Moomins, and they really love their heavy metal music. Despite having long and dark winters, the Finns are also a very contented people. For the past six years, Finland has ranked as the world's happiest nation, leaving its Nordic neighbors Denmark and Iceland in the silver and bronze positions.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to this consistent level of happiness and one of them is easy access to some of the most outstanding natural beauty in Europe. The Finns also have plenty of personal space; Finland is the most sparsely populated country in the European Union, with the majority of its 5.5 million people residing in the south where most of the major towns and cities, including the capital, Helsinki, are situated. That means a vast bulk of the country, which is about half the size of Texas, is defined by its expansive open landscape of forests and lakes. With all this in mind, it's a great place to visit for lovers of clean air, sweeping views, and exciting outdoor activities.

Getting closer to nature in Finland

Finland's capital, Helsinki, is regarded as one of the friendliest cities in the world, and thoughtful planning means that you can reach its natural sights within 15 minutes of its downtown area by foot, bike, or public transport. This makes the city a super jumping-off point to explore the country's great outdoors. There are 41 national parks in Finland, and two of them are within easy reach of Helsinki: Nuuksio and Sipoonkorpi. Both are known for their lakes, forested hills, gorgeous views, and a network of trails that make it easy to hike or cycle around them.

If you want to enjoy some truly Finnish isolation in the wilderness, take a trip to Lapland. The immense northern region resides almost entirely within the Arctic Circle; it is here you can experience the midnight sun in the summer or the famous aurora borealis when the skies are dark. Korvatunturi Fell is home to Santa, and while he's busy with his elves the Lappish people endure the longest periods of darkness and some of the coldest temperatures in the country.

It's a small price to pay for living in such unspoiled and outstanding natural beauty; the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is renowned for having the cleanest air in the world. Many of the national parks in Lapland are popular for skiing in the winter, and you can even find tundra-like conditions in the far northern Arctic fellfields of the Utsjoki region.

Finland's nature isn't just lakes and forests

One of the best things about Finland's great outdoors is that the country has laws that allow people to pitch a tent wherever they like, even on private property. So you can roam the most accessible Arctic region in the world without having to worry about finding a campground. Finland gets plenty of snow in the winter, providing the setting for one of the country's more daring sports: Ice Diving, which involves swimming under the frozen surface of a lake.

It's a different atmosphere in the summer when the country enjoys long nights and people celebrate with festivals and activities such as the bracing Downhill Swim in Oulanka National Park. Finland also has a long, rugged coastline with more than 80,000 islands, the world's largest archipelago. That means plenty to choose from if you fancy some time by the sea. For some island fun and a short ferry ride from Helsinki, you can visit Suomenlinna with its ancient fortress.

Most of the island's coastline is rocky but it does have one small sandy beach, and the southernmost point is a good spot for gazing over the Gulf of Finland. Further afield, Finland's islands range considerably from the empty beaches of Kaunissaari to Kvarken, an archipelago that is still rising from the sea. The area is a UNESCO World Nature Heritage site and is home to an abundance of seabirds. Wherever you go in Finland, you're never far away from a great view.