In this section we will use a broad brush to paint a picture of some of the practical matters the visitor will encounter when visiting this country.
The first part, 'Travelling', describes on a high level how to travel to Finland and how to get around after arrival. There is also a subsection 'Accommodation and Food', giving some brief notes about the various forms of tourist accommodation and also Finnish cousine. This part is rounded off with a subsection about 'Health and Safety'
The second part gives information about things that are important to know for your pretravel preparations, including 'Visa and Red Tape' and 'Customs', but here you can also learn about some of the down to earth practicalities, like the currency used, bank holidays and what kind of electricity you can draw from the socket.
The final part focuses on cultural issues, and then basically the kind of cultural issues that you should know about to either avoid to offend local people's sensibilities or to keep you out of trouble. This includes some notes for female travellers.
We hope the information in this section will help you in preparing your trip and that it will help you to fully enjoy your visit!
Quick links to the information on this page:
- Cultural Issues
The text on this page is partly derived from Wikitravel.org. A list of original contributors is available at the original article on Wikitravel.
In this section I will give some general advice about traveling in Finland. In the subsection 'Travel to/from Finland' I give some information about getting to Finland by air, car or boat. I do not give much detailed information, as specific information about flight connections etc are easily available elsewhere. In 'Getting Around' I focus mainly on commenting about getting around in your own (rental) car. If you want to do some serious birding in Finland (and most other countries) you do need your own wheels. Theoretically you can reach many birdwatching locations by bus or taxi, but this can be very cumbersome, and for more remote locations impossible. Acknowledging that many birders will visit Finland for other business than serious all-day-out birdwatching (say a family vacation or a business trip) I do also provide some short notes about getting around by train and bus as well.
Following this transport information is some useful information about food and accommodation. Again, I do not go in detail. If you want specific information about restaurants and hotels for a specific city or town, you should consider some of the excellent travel guides available; my favourites are The Rough Guide and Lonely Planet.
In the last part of this section I focus on some of the risks that a traveller has when visiting Finland (there aren't really any major risks to speak of).
Travel to/from Finland
Finland's main international hub is Helsinki-Vantaa Airport near Helsinki. Finnair and Flybe Nordic are based there. Around 30 foreign airlines fly to Helsinki-Vantaa.
Ryanair's Finland hub is Tampere in central Finland (Lappeenranta in the east near the Russian border has been discontinued). Other airlines have limited regional services to other cities, mostly just to Sweden, and in the winter high season occasional direct charters (especially in December) and seasonal scheduled flights (Dec-Mar) to Lapland.
Air Baltic connects many provincial Finnish towns conveniently to Europe via Riga. It may also be worth your while to get a cheap flight to Tallinn and follow the boat instructions below to get to Finland.
Starting in early 2011, Norwegian Air Shuttle established Helsinki as one of its bases, and now offers both domestic and international flights.
The easiest ways to get by car to Finland is a car ferry from Sweden, Germany or Estonia (see below for details). The European Route E12 (Finnish national highway 3) includes a ferry line between Umeå and Vaasa. Another route that includes a car ferry is E18, from Stockholm to Turku.
There are also numerous land border crossings between Finland and neighbouring Sweden and Norway and also a few between Finland and Russia.
One of the best ways to travel to and from Finland is by sea. The boats to Estonia and Sweden, in particular, are giant, multi-story floating palaces and department stores, with remarkably cheap prices: 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.
Estonia and the Baltic states:
Helsinki and Tallinn are only 80 km apart. Viking line, Eckerö line and Tallink Silja operate full-service car ferries all year round. Depending on the ferry type travel times are from slightly over two hours (Viking Line and Tallink Silja's Star, Superstar and Superfasts) to three and a half hours (Eckerö and 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 boats.
There are no scheduled services to Latvia or Lithuania, but some of the operators above offer semi-regular cruises in the summer, with Riga being the most popular destination.
Both Silja Line and Viking Line offer overnight cruises from Helsinki and overnight as well as daytime cruises from Turku to Stockholm, usually stopping in the Åland islands along the way (The Åland Islands are outside the EU tax area and thus allow the ferries to operate duty-free sales). 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, etc. 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.
