Official name: Republic of Finland
Area: 305,470 square kilometers (117,942 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Haltia (1,328 meters/4,343 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 2 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 540 kilometers (335 miles) from east to west; 1,160 kilometers (719 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries: 2,628 kilometers (1,629 miles) total boundary length; Norway 729 kilometers (452 miles); Sweden 586 kilometers (363 miles)
Coastline: 1,126 kilometers (698 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Located in northeastern Europe, Finland is one of the world's northernmost countries—roughly one-third of the country lies north of the Arctic Circle. Finland covers 305,470 square kilometers (117,942 square miles), or slightly less than the state of Montana, and has six provinces.
The Åland Islands, in the Gulf of Bothnia off the southwest coast, are an autonomous region of Finland. They have an area of 1,552 square kilometers (600 square miles) and encompass over 6,500 islands and islets, only about 80 of which are inhabited. They are farther from shore than any of Finland's other islands.
In spite of its proximity to the Arctic Circle, Finland has a relatively mild climate, thanks to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream. Temperatures are coldest in the north, however, with winter lows down to 30°C below zero (22°F below zero) and permanent snowcaps resting on the northern slopes of its highest peaks. Temperatures for the country as a whole average -14°C to -3 °C (7°F to 27°F) in winter and about 13°C to 18°C (55°F to 65°F) in summer. Summer temperatures average about 20°C (68°F) in the southern part of the country, with daytime summer highs reaching 30°C (86°F). Average annual precipitation (a mix of both snow and rain) varies from about 43 centimeters (17 inches) in the north to 71 centimeters (28 inches) in the south.
The north of Finland is famous for its "midnight sun." For about seventy days beginning in mid-May, the sun never sets and is visible even at night. Even the southern part of the country can have as many as nineteen hours of sunlight on summer days. Another climate-related phenomenon experienced in the north is kaamos, the sunless winter, when it is dark even at the height of day, and spectacular displays of northern light often are visible in the sky.
Finland is a generally low-lying country. The terrain is close to sea level in the southern half of the country, rising in the north and northeast. Nearly the entire northern half of Finland, including its most elevated terrain, belongs to the larger region known as Lapland, which stretches across Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, lying largely within the Arctic Circle. It is one of the coldest zones in Europe, and is home to such wildlife species as tundra reindeer. The easternmost part of Finland is called Karelia, where native brown bears roam. Part of Karelia was ceded to the Soviet Union at the close of World War II.
Finland is located northeast of the Baltic Sea. At some points, only a narrow strip of land in Norway separates Finland from the Barents Sea to the north, and some of its rivers drain northward in that direction.
There are thousands of small islands dotting the coast of Finland.
Finland is bordered on the west by the Gulf of Bothnia and on the south by the Gulf of Finland.
Aside from the Åland Islands (see Territories and Dependencies), other major island groups include the Turku Archipelago, which lies between the Åland Islands and the mainland, and a group of islands lying off the western coast near Vaasa. The southwest islands rise to elevations of over 122 meters (400 feet). There is also a group of low-lying islands off the southeast coast in the Gulf of Finland.
Finland's heavily indented coastal zone, which has been called the "golden horseshoe," is dominated by the cities of Helsinki and Turku, the former capital of the country. The entire coast is paralleled by an island zone, which reaches its greatest breadth and complexity in the southwest with the Turku Archipelago.
Finland's outstanding physical feature is the multitude of lakes that were formed when the glaciers retreated at the close of the Ice Age. The same phenomenon created the marshes that gave Finland its native name— Suomi, or "swamp." In relation to its size, Finland has more lakes than any other country—their total number has been estimated at close to two hundred thousand. Fifty-five thousand lakes are at least 200 meters (656 feet) in breadth, and nineteen large lakes span more than 200 square kilometers (77 square miles). The largest, Lake Saimaa, is the fifth-largest lake in Europe. Other large lakes include Inari (Enar) to the north, Oulujärvi in the central part of the country, and Päijanne and Pielinen in the south. Most of Finland's lakes are quite shallow, with an average depth of only 7 meters (23 feet).
Both above and below the tree line, the north country region has extensive swamps, and about a third of this area is covered with bogland. The vast expanses of swamp are the least attractive elements in the northern landscape.
A network of interconnected lakes and rivers covers the greater part of southern Finland. About 10 percent of Finland's area consists of inland water. The north is drained by long rivers, such as the Muonio, the Tornio (Torneå), and the Kemi. In the central part of the country, the streams become shorter, except for the Oulu. In the lake district in the southeast, rivers are long and narrow and crossed by the great east-to-west ridge called the Salpausselkä, which runs parallel to the Gulf of Finland coast. The areas south of the lake district and westward along the coast are drained mostly by a series of short streams.
Some of the northern rivers, such as the Kemi, empty into the freshwater Bothnian Gulf. Others, including the Paats and the Tenu (Tano), drain into the Arctic, and some have carved dramatic gorges through to Russian Karelia. Farther south, a series of parallel rivers originates at the high point of Suomenselka and flows northwest to the broad coastal plain of the Gulf of Both-nia. Among these are the Oulu, Pyha, and Lapuan Rivers.
There are no desert regions in Finland.
More than half of eastern Finland is hilly, with the land gently sloping toward the southwest.
Most of the densely forested land in the north and east consists of landforms with rounded ridgetops at elevations from 457 to 762 meters (1,500 and 2,500 feet). Near Lake Inari (Lake Enar), these hills are intersected by a plain with a height between 91 and 183 meters (300 to 600 feet).
Low-lying plains make up much of the coast. South of the Salpausselkä ridge, the plain is narrow, along the Gulf of Finland. It widens in the southwest and west, where it borders the Gulf of Bothnia. Finland's farmland is concentrated in this region.
Finland's mountains are situated in the extreme northwest, near the borders with Sweden and Norway. Peaks in this small area rise to an average height of 1,000 meters (3,281 feet). The highest is Mount Haltia (Haltiatunturi).
There are no notable canyons or caves in Finland.
There are no notable plateaus or monoliths in Finland.
One of the most impressive structures in Finland, the Saimaa Canal dominates the Karelia region. The artificial reservoirs of Lokan and Porttipahdan are among Finland's largest lakes.
The two bodies of water bordering Finland—the Gulf of Finland and the Gulf of Bothnia—can freeze over entirely for months at a time due to frigid winter temperatures.
Lange, Hannes. The Visitor's Guide to Finland . Translated by Andrew Shackleton. Edison, NJ: Hunter, 1987.
Mead, W. R., and Helmer Smeds. Winter in Finland: A Study in Human Geography . New York: Praeger, 1967.
Rode, Reinhard. Finland. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.