Lutheran Cathedral, Helsinki
Ruled by Sweden from medieval times to 1809, Finland then spent much of the last two centuries either ruled by or under the influence of its neighbor to the east, Russia. While this era saw Helsinki grow into a fine and elegant city, the rest of the country — blanketed with lakes and forests — remained mostly dirt-poor and agricultural. But the collapse of the Soviet Union did to Finland what a good long sauna might do to you. After a few years of adjustment, Finland joined the European Union and adopted the euro currency; these days Finland is the most technologically advanced country in Europe. Known as a people of few words, Finns value silence, yet tend to be easily approachable and welcoming to tourists. While Finnish is a difficult-to-learn language, you'll find that the linguistic barrier is just a road turtle, as nearly every educated young person speaks effortless English.