Finland Travel Tips

Finland Travel Tips 2015-01-27T12:21:13+00:00

Finland is a Nordic country of 5 million and sits up near Scandinavia between Russia and Sweden. My heritage is part Finnish and I’ve always taken a fascination with the culture, the landscape and the people of Finland. Not many people can recognize Finland on a map (disappointing in its own regard) but Finland is known for such things as the homeland of Santa Claus (Joulupukki in Finnish), Nokia, sauna, cross-country skiing, the northern lights and reindeer. Finland is a late comer in terms of industrialization, only becoming industrialized since the 1950’s, but has risen the world charts spectacular. Currently Finland is one of the leading nations with the best quality of life, recently named to have one of the best educational systems in the world and is one of the richest countries. Finland is a peaceful country with a charming capital, Helsinki, but where Finland truly shines is the beautiful countryside both wondrous in the winter and in the summer.

(click on a topic to skip to that section)

Noteworthy Places
Getting to/around Finland
Breakdown of Costs
Finnish People
Finnish Language
Definitely Do’s and Don’ts
From Splurging to Saving
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
Random Advice

Noteworthy Places I’ve Been To

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Helsinki – The capital of Finland and is the only place I’ve visited while in Finland. Almost 2/3 thirds of the population of Finland live in the Helsinki metro. Helsinki is a charming city filled with neo-classical buildings with a few modern buildings thrown in the mix. Suomenlinna is a famous fortress that sits just off of Helsinki. It a great place to escape, both in the winter and in the summer, and explore some of the history of Finland. Some of the highlights I went to include a traditional Finnish sauna in the center of the city, explored many of the modern cafes, Finns cross-country skiing, an indoor garden, rode on the highest metro in the world, and the Olympic Stadium.

Getting to/around Finland

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By Plane – Flying is a great option to get to Finland with many airlines landing in Helsinki. More than likely you will be landing in Helsinki and if you’re planning to travel onward to the northern country you can take Finnair, Flybe, or Blue1. American Airlines is currently the only American airline flying to Finland and this is seasonally. More than likely if you’re coming from the States you will have to use Finnair, British Airways, Scandinavian, Lufthansa, or KLM (there are others but these are the major ones).

By Bus – Riding a bus is possible but probably not practical. You can take a bus from Norway, Sweden and Russia but they are slow and uncomfortable. I would avoid taking a bus.

By Train – There is actually no train service from Sweden or Norway (strange right!?) but it is possible to take a train to the borders, switch with a bus, and then continue on a train. Trains are pretty efficient in Europe so this might be a great option. Also you can take a train from St. Petersburg.

By Ferry – Ferries are some of the best ways to travel in the Baltic region (because much of the region is covered by water). Ferries exist between Stockholm – Helsinki (I did this route and it’s very nice), Estonia, Russia, Germany, and Poland. They can be pricey though… especially from Stockholm… but what isn’t pricey in Finland?!?

Getting around Finland is fairly easy. The cheapest way is by bus and there are bus services between every major city in Finland. Another way is to take a train. Trains are more comfortable but are going to cost you more. If you’re traveling in Lapland (northern Finland  you can take a train to Kemi and then must travel by bus to cities like Rovaniemi. You can do a ferry to any port city in Finland but they can be costly and they are very popular during the summer time. Planes are the quickest way but they will be the most expensive. You can always rent a car and see Finland yourself!

Breakdown of Costs

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Hotels – Compared to the United States, Finland is kind of expensive… For instance when I stayed in Helsinki, I stayed in a hostel. For 2 people it costs 80 euro’s a night or like 120 dollars a night. Not really a bargain (although the hostel was on the nicer in and actually was as close to being a hotel as you can get). Hotel prices will kind of shock you but you must know that when going to Finland you are going to pay more than most European countries. Lower end hotels are going to cost you are 100 euros which is the equivalent of around 150 US dollars. You will not find much of a bargain in Finland as there aren’t a huge selection of hotels.

Food – Just as you may expect the food is also expensive here. I remember going to restaurants and paying like equivalent of 25 dollars for a meal that we would consider around 10 dollars (at the time I was a college student so these prices were quite alarming). Traditional food is usually some sort of fish (like the Baltic herring), bread, reindeer (yes I saw it on the menu), meat, and potatoes (since Finland is such a northern country the traditional food consists of high fat and calories but can still be good for you). Traditionally Finns will also drink a lot of coffee (Finns drink the most coffee in the world), milk and tea. Traditionally Finns do not eat out everyday so going out for a meal is an every now and then type of thing… and the prices are reflected on that in restaurants.