In addition to the big two, FinnLink offers the cheapest car ferry connection of all from Naantali to Kapellskär (from €60 for a car with driver). Between Vaasa and Umeå there is a ferry operated by Wasaline.
Finnlines operates from Helsinki to Travemünde (near Lübeck and Hamburg) and from Helsinki to Rostock. Helsinki-Travemünde trip takes about 27 hours while Helsinki-Rostock takes about 34 hours. The Travemünde line is run by fast and large Star-class ships while a single, significantly smaller Hansa-class ship operates in the Rostock line. The latter is considered to be more luxurious and comfortable even though the trip takes much longer.
For years scheduled ferry services to Russia have been stop-and-go. Starting in April 2010 St Peter Line offers regular ferry service from Saint Petersburg to Helsinki for as low as €30 one way. Kristina Cruises also offers occasional cruises from Helsinki.
Finland has a comprehensive road network that connects and runs through all of the major cities. Driving through Finland during anytime of the year is a treat with winding roads and gentle hills framed by pine and birch forests with agricultural farm lands here and there. Summertime evening drives with the midnight sun providing gentle light are particularly scenic and enjoyable. During summer months road repairs are in full swing so some minor delays may be experienced. Road patrol cameras are utilized extensively to monitor traffic and enforce speed limits.
Traffic drives on the right, and there are no road tolls in Finnish cities or highways. This includes a number of ferries that are considered part of the public road network, for instance the ferry to Hailuoto island near Oulu! Roads are well maintained and extensive, although expressways are limited to the south of the country. Note that headlights or daytime running lights must be kept on at all times when driving, in and outside cities, whether it's dark or not. Drivers must stay very alert, particularly at dawn and dusk, for wild animals. Collisions with moose are relatively common countrywide and semi-domesticated reindeer are a common cause of accidents in Lapland.
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 rules to be aware of:
- Headlights are mandatory even during daylight.
- Always give way to the right, unless signed otherwise. There is no concept of minor and major road, so this applies even to smaller road on your right. Almost all intersections are explicitly signposted with yield signs (either the stop sign or an inverted triangle).
- In Helsinki, trams always have the right of way. Don't get into arguments with a vehicle that can't change direction and weighs as much as a small battle tank.
- A car is obliged to stop at a zebra crossing, if the pedestrian intends to cross the road.
- 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. This works out smoothly and efficiently.
- A car horn may only be used to prevent a collision or a similar hazardous situation. Using the horn for other purposes such as expressing frustration in surrounding traffic is unlawful and quite strongly frowned upon.
- Winter driving can be somewhat hazardous, especially for drivers unused to cold weather conditions. Winter tires (M+S) are mandatory from 1 December through the end of February.
- Finnish speeding tickets are based on your income (sometimes leading to some quite bizare fines), but fortunately the police have no access to tax records outside Finland and will just fine non-residents a flat €100-200 instead.
- Speed limits are 50 km/h in towns, 80-100 km/h outside towns and usually 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.
- A blood alcohol level of over 0,05% is considered drunk driving and 0,12% as aggrevated drunk driving, so think twice before drinking that second beer. Finnish police strictly enforce this by random roadblocks and sobriety tests and penalties are steep!
- If you come in your own car, note that all petrol in Finland contains ethanol. If your car should not be run on ethanol-containing petrol or you are unsure use the 98 octane petrol. This contains residual ethanol from the pump station up to a maximum of 5% and can be used in all cars that run on petrol.
Renting a Car:
Rental firms abound in the large cities and at Helsinki - Vantaa airport. Most worldwide rental networks have their offices in Finland. Also there are several local rental companies which generally offer lower prices.
VR (Finnish Railways) operates the fairly extensive railroad network. The train is the method of choice for travel from Helsinki to Tampere, Turku and Lahti, with departures at least once per hour and faster speeds than the bus. The following classes of service are available:
- Pendolino tilting trains (code S), the fastest option
- InterCity (IC) and InterCity2 (IC2) express trains, with IC surcharge
- Ordinary express (pikajuna, P), with express surcharge
- Local and regional trains, no surcharge, quite slow
The trains are generally very comfortable, especially the express services. Pendolino and IC trains have restaurant cars, family cars (IC only, with a playpen for children) and power sockets.
