Picturesque Western Finland has a mostly pleasant climate, marked by some extremes; the summers here are warm and inviting, but winters are very cold and harsh.
Western Finland is divided into seven regions: Central Finland, Central Ostrobothnia, Finland Proper, Ostrobothnia, Pirkanmaa, Satakunta and Southern Ostrobothnia.
Ostrobothnia is one of two Finnish regions to have a Swedish-speaking majority. Its major industries are energy technology and production, metals and forestry. Its agriculture industry is quite specialized: it grows 70% of the tomatoes and 40% of cucumbers produced in Finland. The region has one of the most educated populations in the country. Its neighbour, Central Ostrobothnia, derives its economy from such diverse industries as information technology, forestry and wood processing, and modern boat building. The region has a coastline on the Gulf of Bothnia.
Land-locked Southern Ostrobothnia is one of the flatter Finnish regions, though there are still skiing opportunities in some areas. It has broad fields and flowing rivers, and the beautiful Lake Lappajarvi, which was created when a meteorite crashed into the Earth millions of years ago.
Southern Ostrobothnia is bordered on the east by another landlocked region, the aptly named Central Finland. Like many Finnish regions, Central Finland's main industries are a mix of traditional and modern: forestry and IT and engineering. Its capital, Jyvaskyla, is a top natural sciences research centre.
Pirkanmaa is the second most populous region in Finland. It is an industrial region, with paper manufacturing and processing and automation facilities, but it is now more known for its information technology and communications industries, and as a centre of education and culture.
Finland Proper in the southwestern part of the country is bordered by Helsinki in the east. The region includes several islands in the Baltic Sea. The provincial capital, Turku, is in Finland Proper.
The region of Satakunta is one of the oldest settled areas of Finland evidence of very early settlement was found here: a 7,000-year-old stone carving called the Elk's Head of Huittinen and it too has a coastline on the Gulf of Bothnia in the east.
The province has dramatic seascapes and beautiful islands, lovely forests and rich pastures, tranquil seaside towns and villages. One small town called Vaasa is a popular summer holiday destination where you can take a cruise to the islands to go bird- and seal-watching. The children's amusement park of Wasalandia is in Vaasa.
Other Western Finland towns of note include: Rauma, known for its historic old town (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site); Naantali, site of the Moomin World amusement park; Jyvaskyla, a lively university town; and Pori, known for its annual Jazz Festival in mid-July. The province's main cities are Tampere and Turku.
Western Finland's capital city is Turku, but its most populous city is Tampere. It was once a major industrial centre, but most of its factories closed in the 1960s.
Today, Tampere is a university town and cultural centre, with a wealth of museums and galleries and a good number of parks. The Hatanpaan Park-Arboretum near the city centre is an elegant park that had grown around a 19th century Neo-Renaissance manor house and its rose garden. There are hundreds of plant species housed here, and tables and benches are provided for people who want to have a picnic amid the rosebushes.
People live close to nature in Tampere; they even fish in the Tammerkoski rapids, which flow right through the city centre. This is because Tampere is an isthmus between two lakes, one with an altitude 18 meters higher than the other, so the water from it flows down through Tampere into the lower lake at quite a pace, though the rapids are regulated by three dams. Above the city, the Pyynikki Ridge is the world's highest gravel ridge and Tampere's most well-visited green area, a forest and nature reserve with trails that are used for hiking in the summer and for skiing in the winter.
Midsummer is the city's most wonderful season. Although Tampere is not northerly enough to experience the Midnight Sun, during midsummer the sun only sets for a few hours, leaving a bright extended twilight.
If you're looking for investment property in Tampere, try the former working-class district Pispala, now transformed into a very exclusive residential neighbourhood.
Other notable Tampere districts include: Tampella, a former industrial complex that has been converted into apartment blocks; Kaleva, where many students live; Hervanta, site of the Tampere University of Technology and much student housing; Hatanpaa, known for its museums and old buildings; and Central Tampere, the tourist-friendly heart of the city with its shops, markets, restaurants, bars, and various sights.
Turku was originally the country's capital; today, it is Western Finland's provincial capital and Finland's third largest metropolitan area, as well as the region's economic hub. It is a bilingual city, and 5.2% of its population are native Swedish-speakers.
The Port of Turku drives the city's economy. On the coast of the Archipelago Sea, the port handles the Baltic Sea routes, with several daily connections from Turku to Sweden and Germany and back, almost daily connections to and from England and ports on the North Sea, and even connections to France and Spain. More than four million of tons of cargo, and about four million ferry passengers, go through the port every year.
The most visited museum in Finland is the Turku Provincial Museum in the 13th century Turku Castle, one of the largest medieval castles in the Nordic countries and one of the oldest buildings still being used in Finland. Many important renovations were done to it in the 16th century, so despite its age the castle has a Renaissance air. On permanent exhibit at the museum are jewelry, clothing, toys and furniture from various periods of Finland's history.
Another major attraction is Turku Cathedral. Like the castle, it also dates from the 13th century, but constant rebuilding and renovations have changed its appearance through the centuries. Apart from regular services, the cathedral also hosts some of the performances of the annual Turku Music Festival, a classical music festival held over a fortnight during the summer, which is music festival season in Turku. At around the same time, two other music festivals are held in the city: Ruisrock, a rock festival, and Down By The Laituri. DBTL, as it is known, is Finland's oldest music festival. Every year, it draws pop and rock acts from all over the world to the banks of Turku's Aurajoki River, where it is held.
Turku has a number of islands: Ruissalo, Hirvensalo, Kakskerta, and Satava. Most are sparsely populated, although Kakskerta and Satava are popular sites for summer residences. Hirvensalo has a much larger population (around 6,500) than the other islands, and it has a school, a post office, and a Lutheran church.