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Finland (Finnish: Suomi, Swedish: Finland) is one of the Nordic countries in northern Europe. It has land borders with Russia to the east and – in the north – Norway and Sweden. Ferries connect the country with Estonia, Germany and more southern parts of Sweden.
The country is a thoroughly modern welfare state with well-planned and comfortable small towns and cities, but still offers vast areas of unspoiled nature. Finland has approximately 188,000 lakes (about 10% of the country) and a similar number of islands. In the northernmost part of the country the Northern Lights can be seen in the winter and midnight sun in the summer. Finns also claim the mythical mountain of Korvatunturi as the home of Santa Claus, and a burgeoning tourist industry in Lapland caters to Santa fans. Despite living in one of the most technologically developed countries in the world, 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. Finland has a distinctive language and culture that sets it apart from the rest of Nordic Europe.
The southern stretch of coastline up to the Russian border, including the capital Helsinki and the historical province of Uusimaa (Nyland)
The Southwest coastal areas, the old capital Turku and the southern parts of the historical province of Ostrobothnia (Pohjanmaa, Österbotten).
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).
The northern half of the Finland is mostly wilderness, with some important cities. Administratively it includes Finnish Lapland, Kainuu and Northern Ostrobothnia.
An autonomous and monolingually Swedish group of islands off the southwestern coast of Finland.
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), covering a large area of central Finland around Tampere, Savonia (Savo) in the eastern part of the lakeland and Karelia (Karjala) to the far east. Much of Finnish Karelia was lost to the Soviet Union in World War II, which still is a sore topic in some circles.
- Helsinki — the "Daughter of the Baltic", Finland's capital and largest city by far
- Jyväskylä — a university town in Central Finland
- Oulu — a technology city at the end of the Gulf of Bothnia
- Rauma — largest wooden old town in the Nordics and a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Rovaniemi — gateway to Lapland and home of Santa Claus Village
- Savonlinna — a small lakeside town with a big castle and a popular opera festival.
- Tampere — an industrial city, home of culture, music, art and museums
- Turku — the former capital on the western coast. Medieval castle and cathedral.
- Vaasa — a town with strong Swedish influences on the west coast located near the UNESCO world natural site Kvarken Archipelago
- 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.
- Koli National Park – large scenic national park in Eastern Finland, symbol for the nature of the country
- Lemmenjoki National Park – gold digging grounds of Lapland, and one of the largest wilderness areas in Europe
- Nuuksio National Park – pint-sized but pretty national park a stone's throw from Helsinki
- Kilpisjärvi - "the Arm of Finland" offers scenic views and the highest hills in Finland
- 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
- See also: Nordic history
- 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 8900BC. Roman historian Tacitus mentions a primitive and savage hunter tribe called Fenni in 100AD, 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-1150s Sweden started out to conquer and Christianize the Finnish pagans in earnest, with Birger Jarl incorporating most of the country into Sweden in 1249. Finland stayed 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. 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 unsuccessful attempt to repel the Soviets and regain the lost territory, was defeated and, as a condition for peace, had to turn against Germany instead. 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.
After the war, Finland lay in the grey zone between the Western countries and the Soviet Union. 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". 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 the subsequent half century, the country made a remarkable transformation from a farm/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.
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 has 187,888 lakes according to the Geological Survey of Finland, making the moniker Land of a Thousand Lakes something of an underestimate. Along the coast and in the lakes are – according to another estimate – 179,584 islands, making the country an excellent boating destination as well.
Finland is not located on the Scandinavian peninsula, so despite many cultural and historical links, it is technically not completely part of Scandinavia. Even Finns rarely bother to make the distinction, but a more correct term that includes Finland is the "Nordic countries" (Pohjoismaat, Norden). Despite the border to Russia and the Finnish language, Finland has very much in common with Scandinavia, historically, culturally and politically. The capital, Helsinki, has a lot of Scandinavian features, especially when it comes to the architecture of the downtown, and a Scandinavian language, Swedish, is one of the two official languages of the country.
- 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. Winter, however, 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 in the north, with 0 to -25°C being normal in the south. 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. Early spring (March–April) is when the snow starts to melt and Finns like to head north for skiing and winter sports, while the transition from autumn to winter in October–December — wet, rainy, dark and generally miserable — is the worst time to visit.
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. 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.
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 founding myth and national epic is the Kalevala, a collection of old Karelian stories and poems collated in 1835, which recounts the creation of the world and 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 color 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 nonexistent. 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 heavy metal bands like Nightwish, Children Of Bodom and HIM have garnered some acclaim 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 a bilingual country, so maps nearly always bear both Finnish and Swedish names for e.g. cities and towns. For example, Turku and Åbo are the same city, even though the names differ totally. Roads can be especially confusing: what first appears on a map to be a road that changes its name is, in most cases, the Finnish and Swedish names of the same road (e.g. Turuntie/Åbovägen are both "Turku Road"). This is common in the Swedish-speaking areas on the southern and western coasts, including Helsinki, whereas inland Swedish names are far less common. In the far north Lapland, you'll almost never see Swedish, but you will occasionally see signage in Sámi instead. Google Maps, in particular, seems to select the language randomly.
In the bilingual areas the language groups mix well, with few conflicts. Even in Finnish speaking areas, such as Jyvärskylä, Pori and Oulu, many Finnish speakers welcome the contacts with Swedish that the minority and the minority institutions provide; the few Swedish schools in such areas have many Finnish pupils and language immersion daycare is popular, where provided. In politics the bilingualism is an issue. Some Finnish speakers still see the bilingual status of the country as a tool of oppression by the Swedish speaking population and a relic from the time of a Swedish speaking elite, while many Swedish speaking are very worried about their language being marginalized with administrational reforms merging small Swedish institutions with bigger Finnish ones.
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 May 1, as thousands of people (mostly the young ones) fill the streets. Important holidays and similar happenings include:
- New Year's Day (uudenvuodenpäivä, nyårsdagen), January 1.
- Epiphany (loppiainen, trettondag), January 6.
- 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.
- Walpurgis Night (vappuaatto, valborgsmässoafton) and May Day (vappu, första maj), originally a pagan tradition that coincides with the more recent workers' celebration, it has become a giant festival for students, who wear colorful signature overalls and roam the streets. Many people also use their white student caps between 6PM at April 30 and the end of May 1st. The latter day people gather to nurse their hangovers at open-air picnics, even if it's raining sleet.
- Midsummer Festival (juhannus, midsommar), Friday evening and Saturday between June 20 and June 26. 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 celebrate together.
- Independence Day (itsenäisyyspäivä, självständighetsdagen), December 6. A fairly somber celebration of Finland's independence from Russia. There are church services (the one from the cathedral in Helsinki can be seen on TV), concerts and a military parade. The most popular event is in the evening: the President holds a ball for the important people (e.g. MPs, diplomats, and merited Finnish sportspeople and artists) that the less important watch on TV.
- 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.
- 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.
- New Year's Eve (uudenvuodenaatto, nyårsafton), December 31. Fireworks time!
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.
Finland is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
- There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
- Likewise, 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.
Finland's main international hub is Helsinki-Vantaa Airport near Helsinki. Finnair, SAS and Flybe are based there as is Norwegian Air Shuttle offering domestic and international flights. Around 30 foreign airlines fly to Helsinki-Vantaa, an airport originally built to support the Olympic Games organized in Helsinki 1952. Later, the terminal building was expanded and modernized, and one new runway was built.
International flights to other destinations are again as scarce as they used to be, as Air Baltic and Ryanair have withdrawn most of their services to regional Finland, for instance Ryanair only serves Tampere in the summer. There are direct flights to Tampere and Turku from only a couple of foreign destiations, to Lappeenranta from Bergamo, and to Mariehamn, Oulu and Vaasa from Stockholm. Moreover there are occasional direct charters (especially in December) and seasonal scheduled flights (Dec-Mar) to Lapland.
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.
- Peruutetutlennot.fi, Viipurinkatu 12 L 84, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. If your flight was delayed more than 2 hours from/to EU or within EU you are entitled to compensation by EU regulations on airline travel. Peruutetutlennot.fi (canceledflights) Peruutetutlennot.fi takes care of claiming on your (and other travellers) behalf and only charges it's fee if claim was successful and they do specialize in flights to/from Nordic countries. The site also hosts a webapp that shows real-time data of delays of Finland bound or outbound flights in as a service to air travellers.