Overnight sleepers are available for long-haul routes and a bed in a three/two/one-bed compartment is very good value.
Finland participates in the Inter Rail and Eurail systems and residents of Europe can buy these passes.
Matkahuolto offers long-distance coach connections 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 (beyond Kemijärvi).
Buses are generally slightly higher priced than trains, although on routes with direct train competition they can be 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.
Accommodation and Food
Accommodation in Finland is expensive, but many large hotels are cheaper during the weekends and 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 cheap self-service hotels, where you book online and get a keycode for your room, with no check-in of any kind needed.
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 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.
An even cheaper option is to take advantage of Finland's right to access, or Every Man's Right, which allows camping, hiking and berry and mushroom picking as well as simple (rod and hook) fishing on uncultivated land. Since this is occasionally mis-interpreted by visiting foreigners, it may be a good idea to discuss travel plans with a local - or simply ask - to avoid embarrassing situations. Note that making a fire requires landowner's permission.
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 and location: simple cottages can go for as little as €20/night, while luxurious multistory mansions can go for 10 times that. 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 the sauna and lake. Renting a car is practically obligatory since there are unlikely to be any facilities (shops, restaurants, etc) within walking distance. The largest cottage rental services are Lomarengas and Nettimökki, both of which have English interfaces.
Virtually every lodging in Finland includes a sauna for guests — don't miss it! Check operating hours though, as they're often only heated in the evenings and there may be separate shifts for men and women.
Finnish cuisine is notable for generally combining traditional country fare and haute cuisine with contemporary continental style cooking. Fish and meat (usually pork, beef or reindeer) play a prominent role in traditional Finnish dishes in some parts of the country, while the dishes in others have traditionally included various vegetables and mushrooms. Refugees from Karelia contributed to foods in other parts of Finland and a dish as Karelian Stew is eaten all over Finland. The Karelian Stew is, like many Finnish traditional dishes, prepared by stewing them for a long time in an oven, which produces hearty but bland fare.
Finnish cuisine is very similar to Swedish cuisine and several Swedish dishes like meat balls, pyttipannu and gravlax are common in Finland. The overarching difference is the Finns' preference for unsweetened foods. For example, while traditional Swedish rye bread includes plenty of syrup and spices, Finnish rye bread is unsweetened, even bitter. Finnish cuisine also bears some resemblance to German and Russian cuisines. Sausages, kissel (kiisseli) and pirozhki (karjalanpiirakka) are similar to their respective German and Russian counterparts. Finnish recipes, however, tend to favour fresh ingredients over canned or pickled foods.
Finnish foods often use wholemeal products (rye, barley, oats) and berries (such as blueberries, lingonberries, cloudberries, and sea buckthorn). Milk and its derivatives are commonly used as food, drink or in various recipes.
In addition to domesticated animals, there are long traditions of hunting in Finland. The hunters focus on deer, moose and bear, but small game such as hare, duck and grouse are popular. Approximately 70,000-80,000 moose are culled yearly producing significant amounts of meat. Due to very strict food hygiene regulations, moose meat is mainly consumed within households and is rarely obtainable in restaurants. Finnish restaurants are however accustomed to serving reindeer steak.
Lakes in Finland provide many opportunities for fishing and fish has always been an important protein source. Several ways to prepare fish are used, including frying, boiling, drying, salting, fermenting or cold smoking. Salmon is a popular choice, both as cold smoked salmon (kylmäsavustettu lohi), or served raw with lemon juice as graavilohi (gravlax in Swedish). It is common to smoke any types of fish, like salmon, zander, pike, perch and Baltic herring. There are many styles of pickled herring which is a common appetizer and also served around Midsummer accompanied by small potatoes called uusiperuna (which literally means 'new potato'), usually the first harvests of potato. Whitefish and vendace roe are Finnish delicacies served on top of a toast or with blinis.
