10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Finland – Tips From a Local

Are you thinking about visiting Finland?

It’s my home country, and I would say it’s is a great travel destination. But I know, many travelers don’t know anything about this Nordic country and it might never have crossed your mind to travel to Finland.

I am therefore very excited to share some information about my country and hope you will decide to visit Finland someday!

10 Things to Know About Finland Before Visiting

  

1. Finland Is a Recently Urbanized Country

Things to know about Finland: city life

Ok, let’s be honest here. Us Finnish people were “forest people” for a long time.

It means that the urbanization started relatively late here, around the 1960s. Before that, most people lived in the countryside and/or in relatively small villages and got their livelihood from agriculture. We did have some factories but no big cities really.

Finland is a small country when it comes to population size. We are only about 5,6 million people. Helsinki, the capital, has got around 640,000 dwellers and in the greater metropolitan area, there are one million.

The urbanized culture is still relatively young, but, in today’s world, innovation spreads from one country to another rapidly and Finland is no exception.

Nowadays Helsinki is like any other cool capital in the world and the other bigger cities in Finland, such as Turku, Tampere, and Oulu, are all modern and vibrant cities.

As a matter of fact, I think Helsinki is one of the coolest places on earth. Yes, I love big cities but Helsinki has a bit of everything without the megacity problems, such as congestion, bad air quality, etc.

One of my favorite things to do in Helsinki is to visit the different cafes the city has to offer, enjoying a quality cappuccino and reading magazines.

Fun fact: The Finns are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers, drinking twice as much as the Italians and three times as much as the Americans!

Also Read: Interview With an Expat About Moving to & Living in Helsinki

2. The Finnish Personality

Things to know before visiting Finland: Finnish people

When you first arrive in Finland, people might seem a bit reserved.

Finnish people are polite but not majorly interested in endless chit chat and in talking to strangers. We are not very gregarious but once you get to know us, you have a loyal friend who you can count on.

We have this old proverb actually: “a Finnish guy doesn’t talk nor kiss”. Well, luckily they do, nowadays, but the old folks or those living in the countryside might still be a bit reserved or blunt when trying to communicate.

In addition, Finnish people are quite modest (in both good and bad ways).

It’s not part of our national heritage to brag about our achievements. It can be really awkward to a Finn if you are just praising them and comment on what a marvelous job they have done.

Sometimes we really should be more proud of our achievements. Perhaps the younger generation is getting better at this.

3. Education & Language

Finnish landscape - travel to Finland

The Finnish education system is one of the best in the world. And what’s even better, it’s free! No tuition fees. This way, it doesn’t matter what your family background is. You can still go to university and get a good degree.

English is widely spoken, especially in the bigger cities, so you will be able to travel around without any real language issues.

And by the way, Finland is officially bilingual.

While most people speak Finnish as their native tongue, the Swedish population makes up about 5,5% of Finland. The latter are mostly bilingual whereas not all Finnish people speak Swedish well, even though it’s mandatory to study Swedish at primary school.

4. The Weather in Finland

a trip to Finland

Yes, this is a bit problematic for any trip to Finland. You never really know what the weather is going to be like in Finland.

I mean, the summer can be quite nice, 20-27 degrees Celsius (68-80 Fahrenheit) or a crappy 18 degrees (64 Fahrenheit).

You can have horrible blizzards in winter but nowadays, in the Southern part, the weather can be quite mild as well.

So, whenever you visit Finland, remember to take all kinds of clothing with you. Unless you are visiting Lapland in winter. Then it’s going to be cold, guaranteed!

5. Equality and the Nordic Welfare State

Things to know before traveling to Finland: Equality & Welfare state

We don’t have major class differences here. Most people belong to the middle class and there are very few super-rich or very poor people.

We don’t have any gated communities and in general, you don’t have to worry about getting robbed in the middle of the night.

Our presidents are usually quite down to earth and they don’t like making a big fuss about themselves.

Our previous female president, for instance, Tarja Halonen, was seen at Stockmann department store during her presidency, buying the very plain undies, Sloggies. That is something you wouldn’t see a president do in many other countries!

6. Nature in Finland

Things to know before traveling to Finland: Finnish nature

Nature is very important to Finns and we’re never too far from the nearest park or forest.

People go jogging, skiing and berry picking in the forest. Or they go there just to relax and “recharge the batteries” as we say in Finnish.

We have a law called “Every man’s right” which means that anyone can visit and camp in anyone’s forest as long as they don’t cause any harm or trouble and stay away from the dwellings.

7. Lapland – Finland’s Top Attraction

Things to know before traveling to Finland: Lapland

To Southerners, Lapland is often as exotic as it is to foreigners.

Some people visit Lapland regularly, to go snowboarding in winter or hiking and fishing in summer and autumn, but many Southerners have never visited Lapland.

The landscape in Lapland is completely different from the rest of Finland and we find reindeer as cute and exotic as you do!

