In Depth

Must-see Finland: A year of centenary celebrations

Finland marks 100 years of independence with exhibitions and commemorative events that put the country firmly under the spotlight

Synonymous with breathtaking natural beauty, modernist architecture, heavy metal music and the Moomins, Finland may be on many a traveller's bucket list, but has often been overshadowed by its neighbours.

This could be in part due to the country's tumultuous past and relative isolation, both geographically and linguistically. But this year is Finland's time to shine, as the entire country comes together to celebrate one of the most significant events in its modern history: 100 years since the country became an independent state.

The entire year is dedicated to commemorative events and activities leading up to the anniversary on 6 December and travel gurus Lonely Planet and National Geographic Traveller have tipped Finland as one of the must-see destinations of 2017.

The theme of the centenary celebrations is "Together", with a focus on community-led projects both inside and outside of Finland. People are invited to pitch their own project ideas, and countrywide events shine a spotlight on the country's natural beauty, culture and design heritage.

One major highlight is an ambitious collaborative exhibition at the Helsinki Art Museum, which will explore Finnish Modernism and the mass impact the movement had both nationally and on a global scale. Modern Life! takes a comprehensive look at Finland's role in Modernism between 1917 and 1968, exploring architecture, design, photography and art by some of the country's most prolific talent. The exhibition brings together collections not only from Helsinki Art Museum but also the Design Museum, the Finnish Museum of Photography, the Museum of Finnish Architecture and the Alvar Aalto Museum.

Away from the country's design highlights, Finland is famous for its wild and abundant natural beauty. Snow-capped mountains, ancient forests and secret islands are scattered throughout the country, while the freezing pitch-black winters and perpetually light summers create an air of intrigue and magic. Appreciation for nature is integral to Finnish culture and has inspired many of the country's greatest artists, from the composer Jean Sibelius to painter Eero Jarnefelt and Moomin creator Tove Jansson. Even on a short sojourn to Helsinki, visitors are never far from the natural world.

Nestled between the popular day-trip islands of Santahamina and Suomenlinna, Vallisaari Island is a former military base, which has recently reopened to the public. Accessed via a 20min boat trip from Helsinki, the island is teeming with lush vegetation and endangered animals including more than 1,000 species of butterfly, rare insects, bats and badgers. The island's fortresses were built during the Soviet occupation and some of the island's flora, brought to the island by the Russians, reflects this chapter of Finnish history.

Outside the capital in the northern province of Oulu is the village of Hossa, which has just been named Finland's 40th national park to commemorate the centenary. With 11,000 hectares of rustic hiking trails, enchanting forests, canyons, lakes and rapids, Hossa is a must for nature and adventure lovers. It's also home to the ancient Varikallio rock paintings, the largest prehistoric rock paintings in Finland.

Of course, it's impossible to talk of the Scandinavian wilderness without considering its most spellbinding natural wonder – the Northern Lights. Finland is one of the best countries from which to capture this dazzling natural light show, and a growing number of hotels are combining Aurora Borealis-spotting with luxury accommodation. In the harbour town of Kemi is the newly opened Seaside Glass Villas – a selection of contemporary glass houses overlooking the Bay of Bothnia, meaning you can (hopefully) spot the Northern Lights dancing across the Baltic sea while tucked up in bed. Further north in Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, are the new Glass Igloos of Santa's Hotel. With near-panoramic views through glass walls and ceiling, there's no better way to enjoy Mother Nature at her most spectacular.

Modern life! runs from 3 March to 30 July; hamhelsinki.fi. For information on tourism and Finland 100 Jubilee, see suomifinland100.fi and visitfinland.com

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