VR and Russian Railways jointly operate services between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki, stopping at Vyborg, Kouvola and Lahti along the way (rail was introduced in Finland under Russian rule, so the gauge is the same). The border controls are conducted in the moving train en route, to avoid delay on the border. The line was upgraded in 2010 and the slick new Allegro-branded trains glide between the two cities in three and a half hours at up to 220 km/h. The route is served four times in a day for both directions. Prices vary between €30 and €80 per direction depending on popularity of the departure and when you book. There is also a traditional slow overnight sleeper from Moscow, which takes around 15 hours.
There are no direct trains between Sweden or Norway and Finland (the rail gauge is different), but the bus over the gap from Boden/Luleå (Sweden) to Kemi (Finland) is free with an Eurail/Inter Rail pass, and you can also get a 50% discount from most ferries with these passes.
Buses are the cheapest but also the slowest and least comfortable way of traveling between Russia and Finland.
- Regular scheduled buses run between St. Petersburg, Vyborg and major southern Finnish towns like Helsinki, Lappeenranta, Jyväskylä and all the way west to Turku, check Matkahuolto for schedules. Helsinki–St. Petersburg is served three times daily, costs €38 and takes 9 hours during the day, 8 hours at night.
- Various direct minibuses run between St. Petersburg's Oktyabrskaya Hotel (opp 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 AM), while departures from St. Petersburg usually overnight (around 10 PM).
You can also use a bus from northern Sweden or Norway to Finland.
- Haparanda in Norrbotnia area of Sweden has bus connections to Tornio, Kemi and Oulu. See more from Matkahuolto.
- Eskelisen Lapinlinjat offers bus connections from northern parts of Norway, for example Tromsø. See more from Eskelisen Lapinlinjat.
One of the best ways to travel to and from Finland is by sea. The ships from Estonia and Sweden, in particular, are giant, multi-story floating palaces and department stores, with cheap prices subsidized by sales of tax-free booze: a return trip to Tallinn including a cabin for up to four people can go as low as €50. If travelling by Inter Rail, you can get 50% off deck fares. The best way to arrive in Helsinki is standing on the outside deck with a view ahead.
The passes over Sea of Åland or Kvarken and Gulf of Finland from Sweden and Estonia, respectively, are short enough for most yachts 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.
Estonia and the Baltic states
Helsinki and Tallinn are only 80 km apart. Viking Line, Eckerö and Tallink Silja operate full-service car ferries all year round. Depending on the ferry type travel times are from 2.5 (most ferries) to 3.5 hours (Tallink Silja's biggest cruise ships). Some services travel overnight and park outside the harbor until morning. Linda Line offers fast services that complete the trip in 1.5 hours, but charge quite a bit more, have comparatively little to entertain you on board and suspend services in bad weather and during the winter. If the weather is looking dodgy and you're prone to sea sickness, it's best to opt for the big slow ships.
Traffic to Germany has been 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 1970's. Freight and passengers could be transported between Helsinki and Travemünde (and the rest of continental Europe west of the Iron Curtain) in only 22 hours, much faster than the other (non-air) routes at the time.
For years scheduled ferry services from Russia have been stop-and-go. St Peter Line offers regular ferry service from Saint Petersburg to Helsinki for as low as €30 one way.
Saimaa Travel offers sailings along Saimaa Canal from Vyborg to Lappeenranta in the summer months. This route is mostly used for cruises to Russia, taking advantage of the Russian visa exception for short-term cruise visitors.
Both Silja and Viking offer overnight cruises to Helsinki and overnight as well as daytime cruises to Turku from Stockholm, usually stopping in the Åland islands along the way. These are some of the largest and most luxurious passenger 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.
Note that, 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 only 18 for travellers not on same-day-return cruise packages.) In addition, Silja does not offer deck class on its overnight services, while Viking does.
Note also that 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).
As mentioned above, one of the easiest ways to get by car from Sweden to Finland is a car ferry. The European Route E18 includes a ferry line between Kapellskär and Naantali. You could also take the floating palaces, either the nearby pass Stockholm–Turku or the longer pass Stockholm–Helsinki. Farther north there is the E12 (Finnish national highway 3), with car ferry (4 hours) between Umeå and Vaasa.
European Routes E8 and E75 connect Finland and Norway. There are border crossings at Kilpisjärvi, Kivilompolo, 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 Vaasa) or E18 (from Oslo via Stockholm/Kapellskär).
European route E18, like Russian route M10, goes from St. 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. 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), Niirala (Tohmajärvi), Vartius (Kuhmo) Kelloselkä (Salla) and Raja-Jooseppi (Inari). All except the first are very remote. As of March 2016, Salla and Raja-Jooseppi are open only to Finnish, Russian and Belarusian citizens and their families, until at least September 2016.
As mentioned above, there is a car ferry between Tallinn and Helsinki. It forms a part of European route E67 Via Baltica that runs from the Estonian capital Tallinn, crosses Riga in Latvia and Kaunas in Lithuania to the Polish capital Warsaw. The distance from Tallinn to Warsaw is about 970 kilometers, not including any detours. There is a car and cargo ferry service from Paldiski to Hanko.
Bikes can be taken on the ferries (you enter via the car deck, check when to show up) for a modest fee. There are no special requirements on the land borders with Norway and Sweden.
During the recent immigrant issue in Europe, Finnish Border Agency did forbid crossing the border by bicycle over the northernmost checkpoints (Raja-Jooseppi and Salla) from Russia. However it is still apparently allowed to cross the border by bicycle over the southern borders.
Walk-in from Sweden and Norway is allowed, but crossing the Russian border by foot is not. This ban is probably enforced by the Russian border guard (as asked to by Finland). If they let you walk out, perhaps the Finnish border guard lets you in, given your papers, if any, are in order. In any case, the Finnish border guard cannot turn asylum seekers back. The UN Refugee Protocol, also signed by Finland, gives no right to deny the right to seek asylum, on the grounds of formalities or the means they used to enter the country.
Finland is a large country and travelling is relatively expensive. Public transportation is well organized 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 may give significantly lower prices.
The domestic Journey Planner of the Finnish transport agency offers timetables for all trains and most buses and flights, including inter-city transport and local transport for some cities, although using it for the countryside may require quite some fiddling around (it knows only some village names; municipalities and street addresses work better).
In mid-2010s Finland the national Trafi Traffic Authority and Helsinki Region Traffic have been working on the next generation traveler routers based open source software, open standards and open data, so basically copyleft. It is called Digitransit (.fi) and public betas are available for national level and for Metropolitan Helsinki respectively.
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. You may also be able to get discounted domestic tickets if you fly into Finland on Finnair. 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.
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, with an expanding network.
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. BASe Airlines and Air100 fill in a few gaps.
VR (Valtion Rautatiet, "State's Railways") operates the fairly extensive railroad network. Where train connections are available, they are usually the most comfortable and often the fastest method of travel. From Helsinki to Tampere, Turku and Lahti, there are departures more or less every hour in daytime.
- Pendolino tilting trains (code S), the fastest option (€32, 1:26)
- InterCity (IC) and InterCity2 (IC2) express trains (€26.90, 1:46)
- Ordinary express (pikajuna, P), only slow night trains for this connection (€24.60, 2:12–2:16)
- Local and regional trains (lähiliikennejuna, lähijuna or taajamajuna), no surcharge, quite slow (€21, 2:03)
Cheaper "advance tickets" are available between 7 and 60 days before departure, a Pendolino ticket between Helsinki and Tampere can then be found for as low as €8.50 for example.
The trains are generally very comfortable, especially the intercity and long distance services, which (depending on connection and type of train) may have restaurant and family cars (with a playing space for children), power sockets, and free Wi-Fi connection. Additional surcharges apply for travel in first class, branded "Extra" on some trains, which gets you more spacious seating, newspapers and possibly a snack. Check the services of individual trains if you need them, e.g. facilities for families and wheelchair users vary considerably.
Overnight sleepers are available for long-haul routes and very good value at €11/21/43 for a bed in a three/two/one-bed compartment, but one-bed compartments are only available in first class. Advance tickets for overnight trains only allow the booking of a seat, not of a bed.
One child under 17 can travel for free with each fare-paying adult (check: might have changed), and seniors over 65 years old and students with Finnish student ID (ISIC cards etc not accepted) get ~50% off. Groups of 3 or more get 15% off. If booking much in advance on the net you may get bargain prices.
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.
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. If you try booking for these days at a late time, you may find the seat you reserve may be among the least desirable, that is, facing backwards, without recline, and facing towards and sharing the legroom with other passengers.
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. 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 licencing this data under CC-BY Copyleft licence.