Arctic wild berries are distinctively featured in Finnish cuisine with their strong flavor and high nutrient content. Traditionally, they were eaten fresh in summer and dried at other times of year. It is still very common to go picking berries straight from the forests. Wild raspberries, bilberries and lingonberries are found in almost every part of Finland, while cloudberries, cranberries, arctic brambles and sea buckthorns grow in more limited areas. The intensely flavored wild strawberry (metsämansikka) is a seasonal delicacy decorating cakes, served alone, with cream, or with ice cream.
Health and Safety
You're unlikely to have stomach 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.
There are few serious health risks in Finland. Your primary enemy especially in wintertime will be the cold, particularly if trekking in Lapland. If trekking, 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 an hour or two later.
Finland hosts a number of irritating insects and a serious nuisance in summer are mosquitoes, 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. There are many different types of mosquito repellants available which can be bought from almost any shop.
Another summer nuisance are gadflies, whose bites can leave a mark lasting for days, sometimes longer. A more recent introduction to Finnish summers are deer keds, that can be particularly nasty if they manage to shed their wings and burrow into hair (although they rarely bite as humans are not their intended targets, and mainly exist in deep forests).
In southern Finland, especially Åland, the Lappeenranta-Parikkala-Imatra-axis and areas near Turku's coast, there are ticks which appear on summertime and can transmit Lyme's disease (borreliosis) and viral encephalitis through a bite. Although these incidents are relatively rare and not all ticks carry the disease, it's advisable to wear dark 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 which can be used to remove a tick safely if you happen to get bitten. You should remove the tick from your skin as quickly as possible and preferably with the tick tweezers 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.
There's only one type of poisonous snake in Finland, the European adder, 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 extremely 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. If you are bitten by a snake, always get medical assistance.
As for other dangerous wildlife, there's not much more than a few extremely rare encounters with brown bears and wolves in the wilderness. During the past 100 years there has been one recorded case of a human killed by a large predator.
Finland enjoys a comparatively low crime rate and is, generally, a very safe place to travel. 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. The easiest way to get beaten is to pay a visit at a grill kiosk after bars and pubs have closed and start arguing with drunken people. It is, anyway statistically more likely that your home country is less safe than Finland, so heed whatever warnings you would do in your own country and you will have no worries. If you yourself run in with the law, remember that Finland is one of the world's least corrupt countries and you will not be able to buy yourself out of trouble (offering bribes will, in fact, get you into serious trouble).
Pickpockets are rare, but not unheard of, especially in the busy tourist months in the summer and almost always done by foreigners. Most Finns carry their wallets in their pockets or purses and feel quite safe while doing it.
In the countryside cars and house doors are often left unlocked. On the other hand, you have to be careful if you buy or rent a bicycle. Bicycle thieves are everywhere, never leave your bike unlocked even for a minute.
Racism is generally of minor concern, especially in the cosmopolitan major cities, but there have been a few rare but highly publicized incidents of black, romani & Arab people getting beaten up, attacks against immigrants and group fights with native Finns & immigrants. Sometimes there might be group fights where immigrants do their part as well, but that's very uncommon. The average visitor, though, is highly unlikely to encounter any problems.
Some of the things that are vital to know before visiting another country are the passport and visa requirements and other paperwork that you must be able to show when entering a country. Finland is a member of the EU and it does also participate in the Schengen Agreement, meaning that there will not be any red tape for visitors from most other European countries. For citizens of non-EU countries that might be different and in the subsection 'Visa and Red Tape' you will find relevant information about these matters. This subsection is followed by 'Customs' where you can read about what restrictions are in place for bringing goods or currency into, or indeed out of, the country.
The last three subsections are more relevant once inside the country. In the subsection 'Currency and Money' you will find a description of the currency used and also some indications about the availability of banks and ATM's and also other ways of paying your bills (like using creditcards or traveller's checks). In this section you will also find a currency converter that you might find useful.
The reminding two subsections ('Bank Holidays' and 'Electricity') should be self-explanatory.
