Tepa and I are very much looking forward to
our friends’ visits! On this page you will find a few tips that hopefully help
you prepare for your visit, if you’re coming from another
country. Although we live in Kotka
(about an hour and a half drive east from Helsinki, also on
the coast), this page will mostly give you information about
Helsinki, which we are sure you'll want to spend some time visiting.
The weather in Finland is quite nice June
through August, and rarely gets hot – and practically never humid! During the
days of those months, you can usually wear shorts and t-shirts, but be sure to
bring some warmer wear too (long pants and long-sleeved shirts or sweatshirts,
and a light jacket). The temperature often falls in the evening and nights can
be quite cool, even though it’s summer. Winters are cold and dark, so we don’t
recommend you visit then. During the summer months, the sun barely sets, which
takes some getting used to, because you’re supposed to be sleeping at nights
when it’s still light outside!
The official languages are Finnish and
Swedish, but getting by with English is no problem in Finland – most people
understand and speak English, with varying degrees of fluency. All sorts of
information is often provided in several languages, including English. Most
restaurants have menu entries in English as well as Finnish and Swedish, and
sometimes other languages as well.
The currency of Finland is Euro, which is a
little more than a U.S. dollar (check
current rate). You may want to bring some
Euros with you for your first day or two in Finland, but a great place (with
perhaps the best exchange rate) to exchange currency is FOREX, conveniently located throughout Helsinki. The nice thing about using
FOREX is that if you save your receipt, and don't use all the euros during your
stay, they will exchange them back to your currency for
Most things in Finland cost more than they
do in the U.S. The good news is that tax is already included in all prices –
what you see on the price tag is what you pay, not a cent more. Even better,
tipping is extremely rare in Finland. You don’t need to tip ANYONE, and that
includes waiters and waitresses, cab drivers, hair dressers, and pizza delivery
guys. Consequently, a dinner at a restaurant often costs about the same as it
would at a similar restaurant in USA.
transportation is great in Finland. When
in Helsinki, you will
want to buy a card which you can use to pay for the buses, metros, and street
trolleys (trams). You can get such cards at kiosks located at
the bus and metro terminals, as well as many other places. You may either buy a card
just for the transportation (you’ll load as much money on it as you need), or
you might want to, during the days you plan to do a lot of sightseeing, buy a Helsinki card that additionally
includes either free or discounted admissions to various places, and other
benefits. If you want to travel outside of Helsinki, the train is the way to
When you get to Finland, we will give you a
Helsinki and help you figure out what places
you would like to visit. Be sure to visit the
open-air markets, such as the one
located in Hakaniemi and another one located at
the harbor downtown. The one at the harbor, called Kauppatori, especially offers all
sorts of cute Finnish souvenirs and yummy fish – we strongly recommend freshly
cooked salmon!. If you like amusement parks, there’s Linnanmäki; if you like zoos,
there’s Korkeasaari. There are also
museums, theatres, Suomenlinna (the island/sea
fortress), etc to visit. You may want to take a bus tour to see the sights and hear the history
of them (be sure to take a tour where the guide conducts it in English!). We
also strongly recommend a 1.5 - 3 hour boat tour of the coast around Helsinki –
these often include either a lunch or a dinner, and are a nice way to see the
area from the sea. If you have a Helsinki Card, you often get big
discounts on the tours!
Sightseeing Tours of
EXPANDING YOUR VISIT
Remember that Finland is not a huge
country, and Helsinki is a very small city, so you may start running out of
things to do after a couple of days. The great thing is, there are several inexpensive
tours and trips you can take to nearby countries, to broaden your visit. Most of
these cost under 100 Euros per person, often only about 30-50 Euros if you go
during the week, so they are well worth it! Or, if you’re into going way up
north, you may want to plan a trip to Lapland. You may also want to make
day trips to the countryside, or to nearby towns such as Porvoo.
And of course, you will have
to spend some time with us in Kotka,
which is lovely in the summertime!
Take Silja Line or Viking
Line from Helsinki to Stockholm. You’ll be staying 2
nights on the boat (going and coming back), and spending a few hours exploring
Stockholm on your own (although you can also catch a bus tour from the
terminal). This trip is great fun! The boats are fabulous, and you get to do
tax-free shopping on them. In Stockholm, you can do even more shopping, or take
a bus tour, or walk around Gamla Stan (Old Town), or visit the royal palace,
etc. See pictures of one of Tepa’s and my trips to Stockholm.