Finnish Railways is under heavy process of privatization, and the traditional operations have been challenged by the potential of smaller operators to enter the markets. Yet still, most of the railway network is operated by the former state bureau, providing good service in most of the cases yet high prices in many cases. The underlying issue with Finnish railways is the vastness of the country and the small population. Thus, many routes and stops formerly motivated by political or territorial reasons have been suspended. While part of the railway traffic has been liberated for competition, the bulk of passenger traffic still remains a monopoly of one company.
There are long-distance coach connections along the main roads to practically all parts of Finland. Bus is also the only way to travel in Lapland, since the rail network doesn't extend to the extreme north. Bus connections may be scarce between the thoroughfares.
Most buses between bigger towns are express buses (pikavuoro/snabbtur), having fewer stops than the "standard" (vakiovuoro/reguljär tur) buses, near extinction on some routes. Between some big cities there are also special express (erikoispikavuoro/express) buses with hardly any stops between the cities. Using buses to reach the countryside you should check not only that there are buses along the right road, but also that there are buses stopping not too far away from where you intend to get off or on, on the intended day.
Buses 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 slow (from Helsinki to Oulu), sometimes even faster (from Helsinki to Kotka and Pori). On many routes, though, buses are more frequent, so you may still get to your destination faster than if you wait for the next train. Credit and debit cards should be accepted on the main express and long-haul services (and when buying tickets in advance), on "regular" coaches on short distances you are more likely to need cash.
Matkahuolto maintains some services across bus companies, such as timetables, ticket sale and freight. 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 generally is 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.
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.
Senior discounts are for those over 65 years old or with Finnish pension decision.
You can get the BusPass travel pass from Matkahuolto, which offers unlimited travel in specified time, priced at 149 € for 7 days and 249 € for 14 days. Important to take account is that it is accepted in most long distance buses, but it is not accepted by Onnibus.
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. In 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).
Onnibus offers a cheaper alternative (down to €2 even for long rides if bought early enough online) for long-distance coaches on routes between major cities in Finland but the seats must be booked before hand online at their site as they do not accept cash. Note that the routes do not necessarily serve the city centres, but can provide direct access to some nearby locations. Onnibuses include Free unencrypted WiFi and an 24V DC -> 220V AC inverter which enables power sockets.
Local transport networks are well-developed in Greater Helsinki, Tampere, Oulu, Lahti and Turku. In smaller cities public transport networks are usable on weekdays, but sparse on weekends and during the summer. There are easy-to-use high-tech English route planners with maps to find out how to use local bus services, provided or linked by Matkahuolto.
In summertime, lake cruises are a great way to see the scenery of Finland, although many of them only do circular sightseeing loops and aren't thus 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 in Saimaa.
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 be sure you have somewhere to sleep after having got off.
Car rental is possible in Finland but generally expensive, with rates generally upwards of €80/day, although rates go down for longer rentals. Foreign-registered cars can only be used in Finland for a limited time and registering it locally involves paying a substantial tax to equalize the price to Finnish levels. If you opt to buy a car in Finland instead, make sure it has all annual taxes paid and when its next annual inspection is due: the deadline is the same day as the car's first date of use unless the registration form says 00.00.xx in first date of use. In that case, which is common only for very old cars, the inspection date is determined by the last number of the license plate. All cars must pass emissions testing and precise tests of brakes etc. Police may remove the plates of vehicles that have not passed their annual inspections in time and give you a fine.
Traffic drives on the right, and there are no road tolls in Finnish cities or highways. Roads are well maintained and extensive, although expressways are limited to the south of the country. Drivers must stay very alert, particularly at dawn and dusk, for wild animals. Collisions with moose (frequently lethal) are common countrywide, deer (mostly survivable) cause numerous collisions in the southern and southwestern parts of the country, and semi-domesticated reindeer are a common cause of accidents in Lapland. Bear collisions happen sometimes in eastern parts of the country. Try to pass behind 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 Helsinki 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. Most choose to use headlights at all times. New cars usually come with headlight- and DRL-related automatics which do not always work properly. This is especially true in the Finnish winter – without visually verifying the lights around your car you could be driving without any tail lights in a blizzard with vehicles approaching you from the behind in highway speeds.
- Always give way to the right, unless signed otherwise. The concept of minor road refers only to exits from parking lots and similar, so this applies even to smaller roads on your right. Almost all intersections are explicitly signposted with yield signs (either the stop sign or an inverted triangle). Usually only highways are explicitly marked with priority signs, so most roads with priority go unmarked; instead, watch for the back of the yield sign on the other road.
- Signs use the following shorthand: white numbers are for Mondays to Fridays, white numbers in parentheses for Saturdays and red numbers for Sundays and holidays; "8–16" in white means weekdays 8 AM to 4 PM.
- In Helsinki, trams always have the right of way. Collisions do a "surprising amount of damage". Don't get into arguments with a vehicle that can't change direction and weighs as much as a small battle tank.
- A vehicle is required by law to stop at a zebra crossing, if at least one other car has stopped, regardless of whether or not there is a pedestrian (in a similar manner as if there were a stop sign).
- A car is obliged to stop at a zebra crossing, if the pedestrian intends to cross the road. Most pedestrians "intend" to cross the road only when there is a sufficiently large gap in the traffic. Being polite and stopping anyway can create a dangerous situation, when the car behind on the next lane does not recognize the pedestrian and goes by without stopping. Watch the mirrors and be ready to blow the horn.
- When crossing the road as a pedestrian at a zebra crossing, do not leave a shadow of a doubt that you will cross the road, and cars will stop. With some practice, this works out smoothly, efficiently and without taking undue risks. By default, drivers will assume that the pedestrian "does not intend to cross the road right now", in other words, cars will not stop.
- Circular traffic can be rather complex. For example, in one spot, two new lanes are created while the outer lane is suddenly forced to exit. This creates a difficult situation, when the lines are covered by snow.
- Pedestrians walking on unlighted roads without sidewalk or cycle tracks in the dark are required by law to use safety reflectors. Their use is generally recommended, since the visibility of pedestrians with reflector improves greatly.
- Using seat belts is mandatory. Children of less than 135cm must use appropriate devices (except when "temporary" travelling in the car, such as in taxis).
Winter driving can be somewhat hazardous, especially for drivers unused to cold weather conditions. Winter tyres (M+S) are mandatory from 1 December through the end of February and studded tyres allowed from November 1st to after Easter (and "when circumstances require", with a liberal interpretation). The most dangerous weather is in fact around the zero degree mark (°C), when slippery but near-invisible black ice forms on the roads. Finnish cars often come equipped with an engine block heater (lohkolämmitin) used to preheat the engine and possibly the interior of the car beforehand, and many parking places have electric outlets to feed them. Liikenneturva, the Finnish road safety agency, maintains a "Tips for difficult road conditions" page in English. Note that especially in the Helsinki area, the majority of cars is equipped with steel-studded tyres that allow more dynamic driving and shorter braking distances on frozen surfaces than conventional traction tyres (M+S), as used in some other European countries.
Finnish speeding tickets are based on your income, so be careful: a Nokia VP who'd cashed in some stock options the previous year was once hit for $204,000! With tax records of foreigners unavailable, non-residents are usually fined at a flat €100–200 instead. Speed limits are 50 km/h in towns, 80–100 km/h outside towns and at most 120 km/h on freeways. From around mid-October to April, speedlimits on freeways are lowered to 100 km/h and most 100 km/h limits are lowered to 80 km/h.
Software for GPS navigators that warns of fixed safety cameras is legal and installed by default in many mobile phones. Warning signs before fixed cameras (usually at the start of the supervised road) are required by law.
A blood alcohol level of over 0.05 % is considered drunk driving and 0.12 % as aggravated drunk driving, so think twice before drinking that second beer. Finnish police strictly enforce this by random roadblocks and sobriety tests. The sobriety test is done with a handheld breath alcohol tester and there is no practical way to refuse it.
If you are driving at night when the gas stations are closed (they usually close at 9 PM), always remember to bring some money for gas. Automated gas pumps in Finland in rare occasions do not accept foreign visa/credit 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.
Finnish taxis are heavily regulated by the government, so they're comfortable, safe and expensive. No matter where you go in the country, the starting fee is fixed at €5.50, rising up to €8.60 at night and on Sundays. The per-kilometer charge starts at €1.43/km for 1 or 2 passengers, rising up to €2,01/km for 7 or 8 passenger (in minivans). In the countryside you pay for the distance to where you wait, but this is deduced if you are going to where the taxi came from (more or less). A 20–25 km journey (say, airport to central Helsinki) can thus easily cost €30–40. For really long journeys, the price can sometimes be negotiated.
