Finland is for the most part a quiet land, where a ramshackle cottage by a lake and a properly stoked sauna is all that's required for happiness. It's a vast expanse of forests and lakes and more forests, punctuated by towns full of people who are genuinely surprised to see tourists. Read more...
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Cities and Destinations in Finland
Finland is for the most part a quiet land, where a ramshackle cottage by a lake and a properly stoked sauna is all that's required for happiness. It's a vast expanse of forests and lakes and more forests, punctuated by towns full of people who are genuinely surprised to see tourists.
Location: Northern Europe, Scandinavia, bordering Norway 729 km, Sweden 586 km, Russia 1,313 km.
Finnish foreign ministry has a page on c/eng/services/entry/main.html Entry documents required of foreign nationals. Finland is signatory to the Schengen treaty, see the article on the European Union for details.
Ryanair 's Finland hub is in Tampere , with flights around Europe. 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 Finnish Lapland Lapland . It may also be worth your while to get a cheap flight to Tallinn and follow the boat instructions below to get to Finland.
VR http://www.vr.fi and Russian Railways have two direct train services daily from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg (Russia) Saint Petersburg and one daily to Moscow in Russia . 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 / Scanrail pass, and you can also get a 50% discount from most ferries with these passes.
, 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.
Estonia and the Baltic states
Helsinki and Tallinn are only 80 km apart, making this the busiest route in the country. Viking http://www.vikingline.fi/, Eckerö http://www.eckeroline.fi/en/ and Tallink http://www.tallink.fi/en/(http://www.tallink.fi/en/) operate slow but cheap and full-service car ferries all year round (around three hours, although some travel overnight and park outside the harbor until morning). Tallink Autoexpress http://www.tallink.fi/en/(http://www.tallink.fi/en/), SuperSeaCat http://www.superseacat.com/, Nordic Jet http://www-eng.njl.fi/ and Linda Line http://www.lindaliini.ee/ offer 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.
Finnlines http://www.ferrycenter.fi/finnlines/en/ operates from Helsinki to Travemünde near Lübeck and Hamburg , taking 27 hours one way. Superfast Ferries http://www.superfast.com/Baltic/English/index.asp runs ferries from Helsinki to Rostock .
Polferries has terminated its services to Gdynia .
Scheduled services to Russia are stop-and-go, being at the moment (August 2005) stopped once again. Kristina Cruises and [http://www.silja.fi/ROUTES/Helsinki%20-%20St%20Petersburg/ Silja Line] still offer cruises from Helsinki .
(from €60 for a car with driver).
As mentioned above, one of the easiest ways to get by car from Sweden to Finland is a car ferry. The European Route E12 (Finnish national highway 3) includes a ferry line between Umeå and Vaasa. (Note: the line is currently (2008-2009) supported by a temporary government subsidy and risks being cancelled without it.) Another route that includes a car ferry is E18, from Stockholm to Turku.
European Routes E8 and E75 connect Finland and Norway.
European route E18, as Russian route M10, goes from St. Petersburg, via Vyborg to Vaalimaa border station. From there, E18 continues as Finnish national highway 7 to Helsinki, and from there, along the coast as highway 1 to Turku. In Vaalimaa, trucks will have to wait in a persistent truck queue. This queue does not directly affect other vehicles. There are border control and customs checks in Vaalimaa and passports and Schengen visas if applicable will be needed.
As mentioned above, there is a car ferry between Tallinn and Helsinki. It forms a part of European route E67 Via Baltica. Via Baltica also substitutes the line Helsinki-Gdansk on E75, as the line no longer operates.
Finland's a large country and traveling is relatively expensive. Public transportation is mainly well organized and the equipment is always comfortable and very often brand new. The domestic Journey Planner helps to search for the best connections between any two locations covering all domestic coach and train lines.
