Finland is a fascinating and beautiful European country bordered by Sweden, Norway and Russia. Any Finnish travel experience will be largely determined by the seasons. Winter is a time of perpetual darkness, magnificent frozen lakes and the glorious Northern Lights. In summer vast green natural landscapes are bathed in the light of the midnight sun. Enormous spreads of virtually untouched natural wilderness provide a playground for trekkers, mountain-bikers, skiers and fishermen. Reindeer roam free when they aren’t pulling sledges or being served up on the dinner table. This natural wonderland lies on the doorstep of phenomenally innovative modern cities offering cosmopolitan living, while the surrounding smaller towns are home to quaint wooden churches, historic castles and quirky museums brimming with cultural artefacts.
Banking and Currency
Euro (EUR; symbol €) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of €500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of €2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10 and 5 cents. Note that 1 and 2 cent coins, while valid in other eurozone countries, are not used in Finland.
There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding €10,000 or equivalent must be declared if travelling from or to a country outside the European Union.
Foreign currency and traveller's cheques can be exchanged in banks, post offices and at bureaux de change in major cities, ports and airports. Banks tend to charge higher commissions. As there are direct train and bus links from Helsinki to St Petersburg in Russia, it is easy to exchange Euros for Russian Roubles.
Banking hours: Mon-Fri 0900-1630 (regional variations may occur).
All major international credit and debit cards are widely accepted, and ATMs are found in every town and even in small villages.
Traveller's cheques can be exchanged at banks or exchange offices (at a lower commission), and can be used to pay for goods in some tourist-oriented shops. Travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Euros, Pounds Sterling or US Dollars.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
Finnair (AY) (www.finnair.com) and its subsidiaries run an excellent network of domestic services. Look out for discounted äkkilähdot (getaway) fares. Budget domestic flights are operated by Blue 1 (KF) (www.blue1.com). Children under 12 and seniors get a 70% discount and young people aged 17 to 24 get a 50% discount. Even cheaper youth standby fares are also available.
Car hire is available in larger towns and cities from a variety of local and international firms. The minimum age varies from 20 to 25 years depending on the company, but all firms require a minimum of one year's driving experience. Vehicles are driven on the right side of the road. A national driving licence or International Driving Permit and insurance is required. In forested areas, heed the signs warning of elk and reindeer crossing the carriageway - many drivers are injured in collisions with deer every year. Petrol stations are often unmanned but petrol pumps can be operated using banknotes and credit cards. Seat belts must be worn by all passengers and headlights must be kept on at alltimes. Traffic entering from the right has right of way, even when joining a major road from a minor road. From 1 December until 31 March, snow tyres are a legal requirement; they can be hired from rental firms. Further information can be obtained from Autoliitto (Automobile and Touring Club of Finland) (tel: (9) 7258 4400; www.autoliitto.fi).
Bicycles can be hired in most towns from tourists offices or camping grounds.
Larger towns have efficient and integrated bus services, and Helsinki also has a metro and tram service, suburban rail lines and ferry services to the Suomenlinna Islands. Local transport in Helsinki (including the ferries) is covered by a single ticket system with a zonal flat fare and free transfers between services. Multi-trip tickets are sold in advance, as are various passes. Tickets can be purchased from the driver, ticket machine or via mobile phone text message (Finnish service providers only). Tramline 3T runs past most of the main tourist attractions - a free brochure in English is available covering the stops along the route.
Helsinki Card: This handy discount card (www.helsinkicard.fi) is available for one, two or three days. Once purchased, it allows unlimited free travel on public transport (including the Suomenlinna ferry) and free entry to about 50 museums and other sights in the city. Visit the website or contact the Finnish Tourist Board for prices and further details. Several other large cities offer similar transport cards.
Taxis are available in every city and from airports and major hotels. Taxis have a yellow taksi sign that is lit when the taxi is vacant. They can be booked at taxi ranks or signalled from the street. In Helsinki, you can call 0100 0700. Fares are more expensive at night and at weekends; tipping is not customary. Shared taxis run by Yellow Taxis (tel: 0600 555 555) operate to and from Helsinki airport.