Taxis can come in any colour or shape, but they will always have a yellow "TAXI" sign (sometimes spelled "TAKSI") on the roof. Hailing cabs off the street is difficult to impossible, so either find a taxi rank or order by phone (any pub or restaurant will help you on this – expect to pay €2 for the call). In towns you use the calling centre, in the countryside you might want to call a taxi company directly. Taxi companies around the country can be found at the Taksiliitto site or from local tourist services.
A normal taxi will carry 4 people and a moderate amount of luggage. For significant amounts of luggage, you may want to 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 (many also equipped for wheelchairs). The tilataksis are usually equipped for taking also a person in wheelchair. The fares are the same, but you might have to wait longer (a wheelchair or other special service will rise the price though).
Uber is a more affordable – but apparently illegal – alternative to official regulated taxis in the Helsinki region. A few drivers have been convicted, no case yet handled by the supreme court. The legal risk for customers seems low.
In city centres, long queues at the taxi stops can be expected on Friday and Saturday nights. The same is true at ferry harbours, railway stations and the like. 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.
Unlicensed taxis (pimeä taksi) may be found in the centres of large towns, particularly on nights and weekends, but their use is to be avoided. You might lose your wallet/purse/phone, get conned or even assaulted. This despite such crimes are generally unusual.
Useful website for calculating the fares and finding taxi booking numbers around Finland is Taksilaskuri.
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 as 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 very high percentage of Russian drivers. See Hitchhiking Club Finland liftari.org or the Finland article on Hitchwiki for further details if interested.
Most Finnish cities have good bike paths especially outside the centres, and taking a bike can be a quick, healthy and environmentally friendly method of getting around locally. In the countryside you can often find suitable quiet routes, but sometimes this requires some effort. Not all major roads allow safe biking. There are bikers' maps for many areas.
Biking off road is regarded 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 cycle path, as long as they do not unreasonably disturb pedestrians. Bikes on cycle paths have to yield for cars on crossing roads.
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 bike path 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 bikers are often neglected
Due to the relatively gentle topographic relief, too hilly terrain is rarely a problem, but in the cold months, wind chill requires more protection against cold 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 and rear reflector are obligatory.
Because of the long distances, bicycle tourists are advised to plan well and be prepared to use public transport for the less interesting stretches. Long-distance coaches are well-equipped to take a few bicycles on board. Fares vary by company and distance, typically about half of an ordinary ticket. Packing the bike is not needed, but getting on at the bus station and arriving in time may help finding room for the bike.
Trains take bicycles for €5 if there is enough space (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 trailer 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 to Russia packing the bikes is necessary (100 cm x 60 cm x 40 cm). Bikes are free also unpacked on trains in the Helsinki region, but are not allowed in rush hours (7:00–9:00 and 15:00–18:00).
Ferries usually take bikes for free or for a minimal charge.
Renting a bike at your destination should be possible. In at least Helsinki and Turku there are also municipal experiments for providing bikes cheaply for short rides.
Bikes are often stolen, at least in cities, so have a lock and use it, and try to avoid leaving the bike at unsafe places.
- See also: Sailing 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 and some 14,000 yachts owned by locals, rowboats and the smallest motorboats not counted. There is a boat on every seventh Finn. If you stay at a cottage, chances are there is a rowing boat available.
Finland is officially bilingual in Finnish (suomi) and Swedish (svenska), and both languages are compulsory in nearly all schools (with varying results). Also Sami, Romani and Finnish sign language are recognized in the constitution, but they are not talked outside their respective communities and the speakers are bilingual with Finnish.
Most people you will meet know English.
Businesses with a domestic customer base often have their web pages and other marketing in Finnish only. This is not an indication that they cannot provide service in English, and give foreigners a good time (although they might have to improvise more than those used to foreigners). If the business seems interesting, just call them to get the information you need.
Finnish, mother tongue of 92 percent of the population, is not related to the Scandinavian languages (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese), Russian, or English. It is not even an Indo-European language, instead belonging in the Uralic group of languages, which includes Hungarian and Estonian, making it hard for speakers of most other European languages to learn. While Finnish and Estonian share many similarities Hungarian and Finnish are about as close to each other as Spanish and Russian.
Reading signboards can be difficult as Finnish uses relatively few loan words from common European languages. The relation between spelling and formal pronunciation is straight forward (just learn how to pronounce individual letters – the difficulty lies in sticking to that), while colloquial speech differs substantially from what is taught in most language lessons.
The Finnish language has relatively few exceptions but quite many rules (where some rules might be considered cleverly disguised exceptions). There are about 17 different 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 roof" and so on, which are encoded into the word endings (kahvia, kahvi, pubiin, pubissa, pubista, katolle, katolta, kattona). The conjugation of verbs is unfortunately somewhat more complex.
Using a dictionary is complicated by the word inflection; also the stem of many words varies somewhat (e.g. roof, "katto", above). Many different words are formed from the same root by other endings (kirjain, kirjuri, kirjasin, kirjoitin, kirje, kirjelmä, kirjasto and kirjaamo are all substantives related to "kirja", book, and then there are related verbs and adjectives).
Swedish, closely related to Norwegian and Danish, is the mother tongue for 5.6% of Finns. There are no large cities with a Swedish majority, and the Swedish-speaking communities are mainly smaller towns and rural municipalities along the coast and minorities in the cities. Many towns and road signs on the coast use alternative Finnish and Swedish names, so road signs can be confusing. The small autonomous province of Åland and e.g. the municipalities of Närpes, Korsnäs and Larsmo are more or less exclusively Swedish-speaking, and people there typically speak little or no Finnish, so English is a better bet. Swedish is a mandatory subject in Finnish-speaking schools since the 1970s (as Finnish in Swedish-speaking schools). In practice, it is rare to find fluent Swedish speakers in the street outside cities and towns with a significant Swedish-speaking community – about half the population regard themselves conversant in it, though, including e.g. any national-level politician. In cities like Helsinki and Turku 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, whereas in traditionally Swedish towns like Vaasa and Porvoo nearly half the population is Swedish-speaking and service in Swedish is expected by many Swedish speaking locals. Most larger hotels and restaurants in areas where Swedish is widely spoken do have Swedish-proficient staff.
In larger cities, with the exception of the elderly, nearly all people you could possibly meet as a tourist speak English very well, and even in the countryside younger people will nearly always know enough to communicate. In fact, outside of the Swedish-speaking communities, English is usually far better understood than Swedish. Conversely, within some Swedish-speaking communities, English may be better understood than Finnish. 73% of the population in Finland can speak English. Don't hesitate to ask for help: Finns can be shy, but will usually be really pleased to help out people in need.
Russian may be understood in shops and hotels that cater to Russian tourists, particularly near the Russian border, for example in Lappeenranta, Imatra and Joensuu, but also in some major stores in Helsinki such as Stockmann. Tourist destinations which are popular among Russians in Eastern and Northern Finland have some Russian-speaking staff. Otherwise, few Finns speak Russian.
TV programs and movies are nearly always subtitled. Only children's programmes and children's movies 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.
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 14 teams battle it out, and 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!
- [dead link]World Fart Championships. July, Utajärvi. Yes, you read correctly.
- [dead link]Mobile Phone Throwing Championship. August, Savonlinna. Recycle your Nokia!
- [dead link]Swamp Soccer World Championship. July, Hyrynsalmi. Probably the messiest sporting event in the world. They also arrange a snow soccer world championships each February.
- [dead link]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
- See also: Sailing in Finland
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. 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. 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. Cyanobacteria plague the waters in the warmest period, due to eutrophication; 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. Many Finns swim in winter also.
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.
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) is common enough that you nearly anywhere (in July–August) will find berries for your morning porridge, for a pie or as desert with cream and sugar. Other common berries include wild strawberry, lingonberry, bog bilberry, raspberry and crowberry. On bogs you may find cloudberry and cranberry, the latter picked late in autumn. Many Finns also pick mushrooms, but that requires you to know what you are doing, as there are deadly ones (including the European destroying angel, easy to mistake for an Agaricus – field, button, common mushroom and the like).
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. 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) or R-kioski, in the web shop (Finnish only) or by bank giro (2016: €39 for a year, €12 for a week, €5 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 (most land-owners in the countryside have a share) you can fish with most legal methods. There are minimum sizes, protected species and other special regulations you should check, e.g. when getting the permit. More information from 020-69-2424 (08:00–16:00) and e.g. ahven.net. Moving between certain waters you should disinfect your equipment, including boat and boots (there are salmon parasites [dead link] 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 trails and huts marked.