Flights are the fastest but generally also the most expensive way of getting around. Finnair and some smaller airlines operate regional flights from Helsinki to all over the country, including Kuopio , Pori , Rovaniemi and Ivalo . It's worth booking in advance if possible: on the Helsinki - Oulu sector, the country's busiest, a fully flexible return economy ticket costs a whopping 251€ but an advance-purchase non-changeable one-way ticket can go as low as 39€ (from Blue1.com), less than a train ticket. You may also be able to get discounted domestic tickets if you fly into Finland on Finnair.
There are two competing airlines selling domestic flights:
Finnair (the biggest by far, services to most bigger cities)
Blue1 (a division of SAS, formerly known as Air Botnia, competes in the busiest routes)
Also there are some smaller airlines, which fly flights for Finnair; their tickets can be bought from Finnair. FinnComm Airlines, however, also sell some seats on their own website cheaper than through Finnair.
service in parenthesis.
Pendolino tilting trains, the fastest option (30.9€, 1:23)
InterCity and InterCity2 express trains, with IC surcharge (26€, 1:46)
Ordinary express (pikajuna), with express surcharge (23.8€, 1:53-2:16)
Local and regional trains (lähiliikennejuna, lähijuna or taajamajuna), no surcharge, quite slow (20.3€, 2:04)
Pendolino and IC trains have restaurant cars, family cars (IC only, with a playpen for children), power sockets and smoking sections. Other trains, including some short-distance IC2 services, do not. Additional surcharges apply for travel in first class, branded Business on some trains, which gets you more spacious seating, newspapers and possibly a snack.
Overnight sleepers are available for long-haul routes and very good value at 11/21/43€ for a bed in a three/two/one-bed compartment; note that one-bed compartments are only available in first class.
Finland is a participant in the Inter Rail system, and is located in Zone B along with Scandinavia (see http://www.vr.fi/heo/eng/lansi/finterail.htm). Finnish Rail passes are also available for International guests to Finland. There are discounts (50%) for students who study in Finland and have a VR/Matkahuolto student card or other Finnish student card that VR recognizes. However, foreign student cards do not give eligibility for student discounts.
Matkahuolto offers long-distance coach connections to practically all parts of Finland. Fares are generally slightly higher than trains, but sometimes lower (from Helsinki to Turku). Speeds are usually slower than trains, sometimes very slow (from Helsinki to Oulu), sometimes even faster (from Helsinki to Kotka and Pori). Student discounts are available also for foreign students by showing valid ISIC card at Matkahuolto office (located at every bus station) and getting Matkahuolto - student discount card. (price: approx 5e) For those studying in Finland there is also a card that is valid on both Buses and Trains and offers 50% discount. (on buses the one-way trip must be over 80km)
See also expressbus.com timetables, fast driving busses to get around between cities using main highways.
Bus is also the way to travel in Lapland, since the rail network doesn't extend to the extreme north.
In summertime, lake cruises are a great way to see the scenery of Finland, 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 (book ahead on weekends!), and many are historical steam boats. Popular routes include Turku - Naantali and various routes in and around Saimaa .
Car rental is possible in Finland but generally expensive, with rates generally upwards of € 80/day, although rates go down for longer rentals. Foreign-registered cars can only be used in Finland for a limited time and registering it locally involves paying a semi-arbitrary but huge tax to equalize the price to Finnish levels. If you opt to buy a car in Finland instead, make sure it has all annual taxes paid and when its next annual inspection is due: the deadline is the same day as the car's first registration date. All cars must pass emissions testing and precise tests of brakes etc. Police may remove the plates of vehicles that have not passed their annual inspections in time.
Traffic drives on the right, and there are no road tolls in Finnish cities or highways so far. Roads are well maintained and extensive, although expressways are limited to the south of the country. Note that headlights 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 (lethal) are common countrywide, deer (survivable) cause numerous collisions in South and South West parts of the country, and half-domesticated reindeer are a common cause of accidents in Finnish Lapland Lapland .