Also read: Where, When and How to See the Northern Lights in Lapland

8. Saunas in Finland

Things to know before traveling to Finland: Finnish sauna culture

Sauna is a big part of our national heritage. Almost all the detached houses have a sauna and it’s a ritual in many households to have a sauna night on Saturdays.

Which brings up the next topic; nudity. In general, Finns are not very prude when it comes to nudity though the traditions vary a bit.

If you are with your family or spouse, of course, you are naked in the sauna. If you are with friends, people might be naked or some might wear a bathing suit.

At public saunas or swimming pools, there are often separate saunas for ladies and gents but there are mixed ones as well (where you would wear a bathing suit).

But, whether it’s the sauna in your Airbnb, your hotel or a public one, when you visit Finland you have to try a Finnish sauna at least once!

9. Drinking in Finland

Things to know before traveling to Finland: Alcohol in Finland

Finns do drink quite a lot. The wine culture arrived here relatively late (remember the forest people reference) and people were drinking mainly beer and spirits earlier.

Notorious Finnish drinking habits were a horror in neighboring Tallin, Estonia, but I think the situation has improved.

The new, urban generation has learned the continental drinking manners in which we sample different wines and have a bottle with a nice meal.

Unfortunately, we still have a state monopoly in Finland when it comes to liquor. You can only buy alcohol (over 5,5%) from a shop called Alko, which is our bottle shop.

And a tip: buy your bottles before 6PM on Saturdays since that is when they close and they don’t open on Sundays.

Most younger people, especially the ones in cities, can’t wait for the law to change one day so that we will finally be able to buy our wine at the grocery store.

On a positive note; tipping is not compulsory. Although of course it is always appreciated.

10. Finland is Expensive!

Things to know before traveling to Finland: Finland is expensive

This is unfortunately true. Pretty much everything is expensive in Finland. Alcohol, food, gas, clothes, cars…

The expansive welfare state model needs to be financed and that means that taxes on most things are high.

In general salaries in Finland are also high so that makes up for it, but as a tourist you will find Finland an expensive destination.

Don’t let that put you off though. Finland is beautiful and a country and culture well worth exploring!

Practical Things to Know About Finland

Currency: Euro (use xe.com to convert currencies)
Time zone: UTC+2 (UTC+3 in summer)
Calling code: +358
Capital & largest city: Helsinki
Plugs: Types C and F (C = two round pins, F = two round pins with two earth clips on the side)

One last fun fact: Finland is lovingly called the ‘Land of a Thousand Lakes’. But actually, there are many more lakes than that. There are 187,888 lakes to be exact and 179,584 islands within the territory of Finland!

I hope you will enjoy visiting my country and I hope these things to know about Finland helped you understand the country a bit better. Have a great trip!

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list of things to know about Finland before visiting

 

Anna Paananen

Author: Anna Paananen
Anna is a Finnish globetrotter who has trouble staying put. She got back from Thailand recently where she stayed 18 months doing a yoga teacher training and teaching Social Studies. Now she is enjoying the beautiful Finnish summer in her home country. Her blog, Hammock Stories is about teaching and expat life in Thailand, traveling and yoga, and also lately, as you might have guessed, about Helsinki and Finland.

27 thoughts on “10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Finland – Tips From a Local”

  1. Hello, my name is Jessica and I’m Mexican. My goal is to visit Helsinki this summer, but I am a little bit worried that Finnish people won’t understand my accent, I’ve been in the USA before and didn’t have any problem, but I am not sure how Finnish would react, so I am learning a few Finnish phrases, but is so difficult to pronounce them right. Anyway, which places or events do you recommend me to go on my trip this July?

    Reply
  2. Hey Casey,

    That’s a difficult choice! Finland is beautiful in summer… But, if you’ve never seen the Northern lights I think I would travel to Finland in winter.

    Reply
  3. I am thinking of traveling to Finland but can not decide whether I would want to go in the winter to see the Northern lights or summer to experience more of the outdoor activities. Which do you prefer if you had to choose 1?

    Reply
  4. Hi sas,

    That marathon is in Turku, right? I’d recommend seeing if you can do some fun tours around Turku (kayaking maybe?) and also spend a couple of days in Helsinki. From Helsinki you can also do a lot of tours, if you have time. Even a day trip to Tallinn for example.

    Enjoy your visit to Finland and good luck with the marathon!

    Reply
  5. I am travelling to Paavo for the marathon next month and trying to experience anything that is nearby or a must do…I will be there for 7 days anything you can recommend

    Reply
  6. Thanks a lot for the information, the informations where quite helpful. I hope to visit Finland someday, sounds like a very cool place to live.

    Reply
  7. Hi,
    Thank you for the information. I think I will be flying to Lapland itself since my trip got cut to a stop over only while returning ( i could not get reasonable flight tickets for a double stopover ) and take the night train back. The trains do not usually get delayed right? I will be in Finland from 1st to 6th October.
    And should I stay in Lapland itself for 5 days? , or stay in Helsinki for 2 and 3 days in Lapland.
    Also, I will be in Norway for 20 days, I think I should crossover to Finland for another 5 days. Can you guide on which towns in Finland will be good to visit from Norway ( i will add those bordering towns in Norway to my itinerary which I still have to make)

    Thank you for your help .

