If you never thought of a trip to Finland, now is the best time to go. October through April is known in Finland as the "Lively Season."
Finland is the seventh largest western European country. It is tucked among Russia, Sweden and Norway. Its borders run from Helsinki, its capital, on the southern coast, to the sparsely inhabited Lapland above the Artic Circle. It is home to more than 180,000 crystal clear lakes and miles of untouched forests.
To get to Finland from our area of the United States, most flights go through New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport with a connection to an eight-hour flight to Helsinki.
Helsinki has something for everyone: sightseeing, history, great food, exciting nightlife and shopping. Your key to the city is the Helsinki Card.
Available at many hotels and at the tourist office, it is used for all public transportation within city limits, and discounts on admission to museums, exhibitions and attractions.
There are 70 museums in Helsinki; 13 are art museums. The Ateneum Art Museum houses works by Finnish masters such as Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Albert Edlefelt and Helene Schjerfbeck. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma, makes children feel welcome at exhibits of Finnish visual arts and high technology.
A quick ferry ride into Helsinki Harbor takes you to Soumenlinna Fortress. The fortress, which was built in the mid-1700s, is on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's list of World Heritage Treasures.
A tour of the famous King's Road along the southern coast takes you to another of UNESCO's World Heritage Treasures, Rauma, the best preserved wooded town in Scandinavia. If you love fine handicrafts, you won't want to miss this town, which is known throughout the world for its lace-making. Watch as workers in their studios use patterns that have been copied for centuries.
What better way to end your day than with Helsinki's international cuisine? With more than 40 different types of cuisine, there is something for everyone's palate. Dining and dancing is a favorite form of entertainment in Finland, and many restaurants are open late for those who wish to dance until dawn.
For an exciting adventure, head north to Rovaniemi, the gateway to the Lapland on the Artic Circle.
Here you can visit the Arktikum Science Museum and view exhibits on the culture of people living above the Artic Circle, its natural resources and Artic nature and exploration of the far north.
Visit Santa Claus' Village and SantaPark for year-round yuletide rides, gifts and attractions.
Rovaniemi is a great place for dog sled and reindeer sled rides, as well as ice fishing and snowshoe tours.
Where will you stay when visiting the Lapland? How about a hotel made from ice and snow?
The town of Kemi is home to the world's largest snow castle. Yes, it really is made from snow and will be open from Jan. 28 through April 10.
The best attraction in the Lapland happens naturally.
During the "Lively" months, the skies are ablaze with the aurora borealis, the Northern Lights. This optical phenomenon is produced near the earth's magnetic poles when electrically charged particles, powered by solar winds, travel at great speeds and collide with atoms and molecules in the atmosphere. This produces one of nature's greatest light shows.
There are a wide variety of tours packages to Finland including everything from long weekend city packages to exotic Lapland adventures.
So for a different type of vacation, explore Finland, its capital in the south, and its exciting Lapland in the north.
Lisa Vivirito is owner of Diamond Travel in Vero Beach. Call her at (772) 567-8481 or (800) 795-1986. On the Web: www. diamondtravelofvero.com.