The country has comfortable small towns and cities, as well as vast areas of unspoiled nature. About 10% of the area is made up by 188,000 lakes, with a similar number of islands.
Finland extends into the Arctic, where the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun can be seen. The mythical mountain of Korvatunturi is said to be the home of Santa Claus, and there is a Santaland in Rovaniemi.
While Finland is a high-technology welfare state, Finns love to head to their summer cottages in the warmer months to enjoy all manner of relaxing pastimes including sauna, swimming, fishing and barbecuing during the short but bright summer. Finland has a distinctive language and culture that sets it apart from both Scandinavia and Russia. While Finnish culture is ancient, the country only became independent in 1917, shortly after the collapse of the Russian Empire.
|Southern Finland (Tavastia Proper, Päijänne Tavastia, Uusimaa, Kymenlaakso, South Karelia)|
The southern stretch of coastline up to the Russian border, including the capital Helsinki.
|West Coast (Central Ostrobothnia, Ostrobothnia, Southern Ostrobothnia, Satakunta, Finland Proper)|
The south-western coastal areas, the old capital Turku, and the southern parts of the historical province of Ostrobothnia (Pohjanmaa, Österbotten), with half of Finland's Swedish-speaking population.
|Finnish Lakeland (North Savonia, North Karelia, Central Finland, South Savonia, Pirkanmaa)|
Forests and lakes from the inland hub city Tampere all the way to the Russian border, including Savonia (Savo) and the Finnish side of Karelia (Karjala).
|Northern Finland (Finnish Lapland, Kainuu and Eastern Oulu region, Southern Oulu region, Western Oulu region)|
The northern half of Finland is sparsely inhabited, with large mires and deep forests, but also a few important cities like Oulu and Rovaniemi. This is where you find reindeer and fell landscapes, and where you go for winter sports or week-long hikes.
An autonomous, demilitarised and monolingually Swedish group of islands off the south-western coast, where the administration is centered in the port town of Mariehamn.
The current formal divisions of the country do not correspond well to geographical or cultural boundaries, and are not used here. Formerly regions and provinces did correspond; many people identify with their region (maakunta/landskap), but mostly according to historic boundaries. These regions include Tavastia (Häme/Tavastland), covering a large area of central Finland around Tampere, Savonia (Savo/Savolax) in the eastern part of the lakeland Karelia (Karjala/Karelen) to the far east and Ostrobothnia (Pohjanmaa/Österbotten) comprising most of the west coast and some of the northern inland. Much of Finnish Karelia was lost to the Soviet Union in World War II, which still is a sore topic in some circles.
- 1 Helsinki — the "Daughter of the Baltic", Finland's capital and largest city by far
- 2 Jyväskylä — a university town in Central Finland
- 3 Oulu — a technology city at the end of the Gulf of Bothnia
- 4 Rauma — largest wooden old town in the Nordics and a UNESCO World Heritage site
- 5 Rovaniemi — gateway to Lapland and home of Santa Claus Village
- 6 Savonlinna — a small lakeside town with a big castle and a popular opera festival.
- 7 Tampere — a former industrial city becoming a hispter home of culture, music, art and museums
- 8 Turku — the former capital on the southwest coast. Medieval castle and cathedral.
- 9 Vaasa — a town with strong Swedish influences on the west coast located near the UNESCO world natural site Kvarken Archipelago
- 1 Archipelago Sea - hundreds and hundreds of islands from the mainland all the way to Åland
- Finnish national parks, other protected areas, hiking areas or wilderness areas , e.g.
- 2 Koli National Park – scenic national park in Eastern Finland, symbol for the nature of the country
- 3 Lemmenjoki National Park – gold digging grounds of Lapland, and one of the largest wilderness areas in Europe
- 4 Nuuksio National Park – pint-sized but pretty national park a stone's throw from Helsinki
- 5 Kilpisjärvi - "the Arm of Finland" offers scenic views and the highest hills in Finland
- 6 Levi , Saariselkä and Ylläs – popular winter sports resorts in Lapland
- Suomenlinna – island off the coast of Helsinki where there is a 18–19th century fort that you can visit by ferry
|Population||5.5 million (2017)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Schuko)|
|edit on Wikidata|
|“||Swedes we are no longer, Russians we do not want to become, let us therefore be Finns.||”|
—Adolf Ivar Arwidsson, Finnish national ideologist
Not much is known about Finland's early history, with archaeologists still debating when and where a tribe of Finno-Ugric speakers cropped up. The earliest certain evidence of human settlement is from 8900 BC. Roman historian Tacitus mentions a primitive and savage hunter tribe called Fenni in 100 AD, though there is no unanimity whether this means Finns or Sami. Even the Vikings chose not to settle, fearing the famed shamans of the area, and instead traded and plundered along the coasts.
In the mid-1100s Sweden started out to conquer and Christianise the Finnish pagans in earnest, with Birger Jarl incorporating most of the country into Sweden in 1249. While the population was Finnish-speaking, the Swedish kings installed a Swedish-speaking class of clergy and nobles in Finland, and enforced Western Christianity, succeeding in eliminating local animism and to a large part even Russian Orthodoxy. Farmers and fishermen from Sweden settled along the coast. Finland remained an integral part of Sweden until the 19th century, although there was near-constant warfare with Russia on the eastern border and two brief occupations. Sweden converted to Lutheran Protestantism, which marked the end of the Middle Ages, led to widespread literacy in Finnish and still defines many aspects of Finnish culture. After Sweden's final disastrous defeat in the Finnish War of 1808–1809, Finland became an autonomous grand duchy under Russian rule.
The Finnish nation was built during the Russian time, while the Swedish heritage provided the political framework. The Finnish language, literature, music and arts developed, with active involvement by the (mostly Swedish speaking) educated class. Russian rule alternated between benevolence and repression and there was already a significant independence movement when Russia plunged into war and revolutionary chaos in 1917. Parliament seized the chance (after a few rounds of internal conflicts) and declared independence in December, quickly gaining Soviet assent, but the country promptly plunged into a brief but bitter civil war between the conservative Whites and the socialist Reds, eventually won by the Whites.
During World War II, Finland was attacked by the Soviet Union in the Winter War, but fought them to a standstill that saw the USSR conquer 12% of Finnish territory. Finland then allied with Germany in an attempt to repel the Soviets and regain the lost territory (the Continuation War), was defeated and, as a condition for peace, had to turn against Germany instead (the Lapland War). Thus Finland fought three separate wars during World War II. In the end, Finland lost much of Karelia and Finland's second city Vyborg (Viipuri, Viborg), but the Soviets paid a heavy price with over 300,000 dead. The lost territory was evacuated in a massive operation, in which the former inhabitants, and thus Karelian culture, were redistributed all over the country.
After the war, Finland lay in the grey zone between the Western countries and the Soviet Union (see Cold War Europe). The Finno-Soviet Pact of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance committed Finland to resist armed attacks by "Germany or its allies" (read: the West), but also allowed Finland to stay neutral in the Cold War and avoid a Communist government or Warsaw Pact membership. In politics, there was a tendency to avoid any policies and statements that could be interpreted as anti-Soviet. This balancing act of Finlandization was humorously defined as "the art of bowing to the East without mooning the West". Practically, Finland was west of the Iron Curtain and travel to the West was easy. Thus, even many older people know English and German and have friends in the West, while Russian was not compulsory and is even today scarcely known. Despite close relations with the Soviet Union, Finland managed to retain democratic multi-party elections and remained a Western European market economy, building close ties with its Nordic neighbours. While there were some tense moments, Finland pulled it off: in these decades the country made a remarkable transformation from a farm and forest economy to a diversified modern industrial economy featuring high-tech giants like Nokia, and per capita income is now in the world top 15.
After the collapse of the USSR, Finland joined the European Union in 1995, and was the only Nordic state to join the euro currency system at its initiation in January 1999. In 2017, Finland celebrated its 100 years of independence.
Finland is a republic with a multi-party system. The President had a strong position until the 1980s, after which they gradually have lost most of their formal powers but remain influential. The President, the Parliament, the municipal councils and, since 2022, the "welfare area councils" are elected directly, the three latter in proportional elections (with province-sized electoral districts for the Parliament, no divisions for the two last ones), where votes are cast for individual candidates but aggregated over the party or electoral alliance. The personal votes determine who get a party's (or alliance's) seats. There are also elections for the European Parliament as in all the EU. There have traditionally been three big parties (four since 2011), each with about 20% support, resulting in majority governments of varying coalitions and a search for consensus across most parties for many big questions. There is no constitutional court, but a non-political standing committee of the parliament judging whether proposed new legislation is constitutional and what amendments might be needed. Also, individual judges are free not to apply a law that they deem to be clearly unconstitutional in the context of a specific case.
The large parties as of 2022 are the National Coalition (Kokoomus/Samlingspartiet; right-wing), the Social Democrats (Sosiaalidemokraatit/Socialdemokraterna; centre-left), the True Finns (Perussuomalaiset; populists) and the Centre Party (Keskusta/Centern; centre-right, with agrarian background). Other parties include the Left Alliance (left), the Green League (liberal environmentalists), the Swedish People's Party (liberal centre-right) and the Christian Democrats (Christian right-wing), the former two with a support of some 10%, the latter of about 5%. The established minor parties often get a seat in the government to allow an alliance (formed after the elections) to gain the majority. The National Coalition, Social Democrats and Green League tend to have their support in the cities, while the Centre Party dominates in much of the countryside. The Swedish party dominates among Swedish-speakers, but also has some support across the language barrier.
The concept of right and left has to be seen in the context of Western Europe or the Nordic countries: the Nordic welfare state has a solid support among the people and any rhetoric will be adjusted to accommodate that consensus.
Unlike craggy Norway and Sweden, Finland consists mostly of low, flat to rolling plains interspersed with lakes and low hills, with mountains (of a sort) only in the extreme north and Finland's highest point, Mount Halti, rising only to a modest 1,328 m. Finland sits squarely on the taiga zone, covered in coniferous forest, which is interspersed with cultivated land, towns, lakes and bogs. Finland has 187,888 lakes according to the Geological Survey of Finland, making the moniker Land of a Thousand Lakes something of an underestimate (a third of Europe's largest lakes are in Finland). Along the coast and in the lakes are – according to another estimate – 179,584 islands, making the country an excellent boating destination as well. The Lakeland is more or less a plateau, so the lakes make up labyrinths of islands, peninsulas, sounds and open water, and the coastal archipelagos follow suite.
Finland is not on the Scandinavian peninsula, so despite many cultural and historical links (including the Swedish language, which enjoys co-official status alongside Finnish), it is not considered to be part of Scandinavia. Even Finns rarely bother to make the distinction, but more correct terms that include Finland are the "Nordic countries" (Pohjoismaat, Norden) and "Fennoscandia".
Particularly in the eastern and northern parts of the country, which are densely forested and sparsely populated, you'll find more examples of traditional, rustic Finnish culture. Southern and western Finland, which have cultivated plains and fields, most of the Swedish-speaking and a higher population density, do indeed have very much in common with Scandinavia proper — this can clearly be seen in the capital, Helsinki, which has a lot of Scandinavian features, especially in terms of architecture.
- See also: Winter in the Nordic Countries
Finland has a temperate climate, which is actually comparatively mild for the latitude because of the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream. There are four distinct seasons: winter, spring, summer and autumn. Winter is just as dark as everywhere in these latitudes, and temperatures can (very rarely) reach -30°C in the south and even dip down to −50°C (−60°F) in the north, with 0 to −25°C (+35 to −15°F) being normal in the south. Snow cover is common, but not guaranteed in the southern part of the country. Early spring (March–April) is when the snow starts to melt and Finns like to head north for skiing and winter sports. The brief Finnish summer is considerably more pleasant, with day temperatures around +15 to +25°C (on occasion up to +35°C), and is generally the best time of year to visit. July is the warmest month. September brings cool weather (+5 to +15 °C), morning frosts and rains. The transition from autumn to winter in October–December – wet, rainy, sometimes cold, no staying snow but maybe slush and sleet, dark and generally miserable – is the worst time to visit. There is a noticeable difference between coastal and southern areas vs. inland and northern areas in the timing and length of these seasons: if travelling north in the winter, slush in Helsinki often turns to snow by Tampere.
Due to the extreme latitude, Finland experiences the famous midnight sun near the summer solstice, when (if above the Arctic Circle) the sun never sets during the night and even in southern Finland it never really gets dark. The flip side of the coin is the Arctic night (kaamos) in the winter, when the sun never comes up at all in the north (with good chances to see northern lights instead). In the south, daylight is limited to a few pitiful hours with the sun just barely climbing over the trees before it heads down again. In December, Finns compensate by lighting candles and eating confectionery together with some good friend, and enjoying the Christmas season.
Information on the climate and weather forecasts are available from the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
Buffeted by its neighbors for centuries and absorbing influences from west, east and south, Finnish culture as a distinct identity was only born in the 19th century: "we are not Swedes, and we do not wish to become Russian, so let us be Finns."
The Finnish creation myth and national epic is the Kalevala, a collection of old Karelian stories and poems, to a large part from across the (at the time invisible) border to Russian Karelia, collated by Elias Lönnrot in 1835. In addition to the creation the book includes the adventures of Väinämöinen, a shamanistic hero with magical powers. Kalevalan themes such as the Sampo, a mythical cornucopia, have been a major inspiration for Finnish artists, and figures, scenes, and concepts from the epic continue to colour their works.
While Finland's state religion is Lutheranism, a version of Protestant Christianity, the country has full freedom of religion and for the great majority everyday observance is lax or non-existent. Still, Luther's teachings of strong work ethic and a belief in equality remain strong, both in the good (women's rights, non-existent corruption) and the bad (conformity, high rates of depression and suicide). The Finnish character is often summed up with the word sisu, a mixture of admirable perseverance and pig-headed stubbornness in the face of adversity.
Finnish music is best known for classical composer Jean Sibelius, whose symphonies continue to grace concert halls around the world. Finnish pop, on the other hand, has only rarely ventured beyond the borders, but rock and heavy metal bands like Nightwish, Children Of Bodom, Sonata Arctica, Apocalyptica and HIM have become fairly big names in the global heavy music scene and latex monsters Lordi hit an exceedingly unlikely jackpot by taking home the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006.
In the other arts, Finland has produced noted architect and designer Alvar Aalto, authors Mika Waltari (The Egyptian) and Väinö Linna (The Unknown Soldier), and painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, known for his Kalevala illustrations.
Finland has a 5.5% Swedish-speaking minority and is officially bilingual, with both languages compulsory in school. Three Sámi languages (including Northern Sámi), Romani and Finnish sign language are also recognised in the constitution, but are not "national" languages. Maps and transport announcements often give both Finnish and Swedish names, e.g. Turku and Åbo are the same city. This helps the visitor, as English-speakers generally find the Swedish announcement easier to follow, especially if you have a smattering of German. Road signs often flip between versions, e.g. Turuntie and Åbovägen are both the same "Turku Road". This is common in Helsinki and the Swedish-speaking coastal areas, whereas Swedish is far less common inland. Away north in Lapland, you almost never see Swedish, but you may see signage in (mostly Northern) Sami. And if you navigate by Google Map, there's no telling what language it may conjure up.
Although the country was once ruled by a Swedish elite, most Swedish-speaking Finns have always been commoners: fishermen, farmers and industrial workers. The educated class has been bilingual since the national awakening, while population mixing with industrialisation did the rest. In the bilingual areas the language groups mix amicably. Even in Finnish speaking areas, such as Jyväskylä, Pori and Oulu, many Finnish speakers welcome the contacts with Swedish that the minority provides; the few Swedish schools in those areas have many Finnish pupils and language immersion daycare is popular. In politics bilingualism remains contentious: some Finnish speakers see it as a hangover from Swedish rule, while Swedish speakers are concerned at their language being marginalised, e.g. when small Swedish institutions are merged with bigger Finnish ones.
- See also: Nordic folk culture
Finns aren't typically very hot on big public carnivals; most holidays are spent at home with family. The most notable exception is Vappu on 30th April–1st May, as thousands of people (including the students) fill the streets. Important holidays and similar happenings include:
- New Year's Day (uudenvuodenpäivä, nyårsdagen), January 1.
- Epiphany (loppiainen, trettondag), January 6. The date coincides with 24 December in the Julian calender used by the Russian church, contributing to lots of Russian tourists around this time (and thus to many shops being open despite the holiday).
- Easter (pääsiäinen, påsk), variable dates, Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays. Tied to this are laskiainen, fastlagstisdag, 40 days before Easter, nominally a holy day that kicks off the Lent, practically a time for children and university students to go sliding down snowy slopes, and Ascension Day (helatorstai, Kristi himmelsfärds dag) 40 days after, just another day for the shops to be closed. If you want to visit an Orthodox service, the one in waiting for the grave to be found empty might be the most special one.
- Walpurgis Night (vappuaatto, valborgsmässoafton) and May Day (vappu, första maj, the Finnish word often written with capital-W), originally a pagan tradition that coincides with a modern workers' celebration, has become a truly giant festival for university students, who wear their colourful signature overalls, white student caps, and roam the streets. Also the graduates use their white student caps between 18:00 at April 30 until the end of May 1st. The latter day people gather to nurse their hangovers at open-air picnics, even if it's raining sleet! Definitely a fun celebration to witness as the students come up with most peculiar ways to celebrate. On 1 May there are also parades and talks arranged by the left-wing parties, and families go out buying balloons, whistles and other market fare. Small towns often arrange an open-air market or an event at a community centre, open to the public.
- Midsummer (juhannus, midsommar), Friday evening and Saturday between June 20th and June 26th. Held to celebrate the summer solstice, with plenty of bonfires, drinking and general merrymaking. Cities become almost empty as people rush to their summer cottages. It might be a good idea to visit one of the bigger cities just for the eerie feeling of an empty city – or a countryside village, where the locals vividly celebrate together. Careless use of alcohol during this particular weekend in the "country of thousand lakes" is seen in Finnish statistics as an annual peak in the number of people died by drowning. Midsummer is the beginning of the Finnish holiday season and in many summer-oriented destinations "on Season" means from the Midsummer until the schools open.
- Independence Day (itsenäisyyspäivä, självständighetsdagen), December 6. A fairly somber celebration of Finland's independence. There are church services (the one from the cathedral in Helsinki, with national dignities, can be seen on TV), concerts, and a military parade arranged every year in some town. A 1955 movie, The Unknown Soldier, is shown on TV. The most popular event is in the evening: the President holds a ball for the important people (e.g. MPs, diplomats, merited Finnish sportspeople and artists) that the less important watch on TV – over 2 million Finns watch the ball from their homes.
- Little Christmas (pikkujoulu). People go pub crawling with their workmates throughout December. Not an official holiday, just a Viking-strength version of an office Christmas party season. Among the Swedish-speakers the lillajul ("little Christmas") is the Saturday at beginning of Advent and is mostly celebrated among families.
- Christmas (joulu, jul), December 24 to 26. The biggest holiday of the year, when pretty much everything closes for three days. Santa (Joulupukki, Julgubben) comes on Christmas Eve on December 24, ham is eaten and everyone goes to sauna. See also Winter in the Nordic countries#Christmas.
- New Year's Eve (uudenvuodenaatto, nyårsafton), December 31. Fireworks time!
Most shops and offices are closed on most of these holidays. Public transport stops for part of Christmas and Midsummer; on other holidays, timetables for Sundays are usually applied, sometimes with minor deviations.
Most Finns take their summer holidays in July, unlike elsewhere in Europe, where August is the main vacation season. People generally start their summer holidays around Midsummer. During these days, cities are likely to be less populated, as Finns head for their summer cottages. Schoolchildren start their summer holidays in the beginning of June and return to school in mid-August. The exact dates vary by year and municipality.
Finland is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
- There are normally no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
- There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
- A visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
- Please see Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works, which countries are members and what the requirements are for your nationality.
Visa freedom applies to Schengen and EU nationals and nationals of countries with a visa-freedom agreement, for example United States citizens. By default, a visa is required; see the list to check if you need a visa. Visas cannot be issued at the border or at entry, but must be applied at least 15 days in advance in a Finnish embassy or other mission (see instructions). An ID photograph, a passport, travel insurance, and sufficient funds (considered to be at least €30 a day) is required. The visa fee is €35–70, even if the visa application is rejected.
Visa processing times tend to be quite lengthy and might be one of the more stringent ones overall. It's not uncommon to wait for a month or more to get a Finnish visa, so plan and prepare well. For Russians, in August 2022 Finland is limiting the volumes of tourist visa applications handled and long-time multi-entry visas may be retracted; there are plans to create new visa types for those with certain types of ties to Finland.
The Finland-Russia border is a Schengen external border, and border controls apply. This border can be crossed only at designated border crossings; elsewhere there is a no-entry border zone on both sides, mostly a few kilometres in width on the Finnish side. Entering the border zones or trying to photograph there will result in an arrest and a fine. The Finnish-Norwegian and Finnish-Swedish borders may be crossed at any point without a permit, provided that you're not carrying anything requiring customs control. Generally, when travelling over the international waters between Finland and Estonia, border checks are not required. However, the Border Guard may conduct random or discretionary checks and is authorised to check the immigration status of any person or vessel at any time or location, regardless of the mode of entry.
