Finland is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of northern Europe. It borders Sweden on the west, Russia on the east, and Norway on the north, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland. The capital city is Helsinki.
Around 5.3 million people reside in Finland, with the majority concentrated in the southern part of the country. It is the eighth largest country in Europe in terms of area and the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. The native language for most of the population is Finnish, a member of the Finno-Ugric language family most closely related to Estonian, and is one of only four official EU languages not of Indo-European origin. The other official language of Finland, Swedish, is the mother tongue of 5.5 percent of the population. Finland is a democratic, parliamentary republic with a mostly Helsinki-based central government and local governments in 348 municipalities. A total of a million residents live in Greater Helsinki (including Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa) and a third of the country's GDP is produced there. Other major cities include Tampere, Turku, Oulu and Lahti.
Finland was historically a part of Sweden and from 1809 an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire. Finland's declaration of independence from Russia in 1917 was followed by a civil war, wars against the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and a period of official neutrality during the Cold War. Finland joined the United Nations in 1955 and the European Union in 1995 and participates in the Eurozone. Finland has been ranked the second most stable country in the world, in a survey based on social, economic, political, and military indicators.
Finland has good results in many international comparisons of national performance such as the share of high-technology manufacturing, public education, health care, the rate of gross domestic product growth, and the protection of civil liberties.
Finland is a country of thousands of lakes and islands – 187,888 lakes (larger than 500 m²) and 179,584 islands. One of these lakes, Saimaa, is the fourth largest in Europe. The Finnish landscape is mostly flat with few hills, and its highest point, the Halti at 1,324 metres, is found in the extreme north of Lapland at the border between Finland and Norway.
The landscape is covered mostly (seventy-five percent of land area) by coniferous taiga forests and fens, with little arable land. The most common type of rock is granite. It is a ubiquitous part of the scenery, visible wherever there is no soil cover. Moraine or till is the most common type of soil, covered by a thin layer of humus of biological origin. Podzol profile development is seen in most forest soils except where drainage is poor. Gleysols and peat bogs occupy poorly drained areas. The greater part of the islands are found in the southwest in the Archipelago Sea, part of the archipelago of the Åland Islands, and along the southern coast in the Gulf of Finland.
Finland is one of the few countries in the world whose surface area is still growing. Owing to the post-glacial rebound that has been taking place since the last ice age, the surface area of the country is growing by about 7 square kilometres (2.7 square miles) a year.
The distance from the most Southern point – Hanko – to the most northern point of Finland – Nuorgam – is 1,445 kilometres (898 miles) (driving distance), which would take approximately 18.5 hours to drive. This is very similar to Great Britain (Land's End to John o' Groats – 1,404 kilometres (872 miles) and 16.5 h).
The Finnish climate is suitable for grain farming in the southernmost regions, but not further north.
Finland has a humid and cool semicontinental climate. The climate type in southern Finland is a northern temperate climate. Winters of southern Finland (average temperature of day is below 0) are usually 4-5 months long, and the snow covers the land about 4 months of every year, and in the southern coast, it can melt many times during winter, and then come again. The coldest winter days of southern Finland are usually -20 C, and the warmest days of July and early August can be 25-30 C. Summers in the southern Finland last 4 months (from the mid of May to mid of September). In Northern Finland, particularly in the Province of Lapland, a subarctic climate dominates, characterized by cold, occasionally severe, winters and relatively warm summers. Winters in north Finland are nearly 7 months long, and snow covers the land almost 6-7 months every year. Summers in the north are quite short, only 2-3 months. The highest temperatures on the warmest summer days of July, are rarely above 20-25 degrees in northern Finland. The main factor influencing Finland's climate is the country's geographical position between the 60th and 70th northern parallels in the Eurasian continent's coastal zone, which shows characteristics of both a maritime and a continental climate, depending on the direction of air flow. Finland is near enough to the Atlantic Ocean to be continuously warmed by the Gulf Stream, which explains the unusually warm climate considering the absolute latitude.
A quarter of Finland's territory lies above the Arctic Circle and the midnight sun can be experienced – for more days, the farther north one travels. At Finland's northernmost point, the sun does not set for 73 consecutive days during summer, and does not rise at all for 51 days during winter.