Finland hosts many music festivals (festari) during the summer. Some of the most notable include:
- Sauna Open Air. Heavy metal, Tampere, early June
- Provinssirock. Rock, Seinäjoki, mid-June
- Nummirock. Heavy metal, Nummijärvi (near Kauhajoki), late June (Midsummer)
- Raumanmeren juhannus. Pop/disco music, Pori, late June (Midsummer)
- Tuska Open Air. Heavy metal, Helsinki, late June
- Tangomarkkinat. Tango, Seinäjoki, early July
- Ruisrock. Rock, Turku, July
- Ilosaarirock. Rock, pop, reggae, Joensuu, mid-July
- Pori Jazz. Jazz/world music, Pori, mid-July
- Flow. Indie/electronic/urban, Helsinki, mid-August
- Qstock. Rock, pop, rap, Oulu, end of july
Most of the festivals last 2–4 days and are very well organized, 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.
- Finncon, Varies. Finland's biggest sci-fi convention and the only major sci-fi convention in the world to be completely free of charge. The host city varies annually between Helsinki, Turku, Tampere and Jyväskylä. 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. In summer it is light also in the night, so the aurora often become invisible, and even in the north they do not occur every night. 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 the areas where you are likely to be have too much light pollution. 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 crystallizes the Finnish honor 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 honor 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 organizes 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.
Finland uses the euro. It is one of several European countries that uses this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender within all the countries.
Countries that have the euro as their official currency:
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.
- Banknotes: Euro banknotes have the same design in all the countries.
- Normal coins: All eurozone countries have coins issued with a distinctive national design on one side, and a standard common design on the other side. Coins can be used in any eurozone country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
- Commemorative two euro coins: These differ from normal two euro coins only in their "national" side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country may produce a certain amount of them as part of their normal coin production and sometimes "Europe-wide" two euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. the anniversary of important treaties).
- Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins of other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, and have entirely special designs and often contain non-negligible amounts of gold, silver or platinum. While they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector value is usually much higher and, as such, you will most likely not find them in actual circulation.
Finland does not use the 1 and 2 cent coins in cash transactions; instead all sums are rounded to the nearest 5 cents. The coins are, however, still legal tender and there are even small quantities of Finnish 1c and 2c coins, highly valued by collectors. It is common to omit cents and the euro sign from prices, and use the comma as a decimal separator: "5,50" thus means five euros and fifty cents, while 5,– means five euros.
However, when paying with a card, the payment is honored to the cent.
Getting or exchanging money is rarely a problem in cities, as ATMs are common and they can be operated with international credit and debit cards (Visa, Visa Electron, MasterCard, Maestro). In the countryside ATMs are harder to find. Cash can be got with some cards at some shops.
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, Swedish krona and Russian rubles. Also on the ferries from Sweden and Estonia many currencies may be accepted.
Credit cards are widely accepted, but you will be asked for identification if you purchase more than €50 (and may be asked to show it even for smaller purchases). 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. For open air markets, small accommodation businesses, for buying handicraft at the workshop and similar, have cash or check in advance.
Exchange bureaux can be found in the bigger cities and near borders and typically have better rates, longer opening hours and faster service than banks. Note that not all bank offices handle cash.
Many Finns use a card nowadays, even for small purchases, and the use of cash is rapidly decreasing. Using foreign a card might become an issue if you are not using chip-based card. Many vendors require PIN. Don't get annoyed if Finns pay small 1-5 eur amounts using cards, even when there is a large queue behind.
As a rule, tipping is never necessary in Finland and restaurant bills already include service charges; tipping is entirely optional and almost unheard of outside certain sectors. At restaurants tipping is fairly common. Taxi fares and other bills paid by cash 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.
Declared the world's most expensive country in 1990, prices have since abated somewhat but are still steep by most standards. Rock-bottom traveling if staying in hostel dorms and self-catering costs at least €25/day and it's safer to assume double that amount. The cheapest hotels cost about €50 per night and more regular hotels start from about €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 between €10 and €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 between €20 and €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 above €40 at participating outlets, just look for the Tax-Free Shopping logo.
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 flavor, the most common being the Leijona Lakritsi candies.
Popular brands for modern (or timeless) Finnish design include Marimekko clothing, Iittala glass, Arabia ceramics, 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 not a few adults love Moomin characters, which fill up souvenir store shelves, and Angry Birds products now plague the entire country.
Beware of limited Finnish shopping hours. For smaller shops, normal weekday opening hours are 9 AM to 5 or 6 PM, but most shops close early on Saturday and are closed entirely on Sundays. Larger shops and department stores are generally open until 9 PM on weekdays and 6 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. Small grocery stores in cities often have longer hours. During national holidays, almost all stores are closed. Shopping hours for small and speciality stores in small towns and in the countryside are often much shorter than in big cities, but most national chains keep the same hours throughout the country. The regulation of opening hours were abandoned 2016, with longer times in big stores the first reaction, but the lasting effects are not yet clear.
Convenience stores like the ubiquitous R-Kioski keep somewhat longer hours, but still tend to be closed when you most need them. If in desperate need of basic supplies, gas station convenience stores are usually open on weekends and until late at night. Some of the gas station convenience stores are open 24/7, particularly the ABC! chain. Supermarkets in Helsinki's Asematunneli, underneath the Central Railway Station, are open until 10 PM every day of the year, except on Christmas Day (December 25). Regardless of the opening hours of the shop, sale of alcohol is always restricted to 9 AM to 9 PM.
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 specialized 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). The more specialized the goods, the higher the gap between Finnish and international prices, and mail order may save a lot of money. When a package is intercepted by customs (which is quite rare for physically small items), the buyer is notified and can pick it up from customs or it is routed to the closest post office after clearing. VAT and possibly import duty, when over certain value, and a clearing fee may be charged, bring a copy of the order that is then signed by the buyer and archived.
- See also: Nordic cuisine
Finnish cuisine is heavily influenced by its neighbors (see Nordic cuisine and Russian cuisine), the main staples being potatoes and bread with various fish and meat dishes on the side. Milk or cream is traditionally considered an important part of the diet and is often an ingredient in foods and a drink, even for adults. Various milk products such as cheeses are also produced. While traditional Finnish food is famously bland, the culinary revolution that followed joining the EU has seen a boom in classy restaurants experimenting with local ingredients, often with excellent results.
Finnish taste is rather mild, and the spices are used sparingly. The traditional culinary experience included more fat and butter than what today is recommended, and was noticeably more down-to-earth, though certainly as delicious as today's food. Contemporary Finnish cuisine includes tastes and influences from all over the world. As the ingredients make much of the food, in Finland, the agricultural products might suffer of the cold climate. Yet 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 traveling in the middle of the Finland, there is a rare occasion to purchase freshly caught and prepared fish from one of the thousand lakes. Perhaps one of the most famous and tasty dishes is the "Kalakukko", a tasty and awesome combination of fish, meat and bread.
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). Specialities include:
- Baltic herring (silakka), 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 appetizer of raw salted salmon
- Smoked salmon (savulohi), not just the cold, thinly sliced, semi-raw kind but also fully cooked "warm" smoked salmon
- Vendace (muikku), a speciality in eastern 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.
Other local fish to look out for include zander (kuha), an expensive delicacy, pike (hauki), flounder (kampela) and perch (ahven).
Around October each year, in Helsinki, you will find a traditional Herring Fair. That is something awesome to try out, the fish is tasty and many people gather around. You might find the same in Turku and other cities on the coastline.
- Karelian stew (karjalanpaisti), a heavy stew usually made from beef and pork (and optionally, lamb), carrots and onions, usually served with potatoes
- Liver casserole (maksalaatikko), consisting of chopped liver, rice and raisins cooked in an oven; it tastes rather different from what you'd expect (and not liver-y at all)
- Loop sausage (lenkkimakkara), a large, mildly flavored sausage; best when grilled and topped with a dab of sweet Finnish mustard (sinappi), and beer
- Meat balls (lihapullat, lihapyörykät) are as popular and tasty as in neighboring Sweden
- Reindeer (poro) dishes, especially sauteed reindeer shavings (poronkäristys, served with potato mash and lingonberries), not actually a part of the everyday Finnish diet but a tourist staple and common in the North. In addition to poronkäristys also reindeer jerky (ilmakuivattu poro) is a known delicacy and hard to come by and slightly smoked reindeer beef cutlets are available at all supermarkets though they too are expensive (delicious with rye bread)
- Swedish hash ("pyttipannu"), (originally from Sweden, Swedish: "pytt i panna") a hearty dish of potatoes, onions and any meaty leftovers on hand fried up in a pan and topped with an egg
- Makkara traditional Finnish sausage. Affectionately called "the Finnish man's vegetable" since the actual meat content may be rather low.