As Finland is separated from Western and Central Europe by the Baltic Sea, the common arrival routes (in addition to flights) are via Sweden, with a one-night (or day) ferry passage, via Estonia, with a shorter ferry passage, or from Russia, over the land border. There are also ferries across the Baltic Sea, mainly those from Travemünde in Germany (two nights or two days).
Finland's main international hub is Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (HEL IATA) near Helsinki. Finnair and SAS are based there, as is Norwegian Air Shuttle, offering domestic and international flights. Around 30 foreign airlines fly to Helsinki-Vantaa. Connections are good to major European hubs like Munich (MUC), Frankfurt (FRA), Amsterdam (AMS) and London Heathrow (LHR), and transfers can be made via Stockholm (ARN) and Copenhagen (CPH). There are flights from several East Asian cities, such as Beijing, Seoul (ICN), Shanghai and Tokyo, and some destinations in other parts of Asia. In the other direction, New York City is served around the year and Chicago, Miami and San Francisco in the summer season.
International flights to other airports in Finland are scarce (Air Baltic and Ryanair have withdrawn most of their services to regional Finland). To Lapland there are seasonal scheduled flights (Dec–Mar) as well as occasional direct charters (especially in December). There are direct flights all year to Tampere and Turku from a couple of foreign destinations, to Lappeenranta from Bergamo, Vienna and Budapest, to Turku from Belgrade, Gdańsk, Kaunas, Kraków, Larnaca, Skopje, Warsaw, and to Mariehamn, Tampere, Turku and Vaasa from Stockholm.
If your destination is somewhere in Southern Finland, it may also be worth your while to get a cheap flight to Tallinn and follow the boat instructions for the last leg.
The trains from Russia have been suspended, because of the Russian war on Ukraine.
There are no direct trains between Sweden or Norway and Finland (the rail gauge is different), but Haparanda in Sweden is next to Tornio in Finland, just walk across the border. For more trains, continue to Kemi 30 km away. The journey by coach from Swedish trains to Kemi is free with an Eurail/Inter Rail pass. If you instead take a ferry farther south, you mostly get a 50% discount with these passes (on the normal price, you might find cheaper offers).
Buses are the cheapest but also the slowest and least comfortable way of travelling between Russia and Finland. As of 2022 some of the connections are suspended indefinitely and more might close down with short notice, check!
- Regular scheduled express buses run between Saint Petersburg, Vyborg and major southern Finnish towns like Helsinki, Lappeenranta, Jyväskylä and all the way west to Turku, check Matkahuolto for schedules. St. Petersburg–Helsinki is served 2–4 times daily and takes 7–8 hours.
- Various direct minibuses run between Saint Petersburg's Oktyabrskaya Hotel (opposite Moskovsky train station) and Helsinki's Tennispalatsi (Eteläinen Rautatiekatu 8, one block away from Kamppi). At €15 one-way, this is the cheapest option, but the minibuses leave only when full. Departures from Helsinki are most frequent in the morning (around 10:00), while departures from Saint Petersburg usually overnight (around 22:00).
- There is a daily service between Petrozavodsk and Joensuu.
- There is a service between Murmansk and Ivalo in northern Finland thrice a week (possibly suspended, check).
You can also use a bus from northern Sweden or Norway to Finland.
- Haparanda at the border in Sweden has bus connections to Tornio, Kemi, Oulu and Rovaniemi. See more from Matkahuolto and Haparanda#Get in.
- Eskelisen Lapinlinjat offers bus connections from northern parts of Norway. Some routes, such as Tromsø, in summer only.
- Tapanis Buss has a route from Stockholm to Tornio going along the E4 coastal route. From Tornio it is possible to continue using Finnish long distance buses or trains. See Haparanda#Get in for other connections to the border.
One of the best ways to travel to and from Finland is by sea. The cruise ferries from Estonia and Sweden are giant, multi-story floating palaces with restaurants, department stores and entertainment. There are also more Spartan ropax ferries from Sweden and Germany, and there have been faster and smaller hydrofoils from Tallinn. Cheap prices are subsidised by sales of tax-free booze: a return trip from Tallinn to Helsinki or from Stockholm to Turku, including a cabin for up to four people can go as low as €30. Ordinary tickets are significantly more expensive, though. If travelling by Inter Rail, you can get 50% off deck fares on non-cruises.
The passes over Sea of Åland and Kvarken from Sweden, and Gulf of Finland from Estonia, are short enough for any yacht on a calm day (many also come over the sea from Gotland). As Finland is famous for its archipelagos, especially the Archipelago Sea, coming with small craft is a good alternative. Border controls are not generally required for pleasure craft, unless coming from Russia; however, the Border Guard can discretionarily order individual craft to report to border control. All craft arriving from outside the Schengen area must report to border control (see Boating in Finland#Get in).
Estonia and the Baltic states
Helsinki and Tallinn are only 80 km apart. Viking Line, Eckerö Line and Tallink Silja operate full-service car ferries all year round. Depending on the ferry type travel times are from 2 (Tallink's Star class ferries) to 3½ hours (Tallink's biggest cruise ships). Some services travel overnight and wait outside the harbour until morning.
The Tallink cruise ferry between Tallinn and Stockholm calls at Mariehamn (in the night/early morning). There are no scheduled services from Latvia or Lithuania, but some of the operators above offer semi-regular cruises in the summer, with Riga being the most popular destination.
Finnlines operates from Travemünde near Lübeck and Hamburg to Helsinki, taking 27–36 hours one way. These are ropax ferries: primarily intended for freight and lorry drivers, but having some amenities also for normal passengers, including families. They are not party and shopping boats like some other Baltic ferries.
Traffic on this route was more lively in former times, the best example being the GTS Finnjet, which was the fastest and largest passenger ferry in the world in the 1970s. Freight and passengers could be transported between Helsinki and Travemünde in only 22 hours, reaching the rest of continental Europe west of the Iron Curtain much faster than the other (non-air) routes at the time.
For years scheduled ferry services from Russia have been stop-and-go. As of 2022 connections are suspended because of COVID-19 and the Russian war on Ukraine.
If coming by yacht from Russia, customs routes have to be followed, see Boating in Finland#Get in.
Both Silja (Tallink) and Viking offer overnight cruises from Stockholm to Helsinki and overnight as well as daytime cruises to Turku, all usually calling in the Åland islands along the way, in either Mariehamn or Långnäs. These are some of the largest and most luxurious ferries in the world, with as many as 14 floors and a whole slew of restaurants, bars, discos, pool and spa facilities, etcetera. The cheaper cabin classes below the car decks are rather Spartan, but the higher sea view cabins can be very nice indeed. As Åland is outside the EU tax area, the ferries can operate duty-free sales. (Tallink is cutting down their service to Turku in September 2022, see Turku.)
Due to crowds of rowdy youngsters aiming to get thoroughly hammered on cheap tax-free booze, both Silja and Viking do not allow unaccompanied youth under 23 to cruise on Fridays or Saturdays. The age limit is 20 on other nights, and 18 for travellers not on same-day-return cruise packages. Silja does not offer deck class on its overnight services, while Viking does.
With Viking Line it often is cheaper to book a cruise instead of "route traffic". The cruise includes both ways with or without a day in between. If you want to stay longer you simply do not go back – it might still be cheaper than booking a one-way "route traffic" ticket. This accounts especially to last minute tickets (you could, e.g., get from Stockholm to Turku for around 10€ over night – "route traffic" would be over 30€ for a cabin with lower quality).
In addition to the big two, FinnLink (Finnlines) offers the cheapest car ferry connection of all from Kapellskär to Naantali, some of the services calling also in Åland (from €60 for a car with driver). These are much more quiet, primarily catering to lorry drivers.
The latest addition, in 2022, is Stena Line with a daily connection from Nynäshamn south of Stockholm to Hanko on the south coast, with two ropax ferries, i.e. mostly for freight but with some passenger capacity, only for those travelling with a vehicle. Basic fares in this route also do not include a cabin or lounge.
The easiest ways to get by car from Sweden to Finland is a car ferry (except in the far north). The European Route E18 includes a ferry line between Kapellskär and Naantali. There are four daily cruise ferries on the nearby pass Stockholm–Turku (two of them overnight) and two on the longer pass Stockholm–Helsinki (overnight). There is also a daily ferry from Nynäshamn to Hanko. Farther north there is the Blue Highway/E12, with car ferry (4 hours) from Umeå to Vaasa, where E12 forks off to Helsinki as Finnish national highway 3.
European Routes E8 and E75 (and some national roads) connect northern Norway with Finland. There are border crossings at Kilpisjärvi, Kivilompolo (near Hetta), Karigasniemi, Utsjoki, Nuorgam and Näätämö. For central and southern parts of Norway, going through Sweden is more practical, e.g. by E12 (from Mo i Rana via Umeå) or E18 (from Oslo via Stockholm or Kapellskär).
European route E18 (in Russia: route A181, formerly part of M10), goes from Saint Petersburg via Vyborg to Vaalimaa/Torfyanovka border station near Hamina. From there, E18 continues as Finnish national highway 7 to Helsinki, and from there, along the coast as highway 1 to Turku. In Vaalimaa, trucks will have to wait in a persistent truck queue, but this queue does not directly affect other vehicles. There are border control and customs checks in Vaalimaa and passports and Schengen visas, if applicable, will be needed.
From south to north, other border crossings can be found at Nuijamaa/Brusnichnoye (Lappeenranta), Imatra/Svetogorsk, Niirala (Tohmajärvi, near Joensuu), Vartius (Kuhmo), Kuusamo, Kelloselkä (Salla) and Raja-Jooseppi (Inari). All except the first are very remote, and most of those open in daytime only.
Some of the ferries between Tallinn and Helsinki take cars. They form an extension to European route E67, Via Baltica, which runs from the Polish capital Warsaw, via Kaunas in Lithuania and Riga in Latvia, to the Estonian capital Tallinn. The distance from Warsaw to Tallinn is about 970 kilometres, not including any detours. There is a car and cargo ferry service from Paldiski to Hanko.
Bikes can be taken on the ferries for a modest fee. You enter via the car deck, check when to show up. As you will leave the bike, have something to tie it up with and bags for taking what you need (and valuables) with you.
There are no special requirements on the land borders with Norway and Sweden.
In 2016, Finnish Border Agency did forbid crossing the border by bicycle over the northernmost checkpoints from Russia (Raja-Jooseppi and Salla), the restriction has probably expired, but check! The southern border stations were apparently not affected.
On the trains from Russia (suspended in 2022), the bikes have to be packed (100 cm x 60 cm x 40 cm).
Walk-in from Sweden and Norway is allowed anywhere (unless you have goods to declare, which can probably be handled beforehand), but crossing the Russian border by foot outside designated crossings is not. The border is well marked and well patrolled, so expect to be arrested and fined if you try it.
Finland is a large country and travelling is relatively expensive. Public transportation is well organised and the equipment is always comfortable and often new, and advance bookings are rarely necessary outside the biggest holiday periods, but buying tickets on the net a few days in advance (or as soon as you know your plans) may give significantly lower prices.
There are several route planners available. VR and Matkahuolto provide timetable service nationwide for trains and coaches, respectively, and there are several regional and local planners. As of 2020, Google Maps and Apple Maps have coverage nationally. opas.matka.fi includes train traffic, domestic flights, local transport of many cities and towns and public service obligation traffic (i.e. services offered on behalf of the government) in the countryside. Matkahuolto Reittiopas is focused on local, regional and long-distance buses and trains. There are deficiencies in most or all of the planners, so try different names (perhaps an intermediate town, or one which should be later on the same coach line) and main stops if you don't get a connection, and do a sanity check when you get one. You might also want to check more than one when services shown are sparse or complicated. Knowing the municipality and the name in both Finnish and Swedish is useful. Sometimes the local connections are unknown to the digital services.
"Street addresses" work with many electronic maps also for the countryside. "Street numbers" outside built-up areas are based on the distance from the beginning of the road, in tens of metres, with even numbers on the left hand side: "Metsätie 101" is about a kilometre from the junction, on the right hand side, distance from the named road to the house not counted. Many roads change names at municipality borders; what is Posiontie in Ranua becomes Ranuantie in Posio. An address of "Rantakatu 12–16 A 15" means lots 12, 14 and 16 on that street, stairwell A (or house A), flat number 15. Most map services know only the individual lots. "Rantakatu 12 a" means the first lot of an original lot 12 that was split. The distinction between uppercase and lowercase letters is ignored in some applications.
Flights are the fastest but traditionally also the most expensive way of getting around. The new low-cost airliners however provide prices even half of the train prices in the routes between north and south. In some cases it may even be cheaper to fly via Riga than take a train. Finnair and some smaller airlines still operate regional flights from Helsinki to places all over the country, including Kuopio, Rovaniemi, Ivalo and Vaasa. It's worth booking in advance if possible: on the Helsinki–Oulu sector, the country's busiest, a fully flexible return economy ticket costs a whopping €251 but an advance-purchase non-changeable one-way ticket can go as low as €39, less than a train ticket. Finnair has cheaper fares usually when you book at least three week before your planned trip and your trip includes at least three nights spent in destination or one night between Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday. You may also be able to get discounted domestic tickets if you fly into Finland on Finnair and book combination ticket directly to your final destination. Finnair also has a youth ticket (16–25) and senior ticket (+65 or pension decision) that is substantially cheaper and fixed price regardless of when you book.
Flying makes most sense when there is a suitable transfer. By going to Helsinki from elsewhere for the flight, and transferring to the airport in both ends, you often lose any time you win on flying. Flying may make sense also when rail connections are convoluted or the flight is long, such as to Ivalo. To Oulu or Rovaniemi the flight is considerably faster, but with an overnight train available that point may be moot.
There are two major airlines selling domestic flights:
- Finnair, the biggest by far. Serves nearly all of the country, with some flights operated by their subsidiary Nordic Regional Airlines..
- Norwegian Air Shuttle flies from Helsinki to Oulu and Rovaniemi.
In addition there's a handful of smaller airlines, often just flying from Helsinki to one airport each. The destinations served are often easy to reach by train, bus and car making flights unprofitable wherefore companies and services tend to come and go.
VR (Valtion Rautatiet, "State's Railways") operates the railway network. Trains are usually the most comfortable and fastest method of inter-city travel. From Helsinki to Tampere, Turku and Lahti, there are departures more or less every hour in daytime.
The following classes of service are available:
- Pendolino tilting trains (code S) often fastest; children and pets in normal cars
- InterCity (IC) and InterCity2 (IC2) express trains; the latter are two-storey, mostly with a family car with a playing corner for children.
- Ordinary express (pikajuna, P), old cars; some night trains and connections on remote routes
- Local and regional trains (lähiliikennejuna, lähijuna or taajamajuna), no surcharge, quite slow
While differences between Pendolino, IC and express trains isn't that crucial – if you need specific facilities you should check anyway – rules for regional trains (about pets, bikes and tickets) may differ from those on the long-distance trains, and some regional trains travel quite far from Helsinki.
The trains are generally very comfortable, especially the intercity and long distance services, which (depending on route and type of train) may have restaurant and family cars (with a playing space for children), power sockets, and free Wi-Fi connection. The accessible toilets on IC2 trains double as family rooms. Check the services of individual trains if you need them, e.g. facilities for families and wheelchair users vary considerably. Additional surcharges apply for travel in first class, branded "Extra" on some trains, which gets you more spacious seating, newspapers and possibly a snack. Wi-Fi is sometimes overloaded when many use the journey time for work, such as on morning trains to Helsinki.
Formally two large pieces of luggage (80×60×40 cm) are allowed for free in the Finnish trains, in addition to small hand luggage, and pram or wheelchair if applicable. Also a ski bag can be taken into your cabin for free. In practice, no one will check the allowance unless you cause trouble. For skis (max 30×30×220 cm), snowboards and other additional luggage (max 60×54×195 cm) transported in the luggage compartment €5/piece is charged.
Overnight sleepers are available for long-haul routes and very good value. Pillows, sheets and blankets are provided. The modern sleeper cars to Lapland have 2-berth cabins, some of which can be combined as a pair for a family. There are en suite showers in the upper floor cabins in the modern overnight trains, the base-floor cabins use shared showers. In the 3-berth cabins in the old "blue" sleeper cars there are no showers, only a small sink in the cabin, but some more overhead luggage space; these cars are nowadays mostly used as supplement in the "P" trains in the busiest holiday periods. In each modern Finnish sleeper car, one cabin is for a disabled person and his or her assistant, another for travelling with a pet. If you take a "P" train with both new and old cabins, check that you get the cabin you want. An overnight journey from Helsinki to Lapland in a sleeper cabin costs about €150–250 for two people (as of 2022).
The restaurant cars mostly serve snacks, coffee and beer. On some routes (such as those to Lapland) you can get simple real meals (€10–13.50). Shorter intercity routes usually just have a trolley with snacks, coffee, beer etc. Drinking alcoholic beverages you brought yourselves is not allowed. Own food at your seat should be no problem as long as you don't make a mess or spectacle out of it; bringing packed meals, other than for small children, has become rare.
Seniors over 65 years old and students with Finnish student ID (ISIC cards etc. not accepted) get 50 % off. If booking a few days (better: at least two weeks) in advance on the net you may get cheaper prices. Children younger than 10 years travel for free in sleeper cabins if they share a bed with somebody else (bed width 75 cm, safety nets can be ordered, using a travel bed is allowed if it fits nicely). Otherwise children aged 4–16 pay a child fee on long-distance trains, those aged 7–16 on commuter trains, usually half the ordinary price. Carry your ID or passport to prove your age.
Pets can be taken on trains (€5), but seats must be booked in the right compartments. If your pet is big, book a seat with extended legroom (or, on some trains, a separate seat for the pet). The pets travel on the floor (a blanket can be useful; bring water), other than for dogs a cage is mandatory. Vaccination etc. should be in order. For regional transport the rules are different. The sleeper trains have some cabins for passengers with pets. For night trains, ask the conductor about stops where you can get out with your dog. Don't leave pets in your car.
Finland participates in the Inter Rail and Eurail systems. Residents of Europe can buy InterRail Finland passes offering 3–8 days of unlimited travel in one month for €109–229 (adult 2nd class), while the Eurail Finland pass for non-residents is €178–320 for 3–10 days. You would have to travel a lot to make any of these pay off though; by comparison, a full-fare InterCity return ticket across the entire country from Helsinki to Rovaniemi and back is €162. The price for a typical 2-hr journey, such as between Helsinki, Turku and Tampere, is about €20.
Train tickets can be purchased online, from ticketing machines on mid-sized and large stations, from manned booths on some of the largest stations and e.g. from R kiosks (not all tickets). A fee of €1–3 applies when buying over the counter or by phone. There are usually cheaper offers if you buy several days in advance, to get the cheapest tickets, buy them at least two weeks in advance. A seat is included in the fare of these tickets. During the COVID-19 pandemic, seats must be reserved, i.e. tickets bought, in advance. On the regional trains in the capital region there is no ticket sale in normal times either.
This means that for walk-up travel at many mid-sized stations, you'll need to buy a ticket from the machine. This is easier if no-one tries to assist you! Otherwise, thinking to be helpful, they'll press Aloita and you'll be faced by a screen asking you to choose between Aikuinen, Eläkeläisen and Lapsi. So spurn their help, wind back to the beginning and press "Start" to get the process in English, including the bank card reader instructions. Or if you're feeling adventurous you can press Börja since you can figure out whether you're vuxen, pensionär or barn, but you'll have to choose "Åbo" to get a ticket to Turku. Larger machines take cash, but most provincial stations have only small ones for which you need a debit/credit card with chip.
The selling procedure offers a seat, but you can chose one yourself if you want. Usually half of the seats face forward, half of them backward. Seats with a wall behind them have less legroom when reclined, and don't recline as much. You may want to check the options on IC2 trains especially if you are a group or want privacy (four seats with a table in-between, cabins for two or four etc.). On most other trains options are limited.
In some situations your group or voyage does not make sense to the booking system. There are usually tricks to fool the system to allow what you want to do, but unless you find a solution, you might want to book by phone, to leave the problem to somebody more experienced.
Generally, the trains are most crowded at the beginning and end of the weekend, i.e. Friday and Sunday evening. Shortly before and at the end of major holidays like Christmas/New Year and Easter, trains are usually very busy, with car-and-sleeper tickets for the most popular services sold out immediately when booking opens. If you try booking for these days at a late time, you may find the seat you reserve to be among the least desirable, that is, facing backwards, without recline, and facing towards and sharing the legroom with other passengers – and many services sold out altogether.
While VR's trains may be slick, harsh winter conditions and underinvestment in maintenance mean that delayed trains are not uncommon, with the fancy Pendolinos particularly prone to breaking down. Also much of the network is single-track, so delays become compounded as oncoming trains have to wait in the passing loop. As in the rest of the EU, you'll get a 25% refund if the train is 1–2 hours late and 50% if more. Real-time train traffic data for every train station in Finland in webapp or iOS app is enabled by the Trafi licensing this data under the CC-BY free licence.
There are coach connections along the main roads to practically all parts of Finland. This is also the only way to travel in Lapland, since the rail network doesn't extend to the extreme north. Connections may be scarce between the thoroughfares.
