Year after year, Nordic nations come out on top in surveys ranking the world's happiest places. With skylines marked by romantic neoclassical facades; coastal regions dotted with lighthouses and 19th-century stone churches; Arctic skies awash in midnight sun; and air that's almost incomprehensibly crisp – we'd be pretty happy campers if we lived there, too. Here, the loveliest sights to see along Finland's coast.
The southern capital of Helsinki is characterized by a mix of modern skyscrapers, Art Nouveau apartments, and a largely neoclassical city center, all nestled along the Gulf of Finland. While the oceanfront harbor town thrives on contemporary design – just see the design district – its charm is still tied, in large part, to everything old-world.
The summer-only Restaurant Saaristo, “Helsinki’s balcony to the sea,” sits on the postage-sized island of Klippan – reachable only by ferry. While the dining room serves up a mean crayfish dinner, meals really take a back seat to panoramic views of South Harbor, the Helsinki skyline, and Suomenlinna fortress.
Turku is one of Finland's most lusted after summer destinations, overflowing every year with out-of-towners who rush to the medieval city for its festivals, theater and music scene. Having been around since 1229, the Aura River has all of the facets of a medieval European village, you know – castles, cathedrals, maritime ports full of wooden sailboats, cobble-stoned streets, and the like.
Between mainland Finland and neighboring Sweden, an archipelago of some 6,500 rocky islets known as the Aland Islands, rest in the Baltic. Of the lot, only 60 are inhabited, and despite their locale and Finnish sovereignty – most speak Swedish and all are autonomous.
It's in Mariehamn – the capital – that Aland's parliament is seated. The "busiest" of the territory's towns, it has two ports and a number of news outlets and TV stations, but the area still maintains a village-like quietness with Linden tree-lined streets, cozy wooden houses and quaint cafes.
Oulu may have made the industry jump from its early, 17th-century tar and salmon trade days, to cutting-edge wellness technology, but the region is still full of old-world charm. In summer, visitors take to Oulu's bike paths and pedestrian bridges, hopping from marketplace to marketplace since the geographically-unusual city center is actually divvied up among multiple islands.
Out on the western coast of Finland, the 17th-century town of Vaasa was nearly taken off of the map in 1852, following a barn fire that burned more than 300 historic buildings to the ground. Nearly a decade after the flames, the town was rebuilt by Russian Tsar Nicholas I, but his rule wouldn't last long. Fast-forward more than a century and Vaasa (after a couple of name changes) has morphed into a university city.
Hanko works with 80-miles of sandy Finnish coast, holding 90 islands and islets within its borders. Come summer, the town bursts with visitors who come far and wide for the Hangon Regatta – a sailing competition that attracts both serious contenders and young crowds looking for any excuse to day drink.
Between Helsinki and Turku lies Raseborg – an archipelago steeped in centuries of Finnish history and culture. Within the incorporated towns of Ekenäs, Karis, and Pohja, visitors will find area's most alluring attractions: the Raseborg castle ruins, Svarta Manor and Ekenäs National Park.
Just a half-an-hour drive from Helsinki, Lohja makes for the perfect daytrip destination. Since the Middle Ages, the town has been known for its horticultural excellence. Despite a largely modern city center, any drive around town and Lohja Lake will reveal gorgeous summer villas, highly-curated gardens and endless fruit trees.
July is prime visiting time for western town of Pori, as more than 150,000 holiday-makers flood the area in anticipation of its annual nine-day jazz festival. Of course, the pristine Yteri Beach – reminiscent of Long Island's best stretches – also attracts its fair share of holiday sunbathers.
Less than a thousand people live in Rauma, Finland's third-oldest settlement which is set between Turku and Pori. The wooden maritime town looks like it was pulled straight form the pages of a fairytale, with neo-renaissance-style homes, locals fond of lace-making, and a distinct dialect that pulls simultaneously from Finnish, Swedish and German.
Just east of Helsinki, you'll find the 800-year-old summer town of Porvoo. Visually, the medieval city (one of six in Finland) is best known by its red shore houses which line the Porvoo River in Old Town.