Cheese and other milk products are very popular in Finland. The most common varieties are mild hard cheeses like Edam and Emmental, but local specialities include:
- Aura cheese (aurajuusto), a local variety of Roquefort blue cheese, also used in soups, sauces and as a pizza topping.
- Breadcheese (leipäjuusto or juustoleipä), a type of very mild-flavored grilled curd that squeaks when you eat it, best enjoyed warm with a dab of cloudberry jam
- Piimä, a type of buttermilk beverage, thick and sour and contains naturally healthy lactic acid bacteria.
- Viili, a gelatinous, stretchy and sour variant of yoghurt
Viili, 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. Fermented dairy products help stabilize the digestion system, so if your system is upset, give them a try (those without jam or those labelled AB are probably best for this use).
Yoghurt, often premixed with jam, is commonly eaten. Skyr, a cultured milk product originally from Iceland, has become a popular yogurt substitute. Flavoured Kefir as a cultured dairy drink is becoming more common and available in larger supermarkets. Soya, almond, hazelnut, rice and coconut milk drinks are to be found in larger supermarkets, sometimes flavoured, usually in long life packaging next to the dairy fridges. Cream and (sweetened) condensed milk is also available.
Large quantities of cheese (juusto) 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) and year round market halls. A flat fried bread-cheese (leipäjuusto) can be eaten cold with (cloud berry) jam, in a salad or reheated with meals, a baked egg cheese (munajuusto) block is a common food ingredient made with milk, buttermilk and egg.
- Pea soup (hernekeitto), usually but not always with ham, traditionally eaten with a dab of mustard and served on Thursdays; just watch out for the flatulence!
- Karelian pies (karjalanpiirakka), an oval 7 by 10 cm baked pastry, traditionally baked with rye flour, containing rice porridge or mashed potato, ideally eaten topped with butter and chopped egg (munavoi)
- Porridge (puuro), usually made from oats (kaura), barley (ohra), rice (riisi) or rye (ruis) and most often served for breakfast
Bread (leipä) is served with every meal in Finland, and comes in a vast array of varieties. Rye bread (ruisleipä, rågbröd) is the most popular bread in Finland. It can be up to 100% rye and usually it is sourdough bread, which is much darker, heavier and chewier than American-style mixed wheat-rye bread. Unlike in Swedish tradition, many Finnish types of rye bread are unsweetened and thus sour and even bitter. The sweet varieties are usually sweetened with malt (sometimes also with treacle).
Typically Finnish breads include:
- reikäleipä, round flat rye bread with a hole, western Finland, the hole was for drying it on sticks by the ceiling
- ruispala, the most popular type of bread, a modern unholed, single-serving, pre-cut variant of reikäleipä in a rectangular or oblong shape
- hapankorppu, dry, crispy and slightly sour flatbread, occasionally sold overseas as "Finncrisp"
- näkkileipä, dried, crispy flatbread, traditionally from rye
- ruislimppu, traditionally rye, water and salt only (limppu is a catch-all term for big loaves of fresh bread)
- perunalimppu, rye bread with potato and malt, quite sweet
- svartbröd (saaristolaisleipä or Maalahden limppu), sweet and heavy black bread from the south-western archipelago (especially Åland), made in a complicated process; originally less sweet, for long fishing and hunting expeditions and for seafarers, excellent as a base for eating roe with smetana
- piimälimppu, wheat bread with buttermilk, usually sweetened
- rieska, unleavened bread made from wheat or potatoes, like a softer and thicker variant of a tortilla, eaten fresh
Attack of the killer mushrooms
The false morel (korvasieni) has occasionally been dubbed the "Finnish fugu", as like the infamous Japanese pufferfish, an improperly prepared false morel can kill you. Fortunately, it's easily rendered safe by boiling with the right ceremonies (you should get instructions when you buy it – and don't breathe in the fumes!), and prepared mushrooms can be found in gourmet restaurants and even canned.
Around Easter keep an eye out for mämmi, a type of brown sweet rye pudding. It looks famously unpleasant but actually tastes quite good (best eaten with creamy milk and sugar). At bigger supermarkets you can buy frozen pool mämmi nowadays around the year. One sweet speciality for the May day is tippaleipä, a palm sized funnel cake traditionally enjoyed with mead. At 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 early September it's worthwhile to ask for crayfish (rapu) menus and prices at better restaurants. It's not cheap, you don'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. Or try to sneak onto a corporate crayfish party guestlist, places are extremely coveted at some. Around Christmas, baked ham is the traditional star of the dinner table, with a constellation of casseroles around it.
There are also regional specialities, including Savonia's kalakukko which is small vendace or other fish wrapped in bacon and enclosed in rye bread dough and baked for long time so the fish bones soften to become actually quite pleasant in texture and Tampere's fast food black sausage (mustamakkara) which is basically blood, fat and soaked barley kernels made into a sausage and is best with lingonberry jam if you can handle blood foods. When in Lappeenranta the local fast food to try is vetyatomi (hydrogen atom) a pie with meat and rice content and fillings (ham and fried egg) available at grillikioski, not only in Lappeenranta since it is very good if you want to eat local flavour fast food.
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), a wide variety of tarts (torttu), and donuts (big ones are called munkki but the small ones are called donitsi). In summer, a wide range of fresh berries are available, including the delectable but expensive cloudberry (lakka), and berry products are available throughout the year as jam (hillo), soup (keitto) and a type of gooey clear pudding known as kiisseli.
Finnish chocolate is also rather good, with Fazer products including their iconic Sininen ("Blue") bar exported around the world. A more Finnish speciality is licorice (lakritsi). Particularly the strong salty liquorice (salmiakki) gets its unique (and acquired) taste from ammonium chloride.
After a meal it's common to chomp chewing gum (purukumi) including xylitol, which is good for dental health. Jenkki is a popular domestic chewing gum brand with xylitol (many flavours 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 for around €8–9, usually consisting of a main course, salad bar, bread table and a drink. University cafeterias, many of which are open to all, are particularly cheap with meals in the €2–4 range for students, although without Finnish student ID you will usually need to pay about € 5–7. There are also public cafeterias in office / administration 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 (typically 8.40 € in 2011).
The café scene has quickly developed, especially since the 1990s and above all in Helsinki. The array of cakes and pastries is not perhaps as vast as in Central Europe, but the local special coffees (lattes, mochas etc.) are worth trying when it comes to the two big local coffee house chains: Wayne's Coffee (originated in Sweden) and Robert's Coffee (Finland). Starbucks is also coming to Finland.
For dinner, you'll be limited to generic fast food (pizza, hamburgers, kebabs and such) in the €5–10 range, or you'll 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), 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. They have a "Finnish" interpretation of a few dishes, such as a sour-rye chicken sandwich. Of course most international fast food chains are present, especially McDonald's, which offers many of their sandwich buns substituted with a sour-rye bun on request.
The Finnish word for buffet is seisova pöytä ("standing table"), and while increasingly used to refer to all-you-can-eat Chinese or Italian 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 will likely have prepared a spread for their guest, 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) produce. One should be aware that more often than not, cheap food contains disproportionate amounts of fat.
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 and lunch, so the dinner doesn't need to be very heavy, and can be two- or single-course. Dinner is served rather early, sometimes as early as 4 p.m., but usually at 5 or 6 p.m.
Traditional Finnish cuisine relies heavily on meat and fish, but vegetarianism (kasvissyönti) 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) 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 commonly found among Finns themselves are lactose intolerance (laktoosi-intoleranssi, inability to digest the milk sugar lactose) and coeliac disease (keliakia, inability to digest gluten). In restaurants, lactose-free selections are often tagged "L" (low-lactose products are sometimes called "Hyla" or marked with "VL"), while gluten-free options are marked with "G". However, hydrolyzed 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) on all packaged goods, at restaurants and markets you will have to ask.
Thanks to its thousands of lakes, Finland has plenty of water supplies and tap water is always potable (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 and mehujuoma, where the latter may have only traces of the nominal ingredient.
Coffee and tea
Finns are the world's heaviest coffee (kahvi) drinkers, averaging 3–4 cups per day. Most Finns drink it strong and black, but sugar and milk for coffee are always available and the more European variants such as espresso and cappuccino are becoming all the more common especially in the bigger cities. Starbucks has arrived in Helsinki, but all the biggest towns have had French-style fancy cafés for quite some time and modern competitors, like Wayne's or Robert's Coffee, are springing up in the mix. 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 downtown cafés or tea rooms.