Finnish trains are spacious, comfortable, clean and quiet, thanks to special booths where people can make mobile phone calls. VR (tel: 0600 41902, within Finland only, or (9) 2319 2902; www.vr.fi) operates an extensive rail service around Finland. The main lines are Helsinki-Turku, Helsinki-Tampere-Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä-Kuopio and Helsinki-Seinäjoki-Oulu-Rovaniemi. Prices vary according to the standard of the train; regional trains are cheapest and fast Pendolino trains are the most expensive. Sleeping berths are available on night trains and seat reservations are compulsory on IC and Pendolino services. Children under six years of age travel free, children aged six to 16 pay half price, and special discounts are available for groups. To search for rail services in Finland, visit Destia Traffic (www.matka.fi).
Many of Finland's inland waterways are serviced by waterbuses and ferries. Popular routes include theSilver Line (www.hopealinja.fi), which operates between Hämeenlinna and Tampere and Tampere and Viikinsaari island, and the Poet's Way (www.runoilijantie.fi), which runs between Tampere and Virrat.Lake Päijänne Cruises (www.paijanne-risteilythilden.fi) runs services on the Päijänne Waterway, between Jyväskylä and Heinola, Lahti and Suolahti. Roll Cruises (www.roll.fi) offers cruises around Kuopio. There are also regular car ferry services around the Lake Pielinen area. All ferries have restaurants or canteens and accommodation on overnight trips is provided in small private cabins. For more detailed information on schedules and routes, contact the Finnish Tourist Board (see Contact Addresses).
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Food in Finland is safe to eat and usually prepared in accordance with hygiene guidelines, although care should be taken when purchasing food from unlicensed stalls. Tap water is also safe, although drinking from streams, lakes and rivers – however clean they look – isn’t recommended as even the most inviting-looking water can harbour parasites.
As you might suspect for a nation dominated by water, fish plays an essential role in Finnish cuisine. Salmon, herring and other fish are cooked fresh or served smoked and pickled in cold courses. Meat comes in various forms, including the ubiquitous meatballs and HK Sininen Lenkki sausage. Reindeer, elk and bear meat are served as delicacies. Lunch is the main meal of the day - dinner is often a cold meal served with pickles and dark rye bread.
In summer and autumn, look out for tender new potatoes, rutabaga, fresh peas, dozens of varieties of wild mushrooms and a fabulous assortment of wild berries, including blueberries, cloudberries (like yellow raspberries), crowberries and red lingonberries, which are often used in jellies and preserves.
Finns drink more coffee than anyone else in the world and kahvilat (cafes, singular kahvila) are found in every village and town square. More substantial meals are served at ravintolat (restaurants) - home-style Finnish cooking predominates, but you'll also restaurants serving French, Italian and other international cuisines.
A service charge of approximately 15% is added to bills in most hotels and restaurants
Climate and Weather
Finland has a reputation as a land of ice and snow, but summers are warm and sunny, with daytime temperatures reaching 25-30ºC (77-86ºF), and even spring and autumn can be surprisingly mild. The sun never truly sets in midsummer and locals take full advantage of the midnight sun for late-night sports, barbecues and parties.
Finland only really deserves its frosty reputation in winter, from November to mid March, when temperatures plummet to -20ºC/-4ºF or lower. Winter days are short and in Lapland, the sun may not clear the horizon at all. In the far north, the snow cover can last from as early as October till as late as May.
Rainfall is distributed fairly evenly throughout the rest of the year. During June and July, forested areas are plagued by gnats and mosquitoes, particularly in the north of the country. Bring plenty of insect repellent.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
In summer, travellers can get away with lightweight clothing in the daytime, but long sleeves and long trousers or skirts are useful for the evenings. Waterproof clothes are useful throughout the year. A netting veil is useful when trekking in the mosquito season. In winter, bring appropriate clothing for snowy conditions. In the Arctic North, you may need expedition-quality winter clothing.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Finland are one of the two European standard electrical socket types: The "Type C" Europlug and the "Type E" and "Type F" Schuko. If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for all three types.
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Finland usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If your appliance is compatible with 220-240 volt electrical output, a voltage converter will be necessary.