Long haul coaches are generally quite comfortable, with toilets, reclining seats, AC, sometimes a coffee machine and perhaps a few newspapers to read (often only in Finnish, though). Wi-Fi and power outlets (USB or 230 V) are getting common. Some long-haul services stop at an intermediate destination long enough for you to buy a sandwich or eat an ice cream. Coaches seldom restrict the amount of luggage. They have fees for luggage transport, but these are generally not invoked for any you would carry. Bulky luggage is usually placed in a separate luggage compartment, at least if the coach is more than half-full.
There is no dominant operator, but many smaller ones. Matkahuolto maintains some services across companies, such as timetables, ticket sale and freight. Their browser-based route planner, with address based routing for coaches, is available (sometimes useful, but often suggests convoluted connections despite there being direct ones). Their Routes and Tickets mobile app has address-based routing and also a ticket purchase option. Some regional public service obligation bus routes are missing. They can be found in the opas.matka.fi route planner, and often from the local bus company, the web page of the municipality (often well hidden in Finnish only) or similar. There are Matkahuolto service points at more or less every bus station, in small towns and villages often by cooperation with a local business. Although the staff is generally helpful, they and their tools may not know very much about local conditions in other parts of the country; checking with locals (such as the local host or local bus company) for any quirks is sometimes advantageous.
At the Matkahuolto search results, click (i) for a service, and the link that appears, to get more information on it, including a stop list. For most services all stops are listed, with a Here map available, for non-express services sometimes only part of the stops are listed. The main search page doesn't find routes that include transfers, and is quite particular about start and end points (using the city name rather than the bus station can help in cases where the bus starts from elsewhere). Especially the English interface often uses Finnish names also for Swedish-speaking towns – it usually finds the Swedish ones, but might tell only the Finnish name. Searching in Swedish often helps.
Most coaches between bigger towns are express services (pikavuoro/snabbtur), having fewer stops than the "standard" (vakiovuoro/reguljär tur) coaches, near extinction on some routes. Between some big cities there are also special express (erikoispikavuoro/express) coaches with hardly any stops between the cities. Using coaches to reach the countryside you should check not only that there are services along the right road, but also that any express service you are going to use stops not too far away from where you intend to get off or on, and that any service runs on the right day of the week. Non-express services have stops at most a few kilometres apart.
Coaches are generally slightly higher priced than trains, although on routes with direct train competition they can be slightly cheaper. Speeds are usually slower than trains, sometimes very much so (from Helsinki to Oulu), sometimes even faster (from Helsinki to Kotka and Pori). On many routes, though, coaches are more frequent, so you may still get to your destination faster than if you wait for the next train. Tickets can be bought in advance (bargains are possible on some routes), with the seldom used option to reserve seats, although paying to the driver is common (there are few if any conductors left). Credit and debit cards should be accepted on the main express and long-haul services (and when buying tickets in advance), on "regular" services on short distances you are more likely to need cash.
Pets are usually accepted on coaches as well as buses (except on Onnibus), but not very common. In buses, bigger dogs often travel in the area for prams and wheelchairs. There is a fee for some pets on some services (Koiviston auto: €5 in cash unless they can fit on your lap).
Onnibus offers a cheaper alternative (often €5–10 even for long rides if bought early enough) with double-deckers on routes between major cities in Finland. Tickets must be bought online as they do not accept cash, with cash it is possible to buy Onnibus tickets only from R-kioski and Matkahuolto partners. Online tickets can be bought from Matkahuolto, but other Matkahuolto tickets are not accepted. Passengers need to be on the stop beforehand (15 min recommended), bikes and pets are not accepted, and 12–14 years old children can travel independently with written consent from their parent or guardian using Onnibus's form; otherwise children need to be accompanied by somebody at least 15 years old. Onnibuses include free unencrypted Wi-Fi and 220 V power sockets. The general standard is lower than on other coaches and there is less legroom than in any other buses in Finland. Also the overhead racks are tight, so put everything you do not need in the luggage compartment (one normal-size 20 kg item or according to special rules). Be at the stop 15 minutes before departure, more if you want good seats. Note that the routes do not necessarily serve the city centres, but can provide direct access to some nearby locations.
Onnibus also has cooperation ("Onnibux flex") with some other bus companies, for legs they do not serve themselves. These services can be found through Onnibus, Matkahuolto or the website of the real operator; standard and prices are mostly the same as usually on coaches, not those of Onnibus. Onnibus recommends reserving 1½ or 2½ hr for transfers not included on their web site.
Senior discounts are for those over 65 years old or with Finnish pension decision.
As with trains, student discounts are available only for Finnish students or foreign students at Finnish institutions. You need either a Matkahuolto/VR student discount card (€5) or a student card with the Matkahuolto logo.
For coaches, children aged 4–11 pay about half the price (infants free), juniors (12–16) get a reduction of up to 30 % or 50 % on long non-return trips. On city buses age limits vary from one city or region to another, often children fees apply for 7–14 years old. An infant in a baby carriage gives one adult a free ride in e.g. Helsinki and Turku (but entering may be difficult in rush hours).
You can get the BusPass travel pass from Matkahuolto, which offers unlimited travel for a specified time, priced at €149 for 7 days and €249 for 14 days. The pass is not accepted by Onnibus.
Local transport networks are well-developed in Greater Helsinki, Tampere, Turku, Oulu, Kuopio, Jyväskylä and Lahti. In other big towns public transport networks are often usable on workdays, but sparse on weekends and during the summer, while many small towns only have rudimentary services. For information about local transport in cities and some regions around Finland, see the link list provided by Matkahuolto (in Finnish; scroll to the bottom of the page).
In the countryside there are sometimes line taxis, paratransit or similar arrangements, where the municipality sponsors taxis driving by schedule, but only when the service has been requested. Usually you contact the taxi company the day before to ask for the service and pay according to normal coach or bus fares. Sometimes the taxi can deviate from the route to pick you up from a more convenient point or drive you to your real destination. The added distance is sometimes included, and sometimes paid as a normal taxi voyage (depending on length, municipality and other circumstances). These services are sparse (from a few times daily to weekly) and schedules are made to suit the target audience, often the elderly, but can be the only way to reach some destinations for a reasonable price without one's own vehicle. Some school buses also take outsiders, and sometimes what seems to be a normal bus connection is in fact such a school bus, open for others to use.
There are also route planners covering many regions: Opas.matka.fi covers most cities (Helsinki, Hämeenlinna, Iisalmi, Joensuu, Jyväskylä, Järvenpää, Kajaani, Kotka, Kouvola, Kuopio, Lahti, Lappeenranta, Mikkeli, Oulu, Pieksämäki, Pori, Rovaniemi, Salo, Seinäjoki, Tampere, Turku, Vaasa, Valkeakoski, Varkaus). Some of the remaining cities are included in the Matkahuolto Route Planner (Hyvinkää, Kemi, Kokkola, Lohja, Loviisa, Porvoo, Raahe, Rauma, Riihimäki, Savonlinna, Tornio).
As for smartphone apps, Nysse and Moovit have a route planner for local transport services of many cities (Helsinki, Hämeenlinna, Iisalmi, Joensuu, Jyväskylä, Kajaani, Kokkola, Kotka, Kouvola, Kuopio, Lahti, Lappeenranta, Mikkeli, Oulu, Pori, Rovaniemi, Sastamala, Seinäjoki, Tampere, Turku, Vaasa and Varkaus).
Both coaches and city buses are stopped for boarding by raising a hand at a bus stop (blue sign for coaches, yellow for city buses; a reflector or source of light, such as a smartphone screen, is useful in the dusk and night). In some rural areas, such as northern Lapland, you may have luck also where there is no official stop (and not even official stops are necessarily marked there). You pay or show your ticket to the driver (or to the machine near the driver). On buses, those with pram or wheelchair usually enter through the middle door. On coaches, the driver will often step out to let you put most of your luggage in the luggage compartment – have what you want to have with you in a more handy bag.
Ring the bell by pushing a button when you want to get off, and the bus will stop at the next stop. Often the driver knows the route well and can be asked to let you off at the right stop, and even if not (more common now, with increased competition), drivers usually try their best. This works less well though on busy city buses.
Local and regional transport outside cities often uses minibuses or minivans instead of normal buses. Don't miss them just because they don't look like what you expected.
- See also: Boating in Finland
As a country with many lakes, a long coast and large archipelagos, Finland is a good destination for boating. There are some 165,000 registered motorboats, some 14,000 sailing yachts and some 600,000 rowing boats and small motorboats owned by locals, i.e. a boat on every seventh Finn. If you stay at a cottage, chances are there is a rowing boat available.
Yachts and motorboats are available for charter in most bigger towns at suitable waterways. You may also want to rent a canoe or kayak, for exploring the archipelagos, canoeing along calm rivers or going down rapid-filled ones.
In summertime, lake and archipelago cruises are a great way to see the scenery of Finland, although many of them only do circular sightseeing loops and thus aren't particularly useful for getting somewhere. Most cruise ships carry 100–200 passengers (book ahead on weekends!), and many are historical steam boats. Popular routes include Turku–Naantali, Helsinki–Porvoo and various routes on Saimaa and the other big lakes. Child tickets often have lower age limits than on other kinds of transport (such as 3–12 years).
The archipelago of Åland and the Archipelago Sea have many inhabited islands dependant on ferry connections. As these are maintained as a public service they are mostly free, even the half-a-day lines. Some are useful as cruises, although there is little entertainment except the scenery. These are meant for getting somewhere, so make sure you have somewhere to sleep after having got off.
There is a distinction between "road ferries" (yellow, typically on short routes, with an open car deck and few facilities), which are regarded as part of the road network and free, and other ferries (usually with a more ship-like look and primarily serving car-less passengers). Whether the latter are free, heavily subsidised or fully paid by passengers varies. See Archipelago Sea for some discussion.
- Main article: Driving in Finland
Priority for oncoming traffic
Speed limit for zone
Traffic drives on the right. There are no road tolls or congestion charges. From February 2018, driving licences of all countries for ordinary cars are officially accepted in Finland. The only requirement is that the licence is in a European language or you have an official translation of it to Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German, English or French. A foreign-registered car may be used in Finland for up to six months. A longer stay requires registering it locally and paying a substantial tax to equalise the price to Finnish levels.
Car hire in Finland is expensive, with rates generally upwards of €80/day, although rates go down for longer hire. See Driving in Finland#Costs.
Main roads are usually fairly well maintained and extensive, although motorways are limited to the south of the country and near the bigger cities. Local roads may to some extent suffer from cracks and potholes, and warnings about irregularities in the pavement of these roads are seldom posted.
Look out for wild animals, particularly at dawn and dusk. Collisions with moose (frequently lethal) are common countrywide, deer cause numerous collisions in parts of the country, and semi-domesticated reindeer are a common cause of accidents in Lapland. Try to pass the rear end of the animal to let it escape forward. Call the emergency service (112) to report accidents even if you are OK, as the animal may be injured.
VR's overnight car carrier trains are popular for skipping the long slog from the south up to Lapland and getting a good night's sleep instead: a Helsinki–Rovaniemi trip (one way) with car and cabin for 1–3 people starts from €215.
A few unusual or unobvious rules to be aware of:
- Headlights or DRLs are mandatory even during daylight. New cars usually come with headlight-related automatics which do not always work properly, so double check your car's behavior and use manual toggles if necessary. This is especially important in the dark Finnish winter.
- Always give way to the right, unless signposted otherwise. The concept of minor road refers only to exits from parking lots and such (a decent rule of thumb is whether the exit crosses over a curb). Nearly all intersections are explicitly signposted with yield signs (either the stop sign or an inverted triangle); watch for the back of the yield sign on the other road. Major highways are often signposted with an explicit right of way (yellow diamond with white borders).
- Turning right on red at traffic lights is always illegal. Instead, intersections may have two sets of traffic lights, one with regular circular lights and the other displaying arrows. A green arrow light also means there is no crossing traffic or pedestrians in the indicated direction.
- Times on signage use the 24h clock with the following format: white or black numbers are for weekdays, numbers in parentheses for Saturdays and red numbers for Sundays and public holidays; e.g. "8–16" in white means M–F 8AM–4PM. If the numbers for Saturdays and Sundays are absent, the sign does not apply on weekends at all.
- Trams (present in Helsinki and Tampere) always have the right of way over other vehicles, but not over pedestrians at zebra crossings. You do not want to crash into one.
- Vehicles are required by law to stop at zebra crossings if a pedestrian intends to cross the road or if another vehicle has already stopped to (presumably) give way. Unfortunately, this sometimes causes dangerous situations at crossings over multiple lanes since not all drivers follow the rule properly. Many pedestrians are aware of this and "intend" to cross the road only when there is a suitable gap in the traffic, but you are still required to adjust your speed to be able to stop in case. Use your best judgement and watch out for less careful drivers.
- Using seat belts is mandatory. Children under 135 cm tall must use booster seats or other safety equipment (the requirement is waived for taxis, except for children under 3 years of age).
Finnish driving culture is not too hazardous and driving is generally quite safe.
Winter driving can be risky, especially for drivers unused to cold weather conditions. The most dangerous weather is around freezing, when slippery but near-invisible black ice forms on the roads, and on the first day of the cold season, which can catch drivers by surprise. Studded winter tyres are allowed November–March and "when circumstances require", with a liberal interpretation, such as in soon being en route to wintry Lapland. Winter tyres (studded or not) are compulsory in wintry conditions November–March.
Speed limits default to 50 km/h in built-up areas (look for the yellow-black coloured sign with a town skyline) and 80 km/h elsewhere. Other limits are always signposted. Major highways often have a limit of 100 km/h, with motorways up to 120 km/h. Some roads have their limits reduced in the winter for safety.
A blood alcohol level of over 0.05 % is considered drunk driving. Finnish police strictly enforce this by random roadblocks and sobriety tests.
If you are driving at night when the petrol stations are closed (many close at 21:00), always remember to bring some cash. Automated petrol pumps in Finland in rare occasions do not accept foreign credit/debit cards, but you can pay with Euro notes. In the sparsely-populated areas of the country, distances of 50 km and more between gas stations are not unheard of, so don't gamble unnecessarily with those last litres of fuel.
Taxis are widely available and comfortable, although in the countryside night you may nowadays be out of luck (call in advance). The taxi market was largely deregulated in 2018, causing a significant rise in already expensive prices – and cut income for the drivers. Most companies have a flag fall of €4–9 (differing between daytime in weekdays and nights and weekends) and the meter ticking up by €2–3 per km or so (including a time based fare of around €1/min). Fares have to be clearly posted; while comparing price schemes is difficult, getting ripped off is rare. Using the meter is not mandatory, but by law any fixed fares have to be stated in advance and you have to be warned if the fare might exceed €100.
Once mostly plush Mercedes sedans, taxis can now come in any colour or shape, but they have a yellow taxi sign on the roof (usually with the spelling "TAKSI"), lit when the car is vacant. A normal taxi will carry 4 passengers and a moderate amount of luggage. For significant amounts of luggage, you can order a farmari taxi, an estate/wagon car with a roomier luggage compartment. There is also a third common type of taxi available, the tilataksi, a van which will comfortably carry about 8 people (if you ask for one, you are often charged for 5+ people, but not if you just happen to get one). Tilataksis are usually equipped for taking also a person in wheelchair (ask specifically if you need that service, and prepare for a surplus fee).
If you want child seats, mention that when ordering, you may be lucky. Transporting a child under 3 years of age without an appropriate device is illegal.
The usual ways to get a taxi are to find a taxi rank, order by phone or, increasingly, use a smartphone app (there is often also a similar web page). The apps and we pages usually tell you the total fare (an estimate or a fixed price based on estimates). Street hailing is legal but uncommon, there just aren't that many empty cabs driving around. Any pub or restaurant can also help you get a taxi, expect to pay €2 for the call.
Apps and call centres with taxis available in many cities include:
- Taksi Helsinki. Uses the Valopilkku smart phone app.
- 02 Taksi, ☏ (€1.25/call+€3/min). Call centre and smart phone app offers address based routing and gives price offers from one or more taxi companies (mainly big companies, i.e. useful mostly in cities, towns and around them). Price or price logic told when booking.
- Menevä, ☏ (head of office), toll-free: 0800-02120 (booking), firstname.lastname@example.org. Smart phone app offers address based routing and calculates price according to them.
In city centres, long waiting times can be expected in Friday and Saturday nights. The same is true at ferry harbours, railway stations and the like when a service arrives; there is usually a queue of taxis when the ferry arrives, but with all filled up it takes a while before any of them return. It is not uncommon to share a taxi with strangers, if going towards the same general direction. At airports, railway stations and other locations from where many people are going to the same direction at the same time, there may also be kimppataksi minivans publicly offering rides with strangers. They are as comfortable as other taxis and will leave without much delay.
In the countryside, there may only be a single taxi company and they may have to drive a long way to get to you, so pre-booking is strongly recommended if you need to catch a train or flight, or you need one in the night (when no driver might be awake to answer a call). Calling a local driver is safer than booking through a call centre, which might not find any driver when the time is come. For a short trip in a remote location, you might want to tip generously, as the fare doesn't cover the fetching distance. Taksit.fi is an (incomplete) catalogue for finding local taxi companies. For those not listed, check locally.
Uber operates in Helsinki, but not elsewhere in the country. They are formally taxis.
For inter-city trips, you can try your luck on peer-to-peer ridesharing services:
- kyydit.net – Carpooling site with search engine
- kimppakyyti.fi – Carpooling site
- kimppa.net – Oldest and most retro looking carpooling site in Finland
Hitchhiking is possible, albeit unusual, as the harsh climate does not exactly encourage standing around and waiting for cars. Many middle age and elderly people hitchhiked when they were young, but in the last decades high standards of living and stories about abuse have had a deterring effect. The most difficult task is getting out of Helsinki. Spring and summer offer long light hours, but in the darker seasons you should plan your time. The highway between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg has a high percentage of Russians among truck drivers. See also Finland article on Hitchwiki. The thumb-up sign is the one to use.
Pedestrians walking in the dark on shoulders of unlit roads are required by law to use safety reflectors. Their use is generally recommended, since the visibility of pedestrians with reflectors improves greatly. Controlled-access highways (green signs) are off limits for pedestrians.
Most Finnish cities have good cycleways especially outside the centres, and taking a bike can be a quick, healthy and environmentally friendly method of getting around locally. Farther from cities, where the cycleways end, not all major roads allow safe biking. You can often find suitable quiet routes, but sometimes this requires an effort. Locals often drive quite fast on low-traffic gravel roads; be alert and keep to the right. There are cyclists' maps for many areas.
Biking off-road is regarded as part of the right to access, but biking may cause erosion or other harm, so choose your route with consideration and unmount your bike at sensitive sections. There are some routes explicitly meant (also) for off-road bikes, e.g. at some national parks.
Children under 12 years can use the pavement where there is no cycleway, as long as they do not unreasonably disturb pedestrians. Bikes on cycleways have to yield for cars on crossing roads unless there is a yield sign, the car is turning or the cycleway is marked as continuing over the crossing street (be careful, not all drivers watch out for cyclists). Leading your bike you are a pedestrian.
The roads are generally paved well, although gravel roads are sometimes unavoidable. As long as you don't go off-road, you will not need suspension or grooved tyres.
Beware that a good cycleway can end abruptly and force you out among the cars; the bike network building efforts are not too well coordinated. Also at road works, directions for cyclists are often neglected.
Due to the relatively gentle topographic relief, too hilly terrain is rarely a problem, but in the cold months, wind chill and sweat require more careful choice of clothing than in walking. In some municipalities bike paths are well maintained in winter, in others they are not. Biking among the cars in winter is usually too dangerous (some locals do, but they know the circumstances). In dark hours headlight, rear light and a rear reflector are obligatory; side reflectors are recommended.
Because of the long distances, long-haul bikers are advised to plan well and be prepared to use public transport for the less interesting stretches. Coaches are well-equipped to take a few bicycles on board (Onnibus Mega does not accept them, Onnibus Flex accepts like any other company). Fares vary by company and distance, typically about half of an ordinary ticket (which may be the same as your adult reduced-price one), or a flat €6. Packing the bike is not needed, but getting on at the bus station and arriving in time may help finding room for the bike. On some lines you should check the day before. If you buy tickets on the net, you should book bike slots at the same time, if possible.
Trains take bicycles for €5 if there is enough space in the racks (varies by train type, on some trains advance booking is necessary; on IC trains you also need a 50c coin; tandem bikes or bikes with trailers fit only on some trains, €10). Packed bikes are free if the package is small enough (requires taking the bike apart, exact dimensions vary by train type). On the trains from Russia (suspended in 2022) packing the bikes is necessary (100 cm x 60 cm x 40 cm). Bikes are free also unpacked on local trains in the Helsinki region, but are allowed only if there is enough space.
Renting a bike at your destination should be possible. In several towns, including Helsinki and Turku, there are also municipal bike-sharing systems. Some of the available bikes have an electric booster motor.
Bikes are often stolen, at least in cities, so have a lock and use it, and try to avoid leaving the bike in unsafe places.