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 flavor 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 flavored coffee on the top. Today, one rarely finds this kind of "pannukahvi" in public cafés, however when visiting private homes or summer cottages, it is worth of trying. 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) as an accompaniment to food. Another popular option is piimä, or buttermilk.
Alcohol is very expensive in Finland compared to most countries (though not to its Nordic neighbours Sweden and Norway), although low-cost Estonia's entry to the EU has forced the government to cut alcohol taxes a little. Still, a single beer will cost you closer to €4–5 in any bar or pub, or €1 and up in a supermarket. While beer and cider are available in any supermarket or convenience store (9 AM to 9 PM), the state monopoly Alko is your sole choice for wine or anything stronger. The legal drinking age is 18 for milder drinks, while to buy hard liquor from Alko you need to be 20. ID is usually requested from all young-looking clients (nowadays all looking to be under 30). Some restaurants have higher age requirements, up to 30 years, but these are their own policies and are not always followed, especially at more quiet times.
Despite the unusually high cost of booze, Finnish people are well known of their tolerance and culture around celebration. Do not hesitate to join the Finnish parties, which usually are not very dry. While Finnish people tend to stick to individual bills in the bar, when you get with them into the summer cottage, things usually turn other way around and everyone enjoys together what there is on the table.
Surprisingly enough, the national drink is not Finlandia Vodka, but its local brand Koskenkorva or Kossu in common speech. However, the two drinks are closely related: Kossu is 38% while Finlandia is 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.
A local speciality is Salmiakki-Kossu or Salmari, prepared by mixing in salty black salmiakki 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 classic shots are Jaloviina (Jallu) cut brandy and Tervasnapsi "tar schnapps" with a distinctive smoke aroma.
Beer (olut or kalja) is also very popular, but Finnish beers are mostly nearly identical, mild lagers: common brands are Lapin Kulta, Karjala, Olvi, Koff and Karhu. Pay attention to the label when buying: beers branded "I" are inexpensive with low alcohol content, while "III" and "IV" are stronger and more expensive. In normal shops you will not find any drinks with more than 4.7% alcohol. You may also encounter kotikalja ("home beer"), a dark brown beer-like but very low-alcohol beverage. Imported beers are available in bigger grocery stores, most pubs and bars, and Czech beers in particular are popular and only slightly more expensive. In recent years, some microbreweries (Laitila, Stadin panimo, Nokian panimo etc.) have been gaining foothold with their domestic dark lagers, wheat beers and ales.
The latest trend is ciders (siideri). 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, a type of spiced mulled wine served with almonds and raisins, which can easily be made at home. The bottled stuff in stores is usually alcohol free, although it was originally made of old wine and Finns will very often mix in some wine or spirits. In restaurants, glögi is served either alcohol-free, or with 2cl vodka added. Fresh, hot glögi can, for example, be found at the Helsinki Christmas market.
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): you have been warned! More common in rural areas, illegal and frequently distilled on modified water purification plants – which are subject to import control laws nowadays – anecdotical evidence suggests that those are occasionally played as a prank on unsuspecting foreigners. Politely decline the offer, especially if still sober.
Finally, two traditional beverages worth looking for are mead (sima), an age-old wine-like brew made from brown sugar, lemon and yeast and consumed particularly around May's Vappu festival, and sahti, a type of unfiltered, usually very strong beer often flavoured with juniper berries (an acquired taste).
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. In addition to the usual international suspects, check out local chains Cumulus, Scandic, Finlandia and Sokos. The small but fast-growing Omena chain offers often cheap self-service hotels, where you book online and get a keycode for your room, with no check-in of any kind needed. What is remarkable is the absence of foreign hotel chains outside of the capital, you only rarely find global hotel brands, but most of the hotels are run either by locals or by some local brand. So do not expect to accumulate your points when staying in the rural areas.
When searching for budget options, check whether breakfast and linen are included, they are in regular hotels, but not in many budget options. Extras, such as sauna and Internet use, are sometimes included also in cheap prices.
One of the few ways to limit the damage is to stay in youth hostels (retkeilymaja), as the Finnish Youth Hostel Association has a fairly comprehensive network throughout the country 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.
For a taste of the Finnish countryside, an excellent option is to stay at a cottage (mökki), thousands of which dot the lake shores. These are generally best in summer, but there are also many cottages around Lapland's ski resorts. Prices vary widely based on facilities, location and season: simple cottages can go for as little as €20/night, although €40–80 is more typical, there are expensive big or luxurious ones, and the price at a winter resort may more than double when schools have vacations. Not all cottages are available for a single night. Beware that, while all but the most basic ones will have electricity, it's very common for cottages to lack running water: instead, the cottage will have an outhouse (pit toilet) and you're expected to bathe in a shared shower/sauna (which you might have to book in advance) or even in the sauna and lake. Renting a car is often necessary since there might be no facilities (shops, restaurants, etc.) within walking distance. Decide whether you want to get a cottage far from people, at a "cottage village" or some compromise. The largest cottage rental services are Lomarengas and Nettimökki, both of which have English interfaces.
There are also campsites all around the country. Typical prices are €10–20 per tent or caravan + €4–6/€2 per person, although there are 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), which allows camping, hiking, and berry and mushroom picking as well as simple (rod and hook) fishing on uncultivated land outside built-up areas or yards. Since this is occasionally misinterpreted by visiting foreigners, it may be a good idea to discuss travel plans with a local – or simply ask at the nearest house – to avoid embarrassing situations. Note that making a fire requires landowner's permission.
Virtually every lodging in Finland includes a sauna (see below) 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. Saunas at cottages are often heated with wood, you should probably ask for instructions.
Finland's universities are generally well-regarded and offer many exchange programs, but the high cost of living and the prospect of facing the long, cold Finnish winter mean that the country is not a particularly popular choice. However, there are currently no tuition fees for regular degree students, including international exchange students. Tuition fees will be introduced in autumn 2017 for new (?) non-EU/EEA students studying in English (a system with scholarships will be set up). While lectures are usually conducted in Finnish (or Swedish, as in Åbo Akademi), most advanced text books are in English. It is often possible to complete all courses through assignments and exams in English. There are also advanced courses and even whole programs in English, targeted at exchange students. Many universities also offer the option to study Finnish (or Swedish) at various levels.
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). Yliopisto students are expected to graduate with a master's degree. The Bachelor's degree is mainly meant as an intermediate step for Finnish speakers and isn't very useful for much else. This is changing somewhat with the Bologna process, which in theory makes Bachelor degrees usable for Masters studies across EU. For foreigners, there are some Master's programmes in English. AMK students are expected to graduate as Bachelors. Although entrance requirements are lower, this degree is meant for entering the workforce and 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 excluding rent would be €600 to €900. Rents vary depending on location such that in Greater Helsinki and particularly Helsinki proper prices may be two times that of cheaper locations or student housing. Many exchange programs fully or partly subsidize accommodation in student dorms. However, the state does not provide student accommodation and dorms are usually owned by student unions and foundations, which usually have waiting lists. Getting the apartment is the responsibility of student. Student union membership at around €70–100/year is obligatory (for undergraduate studies), but this includes access to student health services.
EU 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.
Finnish unionization 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. There is little informal work to be found and most jobs require at least a remedial level of Finnish and Swedish. Citizens of European Union countries can work freely in Finland, but acquiring a work permit from outside the EU means doing battle with the infamous Directorate of Immigration [dead link] (Ulkomaalaisvirasto). However, 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.
Finland is known for the low intake of immigrants, compared to neighboring countries. That being said, the young generation is more than happy to invite businesses and workers around the globe to settle down. Still Finland is sparsely populated area, and there is much opportunities around. Don't be pushed down if the authorities seem suspicious, that is part of the Finnish culture. However, when you sit down with them and discuss things straight and up front, most of the businesses are able to settle down and work permits might be granted.
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.
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 fueled 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, 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, as they usually have defined minimum wages. Salaries range from €1,200 to €6,500 per month (2010) for full-time jobs.
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 necessary, 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, 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 FAQ 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.
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.
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 organized 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.
Should something happen, don't hesitate to get in contact with the police. Finnish police is comparable to the police force elsewhere in western Europe — respected by the public, respectful and not corrupt.
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. Ask the police officer to show his badge, here is an example of a genuine badge. In addition to the police proper, the border guard and customs officials have police powers; the border guard acts on behalf of the police in some sparsely populated border areas.
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.
