Destination Finland

This page is divided into to sections. The first section contains general information about Finland and the secound part contains information about all the cities I have been to.

General information about Finland
Finland is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe and has borders with Russia to the east, Norway to the north, and Sweden to the west. The country has approximately 188,000 lakes and a similar number of islands. Forest covers 86% of the country's area, which is the largest forested area in Europe. In the northern part of the country the Northern Lights can be seen during the long nigh of winter and midnight sun is seen during summer. Finns claim Santa Claus live in a mountain but everyone knows he lives on the North pole and Norway. Despite living in one of the most technologically developed countries in the world, the Finns love to head to their summer cottages in the warmer months to enjoy all manner of relaxing pastimes including sauna, swimming, fishing and barbequing. Not much is known about Finland's early history, with archaeologists still debating when and where a tribe of Finno-Ugric speakers cropped up. Roman historian Tacitus mentions a tribe primitive and savage Fenni in 100 AD and even the Vikings chose not to settle, trading and plundering along the coasts. Swedish kings established their rule in the Northern Crusades from the 12th century. The area of present-day Finland became a fully consolidated part of the Swedish kingdom in 1249. Swedish-speaking settlers arrived in some coastal regions during the medieval time. Swedish became the dominant language of the nobility, administration and education; Finnish was chiefly a language for the peasantry, clergy and local courts in predominantly Finnish-speaking areas.

Both Finnish and Swedish are official languages in Finland. The Finnish langage, spoken by most Finns, is part of the Uralic language family and is most closely related to other Finnic languages such as Karelian and Estonian, while Swedish, spoken by Swedish-speaking Finns, is unrelated to the Finnish language and a member of the Indo-European language family. In addition to the Finnish-speaking inhabitants of Finland, also Kvens (people of Finnish descent in Norway), Tornedalians (people of Finnish descent in northernmost Sweden), and Karelians in the historic Finnish province of Karelia and Evangelical Lutheran Ingrian Finns (both in the northwestern Russian Federation), as well as Finnish expatriates in various countries are usually considered as Finnish people. The Finnish are quite good at English so you should have no trouble asking for directions and such whilst visiting Finland. 

Around 5.4 million people reside in Finland, with the majority concentrated in the southern region. It is the eighth largest country in Europe in terms of area and the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. Finland is a parliamentary republic with a central government based in Helsinki and local governments in 336 municipalities. A total of about one million residents live in the Greater Helsinki area, and a third of the country's GDP is produced in that region. Finland has a humid and cool semi continental climate, characterized by warm summers and freezing winters. The climate type in southern Finland is north temperate climate. Winters of southern Finland are usually 4 months long, and the snow typically covers the land from middle of December to early April. In the southern coast, it can melt many times during early winter, and then come again. The coldest winter days of southern Finland are usually under −20 °C (−4 °F), and the warmest days of July and August can be as high as 30 °C (86 °F). In northern Finland, particularly in Lapland, a subarctic climate dominates, characterized by cold – occasionally severe – winters and relatively warm, short summers. Winters in north Finland are nearly 7 months long, and snow covers the lands almost 6 months, from October to early May. Summers in the north are quite short, only 2–3 months.[ as far as I recall they do not speak perfect English but I guess you will get along fine. Swedish and Finish are the official languages in Helsinki.

Travel to Finland
Arriving by airplane from abroad you are most likely to arrive at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport near Helsinki. Around 30 foreign airlines fly to Helsinki-Vantaa. Using the airport express coach or buss No 615 it is easy to get from the airport to Helsinki city center. VR and Russian Railways jointly operate services between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki, stopping at Vyborg, Kouvola and Lahti along the way. 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. 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 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. Ferries operate to Germany and Poland as well. 


Travelling within Finland
Finland is a large country and traveling 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. Flights are the fastest but generally also the most expensive way of getting around . 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. 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. 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. Lake cruises are a great way to see the scenery of Finland during summer, although most of them only do circular sightseeing loops and aren't thus particularly useful for getting from point A to point B. Most cruise ships carry 100-200 passengers, and many are historical steam boats. Popular routes include Turku-Naantali and various routes in and around Saimaa. Remember to book ahead on weekends. Car rental is possible in Finland but generally expensive, with rates generally upwards of €80/day, although rates go down for longer rentals. 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 €5.30, rising up to €8.30 at night and on Sundays. The per-kilometer charge starts at €1.39/km for 1 or 2 passengers, rising up to €1.94/km for 7 or 8 passenger minivans. A 20-25 km journey (say, airport to central Helsinki) can thus easily cost €30-40. Hitchhiking is possible, albeit unusual, in Finland, as the harsh climate and sparse traffic don't exactly encourage standing around and waiting for cars.

Places to sleep
There are many types of tourist accommodation, ranging from hotels, pensions and rented villas. You may use i.e. hotels.com, booking.com or hostelworld.com to find somewhere to sleep.

Money and banking
Finland is part of the European Union and the Eurozone. Because of this Euro have replaced the local currency Finnish Mark. If you want to exchange money, you can do so at any bank where you can also cash in your traveller's cheques. Currency exchanges, once a common sight, have all but disappeared since the introduction of the Euro. Credit cards are well accepted in Portugal. Most ATMs will allow you to withdraw money with your credit card, but you'll need to know your card's PIN for that.

Vaccine and health
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. There are few serious health risks in Finland. Your primary enemy especially in wintertime will be the cold, particularly if trekking in Lapland. 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. 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 cold water (close to zero C) can die in a few minutes. 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, cling to the boat if possible (swim only if shore is a few hundred meters away, never try to swim in cold water below 20°C).