By motorised scooter
In many cities there are electric kick scooters for hire; you will need to install a smartphone app. Check where the nearest scooter is, check the price and allowed areas, unlock with the app, ride, park it in an allowed sensible location (mind the vision impaired) and release it with the app. The scooters have a maximum speed of 20–25 km/h (12–16 mph), which is plenty; acquaint yourself with the scooter and its controls somewhere safe. There is a handful of companies, some active in more cities than others.
The scooters are legally counted as bikes, with an operator-imposed minimum rider age of 18. Whilst common, driving on the pavement is illegal. Wearing a helmet is recommended by the operators, sort of mandated by law (wearing one is "generally" required) and going without one is dangerous – however, seeing somebody wear one is rare indeed.
To reduce number and severity of accidents, lower speed may be enforced in the night (such as 15 km/h) and in some locations (5 km/h). In some municipalities the scooters are unavailable for some hours in weekend nights. Some companies ask you to take a photo of the scooter after parking it and might take action if it was left carelessly.
The price for a ride is typically significantly higher than by bus on any distance you couldn't walk (and typically used for short distances), but they are handy and cheaper than taxis.
There are usually adequate pavements and zebra crossings in towns. Cars are in principle obliged to stop at zebra crossings if a pedestrian intends to cross the road – but as most cross the road only when there is a sufficiently large gap in the traffic, drivers may assume you "do not intend to cross right now", and not stop. Do not leave a shadow of a doubt that you will cross the road, and cars will mostly stop. With some practice, this works out smoothly, efficiently and without taking undue risks. Don't try this when drivers cannot see you in time, and remember some will have their eyes on something else.
In the night and dusk reflectors are in theory mandatory – and they are immensely useful for being seen by drivers. They are especially important on country roads with narrow shoulders, where also reflective vests (or similar arrangements) are recommended.
Finland has two "national languages", Finnish (suomi) and Swedish (svenska), and both are compulsory in nearly all schools (with varying results). Also Sámi, Romani and Finnish Sign Language are recognised in the constitution, but they are not spoken outside their respective communities and the speakers are bilingual with Finnish. Nearly anybody above 12 years speaks English and many above school age at least the basics of one or two other foreign languages.
Road signs and the like mostly use the language or languages of the municipality, so road signs can sometimes be confusing unless you know both names, and online maps can use either with little logic. Also elsewhere a name in the other language may turn up unexpectedly. Sometimes the names are very different.
Finnish, the mother tongue of 92 percent of the population, is not related to Swedish, Russian, English or any other Indo-European language. Instead it belongs to the Uralic group of languages (which includes Hungarian, Estonian and Sámi), making it hard for speakers of most other European languages to learn. While Finnish and Estonian bear some degree of mutual intelligibility, only a trained linguist can spot the connections between Hungarian and Finnish.
Reading signboards can be difficult, as Finnish uses relatively few loan words. Finnish words also conjugate extensively, which makes looking them up in a dictionary challenging. On the upside, once you've mastered the pronunciation (admittedly a challenge for most English speakers), the spelling system is very logical. Swedish words, listed below Finnish or in italics on official signs in the Finnish-majority areas of the country, are often closer to English.
The Finnish language has few exceptions but quite a lot of rules – where some rules might be considered cleverly disguised exceptions. There are 15 grammatical cases for "getting some coffee and getting the coffee, going into a pub, being in a pub, getting out of the pub, being on the roof, getting onto the roof, getting off the roof, using something as a roof and so on, which are encoded into the word endings (kahvia, kahvi, pubiin, pubissa, pubista, katolle, katolta, kattona). Many different words are formed from the same root by other endings: kirjain, kirjasin, kirjuri, kirjoitin, kirje, kirjelmä, kirjasto and kirjaamo are all nouns related to kirja, "book" (letter, font, bookkeeper, printer, ...), and then there are related verbs and adjectives.
Swedish, Germanic like English and closely related to Norwegian and Danish, is the mother tongue for 5.6 % of Finns. About half the population regard themselves conversant in Swedish, including nearly all national-level politicians. A lot of written material from public institutions (e.g. city governments, parliament, public museums) is available in Swedish. As the language has many cognates with English, fragments can be intelligible to an English speaker.
The Swedish speakers are concentrated along most of the coast, with smaller communities in some cities elsewhere. The larger cities nowadays all have Finnish majorities, but e.g. the municipalities of Korsnäs and Larsmo are more or less exclusively Swedish-speaking, as is the small autonomous province of Åland and much of the countryside elsewhere in the Swedish speaking areas. In Åland and the Swedish parts of Ostrobothnia, people typically speak little or no Finnish. In traditionally Swedish-majority towns like Vaasa (Vasa) and Porvoo (Borgå) nearly half the population is Swedish-speaking and service in Swedish is expected by many Swedish-speaking locals. In cities like Helsinki and Turku, on the other hand, there is a lively Swedish cultural scene and most people know enough Swedish to deal with simple conversations you engage in as a tourist and often at least somewhat beyond, but living would be quite tough without knowledge of Finnish. Most larger hotels and restaurants in areas where Swedish is widely spoken do have Swedish-proficient staff. In the Finnish-speaking hinterland, it is less common to find somebody fluent in Swedish by chance.
Almost all Finns speak English, so you should have no serious language problems. Don't hesitate to ask for help: Finns can be shy, but will do anything they can to help people in need. Businesses with a domestic customer base often have their web pages and other marketing materials in Finnish only. This is not an indication that they cannot provide service in English (although they might have to improvise more than businesses used to foreigners). If the business seems interesting, just call them to get the information you need.
Russian is spoken in shops and hotels that cater to Russian tourists, especially in towns close to the Russian border such as Lappeenranta, Imatra and Joensuu; also for Helsinki shopping tourists from Russia are important, and service in Russian available in select locations. Russians are one of the largest immigrant groups in Finland: 1.5% of the population.
Besides the languages above, some Finns can speak German (18% conversant) or French (3% conversant). Other secondary languages such as Spanish and Italian are rarer. However, some tourist services are also offered in a wider variety of languages, including for example Chinese and Japanese: tour packages often have guides proficient in them, and there are often brochures, web pages and similar for the most important destinations and sights.
Foreign TV programs and films, including segments of local shows with foreign language dialogue, are nearly always shown with audio in the original language but subtitled into Finnish or Swedish. Only children's programmes, children's films, certain types of documentaries (the narrator part) and nature films get dubbed into Finnish or Swedish.
A selection of top sights in Finland:
- Central Helsinki, the Daughter of the Baltic, on a warm and sunny summer day
- The historical sites of Turku and the Archipelago Sea around it, best viewed from a yacht or from the deck of a giant car ferry.
- Puttering around the picturesque wooden houses of Porvoo, Finland's second-oldest city
- Renting a car and exploring the Lake Land of Eastern Finland, an area dotted with around 60 000 lakes with a similar number of islands, which in turn have their own lakes...
- Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna, Finland's most atmospheric castle, especially during the yearly Opera Festival
- Hämeenlinna Castle in Hämeenlinna is Finland's oldest castle. Built in 13th century.
- Icebreaker cruising and the world's biggest snow castle in Kemi
- Seeing the Northern Lights and trying your hand sledding down a mile-long track at Saariselkä
- A ride on the historical "Linnanmäki" wooden roller coaster (Helsinki). Unlike modern designs, only gravity keeps it on the track, and it requires a driver on each train to operate the brakes.
There is a museum card (museokortti), which gives free entrance to most bigger museums for a week for €40. There are 40 participating museums in the capital region, 250 in all the country. There is also a one-year version, for €65.
- Archipelago Trail, by road and ferry through the Archipelago Sea
- Blue Highway, a road from Norway to Russia, by lakes and rivers
- E8 through Finland and Norway, the main road of Finland's west coast
- Finland in ten days by car, a suggested route showing some of the most important sights in Finland
- Highway 4 (Finland), part of the European route E75, stretching almost the full length of the country from south to north
- Hanko-Uusikaupunki by boat, the main leisure fairway through the Archipelago Sea
- Hämeen Härkätie, a historic route from Turku to the inland
- King's Road (Finland), the old postal route along the south coast
- Nordkalottleden, a long-distance hiking trail through the Käsivarsi Wilderness Area
Notably lacking in craggy mountains or crenellated fjords, Finland is not the adrenalin-laden winter sports paradise you might expect: the traditional Finnish pastime is cross-country skiing through more or less flat terrain. If you're looking for downhill skiing, snowboarding etc., you'll need to head up to Lapland and resorts like Levi and Saariselkä.
The king of sports in Finland is ice hockey (jääkiekko), and winning the Ice Hockey World Championship is as close to nirvana as the country gets — especially if they defeat arch-rivals Sweden, as they did in 1995 and 2011. The yearly national championship is the Liiga (finnish), where 15 teams battle it out. Additionally, the Helsinki-based Jokerit, a former Liiga member, plays in the Kontinental Hockey League, a Russia-based league that also includes teams from several other post-Soviet states, Slovakia, and China. If you're visiting in season (September to March), catching a game is worthwhile. Tickets start from around €16, and while the action on the ice is brutal, fans are generally well behaved (if not necessarily sober). If you happen to be in Finland when they win the World Championship, the traffic in the city centers might be messy, as the fans are running in the streets celebrating, usually intoxicated.
The national sport of Finland, though, is pesäpallo, which translates literally as "baseball", but looks and plays rather differently to its American forebear. The single most notable difference is that the pitcher stands at the home plate together with the batter and pitches directly upward, making hitting the ball easier and catching it harder. The Superpesis league plays for the yearly championship in summer, with both men's and women's teams.
And if you'd like to try your hand at something uniquely Finnish, don't miss the plethora of bizarre sports contests in the summer, including:
- Air Guitar World Championships. August, Oulu. Bring out your inner guitar hero!
- World Fart Championships. July, Utajärvi. Yes, you read correctly.
- Mobile Phone Throwing Championship. Suspended 2016. August, Savonlinna. Recycle your Nokia!
- Swamp Soccer World Championship. July, Hyrynsalmi. Probably the messiest sporting event in the world. They also arrange a snow soccer world championships each February.
- Wife Carrying World Championship. July, Sonkajärvi. The grand prize is the wife's weight in beer.
- Sulkavan Suursoudut. July, Sulkava Finland's biggest rowing event
During the short summer you can swim, canoe, row or sail in the lakes or in the sea. The water is at its warmest around 20 July, with temperatures about 20 °C (68 °F). Local newspapers usually have the current surface temperatures, and a map of the surface temperatures can also be found from the Environment Ministry website. During the warmest weeks, late at night or early in the morning the water can feel quite pleasant when the air temperature is lower than the water's. Most towns also have swimming halls with slightly warmer water, but these are often closed during the summer. Many Finns swim outdoors in winter also. There are lifeguards in busy hours at some beaches, but non-obvious risks are rare; nearly any shore can be used as long as you do not jump in without checking for obstacles. Algal bloom (sinilevä/cyanobakterier) can happen during the warmest period, so if the water seems to contain massive amounts of blue-green flakes, do not swim or use the water, and do not let children or pets into it.
The right to access and the sparse population makes it easy to go hiking wherever you are. If you are serious about it, you might want to check Hiking in the Nordic countries for advice and Finnish National Parks for destinations. There are trails for easy day trips as well as for week-long hikes – and large backwoods for the experienced. The best season for hiking is early fall, after most mosquitoes have died off and the autumn colours have come out, but summer is good too, and all seasons possible. Making an open fire requires landowner permission (which you have at campfire sites at most hiking destinations) and is forbidden during wildfire warnings regardless of such permission.
A lighter version of being outdoors is to go berry picking in some nearby forest. Also in bigger cities, there are usually suitable woods interspersed with the suburbs (i.e. within half a kilometre from a local bus stop). Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus, mustikka/blåbär, closely related to the blueberry) is common enough that you nearly anywhere (in July–August) quickly will find berries for your morning porridge for all the week and for pies and deserts with cream and sugar. Other common berries include wild strawberry (metsämansikka/smultron, from late June), lingonberry (puolukka/lingon, August–September), bog bilberry (juolukka/odon), raspberry (vadelma/hallon) and crowberry (variksenmarja/kråkbär/čáhppesmuorji). On bogs you may find cloudberry (lakka/hjortron/luomi) and cranberry (karpalo/tranbär), the latter picked late in autumn. You can even sell excess berries at a local market (though this may be restricted for cloudberries in Lapland).
Many Finns also pick mushrooms, but doing that requires that you know what you are doing, as there are deadly ones, including the death cap and the European destroying angel, easy to mistake for an Agaricus (field/button/common mushroom and the like). A good rule of thumb is to never pick any white mushrooms, mushrooms growing on stumps or Cortinarius species, which have a cortina (a web of fibres resembling a cobweb) and usually reddish gills. You should of course not pick any mushrooms you do not know, but edible mushrooms in these categories are easily confused with common deadly ones.
In winter (and spring in the north) the way to go is of course cross-country skiing. There are maintained tracks around most cities, as well as around winter sports centres and in national parks. Wilderness back-packers use larger skis and do not rely on pre-existing tracks.
Many Finns are keen fishermen and recreational fishing is equally available to foreigners. For most species there are regulations on allowed size and closed seasons, and it is your responsibility to check the general regulations and any local ones. In most still waters rod and hook fishing is free. Fishing with (single) reel and lure is allowed in most still waters, provided a national fishing fee has been paid, at a Metsähallitus service point (such as a national park visitor centre), in an R-kiosk, in the web shop or by bank giro (2022: €45 for a year, €15 for a week, €6 for a day, plus any bank or kiosk surcharge; children under 18 and elderly over 64 exempted). Report wanted starting date when paying and show the receipt on request. For streaming waters rich in salmon or related species and some specially regulated waters, also separate permits have to be bought. With the national permit and permission from the owner of the waters you can fish with most legal methods; most land-owners in the countryside have a share, and many towns and other municipalities sell permits for some fishing in their waters. Check the regulations, including the local ones, e.g. when getting the permit, from a visitor centre or a suitable business. More information from 020-69-2424 (08:00–16:00), the web shop or e.g. ahven.net. Moving between certain waters you should disinfect your equipment, including boat and boots, and be careful in handling water and entrails (there are salmon parasites and crayfish plague). Many small businesses arrange fishing excursions. Catch-and-release fishing is not practised (but undersize fish is released).
Åland has its own fishing law, where nearly all fishing requires permission from the owner of the waters, which you can get for many specific areas by paying a fee. Residents may fish by rod and hook in their home municipality except 15.4–15.6 and Nordic residents may fish for household use by any legal means in waters without an owner (far enough from inhabited islands).
The Forestry Administration (Metsähallitus) maintains an online Excursion Map with their trails and huts marked.
- See also: Nordic music
Finland hosts many festivals of popular music (festari) during the summer. Notable ones include:
- Sauna Open Air (Tampere). Early June. Heavy metal.
- Provinssirock (Seinäjoki). Mid-June. Rock.
- Nummirock (Nummijärvi, near Kauhajoki). Midsummer. Heavy metal.
- Raumanmeren juhannus (Pori). Midsummer. Pop/disco music.
- Tuska Open Air (Helsinki). Late June. Heavy metal.
- Ruisrock (Turku). July. Rock.
- Ilosaarirock (Joensuu). Mid-July. Rock, pop, reggae.
- Kuopiorock (Kuopio). Late-July. Heavy metal, rock, pop.
- Pori Jazz (Pori). Mid-July. Jazz and world music.
- Flow (Helsinki). Mid-August. Indie/electronic/urban.
- Qstock (Oulu). End of July. Rock, pop, rap.
Most of the festivals last 2–4 days and are very well organised, with many different bands playing, with e.g. Foo Fighters and Linkin Park headlining at Provinssirock in 2008. The normal full ticket (all days) price is about €60–100, which includes a camp site where you can sleep, eat and meet other festival guests. The atmosphere at festivals is great and probably you'll find new friends there. Of course drinking a lot of beer is a part of the experience.
While tango was born in Argentina, Finland's own variant has been very important on the non-rock popular music scene:
Folk music is very much alive, although mostly hidden from outsiders. The best place to immerse is Kaustinen:
- Kaustinen Folk Music Festival (Kaustinen). A massive event and an important meeting place for folk musicians from around the country and from farther away; despite the thousands of attendants, many concerts are at small venues, with an intimate atmosphere.
The national identity of Finland was formed in the 19th century, with romantic classical composers such as Jean Sibelius as important contributors. Classical music continues to be strong in Finland, with the musical education internationally famous and classical "music festivals" in summer consisting of concert series of one or a few weeks arranged in most cities and even in some minor towns and villages, beside the ordinary concert program in cities in winter.
Yearly events with a significant international audience:
- Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival (Kuhmon Kamarimusiikki) (Kuhmo). Mid-July.
- Savonlinna Opera Festival (Savonlinnan Oopperajuhlat) (Savonlinna). July. Opera in the courtyard of the medieval castle.
The International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition, the Mirjam Helin Competition (singers) and the International Maj Lind Piano Competition, each for young artists, take place every three to five years in Helsinki, well worth attending for those interested in the genre who happen to be around.
- Finncon, Helsinki, Turku, Tampere or Jyväskylä. Finland's biggest sci-fi convention and the only major sci-fi convention in the world to be completely free of charge. Held on a weekend in summer, usually in middle July. Free of charge.
Spotting the eerie Northern Lights (aurora borealis, or revontulet in Finnish) glowing in the sky is on the agenda of many visitors. Far north Lapland in Finland is one of the best places to observe aurorae, as it has good accessibility, high-quality accommodation and inland Finland has relatively clear skies, compared e.g. to coastal Norway. However, seeing them requires some planning and some luck. To have a good chance to see them you should stay at least a few days, preferably a week or more, in the far north in the right season.
In the south, northern lights are seldom seen. In e.g. Helsinki there are northern lights about once a month, but you are likely to be somewhere with too much light pollution. In the winter in northern Lapland, on the other hand, the probability of some northern lights is 50–70 % every night with clear skies, and light pollution is quite easy to avoid there.
The sauna is perhaps Finland's most significant contribution to the world (and the world's vocabulary). The sauna is essentially a room heated to 70–120°C; according to an oft-quoted statistic this nation of 5 million has no less than 2 million saunas, in apartments, offices, summer cottages and even Parliament (many agreements in business and politics are reached informally after a sauna bath). In ancient times, saunas (being the cleanest places around) were the place to give birth and heal the sick, and the first building constructed when setting up a new household. The old Finnish saying; "If it is not cured by sauna, tar and liquor, then it is for life" maybe crystallises the Finnish honour for the holy room.
If invited to visit a Finnish home, you may be invited to bathe in the sauna as well — this is an honour and should be treated as such, although Finns do understand that foreigners may not be keen about the idea. Enter the sauna nude after taking a shower, as wearing a bathing suit or any other clothing is considered a bit of a faux pas, although if you are feeling shy, you can wrap yourself in a bath towel. Unlike in some other cultures, there is not much erotic involved in Finnish Sauna for Finns, even when they bath unisex, it is purely for cleaning and refreshing, or for discussions about e.g. life or politics. Public saunas in swimming halls and spas are generally segregated by gender. There may be a separate mixed sauna with exits to both men's and women's showers, useful for e.g. couples or families; entry to the wrong side is to be avoided. In places with a single sauna, there are usually separate shifts for men and women, and possibly a mixed-gender shift. Children under the age of 7 can usually participate in any shift. In private saunas the host usually organises the bathing turns along similar lines.
After you've had your fill, you can cool off by heading outside, just to sit at the veranda, for a roll in the snow (in winter) or for a dip in the lake (any time of the year, beach sandals or the like can be practical in the winter) — and then head back in for another round. Repeat this a few times, then cork open a cold beer, roast a sausage over a fire, and enjoy total relaxation Finnish style.
These days the most common type of sauna features an electrically heated stove, which is easy to control and maintain. In the countryside you can still find wood-fired saunas, but purists prefer the (now very rare) traditional chimneyless smoke saunas (savusauna), where a large pile of stones is heated and the sauna then ventilated well before entering.
Anyone elderly or with a medical condition (especially high blood pressure) should consult their physician before using a sauna – although sauna bathing as a habit is good for the heart, you might need expert advice for your first visits.
If you like social dancing – foxtrot, tango, waltz, jive etc. – you should try the dance pavilions (Finnish: lavatanssit at a tanssilava), usually by a lake or in some other nice countryside setting. They have lost popularity since the 1950s, but do have a faithful audience. Similar dances are arranged in many rural community centres. In summertime there are dances at most dance pavilions at least weekly and often a dance somewhere in the region most days. In the winter you can find part of the same crowd at heated indoor locations (mostly community centres, a few of the pavilions, some dance restaurants). See also Tangomarkkinat, the tango festival of Seinäjoki.
Exchange rates for euros
As of September 2022:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Finland uses the euro, like several other European countries. One euro is divided into 100 cents. The official symbol for the euro is €, and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.
All banknotes and coins of this common currency are legal tender within all the countries, except that low-denomination coins (one and two cent) are phased out in some of them. The banknotes look the same across countries, while coins have a standard common design on the reverse, expressing the value, and a national country-specific design on the obverse. The obverse is also used for different designs of commemorative coins. The design of the obverse does not affect the use of the coin.