There are several ways to do the trip to Tallinn: either on a slow (3.5 hours) or a fast (1.5 hours) boat,
and either for just one day, or by staying at a hotel there for one or more
nights. We’d recommend taking a fast boat there some morning, and staying a
night at a hotel in the center of the city, then returning in the evening of the
next day. We can find you a package that you'll like, if you’d like to go. Tallinn
is very pretty, and things are VERY cheap there compared to Scandinavia! And,
again, you can also do tax-free shopping on the boat. Tepa and I have visited
Tallinn a few times; see our pictures here from our trips to
Riga is also a very beautiful and
inexpensive city. You can stay on a boat going and coming, and spend a day there
in between. Tepa and I have done this once with Tepa's mom, and we had a nice
time, although unfortunately we were there on a holiday when all the stores were
closed (one huge market they have there was fortunately open, though).
Unfortunately we did not have a camera with us on our trip!
You can also take a bus, train, or a boat trip to places in Russia, for example to St.
Petersburg. We have only visited there once
ourselves; see our
pictures here. Note that to visit Russia, you will probably
need a visa. If you take an organized group tour, the travel
agent will arrange for the visas, but you will need to book
your trip way ahead of time.
OTHER THINGS YOU MIGHT LIKE TO
- Most people in Finland have a cell phone, and it
may be hard to find a public phone that’s NOT out of order, when you’re out and
- Many stores and shops close by 5 pm, and none of
them are open on holidays or Sundays (although during the summer and a few weeks
before Christmas, some stores are open for a few hours on Sundays). Bigger
stores stay open until 8 or 9 pm during weekdays. So, you need to
time your shopping! The Itäkeskus Shopping Center in eastern
the largest Shopping Center in Scandinavia!
shows and movies are shown in their original language (i.e., they are not
dubbed, except for children’s shows), with Finnish subtitles. So, you can relax
in the evenings in front of our TV if you wish, or at a movie theatre. American
movies and shows come to Finland later than their release in the U.S., though,
so you may end up watching a lot of stuff you’ve already seen. We have quite a
collection of DVD and VHS movies at home, however.
- Be prepared for a much more open or uninhibited
society than USA with regards to language and nudity. Finns generally don’t
censor language – “swearing” is much less of a big deal to Finns than it is to
Americans. Male and female frontal nudity is also generally not censored -
nudity is natural and by itself non-sexual to most Finns. Attitudes towards many
things are more liberal than in the U.S.A.
- Sauna is a definite
Finnish tradition. Almost all individually-owned homes and cottages have their
own sauna, whether it is inside the main building or a seperate structure by the
main building. We have a sauna in our condo in Kotka, so you can experience
it when you visit us. There's also a great sauna and swimming pool center on Yrjönkatu
in downtown Helsinki that we recommend. The architecture is classic in
style, and if you pay a little more than just the entrance fee for the first
floor accommodations, you get to use the upper floor with wood-burning sauna and
a steam sauna (both floors have an electrically heated sauna). You also get
clean towels, bathrobes, etc on the upper floor. Nowadays you MAY use a bathing
suit while in this center (until year 2000, bathing suits were not allowed), but
many people there will be naked. Note that this is natural to Finns, and the
center is NOT in any way a 'sex palace' or a sexual place.
- Juhannus (Midsummer’s
Eve, or Summer Solstice) is big in Finland, and is celebrated on the Saturday
that falls between 20th June and 26th June. The days around this time are the
longest – in the south, the sun barely sets, and in the north, it doesn’t get
dark at all.
- Be prepared to see more public drunkenness than you
probably have ever seen before (on the streets, in metros, trams, etc)! Don’t be
scared – very few of the drunks are actually nasty, but they may be
uncharacteristically talkative compared to the average, rather reserved Finn,
and they may be particularly talkative to you as a visitor!
- You might be amazed to see young kids out and about
on their own, without adult supervision. Don’t be alarmed – this is totally
normal in Finland, and probably all around Europe in general.
LINKS CONTAINING USEFUL
INFO ABOUT FINLAND
to Riia's Pages