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Finland History

  • Olavinlinna Fortress at sunrise
  • Suomenlinna sea fortress in Helsinki
  • Northern Lights
  • Large guns at Suomenlinna maritime fortress
  • Part of the monument for Sibelius

While little is known about Finland’s early history, it is believed that the country’s first permanent inhabitants began to settle the land between 10,000-12,000 years ago. These early people likely came from Russia and Estonia. Two of the most well-known groups of settlers were the Saami and the Tavastians. A language evolved in Finland that remains quite distinct from any other European language spoken to this day. 

During the Viking Age, Finland’s location allowed for a great deal of trading with its neighbours in Sweden, Germany and Russia. The Swedes recognized a great deal of opportunity in Finland and sought to occupy it as a way to gain access to Russia and the Black Sea. Beginning in 1155, Swedish colonisation and forced baptism occurred in Finland. By 1250, Swedish settlements were established, however, it wasn’t until 1323 that Finland was properly divided between Russia and Sweden with the Treaty of Pähkinäsaari.

Despite the treaty, Finland remained a point of interest for Sweden and Russia with both countries wanting complete control. During the next few centuries, while this tug of war continued, Finland chose instead to concentrate on preserving and maintaining its cultural identity rather than assimilating into Swedish or Russian cultures. As a result, Finland’s national identity remains strong and unique even in modern times. 

The Golden Age of Sweden during the 17th century saw the country control Finland and Estonia as well as parts of other countries. While Sweden flourished, the Finnish population did not fare as well. Swedish settlers were the ones who took part in industrialization, leaving the Finnish population as peasant farmers who worked under Swedish landlords. 

The jockeying of power over Finland continued between Sweden and Russia following the end of the Great Northern War (1700-1721) which marked the beginning of the end of Sweden’s empire. It wasn’t until the mid-18th century that things began to improve in Finland and new towns were founded. This was unfortunately short-lived as Russia attacked Finland in 1808 resulting in an incredibly bloody war with Finland being ceded to Russia in 1809. 

The 19th century in Finland saw the emergence of nationalism and despite still being part of Russia, the country had its own language and currency. In 1905, the Eduskunta, a form of parliament was introduced. Finland became the first country in Europe to grant women political rights. While these advances were remarkable, Finland was still under Russia’s jurisdiction and many elements of life remained unchanged. Following the Communist revolution of October 1917, the Finnish senate declared the country independent in December of that year. The Finnish Civil War broke out the following year between working-class Reds who wanted Russian-style government whilst maintaining independence and the nationalist Whites. The war ended in May with the Whites as victors.

Unsure of whether to side with the Germans or the Soviets, the 1930s were a difficult time for Finland. A nonaggression pact signed between Germany and the Soviets in 1939 gave the Soviets free reign in Finland resulting in the Winter War. Harsh winter conditions were devastating for the soldiers and after one hundred days, Finnish soldiers were defeated. The country remained independent but was forced to cede territory and pay reparations to the Soviets. 

Following the Second World War, Finland was a founding member of the Nordic Council, allowing for good relations with its neighbours. In 1995, Finland joined the European Union and has continued to grow and prosper. Known for its excellent educational system, its technology sector and high quality of life, Finland is considered one of the most peaceful and economically competitive countries in the world.


Finland Travel Information

At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy-to-navigate travel information section dedicated to Finland.

Learn about the history and culture of Finland, the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Finland's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information, will help ensure you're adequately prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Finland for yourself. Start exploring… book one of our Finland tours today!


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