In cash transactions in Finland all sums are rounded to the nearest five cents. Thus one and two cent coins are seldom used (although legal tender) and the rare Finnish ones are collectors' items. When paying with a card, the payment is honoured to the cent. Prices are usually given without explicitly stating the currency. Cents are told after a comma, which is the decimal separator. Thus 5,50 means five euros and fifty cents, while 5,– means five euros.
Most places accept the major credit cards (with chip, ID may be needed). In some situations only cash is accepted (such as local and regional buses, open air markets and other small scale business), while train conductors do not accept cash. Cheques are never used. Notes of 100, 200 and 500 euro are not dispensed by ATMs and are rarely actually used. Prepare for a hassle if trying to pay with them. Buses and many types of smaller kiosks often do not accept them, local buses sometimes not even notes of 50 euro. Small stalls may be happy for you to pay by small money or close to exact change.
Most Finns use a chipped debit card for their daily purchases. EMV contactless payment readers are commonplace for purchases under €50. You will need your PIN for the terminals for purchases over €50 and now and then for the contactless ones. An ID isn't normally needed, as long as you can confirm your identity with your PIN – which means that anybody that gets your PIN can use your card.
Credit cards (VISA, MasterCard, sometimes other cards) are widely accepted. Visa Electron and Visa Debit card readers are found in all major and most minor shops, so carrying large amounts of cash is not usually necessary. Using a foreign card might become an issue if your card is not chip-based; many vendors require PIN. Many Finns use a card even for small purchases, and the use of cash is rapidly decreasing; don't get annoyed if Finns pay small €1–5 amounts using cards, even when there is a long queue behind. For small businesses, what shows up on your balance may not match the one you visited; keep the receipts or note what to expect not to get confused later.
For open air markets, small accommodation businesses, for buying handicraft at the workshop and similar, have cash (käteinen) or check in advance. A sign reading "Vain käteinen" means "Cash only".
Currencies other than the euro are generally not accepted, although the Swedish krona may be accepted in Åland and northern border towns like Tornio (and Norwegian crowns likewise in the extreme north). As an exception, Stockmann accepts U.S. dollars, pound sterling and Swedish krona. Also on the ferries from Sweden and Estonia many currencies may be accepted.
Getting money is rarely a problem in cities, as ATMs (pankkiautomaatti, bankautomat) are common and they can be operated with international credit and debit cards (Visa, Visa Electron, MasterCard, Maestro). Most ATMs belong to the Otto system, some to the Nosto (both names can be interpreted as "draw"). The former is a cooperation between the banks, the latter, often found at S markets, an independent new competitor. In the countryside ATMs are harder to find. Cash can be got with some cards at some shops. Exchange bureaux can be found in the bigger cities and near borders and typically have longer opening hours and faster service than banks. Note that not all bank offices handle cash at all, and those that do may still not handle currency exchange. Because of widespread electronic banking, routine bill payment and other banking tasks are rarely conducted at a bank office. Banks have scaled down their office network and personal service, so that you might have to queue for that, and pay significant fees.
Finland is a part of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), which covers EU and EEA, Monaco, San Marino and Switzerland. Any chipped credit or debit card issued by a SEPA bank should work, and money can be transferred between banks by giro over the whole SEPA area. Nevertheless, if you're moving into the country, get a Finnish bank account (pankkitili, bankkonto), because Finnish banks do not charge fees for giros within Finland if they are submitted online, and bank giro (pankkisiirto, bankgiro) is – for all intents and purposes – the only method to pay bills and get salaries paid. You will be issued electronic banking credentials, which can be used to execute most daily banking tasks including giro payments. Many vendors offer "electronic bills" (e-lasku, e-räkning), which sends the bill directly to your user account at the bank for approval, and you can also have the bank pay the bill automatically at a specified date, useful for e.g. rent. Banking credentials also serve as identity checks for e.g. insurance or government electronic services.
As a rule, tipping is entirely optional and never necessary in Finland and restaurant bills already include service charges. Indeed tipping is almost unheard of outside restaurants with table service and taxi fares; the latter are occasionally rounded up to the next convenient number. Cloakrooms (narikka) in nightclubs and better restaurants often have non-negotiable fees (usually clearly signposted, €2 is standard), and – in the few hotels that employ them – hotel porters will expect around the same per bag. Bar patrons may tip the bouncer when leaving for satisfactory service in the establishment in general. Consequently tips are most often pooled. Bars often have a brass tippikello (tip bell) near the counter. Upon receiving a tip, the service person strikes it with the largest denomination of coin given in the tip.
Tipping government and municipality personnel for any service will not be accepted, as it could be considered a bribe.
The inflation in 2022 is close to 10% (from close to zero previous years), which means that some prices might have gone up significantly. Check current situation before relying on price estimates.
Declared the world's most expensive country in 1990, prices have since abated somewhat but are still steep by most standards, though somewhat cheaper than Norway; Norwegians living near the border often drive into Finland to purchase groceries. Rock-bottom travelling if staying in hostel dorms and self-catering costs at least €25/day and it's safer to assume double that amount. Groceries in Finland cost approximately 20% over the EU average. The cheapest hotels cost about €50 per night (without breakfast) and more regular hotels start from about €80–100. Instead of hotels or hostels, look for holiday cottages, especially when travelling in a group and off-season; you can find a full-equipped cottage for €10–15 per person a night. Camp-sites typically cost €10–20 per tent or caravan, plus about €5/2 per person.
Museums and tourist attractions have an entrance fee in the range of €5–25. Using public transport costs a few euros per day and depends on the city. One-way travel between major cities by train or by bus costs €20–100, depending on the distance. Children, by varying definitions, often pay about half price or less (small children free), except at children's attractions.
A VAT of 24 % is charged for nearly everything (the main exception being food at 14 %), but by law this must be included in the displayed price. Non-EU residents can get a tax refund for purchases not intended for local use above €40 at participating outlets, just look for the Tax-Free Shopping logo and check how to get the refund.
As you might expect given the general price level, souvenir shopping in Finland isn't exactly cheap. Traditional buys include Finnish puukko knives and handwoven ryijy rugs. For any Lappish handicrafts, look for the "Sámi Duodji" label that certifies it as authentic. Popular foods to try or to bring home to astonish your friends include every conceivable part of a reindeer, lye-soaked lutefisk (lipeäkala), and pine tar (terva) syrup. If you can't bring yourself to try terva on your pancakes, then you can also get soap scented with it in nearly any grocery or drug store. There are also candies with tar flavour, the most common being the Leijona Lakritsi candies.
Popular brands for modern (or timeless) Finnish design include Marimekko clothing, Iittala glass, Arabia ceramics (especially their Moomin mugs are a must), Kalevala Koru jewelry, Pentik interior design and, if you don't mind the shipping costs, Artek furniture by renowned architect and designer Alvar Aalto. Kids, and more than a few adults, love Moomin characters, which fill up souvenir store shelves.
Shopping hours are not regulated any more, and depend on the location, size and type of shop: it is best to check their websites for opening hours of the day. The most available are grocery stores, such as Sale, Alepa or K-Market, which usually are open 07:00–23:00, in some cases around the clock. Larger shops, shopping centres and department stores are generally open until 20:00 or 21:00 on weekdays and 18:00 on Saturdays and Sundays, often opening. Many shops open a bit late in Sunday mornings. For small and speciality shops, normal weekday opening hours are from 9:00 or later to 17:00 or 18:00, but most of them close early on Saturday and are closed entirely on Sundays, and in the countryside some may not even be open all weekdays. Shopping hours in Helsinki are the longest, with some department stores open around the clock. Shopping hours in the countryside and small cities are shorter, although most national chains keep the same hours throughout the country (except for 24 hr operations). During national holidays, almost all stores are closed, although some grocery stores may remain open. Finally, shops may operate longer than usual hours during the Christmas shopping season.
Convenience stores like the ubiquitous R-Kioski keep quite long hours, but still tend to be closed when you most need them. If in desperate need of basic supplies, fuel station convenience stores (Shell, Neste, Teboil, ABC!) are usually open on weekends and until late at night, and especially stores in ABC! stations commonly operate around the clock. Supermarkets in Helsinki's Asematunneli, underneath the Central Railway Station, are open until 22:00 every day of the year, except on Christmas Day (25 December).
When buying products in loose sale, such as often vegetables and fruits, in supermarkets you should usually put them on an nearby scale and push the button for the code shown adjacent to the price, to get a sticker for the cashier. Lidl is an exception, there the scale is at the cashier and handled by them.
For many packed groceries, there are several brands or variants, often with prices related to targeted consumers rather than quality. Check low and high shelves. Some offers require a consumer loyalty card, with a price for others given in the fine print.
For alcohol, see Drink below.
Most products need to be imported, and unfortunately this shows in the selection of goods and the pricing. It is not uncommon to see exactly the same product in different shops, at exactly the same price. When buying consumer electronics, one should be aware that the shelf life of products can be rather long, especially if the shop isn't specialised in consumer electronics. There is a risk of buying an overpriced product that has already been discontinued by the manufacturer or replaced with a newer model.
While shopkeepers may vehemently deny this to a foreigner, prices in smaller stores are by no means fixed. When buying hobby equipment, it is not uncommon to get 30% discount (hint: find the international price level from a web shop and print it out). In the kinds of shops where such ad hoc discounts are possible, you could at least ask for the price to be rounded down some 5%, or to get some lesser product included. This is not like the bargaining in some other countries – you should mostly ask for the price you hope to get, or just suggest you'd appreciate a reduced price.
Finnish cuisine is heavily influenced by its neighbours (see Nordic cuisine and Russian cuisine), the main staples being potatoes and bread with various fish and meat dishes on the side. Dairy products are also important, with a wide variety of cheeses, and milk a common beverage even for adults. Due to the harsh climate, spices in Finland were historically largely limited to salt and pepper, with lashings of dill in the summer. While traditional Finnish food is famously bland, there was a culinary revolution in the 1990s, with a boom in classy restaurants experimenting with local ingredients, often with excellent results. Contemporary Finnish cuisine includes tastes and influences from all over the world, and the dining scene in larger cities has become quite cosmopolitan.
As the ingredients make much of the food, in Finland, the agricultural products might suffer of the cold climate, which requires many of them to be imported or grown with little natural light off season. Yet in summer, many products benefit from the nearly eternal sunlight. The fish, while small in size and rare in occurrence, are tasty. Salmon in shops and on markets in Finland is often imported from Norway. When travelling in the middle of the Finland, there is a rare occasion to purchase freshly caught and prepared fish from one of the thousand lakes.
In working days locals typically eat a substantial breakfast, lunch (at a workplace cafeteria, a nearby restaurant, or packed), dinner after work, and a light evening meal before going to bed. If eating the dinner out, it is eaten later and the evening meal skipped. In weekends lunch and dinner are often combined. Full board lodging may include the evening meal, sometimes as a basket to eat at your room or in communal areas.
In proper hotels the included breakfast is extensive. In other lodgings, if breakfast is included, it is usually sufficient to keep you going until a late lunch. It at least includes bread with toppings and coffee or tea, often also other fare. In some "B&B"s breakfast isn't included, but must be ordered separately and might be self-service.
With tens of thousands of lakes and a long coastline, fish is a Finnish staple, and there's a lot more on that menu than just salmon (lohi/lax). Specialities include:
- Baltic herring (silakka/strömming), a small, fatty and quite tasty fish available coal roasted (hiilisilakka), pickled, marinated, smoked, grilled, and in countless other varieties.
- Gravlax (graavilohi), a pan-Scandinavian appetiser of raw salted salmon.
- Smoked salmon (savulohi/rökt lax), not just the cold, thinly sliced, semi-raw kind (which seldom really is smoked nowadays) but also fully cooked warm-smoked salmon.
- Vendace (muikku), a delicacy from the lakeland Finland. A small fish served rolled in a mix of breadcrumb flour and salt, and fried in butter till crunchy. They are traditionally served with mashed potatoes, and you will find them sold at most music festivals and open air market events. The local variety of vendace living in the lakes of Koillismaa highlands – the Kitkan viisas– enjoy the protected designation of origin (PDO) status in the European Union.
Other local fish to look out for include: zander (kuha/gös), an expensive delicacy, pike (hauki/gädda), flounder (kampela/flundra) and perch (ahven/abborre).
If you're in Finland around September–October, keep an eye out for the Herring Fair (silakkamarkkinat/strömmingsmarknad), celebrated in most larger coastal cities. Other than just fish products there are plenty of other delicacies, handicraft and general market fare for sale in such markets.
- Karelian stew or Karelian hot pot (karjalanpaisti), a heavy stew made from large chops of beef and pork (and optionally, lamb), carrots, and onions. Baked for hours and hours and finally served with potatoes this is an iconic dish, which is unfortunately difficult to find unless made for that special occasion. A version made using shortcuts is common at cafeterias.
- Liver casserole (maksalaatikko/leverlåda), consisting of chopped liver, rice and raisins cooked in an oven. It tastes rather different from what you'd expect — eerily sweet and not liver-y at all. You won't find liver casserole at restaurants, but from any grocery store, as it is one of the most popular convenience foods.
- Sausages (makkara/korv) come in countless varieties and are affectionately called "the Finnish man's vegetable", since the actual meat content may be rather low. Particularly iconic is loop sausage (lenkkimakkara), a large, mildly flavoured, U-shaped sausage; best when grilled, topped with a dab of sweet Finnish mustard (sinappi), and washed down with beer after a sauna.
- Meat balls (lihapullat, lihapyörykät/köttbullar) are as popular and tasty as in the neighbouring Sweden.
- Reindeer (poro) dishes aren't part of the everyday Finnish diet, but a tourist staple, easily available in the Lapland and Kuusamo regions. Especially famous is the sautéed reindeer shavings (poronkäristys), served with mashed potato and lingonberries. In addition to poronkäristys also an air dried reindeer jerky (poron kuivaliha) is a known delicacy hard to come by. Looking scary it has an intensive and salty taste. Slightly smoked reindeer beef cutlets are available at all supermarkets though they too are expensive (delicious with rye bread). Both the Lapland reindeer jerky and the Lapland smoked reindeer enjoy the protected designation of origin (PDO) status in the European Union.
- Swedish hash (pyttipannu, Swedish: pytt i panna), originally from Sweden. A hearty dish of chopped potatoes, chopped onions and any meaty leftovers on hand. Fried up in a pan and topped with an egg. Available from many grill kiosks.
Cheese and other milk products are very popular in Finland. Large quantities of cheese (juusto/ost) are consumed, much of it locally produced mild to medium matured. Imported cheeses are freely available and local farm cheeses can be sampled and purchased at open air markets (tori/torg) and year round market halls. A flat, fried "bread-cheese" (leipäjuusto) can be eaten cold in a salad or slightly softened and with (cloudberry) jam as a dessert. A baked egg cheese (munajuusto) block is a common delicacy made with milk, buttermilk, and egg. The most common and popular varieties are mild hard cheeses like Edam and Emmental, but local specialities include:
- Aura cheese (aurajuusto/auraost), a local variety of Roquefort blue cheese, also used in soups, sauces; one of the most popular pizza toppings.
- Breadcheese (leipäjuusto or juustoleipä, depending on local dialect), a type of very mild-flavoured grilled curd that squeaks when you eat it, best enjoyed warm with a dab of cloudberry jam. Breadcheese is an Ostrobothnia-Lapland speciality, which is readily available in any grocery store though.
- Home cheese (kotijuusto), a white, crumbly mass from which pieces are cut. Commonly available in buffet restaurants, especially during the Christmas season.
Fermented dairy products help stabilise the digestion system, so if your system is upset, give them a try:
- Piimä (surmjölk), a type of buttermilk beverage, thick and sour and contains naturally healthy lactic acid bacteria; nowadays some are often explicitly added ("AB").
- Viili (fil, filbunke), a type of curd, acts like super-stretchy liquid bubble gum but is similar to plain yoghurt in taste. It is traditionally eaten with cinnamon and sugar on top.
Yoghurt (jugurtti), often premixed with jam, is commonly eaten. Skyr, a cultured milk product originally from Iceland, has become a popular yogurt substitute. Kefir, a Russian yoghurt drink, is available in many flavours.
- Pea soup (hernekeitto/ärtsoppa) — usually but not always with ham; vegetarian versions usually with cubed carrot. Traditionally eaten with a dab of mustard and some chopped onion, and served on Thursdays with a piece of pancake as a dessert. Just watch out for the flatulence! The Finnish pea soup is greener by colour and much thicker than its Swedish counterpart. Found in canned version in every single grocery store in Finland (the thick mass in the can will liquefy when heated, but usually about half a can of water is added).
- Karelian pie (karjalanpiirakka) — an oval 7 by 10 cm baked pastry, traditionally baked with rye flour, containing rice porridge or mashed potato, ideally eaten topped with a mixture of butter and chopped egg (munavoi). Only pies that use traditional methods can use the proper name, but you may find imitations sold as riisipiirakka ("rice pie") or perunapiirakka ("potato pie") etc.
- Porridge (puuro/gröt), usually made from oats (kaura), barley (ohra), rice (riisi), wheat (in this context: manna) or rye (ruis). Finnish oat porridge (kaurapuuro), a very common dish for breakfast, is typically made with water (although milk is common in Finland Proper) and topped with berries or a pat of salty butter. Sour rye porridge with lingonberries (ruis-puolukkapuuro) is a traditional lunch meal in Finnish schools.
Bread (leipä/bröd) is served with every meal in Finland, and comes in a vast array of varieties. Different types of rye bread (ruisleipä, rågbröd) are the most popular breads in Finland. It can be up to 100% rye, and traditionally mostly sour-dough bread, much darker, heavier, and chewier than American-style mixed wheat-rye bread. Most traditional Finnish types of rye bread are unsweetened and thus sour or even bitter, although Swedish-like varieties sweetened with malt are also widely available.
Typically Finnish breads include:
- reikäleipä (hålkaka), a round, flat rye bread with a hole in the middle. Typical in western Finland. The hole was for drying it on sticks by the ceiling. Ones made just from rye flour, water and salt are still widely available.
- ruispala, the most popular type of bread, a modern "unholed", single-serving, pre-cut variant of reikäleipä. Circular Reissumies ("Traveller") bread is particularly popular and, fittingly, a takeaway staple at cafes and kiosks.
- hapankorppu (surskorpa), a dry, crispy, and slightly sour flatbread, occasionally sold overseas as "Finncrisp".
- näkkileipä, dried, crispy flatbread, traditionally from rye. Thicker and more foam-like than hapankorppu.
- ruislimppu (råglimpa), traditionally made of rye, water, and salt only. Limppu is a catch-all term for big loaves of fresh bread.
- perunalimppu (potatislimpa), rye bread with potato and malt. Quite sweet
- svartbröd (mustaleipä) and skärgårdslimpa (saaristolaisleipä) are sweet, firm, and heavy black breads from the Swedish-speaking south-western archipelago (svartbröd especially from Åland). These are made through a complicated process. Originally this type of breads were baked for long fishing and hunting expeditions, and for seafarers. Excellent as a base for eating roe with smetana or as a side with salmon soup.
- Malaxlimpa (Maalahden limppu), a somewhat similar archipelago bread from the Swedish-speaking Ostrobothnian coast.
- piimälimppu, wheat bread with buttermilk. Usually sweetened
- rieska, an unleavened bread made of barley or sometimes mashed potatoes. Like a softer and thicker variant of a tortilla. Eaten fresh. Typical for the Ostrobothnia-Lapland area
Attack of the killer mushrooms
The false morel (korvasieni, stenmurkla) has occasionally been dubbed as the "Finnish fugu", as like the infamous Japanese pufferfish, an improperly prepared false morel dish actually can kill you. Fortunately, the mushroom is easily rendered safe by boiling with the right ceremonies (you should get instructions when you buy it – and do not breathe in the fumes!). Prepared mushrooms can be found in gourmet restaurants and even canned in grocery stores.
Around Easter keep an eye out for mämmi (memma), a type of brown sweet rye and malt pudding. It looks famously unpleasant but actually tastes quite good (best eaten with creamy milk and sugar). A sweet speciality for May Day is tippaleipä (struva), a palm sized funnel cake traditionally enjoyed with mead. The Runeberg torte (Runebergintorttu, Runebergstårta) is a cylindrical pastry with a patch of jam surrounded by a ring of sugar paste on top. It is a strictly seasonal pastry available only during a few weeks in February, close to the Finland's national poet J.L. Runeberg's Day.
At the Fat Tuesday lunch restaurants all over the country serve pea soup with a pancake and jam as a traditional meal, as it is. This is also the season for the laskiaispulla/fastlagsbulle, a bun filled with whipped cream and either jam or almond paste (don't serve the wrong version to anybody!); some serve it with hot milk.
During the Midsummer celebration in late June it is common to serve the first potatoes of that years' harvest with herring. From the end of July until September it's worthwhile to ask for crayfish (rapu/kräfta) menus and prices at better restaurants. It's not cheap, you won't get full from the crayfish alone, and there are many rituals involved, most of which involve large quantities of ice-cold vodka, but it should be tried at least once.
Around Christmas, a baked Christmas ham (joulukinkku/julskinka) is the traditional star of the dinner table, with a constellation of casseroles around it. Some restaurants serve Christmas buffets for some days before the holiday.