Visa and Red Tape
Finland is a member of the Schengen Agreement. There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
If you wish to visit Finland and you are a citizen of a non-EU or non-Schengen country, you will generally need a visa. A visa is a permit to enter the country for a short-term or temporary period of residence lasting no more than 90 days. No visa is required if you are a citizen of a visa-free country and you have a valid passport or comparable travel document. Notable countries that have agreed visa-free travel to Finland and the Schengen area are USA, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
To check out if you need a visa for visiting Finland you can check out the website of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. If you need a visa you may apply for the visa outside Finland from a Finnish embassy. The embassy also makes decisions on the granting of visas. For information on visa application, period of validity and visa fees you should again check out the website of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (see link above).
Free import for passengers arriving with goods purchased within the EU which are for personal use only:
a.) there is no limit on the quantity of purchases made, inclusive of tax, in the shops of an EU Member State and brought to Finland, provided that these goods are for the travellers own or their families consumption or brought in as a non commercial gift.
b.) there is also no limit on the following food items, provided brought in for the travellers own consumption: meat, meat-products, fish, fish-products, milk, milk-products and egg-products from an EU Member State.
Free import to passengers arriving from non-EU Member States (including the Åland Islands, Canary Islands and similar territories):
- tobacco products (for passengers aged 17 years of age and over):
- 200 cigarettes; or
- 100 cheroots; or
- 50 cigars; or
- 250 grams of tobacco; or
- a proportional mix of these products;
- alcoholic beverages (passengers aged 20 years of age and older may import all of the below; those passengers aged over 18 years of age are allowed to carry only alcoholic beverages with max. 22% vol.):
- 1 litre of spirits over 22% volume, or non-denatured ethyl alcohol with more than 80% volume; or
- 2 litres of spirits or aperitifs made of wine or similar beverages less than 22% volume, or sparkling wines or liqueur wines; or
- a proportional mix of these products; and in addition
- 4 litres still wine; and
- 16 litres of beer;
- cut flowers, except for chrysanthemums and carnations (from countries outside Europe) and orchids from Thailand;
- other goods (for air travellers) up to a total value of 430€ per traveller.
Products of animal origin, not originating from an EU Member State, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Norway, San Marino or Switzerland are not permitted to be imported into an EU Member State.
Currency & Money
Finland has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of more than 330 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
Finland does not use the 1 and 2 cent coins; 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.
Getting or exchanging money is rarely a problem, as ATMs ("Otto") are common and they can be operated with international credit and debit cards (Visa, Visa Electron, Mastercard, Maestro). Currencies other than the euro are generally not accepted, although the Swedish krona may be accepted in Åland and Russian roubles are accepted in some select touristy shops, such as Stockmann in Helsinki. Money changers are common in the bigger cities (the Forex chain is ubiquitous) and typically have longer opening hours and faster service than banks. Credit cards are widely accepted, and the payment is almost always accepted by your PIN code. Visa Electron and Visa Debit cardreaders are found in all major and most minor shops, so carrying large amounts of cash is not usually necessary.
As a rule, tipping is never necessary in Finland and restaurant bills already include service charges. That said, taxi fares and other bills paid by cash are occasionally rounded up to the next convenient number.
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 1 May, as thousands of people (mostly the young ones) fill the streets. Important holidays and similar happenings include:
- New Year's Day (Uudenvuodenpäivä), 1 January.
- Epiphany (Loppiainen), 6 January.
- Easter (Pääsiäinen), variable dates, Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays. Tied to this are laskiainen 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) 40 days after, just another day for the shops to be closed.
- Walpurgis Night or more often Vappu, 1 May, although festivities start the day before (Vappuaatto). A spring festival that coincides with May Day. Originally a pagan tradition that coincides with the more recent workers' celebration, it has become a giant festival for most people. Many people also use their white student caps between 18:00 on 30 April and the end of 1 May. The following day, people gather to nurse their hangovers at open-air picnics, even if it's raining sleet.
- Midsummer Festival (Juhannus), the Saturday in the period 20-26 June. 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.
- Independence Day (Itsenäisyyspäivä), 6 December. A fairly sombre celebration of Finland's independence from Russia. The President holds a ball for the important people (e.g. MPs, diplomats and merited Finnish sportspeople and artists).