Bear collisions happen sometimes in eastern parts of the country. VR's overnight car carrier trains http://www.vr.fi/heo/eng/aika/fautojuna.htm 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.
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. The most dangerous weather is in fact around the zero degree mark (C), when slippery but near-invisible black ice forms on the roads. Finnish cars often come equipped with a block heater (lohkolämmitin) used to keep the engine warm overnight, and many parking places have electric outlets to feed them. Liikenneturva, the Finnish road safety agency, maintains a Tips for winter driving page http://www.liikenneturva.fi/en/safetyinfo/tipsforwinterdriving.php in English.
Finnish speeding tickets are based on your income, so be careful. A Nokia VP who'd cashed in some stock options the previous year was once hit for $204,000! If you are not from Finland, the Finnish police has no access to your tax records, so a speeding violation will probably be around 100-200 Euros. You have the right to respectfully say that information is private if someone tries to ask what your salary is, as that information is protected under European Union law. A blood alcohol level of over 0.05% is considered drunk driving, so think twice before drinking that second beer.
Keep in mind that if you are driving at night when the gas stations are closed (they usually close at 9 PM), always remember to bring some money for gas. Automated gas pumps in Finland DO NOT ACCEPT foreign visa/credit cards! However, you can pay with Euro notes.
Hitchhiking is possible, albeit unusual, in Finland, as the harsh climate and sparse traffic don't exactly encourage standing around and waiting for cars. The most difficult task is getting out of Helsinki . Summer offers long light hours, but in the fall/spring you should plan your time. The highway between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg (Russia) Saint Petersburg has very high percentage of Russian drivers. See Hitchhiking Club Finland for further details if interested.
When to go
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. 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.
Pickpockets are rare, but not unheard of, especially in the busy tourist months in the summer. Most Finns carry their wallets in their pockets or purses and feel quite safe while doing it. Parents often leave their sleeping babies in a baby carriage on the street while visiting a shop, and 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. Use a good lock like Abus, Kryptonite, SafeGuard, cheap locks cannot protect your bike.
There are few serious health risks in Finland. Your primary enemy especially in wintertime will be the cold, particularly if trekking 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. 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.
A serious nuisance in summer are mosquito es (hyttynen), hordes of which inhabit Finland (particularly Lapland) in summer, especially after rains. While they carry no malaria or other nasty diseases, Finnish mosquitoes make a distinctive (and highly irritating) 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. 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. To this day there are no known deaths caused by mosquitos, so they are more a nuisance than a health hazard.
In southern Finland, especially Åland , Lappeenranta - Parikkala - Imatra -axis and areas near Turku 's coast, there are ticks (punkki) which appear on summertime and can transmit Lyme's disease (borreliosis) and viral encephalitis through a bite. Although these incidents are relatively rare and all ticks don't 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 (punkkipihdit) 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 go visit a doctor as soon as possible.
There's only one type of poisonous snake in Finland, the European adder (kyy or kyykäärme), which has a distinct zig-zag type of figure on its back, altough some individuals 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. Walk so that you make 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 kyypakkaus ( Adder pack , a medicine set which contains a couple of hydrocortisone pills). It can be bought from any Finnish pharmacy. It is used to reduce the reactions after an adder bite, however it's still advisable to see a doctor even after you've taken the hydrocortisone pills. The kyypakkaus can also be used to relieve the pain, swelling and other allergic reactions caused by bee stings. If you see an ant nest in area, ants have quite likely taken care of all snakes there.
As for other dangerous wildlife, there's not much more than a few extremely rare encounters with brown bears (karhu) and wolves (susi) in the wilderness. Both of these animals are listed as endagered species. Contrary to the 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 largest Finnish cities, but bear encounters are usually rare and a bear tries to avoid humans whenever possible. The brown bear hibernates during the winter. In 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, one shouldn't worry about dangerous encounters with wild beasts in Finland.
Tap water is perfectly safe, fresh and tasty. Finland is ranked as having the best water in the world.