During the winter months, blinis are often available in restaurants. These are small, soft, pancakes of Russian origin, eaten with fish roe, sour cream and onion. Another popular Russian delicacy is paskha (pasha), a sweet but sour-ish quark-based dessert, easy to find in grocery stores during Easter.
There are also regional specialities, including:
- Savonia's kalakukko — a bread-like rye pie filled with small whole fish (often vendace). The pie is baked slow and low so that even the fish bones become soft and edible. Has Traditional Specialities Guaranteed (TSG) status in the European union.
- Tampere's black sausage (mustamakkara) — a blood sausage canonically served with lingonberry jam and a pint of cold milk.
Grill kiosks (see below) also like to put their local spin on things, ranging from Lappeenranta's vety and atomi ("hydrogen" and "atom"), meat pies with ham and fried eggs inside, to Lahti's spectacularly unappetising lihamuki ("meat mug"), a disposable soda cup filled with the cheapest grade of kebab meat, your choice of sauce, and nothing else.
For dessert or just as a snack, Finnish pastries abound and are often taken with coffee (see Drink) after a meal. Look for cardamom coffee bread (pulla/bulla), a wide variety of tarts (torttu), and donuts. Traditional Finnish deep-fried doughnuts, which are commonly available at cafés, come in two varieties: munkki, which is a deep-fried bun, and munkkipossu, which is flat and roughly rectangular; both contain sweet jam. A slice of giant oven pancake ((uuni)pannukakku) is a common accompaniment to pea soup on Thursdays.
In summer, a wide range of fresh berries are available, including the delectable but expensive cloudberry (Finnish: lakka/hilla/muurain/valokki, depending on location; Swedish:hjortron, Sámi: luomi), and a number of wild berry products are available throughout the year as jam (hillo/sylt), soup (keitto/soppa), candy (makeinen/godis), and a type of a gooey, clear pudding known as kiisseli (kräm).
Finnish chocolate is also rather good, with Fazer products including their iconic Sininen ("Blue") bar and Geisha candies exported around the world. A Finnish speciality is the wide use of licorice (lakritsi/lakrits). The Finns are particularly craving for the strong salty liquorice (salmiakki/salmiak) which gets its unique (and acquired, be warned) taste from ammonium chloride.
After a meal it's common to chomp chewing gum (purukumi/tuggummi) including xylitol, which is good for dental health. Jenkki is a popular domestic brand. Many flavours are available.
Places to eat
Finns tend to eat out only on special occasions, and restaurant prices are correspondingly expensive. The one exception is lunchtime, when thanks to a government-sponsored lunch coupon system company cafeterias and nearly every restaurant in town offers set lunches (lounas/lunch) for the corresponding prices (2022: €8.20–11.30), usually consisting of a main course, salad bar, bread table and a drink. Cafés might offer a simpler meal with salad, soup, bread and coffee. University cafeterias, many of which are open to all, are particularly good value with meals in the €5.50–7.50 range (€3.20 for the main option for students with Finnish student ID). There are also public cafeterias in office areas that are open only during lunch hours on working days. While not particularly stylish and sometimes hard to find, those usually offer high-quality buffet lunch at a reasonable price. Any lunch eatery will have these offers M–F 11:00–14:00, while some have them e.g. 10:30–15:00, very few until dinner time, and very few in weekends. There are some websites which list lunch offers for the day for several restaurants of a particular city, for example Lounasmenu. You can find many of them by searching with the word lounaslistat (lunch lists).
For dinner, you'll be limited to generic fast food (pizza, hamburgers, kebabs and such) in the €5–10 range, or you'll often have to splurge over €20 for a meal in a "nice" restaurant. For eating on the move, look for grill kiosks (grilli), which serve sausages, hamburgers and other portable if not terribly health-conscious fare late into the night at reasonable prices. In addition to the usual hamburgers and hot dogs, look for meat pies (lihapiirakka/köttpirog), akin to a giant savoury doughnut stuffed with minced meat and your choice of sausage, fried eggs and condiments. Hesburger is the local fast-food equivalent of McDonald's, with a similar menu. Also most international fast food chains are present. The grills and hamburger chains may offer "Finnish" interpretations of some dishes, such as reindeer burgers in Lapland, or substituting sandwich buns with a sour-rye bun on request. Also pizzas are sometimes offered with similar twists.
The Finnish word for buffet is seisova pöytä ("standing table"), and while increasingly used to refer to budget all-you-can-eat restaurants, the traditional meaning is akin to Sweden's smörgåsbord: a good-sized selection of sandwiches, fish, meats and pastries. It's traditionally eaten in three rounds: first the fish, then the cold meats, and finally warm dishes — and it's usually the first that is the star of the show. Though expensive and not very common in a restaurant setting, if you are fortunate enough to be formally invited to a Finn's home, they might have prepared a spread for their guests, along with plenty of coffee. Breakfast at better hotels is also along these lines and it's easy to eat enough to cover lunch as well!
If you're really on a budget, you can save a considerable amount of money by self-catering. Ready-to-eat casseroles and other basic fare that can be quickly prepared in a microwave can be bought for a few euros in any supermarket. Note that you're usually expected to weigh and label any fruits or vegetables yourself (bag it, place it on the scale and press the numbered button; the correct number can be found from the price sign), and green signs mean possibly tastier but certainly more expensive organic (luomu/ekologisk) produce. Many shops tag produce at or near the "best before" date for a discount of 30% or so, often doubled in the late evening.
At restaurants, despite the high prices, portions tend to be quite small, at least when compared to USA and Canada, and even many European countries. Finns are used to eating a substantial breakfast (included in the price of hotels and some other lodgings) and lunch, so the dinner doesn't need to be very heavy, and can be two- or single-course. Dinner is eaten rather early, sometimes as early as 16:00, but usually at 17:00 or 18:00.
Most restaurants try to cater also to families with children, some making a greater effort than others. There is often a children's menu, typically meatballs, chicken nuggets and simple pastas, although some offer the option of a child size portion from the normal menu to a reduced price.
In small towns, you might want to check accommodations and fuel stations. Any proper hotel has a restaurant of some sort, and also places such as marinas may be focal points for locals going out. Some accommodations in the countryside have catering, workplace getaways and family celebrations as their main business, and if they offer food, the meal can be a pleasant experience, often different from the standard restaurant fare. Other countryside cafés often go on the burger/schnitzel line.
Traditional Finnish cuisine relies heavily on meat and fish, but vegetarianism (kasvissyönti/vegetarianism) is increasingly popular and well-understood, and will rarely pose a problem for travellers. Practically all restaurants offer vegetarian options, often marked with a "V" on menus. Take note that egg (kananmuna or muna/ägg) is found in many prepared foods, ready meals and baked goods, so vegan meals are not common outside selected restaurants, but the selection of raw ingredients, speciality grains and health foods is adequate for preparing your own. Likewise gelatine (liivate) in yoghurt, jellies and sweets is common. Both will always be indicated on labels.
Two ailments most commonly found among Finns themselves are lactose intolerance (laktoosi-intoleranssi, inability to digest the milk sugar lactose) and coeliac disease (keliakia/celiaki, inability to digest gluten). In restaurants, lactose-free selections are often tagged "L". Low-lactose products are sometimes called "Hyla" or marked with "VL". (Notice that low-lactose VL has nothing to do with vegetarian V.) The gluten-free options are marked with "G". However, hydrolysed lactose (EILA, or HYLA brand) milk or lactose-free milk drink for the lactose intolerant is widely available, which also means that a lactose-free dish is not necessarily milk-free. Allergies are quite common among Finnish people, too, so restaurant workers are usually quite knowledgeable on what goes into each dish and often it is possible to get the dish without certain ingredients if specified.
Kosher and halal food are rare in Finland and generally not available outside very limited speciality shops and restaurants catering to the tiny Jewish and Islamic communities. Watch out for minced meat dishes like meatballs, which very commonly use a mix of beef and pork. The Jewish Community of Helsinki runs a small kosher deli in Helsinki.
A range of ingredients that have more common allergies and dietary restrictions associated with them may be printed in bold text in the list of ingredients (ainekset or ainesosat/ingredienser) on all packaged goods, at restaurants and markets you will have to ask. A problem when self-catering is that lots of products contain traces of allergens (e.g. most chocolate will have traces of nuts, most oats traces of gluten etc.), which means you might have to buy expensive food items specifically for those with your diet. The Swedish version of the list may be easier for an English-speaker, but check the names of foodstuff you want to avoid.
Thanks to its thousands of lakes, Finland has plenty of water supplies and tap water is always potable – except on trains and the like, where this is clearly indicated. In fact, never buy bottled water if you can get tap water! The usual soft drinks and juices are widely available, but there is also a wide array of berry juices (marjamehu), especially in summer, as well as Pommac, an unusual soda made from (according to the label) "mixed fruits", which you'll either love or hate. Juice from many berries is to be mixed with water, also when not bought as concentrate; sugar is often already added. Note the difference between mehu (juice) and mehujuoma (saftdryck), where the latter may have only traces of the nominal ingredient.
Coffee and tea
Finns are the world's heaviest coffee (kahvi/kaffe) drinkers, averaging 3–4 cups per day. Most Finns drink it strong and black, but sugar and milk for coffee are always available and variants such as espresso and cappuccino are becoming all the more common especially in the bigger cities. All the biggest towns have had French-style fancy cafés for quite some time and modern competitors, like Wayne's, Robert's Coffee or Espresso House, are springing up in the mix. Most cafés close early. For a quick caffeine fix, you can just pop into any convenience store, which will pour you a cuppa for €2 or so. Tea hasn't quite caught on in quite the same way, although finding hot water and a bag of Lipton Yellow Label won't be a problem. For brewed tea, check out some of the finer cafés or tea rooms in the city centres.
Finnish coffee, however, is prepared usually using filters ("sumppi"), producing rather mild substance. Finding a strong high pressure espresso might be an issue somewhere, but tasting the smooth flavour of mocca blend is something to try about. Discussing the preparation mechanics of coffee with Finns is not such a bad idea, generally they are open for new ideas and tastes. The more traditional option for the filtered coffee in Finland is the Eastern style "mud coffee". In that preparation the grounded coffee beans are boiled in a large pot. Before serving, the grounded coffee is let to calm down, before serving the smooth flavoured coffee on the top. Today, one might not be able to find this kind of "pannukahvi" in finer cafés (in big cities), but they are largely available pretty much anywhere else. You can even purchase special grounded coffee in most of the supermarkets for that purpose (it is not that fine-grounded like normal filter coffee let alone like espresso). It is specially tasty with cream, rather than milk.
In Finland it is quite common for people of all ages to drink milk (maito, mjölk) as an accompaniment to food. It is absolutely normal to see businessmen having a lunch and drinking milk. Another popular option is piimä (buttermilk, Swedish: surmjölk).
Alcohol is very expensive in Finland compared to most countries (though not to its Nordic neighbours Sweden and Norway). A single beer will cost you about €5–6 in any bar or pub, or over €1 in a supermarket. While beer and cider are available in any supermarket or convenience store – between 09:00 and 21:00 – the state monopoly Alko is where to go for wine or anything stronger.
Despite the unusually high cost of booze, Finnish people are well known to drink heavily at parties and many Swedish-speaking share the Swedish culture of drinking songs. The legal drinking age is 18 for milder drinks, while to buy or carry spirits you need to be 20. Providing alcohol to somebody underage is a crime (this includes parents letting their children have a taste, and many do comply). Bars and restaurants are allowed to serve all alcohols to customers over 18 within their premises. ID is usually requested from all young-looking clients (nowadays all looking to be under 30). The age limit of 18 applies also to entering nightclubs and other premises where serving alcohol is central, and many of them maintain higher age requirements of their own (sometimes flexible, such as at quiet times or towards customers seen as attractive).
While Finnish people tend to stick to individual bills in the bar, when you get with them into the summer cottage, things usually turn the other way around and everyone enjoys together what there is on the table. Abstaining from alcohol is socially acceptable and alcohol-free drinks are increasingly popular.
The national drink is not Finlandia Vodka, a brand invented for export, but Koskenkorva viina (or just Kossu in common speech). Kossu has 38% ABV while Finlandia has 40%, and Kossu also has a small amount of added sugar, which makes the two drinks taste somewhat different. There are also many other vodkas (viina) on the market, most of which taste pretty much the same. As a rule of thumb: products with word vodka in their name are completely without added sugar while products called viina have some.
A uniquely Finnish speciality is Salmiakki Koskenkorva (Salmari), prepared by mixing in salty licorice, whose taste masks the alcohol behind it fearfully well. Add in some Fisherman's Friend menthol cough drops to get Fisu ("Fish") shots, which are even more lethal. In-the-know hipsters opt for Pantteri ("Panther"), which is half and half Salmari and Fisu. Other famous classics are Jaloviina (Jallu in everyday speech), a mixture of vodka and brandy, popular especially among university students, and Tervasnapsi ("tar schnapps") with a distinctive smoky aroma. Both Salmari and Tervasnapsi are strongly acquired tastes and the Finns enjoy seeing how foreigners react to them. Marskin Ryyppy is a spiced vodka which was the favourite schnapps of the marshal and president of Finland C.G.E. Mannerheim. Marskin Ryyppy should be served ice cold in a glass which is poured as full as ever possible. Spilling the schnapps is, of course, forbidden.
Beer (olut or more softly kalja; Swedish: öl) is very popular. Finnish beers used to be nearly identical mild lagers, but import and the microbrewery trend has forced also the big players to experiment with different types. Big brands are Lapin Kulta, Karjala, Olvi, Koff and Karhu. Pay attention to the label when buying: beers branded "I" are inexpensive due to their low alcohol content (and thus: low tax), while "III" and "IV" are stronger and more expensive. The Finnish standard is "III beer" with 4.5–4.7% ABV. In grocery stores you will not find any drinks with more than 5.5% alcohol. You may also encounter kvass or kotikalja (literally "home beer"), a dark brown beer-like but very low-alcohol beverage. Kotikalja is popular especially at Christmas time but may be served around the year (cf the Swedish julmust and svagdricka). Imported beers are available in bigger grocery stores, most pubs and bars, and Czech beers in particular are popular and only slightly more expensive than local ones. Some microbreweries (Laitila, Stadin panimo, Nokian panimo etc) are gaining foothold with their domestic dark lagers, wheat beers and ales.
Sahti is type of unfiltered, usually strong, top-fermented beer. Traditionally it is brewed without hops but is flavoured with juniper instead. Commercially available sahti is usually around 8% ABV and therefore available in Alko stores only. Sahti is often considered as an acquired taste. Some villages in Häme and Satakunta provinces have a prominent sahti tradition.
A modern development (from the 1980s?) is ciders (siideri, Swedish: cider). Most of these are artificially flavoured sweet concoctions which are quite different from the English or French kinds, although the more authentic varieties are gaining market share. The ever-popular gin long drink or lonkero ("tentacle"), a pre-bottled mix of gin and grapefruit soda, tastes better than it sounds and has the additional useful property of glowing under ultraviolet light. At up to 610 kcal/litre it also allows to skip dinner, leaving more time for drinking.
During the winter, do not miss glögi (Swedish: glögg), a type of spiced mulled wine most often served with almonds and raisins. Although it was originally made of old wine the bottled stuff in grocery stores is usually alcohol free and Finns will very often mix in some wine or spirits. In restaurants, glögi is served either alcohol-free, or with 4 cl vodka added. Fresh, hot glögi can, for example, be found at the Christmas markets and somewhat every bar and restaurant during the season.
Finnish wines are made of cultivated or natural berries instead of grapes. The ones made of blackcurrant form a fruity alternative for grape wines. Elysee No 1 is a fairly popular sparkling wine made of white currant. Alko stores have quite an impressive selection of foreign wines, and these are much more commonly drunk than their few domestic rivals. Due to Alko's volumes and to taxes being on the alcohol content, not price, premium wines are actually relatively cheap in Finland. The largest selection is in the range €10–15/bottle.
Quite a few unusual liquors (likööri) made from berries are available, although they're uniformly very sweet and usually served with dessert. Cloudberry liquor (lakkalikööri) is worth a shot even if you don't like the berries fresh.
Home-made spirits (pontikka, Swedish: hembränt): you have been warned! More common in rural areas. It is illegal and frequently distilled on modified water purification plants – which are subject to import control laws nowadays – anecdotal evidence suggests that those are occasionally played as a prank on unsuspecting foreigners. Politely decline the offer, especially if still sober. Kilju refers to sugar wine, a fermented mix of sugar and water with an ABV comparable to fortified wine (15–17%). Manufacturing this for one's own use is legal (as is "homewine", basically the same thing but with fruits or berries added), selling isn't.
Finally, there is traditional beverage worth looking for: the mead (sima, Swedish: mjöd). Sima is an age-old wine-like sweet brew nowadays usually made from brown sugar, lemon and yeast and consumed particularly around Mayday (Vappu). If you are lucky you might encounter some varieties of sima such as one spiced with meadow-sweet. Try them!
Accommodation in Finland is expensive, with typical hotel rooms about €100/night or more. Many large hotels are cheaper during the weekends and in summer. Foreign hotel chains are rare outside the capital; most of the hotels are run either by locals or by some domestic brand. So do not expect to accumulate your points when staying anywhere but in major cities. More or less national hotel chains include Scandic, Finlandia and Sokos. The Omena chain offers self-service hotels, where you book online and get a keycode for your room, with no check-in of any kind needed (and little service available). If you insist on a five-star hotel, the rating is up to the individual hotelier.
When searching for budget options – and outside cities – check whether breakfast and linen are included, they are in regular hotels, but not in many budget options. Extras, such as sauna, are sometimes included also in cheap prices, and virtually all accommodations (except remote cottages) nowadays have free Wi-Fi.
Bed and breakfast is not well-known in Finland. In the countryside there are lodgings that are similar, or use the term, but neither does guarantee any specifics. They are often nice, and might be your only option, but check what to expect, such as whether breakfast is included or you are supposed to self-cater. Some B&Bs border to agritourism. Some offer dinner on advance request.
One of the few ways to not spend too much is to stay in youth hostels (retkeilymaja/vandrarhem or hostelli), as the Hostelling International has a fairly comprehensive network in the cities, and a dorm bed usually costs less than €20 per night. Many hostels also have private rooms for as little as €30, which are a great deal if you want a little extra privacy.
There are also camping grounds all around the country. Typical prices are €10–20 per tent or caravan + €4–6/€2 per person, although there are some more expensive locations. A discount card may be worthwhile. Night temperatures are seldom an issue in season (typically 5–15°C, although freezing temperatures are possible also in midsummer, at least in Lapland). Most campsites are closed off season, unless they have cottages adequate for winter use.
An even cheaper option is to take advantage of Finland's right to access, or "Every Man's Right" (jokamiehenoikeus/allemansrätten), which allows wild camping. Keep out of sight, don't disturb wildlife, stay for at most two nights, make no campfires and leave no trace. A berry picker finding you is no issue, but they shouldn't have been alarmed by noise, and your campsite should be tidy. In Åland the right to access is somewhat more limited than on the mainland. Note that making an open fire always requires landowner's permission and is never allowed during wildfire warnings, which are common in summer. Also, near cities wild camping isn't expected, other than along hiking routes (where there may be designated free sites). Going for multi-day hikes in the north, there are usually free Spartan "open wilderness huts" (autiotupa), see below.
Virtually every lodging in Finland includes a sauna for guests — don't miss it! Check operating hours though, as they're often only heated in the evenings and there may be separate shifts of men and women. In hotels there is often a free "morning sauna", while sauna in the evening may have to be booked and paid.
For a taste of the Finnish countryside, an excellent option is to stay at a cottage or cabin (Finnish: mökki; Swedish: stuga, Ostrobothnia: villa), thousands of which dot the lake and sea shores. These are generally best in summer (and many are closed in winter), but there are also many cottages around Lapland's ski resorts. In fact, at some localities hiring a cabin is not just the cheapest but perhaps the only option. Usually, cottages are clean and nice, but as the Finns themselves are mostly fairly happy with minimal services, there may be confusingly few available. When making the reservation, check carefully what will be included or otherwise provided. Cleaning after the stay is usually required, sometimes available for a fee. Linen likewise not included but sometimes available.
While all but the most basic cottages will have electricity, it is very common for them to lack running water! Also, the cottage might have a shared toilet, either a standard one in a service building or an outhouse dry toilet. You are probably expected to use a shared shower or a sauna for cleaning yourself. Saunas at cottages are often heated with wood; you should probably ask for instructions unless the hosts take care of heating and drying. At campsites and in "cottage villages" the sauna is usually heated daily or weekly, with separate shifts for men and women, and an opportunity to book it for yourselves at other times. Some cottages may have their own saunas, and any cottage not at a campsite or in a "cottage village" will.
Into the 1990s most cottages for rent were cottages built for private use, and although facilities were very basic, they were fairly roomy. Some of these are former farm houses, with kitchen serving as living room (perhaps also with beds), a bedroom, and possibly other rooms. Other ones were built as cottages, with combined kitchen and living room plus one or two minimal bedrooms being fairly common. Small outhouses built as guest rooms for summer use are also quite common. As these houses and cottages were built for private use in the countryside, by a single family, they are often off the beaten path, and the host may live at a distance, visiting only as needed.