    Reply
  8. Yes, Finland is definitely safe to travel alone. I traveled alone in Finland as a woman and never felt unsafe at all.

    How much Finland costs really depends on your style of traveling… Alcohol is definitely expensive, but eating out and public transport I found similar to most Northern European countries. Helsinki is an expensive place to stay (easily US$ 100 per night for a hotel room) but outside of Helsinki you have cheaper hotel and Airbnb options.

    Supermarkets I didn’t find expensive (again, compared to Northern Europe), so getting some of your food there instead of eating out could save some money.

    Reply
  9. Hi! It’s really a beautiful country. Can you tell me, is it safe to travel there alone? And how much does it cost to stay there for a week?

    Reply
  10. Have you visited Finland yet? I would recommend visiting first (maybe even several times) to see if you really like Finland, then decide what part of the country you would like to live in and then look for jobs there (if you want a job locally).
    There are a few expats in Finland or Helsinki Facebook groups. Join them as I am sure they can help you out with further information.

    Reply
  11. Finnland was said to be one of the most peaceful countries in the world. This i’ve known for years and i desire relocating to Finnland. Any help on the best way to relocate please?

    Reply
  12. Hi Rahul,
    I loved traveling by train in Finland. The trains are very comfortable.

    Traveling all the way to Lapland by train will take you easily 12 hours though. If you decide to travel by train, my recommendation is to travel from Helsinki to Lapland using the night train. Book early, about 3 or 4 months before your trip, because prices do go up.
    Also check flights though, as with your limited amount of time that might be a good option.

    Reply
  13. Hi, Decent information. Thanks.
    I am traveling to Helsinki in September for 10 days, 5 days stopover on either side of my flight to Norway. I wanted your recommendation on where can we travel from Helsinki on such a short duration. Lapland was on my list, to travel via the train ( is it a good experience?). Also is that enough time to enjoy my stay in Finland or I need longer?. Thank you

    Reply
  14. I guess it depends on where you work. By Western standards, perhaps Finnish people are making “just” average wages but on a global scale, I think we earn a decent living. Also, high taxation and cost of living reduce purchasing power.

    Reply
    • How do you recommend moving around Finland for 8 days in August 2019 ?
      I could drive? What key cities or places will fit into this time frame?
      Where would you suggest flying into and out of? We live in Houston
      Myself and 16 yr old grandson.

      Thanks!

      Reply
  15. Hi Melinda! Have a look at my blog (and keep following it because I have a lot of Helsinki-related material coming up) and you will find plenty of things to see (also the non-touristy things) and some fab cafes and restaurants. Unfortunately, I’m not super familiar with Tampere so can’t advise on that… Happy that you have decided to visit us!

    Reply
  16. Hi, Im going to visit Helsinki and Tampere in the summer, have any recommondations for places to eat, things to visit that maybe as a tourist you might overlook? Thanks in Advance 🙂

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  17. There are high salaries in Finland? Been livin there all my 30 years on this earth and still they are not high.. all the other tips are mostly correct but this salary thing.. they are not high.

    Reply
  18. From Helsinki to Inari is a long drive! it’s just over 1100km each way, so 2200km round trip.
    It will depend on your car how much gas you will need. If you are renting a car I would check this with your rental agency. If it’s your own car then you can estimate it based on your car’s average fuel consumption.

    Reply
  19. From my experience the Finns are very polite, somewhat reserved, and it’s not in their culture to embarrass or criticize people in public.
    Plus Helsinki attracts tourists from all over the world so they are used to seeing different sizes, skin colors, etc. And they seem very polite to tourists.
    Please don’t let it ruin your trip! Helsinki is a great city, enjoy it and everything Finland has to offer!

    Reply
  20. Hello:)
    I am going to be visiting Helsinki in December for about 10 days. I am concerned though. I am obese and I do not know if that will make the Finnish people treat me differently. I do have a medical reason for it though. I’m not lazy, but am very active. Here in the USA people are not so nice about it.

    Reply
  21. I have always wanted to visit Finland. So many amazing things there. Thanks for writing the post, it just make me love Finland even more.

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  22. I am totally and deeply fascinated by Finland. 187,888 lakes and 179,584 islands you say? It looks like this is going to be my favorite country and I haven’t even begun researching it yet. How’s October as a season to visit?

    Reply
    • Yes, Punita! There are thousands and thousands of lakes! And especially the Turku/Finnish archipelago is full of small little islands. I actually just wrote about it, cottage life in the Finnish archipelago. You can find it on my blog if you want to read it 😉 October would be a good time to visit, I think. Not so many tourists anymore and the winter, ie. cold hasn’t kicked in yet, hehe.

      Reply

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