Other Activities – Buying any souvenirs are expensive. Doing anything in Finland is kind of expensive (except the one bargain that we did get was for the sauna). Vodka and alcohol are expensive in Finland as well but they are equally part of any Finns daily life (seriously the Finns drink a lot of Vodka). Entrance fees to sites are not ridiculous but they will be more than most other European countries (except Sweden and Norway). Cross country skiing is very popular even in Helsinki (I got to see some cross-country skiing in a park by the Olympic Stadium, of course you have to rent skis which can be pricey). As a whole you’re not going to walk out of Finland without having parted way with some decent amount of cash. Much of it will go to hotel, food and if you plan to travel anywhere in Finland.

Finnish People

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Finns make up the majority of the population of Finland. Finnish people are polite, know how to speak English (bonus), humble, work hard and play hard type of people. Finns are punctual people and so if you’re late to anything… say sorry!! Sometimes Americans make the assumption that Finns are rude because Finns don’t really engage in small talk or have patience for it. This is just the culture so don’t be surprised if no one engages with you. One interesting nuance that I didn’t know was that Finns lack a word for “please” so don’t be surprised if when they are speaking English they forget to say please. The Sami people live in Lapland, the northern country of Finland.

Finnish Language

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Finnish and Swedish both share the title of the official languages of Finland (although Finnish is spoken by the majority of Finnish as their native language). Finns do learn how to speak English and most know how to speak it pretty well actually. Finnish language is a Finno-Ugric language and is closely tied to Estonian and Hungarian (Finnish is probably one of the hardest languages to learn for and English speaker).

Definitely Do’s and Don’ts

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Do go to Helsinki. Start in Helsinki… enjoy the urban feeling of the capital of Finland and then venture out to the country side (I wish I could have done this but  I plan to go back real soon).

Don’t drive your own car in the winter time. Winter time driving in Finland can be kind of dangerous. In the summer time you must be careful of moose!

Do have some vodka! Finns like to drink vodka and their national vodka is called Koskenkorva but Finlandia is also popular.

Don’t disrespect the Finns… Finns have very little time for dishonesty, not being punctual, or being that American who talks very loud.

Do enjoy a traditional Finnish sauna… this was probably one of the highlight of my time in Finland. The Finns traditionally are all nude when they get in a sauna and as tradition you get into cold water afterwards!

Don’t buy bottle water! The water in Finland is highly regarded and you should just drink tap!

Do take precautions before deciding to hike, especially in northern Finland. Finland is sparsely populated so it’s always a good idea to tell someone where you are heading and when they can except you back. Bring a cellphone!

From Splurging to Saving

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If you’re coming to Finland looking for a deal… you aren’t going to find one. They are hostels but anything decent will cost you at least 50 euros a night (I stayed in a nice hostel and for two people it was 80 euros a night). This is not a budget travelers dream location and I think the Finns want to keep it that way. Some of the ways to save is to go to some of the local grocery stores (you should just do that anyways to see what type of cool Finnish things you buy). I would definitely invest in bring back that traditionally Finnish (knives, rugs, and anything made out of a reindeer. Traditional Finnish Lapland items are labeled as “Sámi Duodji).”

If you’re looking to splurge then that would mean spending around 25-30 euros per meal while staying in a 200 euro a night hotel. It would mean buying a plane ticket to go see the rest of Finland. As a whole the majority of what you’re going to spend on will be the hotel, food and transportation although souvenirs are quite pricey. I think the best option is to come to Finland and spend more than what you would first consider… it will be money well worth spending.

Good for Gay Lifestyle?

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Finland has become a great country for a gay lifestyle. Just recently an openly gay member was elected to Finnish parliament. Finnish gays as a whole get most of the same rights as straight Finns but the only thing that has eluded them has been gay marriage (where in nearby Sweden it’s legal). There has been talk as of recent to get same-sex marriage legal.

Helsinki hosts an annual gay pride event and much of the gay bars, etc… in Finland are located in Helsinki. Compared to a lot of Europeans it might not be a lot but there are still plenty of options (actually for such a low population Finland has a lively gay scene). Being gay in Finland is relatively easy and is safe to do!

Random Advice

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If you’re traveling to Finland in the winter consider outdoor activities like cross-country skiing, down-hill skiing, visiting Santa Claus’ house in Rovaniemi, dog sledding, or staying in an ice hotel.

Try and see the Northern Lights in the winter time. Best chances of seeing them are in Northern Finland.

Be prepared for small meals compared to the United States. Even smaller than most European countries…. and you are probably going to pay a lot more for the smaller meal as well.

Lakes are part of the identity of Finland… they are equally beautiful in the winter time and as well as the summer time.

Credit cards shouldn’t be a problem in Finland but make sure you call your bank and tell them you are traveling to Finland so they don’t block your account. It’s a good idea to have some euros on you just in case.

 

 

 

 

image by: Stan, shawnvoyage