In later years private cottages have got increasingly good facilities, with electricity and running water ubiquitous in new and installed in many older ones (although many Finns like going back to basics, and refuse any of this). These may be available for rent when not in use by the owners. On the other hand many cottages are built for paying guests, and these are often minimal – 6 m² for two persons is not uncommon – unless targeted at the luxury market. Usually these cottages are arranged in groups to ease administration and service, sometimes with just enough spacing to provide privacy, sometimes in a row near the parking and the shared facilities. There may be a few cottages a bit farther, perhaps built earlier, for those who want more space and privacy. Shared facilities typically include kitchen (often with a minimal kitchenette in the cabin), water toilet, showers, sauna, and perhaps a café and kiosk. There may be a rowing boat, some kind of playground and similar activity infrastructure. Most have some kind of jetty or beach for swimming and cooling down after sauna sessions. Some are a focal point also for locals, perhaps with a bar and live music on Saturday nights.
Cottages for use in winter and shoulder season are larger, as thermal insulation and heating get relatively more economic by size, and indoor facilities are more important in autumn and winter. They may be the old kind (see above), or built at skiing resorts or as base for fishing or hunting. Some are former wilderness huts (for use by the public or the border guard), remote enough that their maintenance for public use was deemed uneconomical. All these cottages are of course available also in summer.
Prices vary widely based on facilities, location, season and random factors: simple cottages with beds and cooking facilities can go for as little as €20/night, although €40–80 is more typical. There are also expensive big and even fairly luxurious ones costing several hundred euros per night. The price at winter resorts may more than double when there is a winter holiday season in schools. Not all cottages are available for a single night, sometimes you need to stay at least two nights or a week. Renting a car or bike might be necessary since there might be no facilities (shops, restaurants, etc.) within walking distance (buses do not run too often in rural Finland). Decide whether you want to get a cottage far from people, close to an ordinary village, at a "cottage village" or some compromise. The largest cottage rental services are Lomarengas and Nettimökki, both of which have English interfaces. Cottages at campsites, in "cottage villages" and by a tourist business are often booked through their own website.
In national parks, wilderness areas, and by popular hiking routes, the Finnish Forest Administration (Metsähallitus/Forststyrelsen) maintains wilderness huts, especially in the north, most of them open and free to use for a day or two without fees by anybody coming independently by foot or ski (self-service, some serviced only biennially). Latecomers have an indisputable right to stay in the open huts, so if coming early you might want to put up your tent. There are also locked huts with reservable beds. These are all very Spartan, see Finnish National Parks#Sleep and Hiking in the Nordic countries#Sleep for what to expect.
Finland's universities are generally well-regarded and offer many exchange programmes. Although Finland is not one of the big study destinations, in relation to the local population there are quite some international students at most universities. Exchange programs are often in English, as are some advanced courses. While other lectures are usually conducted in Finnish (or Swedish as in Åbo Akademi or Novia), most advanced text books are in English. It is often possible to complete all courses through assignments and exams in English. Universities also offer the option to study Finnish (or Swedish) at various levels.
There are no tuition fees for regular degree students, including foreign degree students studying in Finnish or Swedish and exchange students, but tuition fees (in the range €8,000–15,000/year in 2019) were introduced in autumn 2017 for new non-EU/EEA students studying in English for a bachelor's or master's degree. A system with scholarships was also set up.
There are usually quite a lot of activities for students from abroad, arranged by the student unions and exchange student associations, including social activities and excursions to other parts of the country or other interesting destinations (Lapland, Tallinn, Stockholm and Saint Petersburg being typical), in additions to all the activities for students in general.
The Finnish higher education system follows the German model, which means there are two kinds of universities: academic (yliopisto/universitet) and vocational (ammattikorkeakoulu/yrkeshögskola, abbreviated AMK in Finnish; many of these were formerly known as polytechnics). Yliopisto students are expected to graduate with a master's degree. The university bachelor's degree is mainly meant as an intermediate step and isn't very useful for much else. For foreigners, there are some master's programs in English. AMK students are expected to graduate as bachelors and enter the workforce directly. An AMK bachelor does not directly qualify for academic master's programs; if accepted, about a year's worth of additional bridging studies are needed.
A reasonable monthly budget (including dorm housing) would be €700–1,000. Student union membership at around €100/year is obligatory for undergraduate studies. In exchange programs and similar housing may be arranged, but otherwise getting housing is the responsibility of the student. Housing is scarce when students arrive in autumn (or from when first-year students get to know they are accepted); there are waiting lists and some years emergency housing in shared rooms. All people from out of town are often prioritised, and coming from abroad you may be allowed to jump the queue. Many exchange programs fully or partly subsidise accommodation in student dorms.
Student housing is usually in locations owned by the student unions either directly or through foundations, and costs from about €250–400/month in a room with shared kitchen and bathroom to about €500–700/month for independent one-room apartments (also larger apartments are available, primarily for families). Rents on the private market vary depending on location such that in Greater Helsinki and particularly Helsinki proper prices may easily be two times that of cheaper locations or student housing. A couple of friends sharing a bigger apartment is quite common, but check how to write the contract to avoid pitfalls. If you are (counted as) a cohabiting couple, your partner's incomes will be taken into account in possible living grants, and in some configurations you may become responsible for unpaid rents etc.
Basic health care for domestic students (including AMK ones) is arranged by a foundation founded by the student unions. From 2021 the yearly fee is paid to Kela/Fpa instead of being included in the student union membership fee. The service is comparable to that at municipal health care centres, but also basic dentistry is included. Only regular degree students (for bachelor or master) in mainland Finland are served, not those studying in Åland, exchange students, or students of non-degree programs. Check details.
EU/EEA citizens can simply enter the country and register as a student after arrival (if accepted to some programme), while students from elsewhere will need to arrange their residence permit beforehand. CIMO (Centre for International Mobility) administers exchange programs and can arrange scholarships and traineeships in Finland, while the Finnish National Board of Education offers basic information about study opportunities.
Citizens of the European Union, the Nordic countries, Switzerland and Liechtenstein can work freely in Finland, but acquiring a work permit from other countries means doing battle with the infamous Finnish Immigration Service (Maahanmuuttovirasto). Generally, to get a work permit there needs to be a shortage of people in your profession. Students permitted to study full-time in Finland are allowed work part-time (up to 25 h/week, as long as they are able to succeed in their studies) or even full-time during holiday periods. If you have Finnish social security of some sort, check whether income above some level will affect it.
Finnish unionisation rate is high (70%), salaries are reasonably good even for simple jobs and employment laws are strict, but on the flipside, actually getting a job can be difficult – and living, and especially housing in the capital region, is expensive. There is little informal work to be found and some classes of jobs require at least a remedial level of Finnish and Swedish (although foreigners may be exempted from the requirement). Many jobs require recognised formal qualifications; an appropriate exam and work experience from abroad may not count. For some jobs you just need to pass a test, which may be easy for somebody in the field, and your to-be employer may help you. For other jobs you may need a year or so of additional studies to get the equivalent Finnish qualification.
In addition to the permit to work and any position-specific formal qualifications (or dispensation, e.g. regarding language requirements), you will need a bank account (to get your wage) and an "income tax card" (verokortti/skattekort) from the taxation authorities. To get these you probably need a Finnish social security number. To deal electronically with the authorities (which you will want to do), you need digital ID codes, usually the same that you use to administer your bank account.
Finland is known for the low intake of immigrants, compared to neighbouring countries. Still there are communities of foreigners from many countries in most university towns and in some more rural municipalities. In some trades professionals from abroad are quite common.
For jobs, you might want to check out the Ministry of Labour. Most of the posted jobs are described in Finnish so you may need some help in translation, but some jobs are in English. Publicly posted positions are usually highly competitive, and usually require both a degree or a professional qualification and specific work experience. Thus, informal channels or assistance from an experienced local are valuable. Directly contacting possible employers can turn up jobs not published anywhere. Seasonal work at resorts is often available, if you have the right attitude and skills, and make the contact early enough.
As locals generally speak good English, a position teaching English generally requires special qualifications; foreigners are not recruited for basic teaching, but in some scenarios. Most positions for foreigners are in private language schools for children and students, on adult ESP courses, in preschools and in a few international schools. For teacher's jobs in ordinary schools you need a locally recognised teacher's exam. The pupils are usually motivated. A public school teacher's salary is €2,600–4,300/month (including summer holiday, but temporary teachers may not get that). In comprehensive school expect about 20 hr/week in class and about the same of preparation and other related work, with overtime in class paid for, overtime for the rest usually not. As a foreign visitor you are unlikely to get a full time job, so an average of €1,200–2,000/month may be realistic. This can include private lessons for €10–30/hr.
A rapidly growing trend in Finland, especially for the younger generation, is to work for placement agencies. Although there has been a massive surge of public companies going private in the last ten years, this trend seems to be fuelled by the increased demand for more flexible work schedules as well as the freedom to work seasonally or sporadically. Due to the nature of these types of agencies as well as the types of work they provide, it is common for them to hire non-Finns. Some agencies include Adecco, Staff Point, Manpower, Aaltovoima and Biisoni.
For summer jobs, such as trainee positions for university students and summer jobs at hotels and cafés, the search begins very early, around January, and application periods end in late March. Last-minute positions opening in May are very few and quickly taken.
For Nordic youth (18–28/30) – or other EU/EEA citizens who know Swedish, Norwegian or Danish – there is the Nordjobb. Focusing on summer jobs as cultural exchange, it now offers also some other positions.
If you are invited to a job interview, remember that modesty is a virtue in Finland. Finns appreciate facts and directness, so stay on topic and be truthful. Exaggeration and bragging is usually associated with lying. You can check expected salaries with the union for your field; they usually have defined minimum wages – there is no national minimum wage except for these, but €10/hr, corresponding to €1640/month, has been suggested. Salaries range from €1,200 to €6,500 per month (2010) for most full-time jobs, the median being €3,000–€3,500. Fees for mandatory insurance, social security and pensions are shared between employer and employee and cannot be selected or managed by the employee (there may also be voluntary negotiable benefits). Also income taxes of about 30% (increasing by income level) is deducted from the nominal salaries. Full-time work is nominally 36–40 hr/week, with overtime and night work compensated for blue- and lower white-collar staff. The lunch break may or may not be included, depending on industry. Minors may not work overtime or in the night, those under 15 only reduced hours.
One category of informal work is berry picking, either on a farm or picking wild berries. To get such a job you mostly have to convince the employer you are going to work hard, harder than most Finns are willing to. Picking wild berries and selling them is exempted from tax and you are free to do the business yourself (like the locals), but you would probably do so only if wanting a fun way to get pocket money. If coming for the income you will have somebody arrange everything (including accommodation and transport) and you will be independent only formally (taking the economic risk: no wage, just somebody buying the berries; you might be able to prove a de facto employment, but only with a good lawyer). Working on a farm you will be formally employed: still low-paid piece work, but employment law applies.
You should always ask for a written employment contract. It is not compulsory, but no serious employer should object to giving you one; as somebody less acquainted to the Finnish job market you are more likely to get in contact with those not playing by the rules. Cash payment is usually not possible (too much trouble for the employer), so you will need a Finnish bank account. Unfortunately the willingness of different banks to issue them to foreigners varies. You may also need a Finnish social security number (henkilötunnus) from the local maistraatti (register office); see the register office website for information. For construction sites, a tax number is needed; see Tax Administration's information on tax numbers.
Risks in Finland
Finland enjoys a comparatively low crime rate and is, generally, a very safe place to travel. Parents often leave their sleeping babies in a baby carriage on the street while visiting a shop, and in the countryside cars and house doors are often left unlocked. There are no no-go neighbourhoods even in the night.
Use common sense at night, particularly on Friday and Saturday when the youth of Finland hit the streets to get drunk and in some unfortunate cases look for trouble. Don't leave valuables or your drink unguarded at night clubs.
Racism is generally a minor concern for tourists, especially in the cosmopolitan major cities, but some drunk people looking for trouble may be more likely to target foreign looking people. Avoiding arguments with drunk gangs may be more important if you fit that description. Immigration to Finland was quite limited before the 1990s and not everybody has got used to the globalisation.
Pickpockets used to be rare, but nowadays the situation has changed, especially in the busy tourist months in the summer, when organised pickpockets arrive from Eastern Europe. In restaurants, do not ever leave your phone, laptop, tablet, keys or wallet unattended. There have been some cases in Helsinki where thieves have been targeting breakfast buffets in hotels, where people often leave valuables unguarded for a few minutes. Regardless of that, most Finns carry their wallets in their pockets or purses and feel quite safe while doing it.
Bicycle thieves are everywhere, never leave your bike unlocked even for a minute.
Self defence is generally allowed only as a last escape and excess force must not be used. Weapons for self defence (including pepper spray) are not allowed.
Finnish police (poliisi/polis) are respected by the public, respectful even to drunkards and thieves, and not corrupt. Should something happen, do not hesitate to get in contact with them. In addition to the police proper, the border guard (rajavartiolaitos/gränsbevakningsväsendet) and customs officials (tulli/tull) have police powers; the border guard acts on behalf of the police in some sparsely populated areas. All these should normally be in uniform.
Private security staff such as nightclub bouncers should have a badge, vest or clearly visible band. There are several categories with different training and authorities. Count on them being authorised to throw you out, while you can ask for them to call the police if they want to search you. In some cases they are allowed to detain you until police arrives (or until the ship reaches a port) and search you to to be able to do so safely. They might use excess force if you resist or don't stay calm and reasonable yourself.
In the case a police officer actually approaches you, staying calm and polite will help keep the situation on the level of discussion. They have the right to check your identity and your right to stay in the country. They might ask strange questions like where are you coming from, where are you heading next, where you stay or whether you have seen, met or know somebody. If you feel that some question could compromise your privacy, feel free to politely say so. Finnish police have wide powers for arrest and search, but they are unlikely to abuse them. If the situation deteriorates, however, they will probably take you in custody, with force if needed.
Whatever happens, remember that Finland is one of the world's least corrupt countries. Suggestion of bribes will be met by astonishment or worse. If you get fined, payment on the spot is never expected or even possible. A "police" asking for money would be a dead giveaway that they aren't real police.
Customs and the police are strict on drugs, including cannabis. Sniffer dogs are used in ports and airports and a positive marking will always result in a full search. Cannabis use is not generally tolerated among the population.
Prostitution is not illegal and is mostly unregulated. However, there are no brothels, as pimping is illegal. It is also illegal to use the services of a prostitute who is a victim of human trafficking, a minor or otherwise unable to legally consent. The age of consent in other contexts is generally 16, but when somebody is coerced into sexual acts other factors come into play.
There are few serious health risks in Finland. Your primary enemy will be the cold, especially in wintertime and at sea.
Finland is a sparsely populated country and, if heading out into the wilderness, it is imperative that you register your travel plans with somebody who can inform rescue services if you fail to return. Always keep your mobile phone with you if you run into trouble. Dress warmly in layers and bring along a good pair of sunglasses in the snowy times to prevent snow blindness, especially in the spring and if you plan to spend whole days outdoors. Always keep a map, a compass and preferably a GPS with you while trekking in the wilderness. Take extra precautions in Lapland, where it can be several days' hike to the nearest house or road. Weather can change rapidly, and even though the sun is shining now, you can have a medium sized blizzard on your hands (no joke!) an hour or two later. Although weather forecast generally are of good quality, there are circumstances where the weather is hard to predict, especially in regions with fells or islands. Also remember that many forecasts only cite day temperatures, while it often is 10–15°C (20–30°F) colder in the night and early morning.
If out on the lakes and sea, remember that wind and water will cool you faster than cold air, and keeping dry means keeping warm. A person that falls into water close to freezing has to be saved quickly, and even in summer water will cool you pretty soon. If you jump into water, first check there isn't any half-submerged log to hit with your head. Safety in small boats: Don't drink alcohol, keep seated and wear a life vest at all times. If your boat capsizes – keep clothes on to stay warm and cling to the boat. Small boats are made to be unsinkable.
In winter, lakes and the sea are frozen. Walking, skating or even driving a car on the ice is commonly seen, but fatal accidents are not unheard of either, so ask and heed local advice. If the ice fails, it is difficult to get back out of the water, as the ice will be slippery. Ice picks are sold as safety equipment (a pair of steel needles with bright plastic grips, connected with a safety line). Stay calm, shout for help, break the ice in the direction you came from, get up, creep away and get indoors with no delay. Help from somebody with a rope, a long stick or any similar improvised aid might be needed (no use having both of you in the water).
The most important poisonous insects in Finland are wasps (ampiainen/geting), hornets (herhiläinen/bålgeting), bees (mehiläinen/bi) and bumblebees (kimalainen/humla). Their stings can be painful, but are not dangerous, unless you receive many stings or a sting by the trachea (do not lure a wasp onto your sandwich!) or if you are extremely allergic to it. In late summer, wasps can become a nuisance, but otherwise these insects tend to leave people alone if not disturbed.
There is only one type of poisonous snake in Finland, the European adder (Finnish: kyy or kyykäärme/huggorm). Their bites are very rarely fatal (although dangerous to small children and allergic persons), but one should be careful in the summertime. If you are bitten by a snake, always get medical assistance; stay calm and call 112 to get advice.
As for other dangerous wildlife, brown bears (karhu/björn), wolves (susi/varg), lynxes (ilves/lo), and wolverines (ahma/järv) occur across Finland, but you are lucky if you see any of these large carnivores! Talking with your company while in the forest should be enough to make them keep away, especially to avoid getting between a bear and her cubs. If you do see a bear, back off calmly.
Also keep your distance to other wildlife, such as elk. Bulls can become aggressive and charge at humans, as can cows defending their calves. The worst risk is however running into one on the road. In Lapland, Northern Ostrobothnia, and Kainuu there is risk for reindeer collisions. They often linger peacefully on the road; if you see one reindeer anywhere near the road, reduce your speed immediately and understand there are more of them around. Always call 112 after a collision even if you did not get hurt, as the animal probably did.
In case of emergency
112 is the national phone number for all emergency services, including police and social services, and it does not require an area code, regardless of what kind of phone you are using. The number works on any mobile phone, whether it is keylocked or not, and with or without a SIM card. If a cellphone challenges you with a PIN code, you can simply type in 112 as a PIN code – most phones will give a choice to call the number (or call without asking). The operator will answer in Finnish or Swedish, but your switching to English should be no problem.
There is a 112 app, which will use your GPS to get your position when you use it to call the emergency services. The app knows also some related phone numbers. The updated version is available for android and iPhone in the respective app stores. Have it installed before you need it! It relies on mobile data, so is not reliable in some remote areas, and the GPS position is unreliable unless the GPS has been on for some time. But along the main roads, where you are most likely not to know your position, mobile coverage is good.
For inquiries about poisons or toxins (from mushrooms, plants, medicine or other chemicals) call the national Toxin Information Office at +358 9 471-977. Finns often have an "adder kit" (kyypakkaus, 50 mg hydrocortisone) at their cottages, although this is not enough by itself except perhaps for bee or wasp stings; with an adder bite, one should call 112 with no undue delay.
The time for help to arrive can be quite long in sparsely populated areas (around an hour, more in extreme areas; in cities just minutes), so it makes sense to have basic first-aid supplies at hand when visiting cottages or the wilderness. First aid training is quite common, so amateur help may be available. In case of cardiac arrest, public defibrillators (Finnish: defibrillaattori) are often available; still begin CPR immediately to the best of your ability, after telling someone to call 112.
Signs to watch out for (in Finnish and Swedish)
You're unlikely to have tummy troubles in Finland, since tap water is always drinkable (except on trains etc., and there will be warnings in those cases) and generally quite tasty as well, and hygiene standards in restaurants are strict. Diary products are nearly always pasteurised. If you have any sort of allergies, many restaurants often display in the menu the most common ingredients that people typically are allergic to. Examples: (L) = Lactose free, (VL) = Low Lactose, (G) = Gluten free, if you are unsure just ask the waitress or other restaurant staff.
The most dangerous pests are the ticks (Finnish: puutiainen or colloquially punkki, Swedish: fästing), which may carry Lyme's disease (borreliosis) or tick-borne viral encephalitis (TBE). They are common in some areas, but can be encountered in most of the country, up to Simo, and are active when the temperature climbs over +5°C. In high grass and shrubs putting your trousers in your socks is recommended, and you should check your body (or better: have your mate check it) when you return in the evening, ideally when they still creep around searching for a good spot. Borreliosis is easily treated if noticed the days after the bite (from local symptoms), while both are serious at later stages (with neurological ones).
There are also a number of irritating insects, but if you are planning to stay in the centres of major cities, you are unlikely to encounter them. A serious nuisance in summer are mosquitoes (hyttynen, mygga, Sámi: čuoika), hordes of which appear in summer – particularly in Lapland, where it and its colleagues are called räkkä. There are also blackflies (mäkärä, knott, muogir), close relatives to mosquitoes, much smaller and also abundant in Lapland, and gadflies (paarma, broms; common where there is cattle). The deer keds (hirvikärpänen, älgfluga), appearing in late summer, seldom bite, but crawl around after losing its wings and are hard to get rid of.