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. While they carry no malaria or other nasty diseases, many species of Finnish mosquitoes make a distinctive 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 repellants available which can be bought from almost any shop. Another summer nuisance are gadflies (paarma), whose bites can leave a mark lasting for days, even for month. A more recent introduction to Finnish summers are deer keds (hirvikärpänen), 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). Use repellent, ensure your tent has good mosquito netting and consider prophylaxis with cetirizine (brand names include Zyrtec), 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 which appear on summertime and can transmit Lyme's disease (borreliosis) and viral encephalitis through a bite. The only poisonous insects in Finland are wasps, bees and bumblebees. Their stings can be painful, but are not dangerous, unless you receive several stings or if you are allergic to it.

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), you 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 will 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 on summertime, it's advisable to buy a "Adder pack", which is a medicine set which contains a couple of hydrocortisone pills. As for other dangerous wildlife, there's not much more than a few extremely rare encounters with brown bears and wolves in the wilderness. Both of these animals are listed as endangered species. Contrary to popular belief abroad, there are no polar bears in Finland, let alone polar bears walking on the city streets. The brown bear, which occurs across Finland, has been spotted on a few very exceptional occasions even in the edges of the largest Finnish cities, but normally bears try to avoid humans whenever possible. The brown bear hibernates during the winter. In the least densely populated areas near the Russian border, there has been some rare incidents of wolf attacks - mainly lone, hungry wolves attacking domestic animals and pets. During the past 100 years there has been one recorded case of a human killed by a large predator. In general, there's no need to worry about dangerous encounters with wild beasts in Finland.

Visa
Finland is a member of the Schengen Agreement and there are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. 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. Airports in Europe are thus divided into "Schengen" and "non-Schengen" sections, which effectively act like "domestic" and "international" sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear Immigration and Customs at the first country and then continue to your destination with no further checks. Travel between a Schengen member and a non-Schengen country will result in the normal border checks. Note that regardless of whether you are travelling within the Schengen area or not, many airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport. The non-EU/EFTA visa-free visitors may not stay more than 90 days in a 180 day period in the Schengen Area as a whole and, in general, may not work during their stay. The counter begins once you enter any country in the Schengen Area and is not reset by leaving a specific Schengen country for another Schengen country, or vice-versa. However, New Zealand citizens may be able to stay for more than 90 days if they only visit particular Schengen countries - see [3] for the New Zealand Government's explanation. If you are a non-EU/EFTA national, make sure that your passport is stamped both when you enter and leave the Schengen Area. Without an entry stamp, you may be treated as an overstayer when you try to leave the Schengen Area; without an exit stamp, you may be denied entry the next time you seek to enter the Schengen Area as you may be deemed to have overstayed on your previous visit. If you are unable to obtain a passport stamp, make sure that you retain documents such as boarding passes, transport tickets and ATM slips which may help to convince border inspection staff that you have stayed in the Schengen Area legally. Travel in the Schengen zone is an informative article which provides aditional informastion.

Crime
Finland have low crime rate and is 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. It is 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.

Finish cuisine and drink
Finnish cuisine is heavily influenced by its neighbours, 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. 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. 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 (until 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. 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. 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 local student ID you will usually need to pay about € 5-7. 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 and Robert's Coffee.

Cities I have been to in Finland

Helsinki
The nature in Helsinki and the surrounding area is beautiful and there are many beautiful islets outside the city. The city was founded as a Swedish trading post in 1550 and was rebuild by the Russians in an imperial style in the 18th century. Because of this, Sweden and Russia have had their influence on the architectural style in Helsinki. The landscape is relativily flat so you don't have to vory about walking up and down to get around. The city center is relativily compact and everything is within walking distance. If you want to use public transportation it is easy to move around with trams. 

Above all you should see Suomenlinna which once was the greatest sea fortress in the Baltic region. You can reach it by ferry from the central marked and the ride takes 15-20 minutes. The fortress is situated on several islands and if you want to see it all this takes several hours. The white Lutheran Cathedral is the unofficial symbol of the city and it dominates the central Senate Square which also is a place to visit. Uspenski Cathedral serves Finland's small Orthodox minority and is the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe. St. John's Church is the largest church in Helsinki.  The Parliament House is build with many different styles. National Museum of Finland is the largest museum in Helsinki and the building itself is a tourist attraction (as many buildings in Helsinki are). Temppeliaukion kirkko (Temple Square Church) is a must-see place. Another site you should visit is the Sibelius Monument and its surrounding park. These places are not far away from the Temple square church and it doesnt take long to get from one of these places to another using tram. The Temple square church is a small church which is dug out from solid rock and is one of Helsinki's most popular attractions. Both of these places are somewhat outside the city center but it does not take long by tram to get there. 

If you like markeds you should visit Hakaniemen marked hall, the market square and the Vanha market hall. The Vanha market hall is situated really close to the market square and worth a visit if you visit the market square. On all of these places they sell traditional Finnish food. In the market square they sell souvenirs as well. Esplanadi is the shoping area in Helsinki. Stockmann is a quite large department store but quite expensive. If you want to shop somewhere cheaper you should check out Forum

If you like burgers Friends & brgrs serve some of the best burgers I have ever tasted. Hambursgers aren't typical Finnish food but it turned out to be difficult to find somewhere to find traditional Finnish food. There are several places that have traditional bufes but as the ones we found only are open on weekdays we didn't get to try them. 

Finland highlighted in red in this map of Europe.