The coastal city of Oulu, 330 mi/530 km north of Helsinki, is a center for information technology and a good base for visits farther north. There are several small islands to visit in the area (especially Hailuoto Island—home to an open-air museum and a lovely old lighthouse), as well as beautiful parks, museums and some wonderful old churches. Liminka, just south of Oulu, has the Liminganlahti Bird Sanctuary, which manages to attract more bird species than anywhere else in Finland.

The town of Raahe makes a nice day trip: It has a quaint Old Town (200 wooden buildings), a marketplace and Pekka Square (19th-century buildings), as well as the Raahe Museum. Founded in 1862, it's the oldest museum in Finland, with displays illustrating the history of shipping and trade. If driving up from the south, consider stopping in the town of Paltaniemi, near Kajaani, to see the 18th-century church and the adjoining Czar's Stables.

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