Wasps sometimes gather to share your outdoor snack. Don't eat them together with the ham and juice (making their sting dangerous), but take turns getting bites – they are fascinating, flying away with a big load of tiny ham cubes – or go away if you cannot stand them. Also bumblebees and bees may sting, but only as provoked. In autumn wasps are irritable and best let alone altogether.
Air quality is mostly good in cities and excellent outside city centres, but in cities there may be problematic streets and problematic times. A few weeks in spring is the worst time in many cities, when the snow is gone and the streets are dry, but dust from the winter remains. Inversion occurs in some cities but is usually a minor problem. The meteorological institute monitors the air quality.
Medicines are strictly regulated. Any non-trivial medications, such as antibiotics, require a prescription. Also most prescription-free pharmaceuticals have to be bought at pharmacies (or by special arrangements in remote areas). If bringing your own, have the original packaging and your prescription. Especially if you bought a drug without prescription, check the rules.
Finnish healthcare is mostly public, in particular intensive, advanced and emergency healthcare. Institutions most relevant to travellers are municipal mainly outpatient clinics (terveyskeskus/hälsocentral), (central) hospital with surgery ((keskus)sairaala, (cental)sjukhus), and university hospitals (yliopistollinen keskussairaala, universitetscentralsjukhus). There are fees, but they are significantly lower than costs. Dentist work outside this system and are mostly private.
There are also private clinics (lääkäriasema/läkarstation or lääkärikeskus/läkarcentral), which often can schedule an appointment with less queuing, with more substantial fees (residents usually get reimbursements). If you are not an EU/EEA resident the difference in price may be less significant, as you'll pay the costs of public care yourself; check with your insurance company. The clinics may however have to refer the patient to a public hospital anyway, if advanced services are needed. The distinction between public and private care has been less clear in the last years, with some municipalities outsourcing part of the medical services (partly in response to a large controversial reform – say "sote" to get a deep sigh from anyone – a new incarnation of which has finally passed, to be in use from 2023).
For emergencies, call 112. Otherwise contact the terveyskeskus or a private clinic. Every municipality should have a 24/7 clinic, but it is sometimes in a nearby city, while the local clinic has limited hours where population is sparse. You can get advice over the phone. Visits to a doctor must usually be booked, while you may be able to see a nurse just walking in (ask over the phone). The time booking numbers often work by a nurse calling back (usually in an hour or so) after a machine has answered your call and given you a chance to specify what service you need. Just letting it talk until it hangs up may be enough to get the call registered.
University and AMK students have access to basic health care arranged by the student unions, including dental care. See Learn above.
EU/EEA and Swiss citizens can access emergency and health services with their European Health Insurance Card, which means nominal fees for public healthcare in most cases (seeing a doctor usually €15–30, minors free, day surgery €100; some related costs can be reimbursed). Other foreigners are also given urgently needed treatment, but may have to pay all costs. See more information at Contact Point for Cross-Border Healthcare.
Pharmacies work supermarket-style, but the personnel is attentive. Prescriptions are handled separately: take a queue ticket. In bigger cities some pharmacy usually has long hours, but if you get a prescription when they are closed, you might get a small packet of your medicine from the doctor. You could ask about the handiest pharmacy when you get the prescription. In the countryside, where pharmacies are scarce, drugs can be delivered to some other business by special arrangements, ask if relevant.
Most prescriptions are electronic. The prescriptions can be on a generic drug or a specific brand; the pharmacist might ask whether you want the cheapest instead of the prescribed one, so ask the doctor what they prescribed and why.
Fishing Finnish style
It was a beautiful summer day, and Virtanen and Lahtinen were in a little rowboat in the middle of a lake, fishing. Two hours passed, both men sitting quietly, and then Lahtinen said "Nice weather today." Virtanen grunted and stared intently at his fishing rod.
Finns generally have a relaxed attitude towards manners and dressing up, and a visitor is unlikely to offend them by accident. Common sense is quite enough in most situations, but there are a couple of things that one should keep in mind:
Finns are a famously taciturn people who have little time for small talk or social niceties, so don't expect to hear phrases like "thank you" or "you're welcome" too often. They usually go straight to business. The Finnish language lacks a specific word for "please" so Finns sometimes forget to use it when speaking English, with no intention to be rude. Also lacking in Finnish is the distinction between "he" and "she", which may lead to confusing errors. Loud speaking and loud laughing is not normal in Finland and may irritate some Finns. Occasional silence is considered a part of the conversation, not a sign of hostility or irritation. Notice that although the phrase mitä kuuluu translates to "how are you", it has a literal meaning in Finnish, i.e. a longer discussion is expected; it is not a part of the greeting as in English.
All that said, Finns are generally helpful and polite, and glad to help confused tourists if asked. The lack of niceties has more to do with the fact that in Finnish culture, honesty is highly regarded; one should open one's mouth only to mean what one is about to say. Do not say "maybe later" when there is no later time to be expected. A visitor is unlikely to receive many compliments from Finns, but can be fairly sure that the compliments received are genuine.
Another highly regarded virtue in Finland is punctuality. A visitor should apologise even for being a few minutes late. Being late for longer usually requires a short explanation. Ten minutes is usually considered the threshold between being "acceptably" late and very late. Some will leave arranged meeting points after fifteen minutes. With the advent of mobile phones, sending a text message even if you are only a few minutes late is nowadays a norm. Being late for a business meeting, even by one or two minutes, is considered rude.
The standard greeting is a handshake (although avoided since a few years by healthcare personnel, and now by many, to avoid spreading a disease). Hugs are only exchanged between family members and close friends in some situations, kisses, even on the cheek, practically never. Touching is generally restricted to family members. The distance between strangers is ca. 1.2 m and between friends ca. 70 cm.
If you are invited to a Finnish home, the only bad mistake visitors can make is not to remove their shoes. For much of the year, shoes will carry a lot of snow or mud. Therefore, it is customary to remove them, even during the summer. During the wet season you can ask to put your shoes somewhere to dry during your stay. Very formal occasions at private homes, such as baptisms (often conducted at home in Finland) or somebody's 50th birthday party, are exceptions to these rules. In the wintertime, this sometimes means that the guests bring separate clean shoes and put them on while leaving outdoor shoes in the hall. Bringing gifts such as pastry, wine, or flowers to the host is appreciated, but not required.
In Finland, there is little in the way of a dress code. The general attire is casual and even in business meetings the attire is somewhat more relaxed than in some other countries, although sport clothing in a business meeting would still be bad form. Topless sunbathing is accepted but not very common on beaches in the summer, and thong bikinis have become fashionable in 2018. While going au naturel is common in saunas and even swimming by lake- or seaside cottages, Finns aren't big on nudism in itself, and there are very few dedicated nudist beaches. At normal public beaches swimwear is expected for anybody over 6 years old.
Finns are highly egalitarian. Women participate in society, also in leading roles up to the Presidency. Equal respect is to be given to any gender, and there is little formal sex segregation. Social rank is not usually an important part of social code, thus a Dr. Roger Spencer is usually referred to as simply "Spencer", or even as "Roger" among co-workers, rather than "tohtori Spencer" or "herra Spencer", without meaning any disrespect.
Finns are rather nationalistic. They are neither Swedes nor Russians, nor a mixture of the two.
When travelling with public transport, it is generally accepted to talk with your friends or ask for help, but only if you keep your voice down. No need to whisper, just don't shout or laugh too loud. It is of course appreciated if you give your seat to someone in need, but it is in no way a vital part of the culture today, and most Finns won't do that themselves. Sitting down by a stranger when there are still empty benches is unusual, as is starting a conversation with one; some will enjoy talking to you, but note any hints to the contrary.
By snail mail
Finland's mail service is run by Posti, nowadays a state owned business concentrating on parcels; the delivery time of normal domestic letters has increased to four days. A stamp for a postcard or normal letter (max 50g domestic, max 20g abroad; as of 2020) costs €1.75. Most stamps are "no-value" (ikimerkki, fixvärdesmärke), which means they are supposed to be valid indefinitely for a given service. Real post offices are all but extinct, with the services mostly handled by local businesses and automats. Stamps etc. can be got from these businesses or e.g. in book stores. The network of letterboxes is still adequate.
There are Poste restante services in the cities, but often a better option is to get the post to some trusted address, e.g. your accommodation.
Åland has its own mail service, with stamps of its own.
As you'd expect from Nokia's home country, mobile phones are ubiquitous in Finland. Modern 4G/5G networks blanket the country, although it's still possible to find wilderness areas with poor signal, typically in Lapland and the outer archipelago. The largest operators are Telia, Elisa (a Vodafone partner) and DNA'. Most locals use packages with data, messages and normal calls included in the monthly fee (from €20, as of 2020).
Prepaid packages cost from about €5, including all the price as value. Ask at any convenience store for a list of prices and special offers. Finland has an exception to the EU roaming rules because of low domestic prices, so if you need to use the SIM abroad, check the fine print (EU roaming is usually free or cheap, but is treated separately and may not even be included). Also note prices for calling abroad (home) – you are typically referred to the internet, but might want to insist on the clerk finding the right page and translating if needed. For data (100 Mbit/s), you typically pay €1/day (days in use, even for a second, or days from activation) or €0.01/MB, for normal domestic calls €0.066/min (surcharge for service numbers often more), for SMS à €0.066 (as of 2020). 5G cards may cost a little more. If your card is an "all included" one, paid per day, reserve some leeway for calls not included (service and business numbers, foreign calls). The cards with value rather than days are usually valid for half a year, or a year from last top-up (of a minimum of €10).
Public telephones are close to extinction in Finland, although a few can still be found at airports, major train/bus stations and the like. It is best to bring along a phone or buy one – a simple GSM model can cost less than €40 (be very clear about wanting a cheap, possibly used one: the shops might otherwise not suggest their cheapest options). Phones for sale are not locked to one operator, although there are deals where you lease a phone coupled to a 2-year plan. People are reluctant to lend their phones, even for a single call, as anyone is assumed to be carrying their own.
The area codes (one or more digits following the +358) are prefixed by 0 when used without the country code, i.e. +358 9 123-456 (a land line number in Helsinki) can be dialled as 09 123 456 (123 456 from local land lines), and is often written "(09) 123 456", sometimes "+358 (0) 9 123 456". Mobile phone numbers – as other numbers without true area codes – are always written without the parenthesis: "0400 123 456" for +358 400-123-456. Mobile phone numbers usually start with 04x or 050 as in the example. If you have a local SIM, note that any service numbers, including the 020 numbers, may have an inflated operator's surcharge, and are usually not included in the "all included" packages.
Numbers starting with 0800 or 116 are toll free with domestic phones. Numbers starting with 0700 are possibly expensive entertainment services. There is no guarantee that any service number is reasonably priced – e.g. Eniro number and timetable information is €6/min, with the price told in Finnish only – but prices should be indicated where the number is advertised; "pvm/mpm" or "lsa/lna" stands for your operator's surcharge, for landlines the price of a normal local call, for mobile phones often slightly more. Queuing may or may not be free. Service numbers usually start with 010, 020, 030, 060, 070 or 075 (here including the area code prefix 0) or 10 (without 0). There are also service numbers prefixed with a true area code (such as some taxi call centres). Some service numbers may be unavailable from abroad.
The prefix for international calls (from local land lines) is 00, as in the rest of EU. Other prefixes (directing the call through a specific operator) may be available.
Telephone numbers can be enquired from e.g. the service numbers 0200 16100, 020202, 0100 100, 0300 3000 and 118, with hard to discover varying costs (often given per 10s instead of per minute), e.g. €1–2/call+€1–6/min with some combinations of operators, service and time of day. Having the service connect the call usually costs extra. For the moment (February 2021) e.g. 0200 16100 costs €1.84/call+€2,5/min (€0.084/min+mpm during a connected call). Some services have a maximum cost of e.g. €24/call.
All of the main carriers offer good roaming services, so using your foreign SIM card should not be an issue. However the costs can be rather impressive. The European Union has agreed on the abolishing of roaming charges; domestic calls with an EU SIM via an EU operator should cost as domestic calls in the country of origin (and likewise with SMS and data), but again, check the fine print as some operators have "fair use limits" or exceptions to the policy completely, allowing them to surcharge for roaming use. The Finnish operators have been granted an exception from this policy, although as of 2021, most have implemented surcharge-free roaming in some form. However, each provider's policy varies. Telia, for instance, only allows prepaid roaming in certain EU countries. Aside from the countries they operate in, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Greece, it will not work at all, even for an extra charge. Elisa has different rules depending on the package you buy and where you are going. DNA has a fair use limit on their plans that applies uniformly in all EU/EEA countries. In addition, even within Finland, if you are planning on going to Åland, be aware that you may need to switch on data roaming when using a SIM not purchased from Telia; Elisa and DNA have domestic roaming agreements with Ålcom, the local provider, instead of building their own networks there. This domestic roaming does not cost any extra and is available on any service package.
Internet cafés are sparse on the ground in this country where everybody logs on at home and in the office, but nearly every public library in the country has computers with free Internet access, although you will often have to register for a time slot in advance or queue, unless there is Wi-Fi and you are using your own device.
Wi-Fi hotspots are increasingly common: in cafés, public transport, marinas, what have you (often called "WLAN"). University staff and students from institutions in the Eduroam cooperation have access to that net on most campuses and at some other locations.
Mobile phone networks are another option, either for your smartphone or for a 3G/4G dongle for your laptop. The dongles themselves (mokkula) are usually sold as part of a 24 months' subscription, so check how to get one if using this option. At least Elisa/Saunalahti and DNA offer a dongle with a prepaid subscription, likely a better alternative for most travellers. There are used ones to be bought on the net (tori.fi, huuto.net etc.), with seemingly random prices.
LTE (4G) networks cover most of the country. The mobile phone operators all offer SIM cards for prepaid Internet access (some tailored for that, some for all-round smartphone use – but check surcharges for incoming calls): DNA, Elisa and Telia. You can buy them as soon as you arrive at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport at the vending machine by baggage claim, or at R-kioskis, post offices and mobile phone stores around Finland. Remember that you can use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot for other devices. Prices start from under €10, with about €20–30 for thirty days (one month or individual calendar days) of unlimited use. As of 2021 also 5G coverage is available in major cities and urban areas.
Finland has 230V 50Hz AC electricity as standard. Modern installations use Schuko outlets (CEE 7/3, "type F"), used with Schuko plugs (grounded, max 16 A) or "Europlugs" (ungrounded, max 2.5 A, compatible with all outlets in continental Europe). Old installations (from before 1997) may use ungrounded outlets in most rooms (with Schuko in kitchen and bathroom). These accept also ungrounded type C plugs. A few three-phase outlets (such as at the distribution board and the garage wall) are common in new installations.
Outlets dedicated for lamps use their own smaller 230V/50Hz plugs, in old installations just screw terminals. The lightbulbs themselves use 14 or 27 mm Edison screw connectors (with several other connectors used for special-use or non-lightbulb lamps).
USB outlets can be found in some coaches and some solar powered cottages. Remote cottages may not have electricity at all.
Electricity is mostly reliable, although rural areas with overhead lines may have outages of at worst a few days in connection with wind storms or heavy snow (when trees or branches fall over the cables).
The state churches of Finland are the Evangelic-Lutheran (often called just Lutheran) and the Orthodox, the former gathering more than 90% of the population until the 2000s. There is freedom of religion, and there are many recognised small religious communities, including a small Catholic church (16,000 members). The Lutheran state church is liberal and sober (quite different from the Evangelic churches in the USA). Most religious revival movements still work under its auspices, and where these are strong, the religious life can look somewhat different from that in the south. There are also several independent Christian communities, such as the Pentecostal ones.
The Orthodox Church of Finland was founded with official status equal to the Lutheran as Finland became part of the Russian Empire. It has remained small, with some 60,000 members today. On Finnish independence it changed to the Gregorian calender, and since 1923 it belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. As a reaction a separate Orthodox church was formed under the Moscow Patriarchate, gathering most of the Russian speaking. Today, there are many members with Russian background also in the Orthodox Church of Finland.
The Islamic communities are mostly organised on a local level only. There is an Islamic community of Tatars, with background in the 19th century, while the other Islamic communities are formed by later immigrants, from the 1990s onwards. Also the Jewish communities originate in 19th-century immigration from the Russian empire.
There is a system of "road churches": churches that have long hours in the summer, to be available for people who want to pray or meditate (or just take a look). Otherwise some churches are open for visits during the day (mainly those attracting many visitors), others only in connection with services or by request. Visiting a church is nearly always free, although there may be a fee for a museum in connection to the church, and most concerts have entrance fees (or a programme folder most should buy). If you attend a service, you might want to have a few euros in cash for the offering. Although doors are open also at family events, such as weddings and funerals, you should probably leave your visit to another time. Posted opening hours do not take into consideration such events, concerts or services.
There are usually newspapers available in libraries for the public to read. In bigger towns these often include a few in foreign languages, including English. Foreign language newspapers are also on sale in some book stores and in some R kiosks.
Most stations are on analogue FM channels.
The public broadcasting company YLE sends short news in English 15:55 on Yle Radio 1 (87.9 or 90.9 FM) and 15:29 or 15:30 on Yle Mondo, the latter a multilingual channel aired only in the Helsinki region. There are programmes also in Swedish (own channels), Sámi (Northern, Inari and Skolt) and Russian. The programmes can be heard also by Internet (arenan.yle.fi/audio/guide for today's radio programmes; add "?t=yyyy-mm-dd" for a specific day), usually up to a month after they were aired. Yle also publishes written news.
Condoms are widely available in supermarkets, convenience stores and elsewhere. Most other contraception methods (including contraceptive pills) require a prescription, which should be reasonably easy to get. Emergency contraceptive pills ("morning-after pills") are available from pharmacies without prescription (perhaps in person only). Abortion is allowed until the twelfth week (counted from last menstruation) for social as well as medical reasons. It usually requires the support of two doctors, but denial is more or less unheard of. Later abortion requires special circumstances (mostly medical reasons).
Laundry is problematic.
- Most households have a washing machine, so when staying in a normal flat or private house, you could ask and get to seize the chance. Some use communal facilities in the basement, which may or may not be easily bookable.
- Laundry services are expensive; usually clothes are paid per piece, also where there are per weight fees for sheets and the like.
- Laundrettes are found at some campsites and bigger marinas, perhaps at hostels, and possibly in student housing areas, although not necessarily available for those not residing there.
- 24pesula. Laundrettes in some thirty cities, mostly at large supermarkets. A few different machine sizes, a few different cycle options (all 30 min). Detergent included. 9 kg: €6, tumbler +€4/30 min.
Toilets are usually marked with "WC", image of rooster (and hen, if separate), pictograms for men and women (now sometimes also unisex pictograms) or the letters "M" (miehet, men) and "N" (naiset, women). Where there is more than one toilet, there is usually also an accessible/family toilet marked with a wheelchair pictogram, equipped for use with wheelchair, for changing nappies and for small children. A family room can also have its own pictogram. Trans people using the gender-appropriate toilet should be no issue. If your "biological sex" obviously differs from your gender and the toilet is busy, then you might get some disapproving looks, seldom anything worse, other than in LGBT-hostile environments.
There should be toilet paper, sink and soap, some method for drying your hands, a waste basket for paper towels (and general waste) and often one with lid and pedal for used sanitary napkins. Bidet showers are nowadays common. At cottages without running water there are usually only outhouses of varying standard: at some summer cottages they are a sight, with carpet, lace curtains and a nice view, for wilderness huts and rest stops you might need to bring toilet paper and take care of hand washing on your own.
Toilets in public buildings are free, while toilets in the street (quite rare), at bus stations, in shopping malls and the like usually require a suitable coin (€0.50–2). There are toilets for the customers in all restaurants and cafés, while others often can use them for a token fee – but it is more polite to become a real customer. At festivals there are usually free (and stinky) portable toilets. Also toilets at rest stops are sometimes in bad condition.
Communal showers, changing rooms and the like often do not have privacy dividers; being nude in front of people of the same sex in such contexts is considered normal. If you are shy, use your towel; sometimes there are also more private facilities available. In some circles, going to sauna or swimming nude in mixed-sex groups is also practised (and regarded normal by most); in these situations also some Finns abstain or take appropriate steps not to show too much, and as a foreigner you could discreetly ask for advice.
As most Finns are quite relaxed about nudity and mingling between sexes, accommodation may be shared e.g. when a group goes to a cottage, even with strangers at wilderness huts (and some other primitive accommodations). People discreetly keep any level of privacy they want, but you shouldn't be shocked if you see somebody in their underwear when they are changing clothes; just look elsewhere.
In contrast, at public beaches, swimsuits are used by anybody above six years, and appearing nude or half-dressed (except in appropriate contexts) is seldom well received.
- Russia to the east. However, due to the Russian war on Ukraine, as of 2022 most transport options are suspended, and existing ones may be closed with short notice.
- Sweden, of which Finland was part for 650 years, is reachable by an overnight (or day) cruise, or overland from Lapland.
- Estonia, a couple of hours away from Helsinki.
- Norway's county of Finnmark and Troms can be accessed overland from Lapland.