Although in the recent news coverage, there have been articles about various civil groups patrolling the streets, this phenomenon is rather marginal. Other than the police, no street patrols have any official powers, and the police will not tolerate any attempt to assume any powers. On the other hand, there are no street gangs or paramilitary either.
Prostitution is not illegal. However, pimping is, and using the services of a prostitute who is a victim of human trafficking is illegal.
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 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. Safety in small boats: Don't drink alcohol, 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).
Given the size of the Finnish population, a surprisingly high number of people drown in the lakes every year in summer. As pointed out by an annual public awareness campaign (partly Finnish black humour, partly the truth), the stereotypical accident involves an intoxicated amateur fisherman who capsizes his boat while standing up to pee. Other risks include trying too long a distance across the water or hitting an under-water rock or submerged log.
In winter, lakes and the sea are frozen. Walking, skating or even driving a car on the ice is commonly seen, but fatal accidents aren't 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 improvized aid might be needed (no use having both of you in the water).
The only poisonous insects in Finland are wasps (ampiainen), bees (mehiläinen) and bumblebees (kimalainen). 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.
There is only one type of poisonous snake in Finland, the European adder (Finnish: kyy or kyykäärme), which has a distinct zig-zag type of figure on its back, although some of them are almost completely black. The snake occurs across Finland all the way from the south to up north in Lapland. Although their bites are very rarely fatal (except for small children and allergic persons), one should be careful in the summertime, especially when walking in the forests or on open fields at the countryside. Walk so that you make the ground vibrate and snakes usually go away; they attack people only when somebody frightens them. If you are bitten by a snake, always get medical assistance. If you are planning to travel in the nature in summertime, it's advisable to buy a kyypakkaus ("Adder pack", a medicine set which contains a couple of hydrocortisone pills). It can be bought from any Finnish pharmacy. It is used to reduce the reactions after an adder bite somewhat, but you should see a doctor with no delay anyhow. The kyypakkaus can also be used to relieve the pain, swelling and other allergic reactions caused by bee stings. If you see an ant nest, ants have quite likely taken care of all snakes nearby.
As for other dangerous wildlife, although brown bears (karhu), wolves (susi) and some other big carnivores occur across Finland, these are listed as endangered species and usually avoid humans whenever possible. You are lucky if you see one. Talking with your company while in the forest should be enough to avoid getting between a bear and her cubs. If you do see a bear, back off calmly. Contrary to popular belief abroad, there are no polar bears in Finland, let alone polar bears walking on the city streets.
In case of emergency
112 is the national phone number for all emergency services, including police, and it does not require an area code, regardless of what kind of phone you're 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).
For inquiries about poisons or toxins (from mushrooms, plants, medicine or other chemicals) call the national Toxin Information Office at (09) 471 977.
The time for help to arrive can be quite long in sparsely populated areas (around an hour, more in extreme areas), so it makes sense to have basic first-aid supplies at hand when visiting cottages or the wilderness. Finns often have an "adder kit" (kyypakkaus, 50 mg hydrocortisone) at their cottages, although this is not enough by itself except for bee or wasp stings: with an adder bite, one should also call 112 immediately.
Signs to watch out for
You're unlikely to have tummy troubles in Finland, since tap water is always drinkable (and generally quite tasty as well), and hygiene standards in restaurants are strict. 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 restaurant staff.
Medication is available in pharmacies only, not in ordinary shops (other than by special arrangements in many remote areas). Any non-trivial medication requires a prescription (stricter criteria than in many other countries).
Finland hosts 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), hordes of which inhabit Finland (particularly Lapland) in summer, especially after rains. While they carry no malaria or other nasty diseases, many species of Finnish mosquitoes make a distinctive (and highly irritating) whining sound while tracking their prey, and their bites are very itchy. As usual, mosquitoes are most active around dawn and sunset – which, in the land of the Midnight Sun, may mean most of the night in summer. There are many different types of mosquito repellents available which can be bought from almost any shop. Another summer nuisance are gadflies (paarma, common where there is cattle), whose bites can leave a mark lasting for days, even for a month. A more recent introduction to Finnish summers are deer keds (hirvikärpänen), that can be particularly unpleasant if they manage to shed their wings and burrow into hair (although they rarely bite and humans are not their intended targets; they are mainly encountered in forests). Use repellent, ensure your tent has good mosquito netting and consider prophylaxis with cetirizine (brand names include Zyrtec, Heinix, Cetirizin Ratiopharm), an anti-allergen that (if taken in advance!) will neutralize your reaction to any bites. Topical anti-allergens in the form of gels and creams are also available as over-the-counter medication. A flea comb can be useful for removing deer keds.
In southern Finland, especially Åland, the Lappeenranta-Parikkala-Imatra-axis and areas near Turku's coast, there are ticks (punkki) which appear on summertime and can transmit Lyme's disease (borreliosis) and viral encephalitis (TBE) through a bite. Although these incidents are relatively rare and not all ticks carry the disease, it's advisable to wear trousers rather than shorts if you plan to walk through dense and/or tall grass areas (the usual habitat for ticks). You can buy special tick tweezers from the pharmacy (punkkipihdit) which can be used to remove a tick safely if you happen to get bitten. You should remove the tick from your skin as soon as possible and preferably without squeezing it, to reduce the risks of getting an infection. If the tick bite starts to form red rings on the skin around it or if you experience other symptoms relating to the bite, you should visit a doctor as soon as possible.
Finnish healthcare is mostly public, in particular intensive care, advanced and emergency healthcare, provided by municipal, central or university hospitals. Types most relevant to travellers are terveyskeskus, municipal mainly outpatient clinic, (keskus)sairaala, (central) hospital with surgery, and yliopistollinen keskussairaala, university hospital. EU/EEA and Swiss citizens can access emergency and health services with their European Health Insurance Card, which means nominal fees in most cases. Other foreigners are also given urgently needed treatment, but may have to pay all costs. Students have basic health care arranged by the student unions included in their student union membership. There are also private clinics (lääkäriasema or lääkärikeskus), 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, check with your insurance company. The clinics may however have to refer the patient to a public hospital anyway, if advanced services are needed.
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. 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 apologize 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. 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 is indeed bad form). Topless sunbathing is accepted but not very common on beaches in the summer, while going au naturel is common in lakeside saunas and the rare 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 both genders, and there is little formal sex segregation. Social rank is not usually an important part of social code, thus a Dr. Spencer is usually referred to as simply "Spencer", rather than "tohtori Spencer" or "herra Spencer", without meaning any disrespect.
Finland's mail service, run by Posti [dead link], is fast, reliable and pricey. A postcard or normal letter to a domestic address costs €1.20/1.10 (express/economy; max 20g), to abroad €1.30/1.20. Åland has its own mail service, with stamps of its own. 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.
As you'd expect from Nokia's home country, mobile phones are ubiquitous in Finland. GSM and WCDMA (3G) networks blanket all of 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 Sonera and Elisa, a Vodafone partner, but travellers who want a local number may wish to opt for DNA's Prepaid package, which can cost as little as €6. Ask at any convenience store for a list of prices and special offers.
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's best to bring along a phone or buy one – a simple GSM model can cost less than €40.
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". Mobile phone numbers – as other numbers without true area codes – are written without the parenthesis: "0400 123 456" for +358 400 123 456. Mobile phone numbers usually start with 04 or 05 as in the example.
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" stands for the price of a normal call). 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 usually for taxi). Many service numbers are unavailable from abroad.
The prefix for international calls (from local land lines) is 00, as in the rest of EU. Other prefixes 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 (spring 2016) e.g. 0200 16100 costs €1.83/call+€2,5/min (€0.084/min 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, and as that gets implemented calls to an EU number with an EU SIM should cost as in its country of origin.
Internet cafes 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 free Internet access, although you will often have to register for a time slot in advance or queue. Wifi hotspots are also increasingly common. Elisa offers prepaid internet access. LTE (4G) networks cover the capital region and major cities.
Another option (and probably the most comfortable one) is to buy a prepaid SIM card with data package. The prices start at 4,90€ (100MB). 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 DNA stores around Finland. Remember that you can use your phone as a wifi hotspot for other devices.
- Russia to the east. You will probably need a visa unless just visiting Vyborg or Saint Petersburg on a cruise, but even Moscow is just an overnight train away. There are tours and regular connections to some internationally less known destinations, such as Petrozavodsk (Finnish:Petroskoi).
- Sweden, which Finland was part of for 650 years, reachable by an overnight (or day) cruise, or overland from Lapland.
- Estonia, a couple of hours away from Helsinki.
- Norway, more precisely the county of Finnmark, can be accessed overland from Lapland.