Finland's traces of human settlement date back to the thaw of the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago. The Finns' ancestors seem to have dominated half of northern Russia before arriving on the north of the Baltic coast well before the Christian era. By the end of the Viking Age, Swedish traders and chieftains had extended their interests throughout the Baltic region. Over the centuries, Finland has sat precariously between the Protestant Swedish empire and Eastern Orthodox Russia. For seven centuries, from the 12th century until 1809, it was part of Sweden.
Finland was blighted by constant battles with Russia and severe famines. From 1696-97, famine killed a third of all Finns. The 1700s were punctuated by bitter wars against Russia, culminating in the eventual loss of Finland to Russia in 1809. With nationalism beginning to surge during the latter half of the 19th century, Finland gained greater autonomy as a Grand Duchy, though new oppression and Russification followed, making Finns emotionally ripe for independence.
The downfall of the tsar of Russia and the Communist revolution in 1917 made it possible for the Finnish senate to declare independence on 6 December 1917. Demoralising internal violence flared up, with Russian-supported 'Reds' clashing with nationalist 'Whites' who took the German state as their model. During 108 days of a bloody civil war, approximately 30,000 Finns were killed by their fellow citizens. Although the Whites were victorious, Germany's weakened position after WWI discredited it as a political model and relations with the Soviet Union were soon normalised. Political salves did little to heal the wounds of civil war, however, and stories of 'peacetime' massacres are still emerging from these dark days of Finnish history.
Further anticommunist violence broke out in the early 1930s and, despite the signing of a nonaggression pact in 1932, Soviet relations remained uneasy. The Soviet Union's security concerns in the Finnish Karelian territory led to the Winter War in 1939. After months of courageous fighting, Finland lost part of Karelia and some nearby islands. Isolated from Western allies, Finland turned to Germany for help and slowly began to resettle Karelia, including some areas that had been in Russian possession since the 18th century. When Soviet forces staged a huge comeback in the summer of 1944, the Finns sued for peace. Finland pursued a bitter war to oust German forces from Lapland until the general peace in the spring of 1945. Finland's war experience was not only an enormous military defeat; it was an economic disaster because of the burden of reparations imposed by the Soviets.
A weakened Finland took a new line in its Soviet relations, ceding the Karelian Isthmus and agreeing to recognise Soviet security concerns in defending its frontiers. The 25 years of Urho Kekkonen's presidency (1956-81) were a clever balancing act: Kekkonen kept a tight grip on domestic power, and managed to strengthen ties with Scandinavian siblings without alienating the big huggy bear to the east.
The collapse of the Soviet Union came at a difficult time for Finland. Its right foot - bogged in the free market - had to endure the late-1980s slump, and its left foot - tied up by Soviet borrowings - encountered the dissolution of its debtor. Due to Finland's generous social security payments, sudden rises in unemployment put intolerable pressure on government finances.
In the 1990s Finland's overheated economy went through a cooling off period marked by the floating of the Finn markka. Finland voted to join the European Union in late 1994 and became a full member in 1995. In the 1995 elections a Social Democrat-dominated coalition ousted the right-wing coalition. A UN survey in 1998 rated Finland fifth in the world in terms of quality of life.
Since joining the EU, Finland has received considerable assistance from Brussels, and was one of the member countries to fully adopt the euro in 2001. In February 2000, Finns elected their first ever female president - left-leaning Tarja Halonen, who remains in the position after being re-elected in 2006.
Quick Facts about Finland
5,231,372 (July 2006 est.)
Finnish 93% (First official language), Swedish 6% (Second official)language), English is widely spoken and understood, especially in the capital area.
Country Dialing Code
In case of emergency
112 is the national phone number for all emergency services, including police, and it does not require an area code, regardless of what kind of phone you're using. The number works on any mobile phone, whether it is keylocked or not, and with or without a SIM card. If a cellphone challenges you with a PIN code, you can simply type in 112 as a PIN code - most phones will give a choice to call the number.