- Little Christmas (Pikkujoulu), people go pub crawling with their workmates throughout December, culminating with 'Pikkujoulu' on 23 December. Not an official holiday, just a Viking-strength version of an office Christmas party.
- Christmas (Joulu), 24-26 December. The biggest holiday of the year, when pretty much everything closes for three days. Santa (Joulupukki) comes on Christmas Eve on 24 December, ham is eaten and everyone goes to sauna.
- New Year's Eve (Uudenvuodenaatto), 31 December. Fireworks time!
Typical vacation time is in July, unlike elsewhere in Europe, where it is in August. 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.
The voltage in Finland is generally 220 V, and outlets will fit the two-pin plug known as the Europlug. It's probably the most commonly used international plug, found throughout continental Europe and parts of the Middle East, as well as much of Africa, South America, Central Asia and the former Soviet republics. Europlugs are included in most international plug adapter kits.
Watch out for American and Canadian appliances, which are made to be used with 110V. That means that even with an adapter, plugging them into a 220V socket may damage them. If your appliance is "dual-voltage", it should be fine (it's designed for both 110 and 220V). If not, you'll need a power converter as well as an adapter.
What follows in this section are some observations about cultural issues. Reading the notes below might give you some tips and insights you might not have been aware of and who knows, perhaps this might even help you to enjoy your visit more than you would otherwise have?
The first part describes local sensibilities in a broad sense, but also with some concrete tips about how to behave in the interaction with local people. This is followed by some general observations for female travellers. Finally there are some comments about photography, or actually what local restrictions there are to photography.
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:
The Finnish language lacks a specific word for "please" so Finns sometimes forget to use it when speaking English, even if they don't mean to be rude. Also lacking in Finnish is the distinction between "he" and "she", which may lead to confusing errors.
Occasional silence is considered a part of the conversation, not a sign of hostility or irritation. Being loud in crowded places like public transport or a restaurant is considered rude. Personal space is important, and standing very near someone can make Finns feel uncomfortable.
Finns are generally helpful and polite, and glad to help confused tourists if asked. Honesty is highly regarded; do not say "maybe later" when there is no later time to be expected.
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. 10 min is usually considered the threshold between being "acceptably" late and very late (some will leave arranged meeting points after 15 min).
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.
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. 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. Topless sunbathing is accepted but not very common on beaches in the summer, while going au naturel is common in lakeside saunas and dedicated nudist beaches.
Even though it is unlikely that you'll seriously insult anybody, certain topics of discussion can sometimes be slightly sensitive. Despite its proximity to Russia, Finns generally don't prefer being called Eastern Europeans, but rather Nordics or North Europeans. Although once a part of the Russian Empire, Finland fought against the Soviet Union in WWII and has remained unaligned since the Cold War, and referring to Finland as belonging to the Russian sphere of influence most likely won't be appreciated. A majority of Finnish men still serve for some time in the Finnish armed forces, and expressing strong views on the military or on wartime history can sometimes stir up emotions. Also war veterans are highly respected in Finnish society.
Scandinavia and Finland are among the safest places to travel in in all of Europe. Women often travel alone throughout the region and generally without any problems. Lone women travellers might encounter more unwanted attention than men, but using common sense should in most cases be enough to prevent any problems (walking alone in the night, hitchhiking etc.)
Finland offers wonderful opportunities for photography, but there are some important restrictions to bear in mind. These limitations to photography are the same as in most other countries, ie refrain from photographing sensitive sites such as military bases and power installations. Sometimes what constitutes 'sensitive' is open to interpretation (what to think of a bridge?), but mostly it is a question of applying common sense.
What is important to bear in mind when visiting some of the sites described on these pages near the Russian border, is that this border has in the past been extremely sensitive, and although things have changed since the end of the cold war this is still true. All along Finland's eastern border is a border zone, and this is a very sensitive area where you are not allowed unless you have a special permit. Its maximum width on land is three kilometres and the outermost limit of the zone is marked in the terrain using yellow signs, yellow rings painted on trees or yellow plastic tape attached to trees. Be careful before you go ahead photographing anything near the border zone!