Tips for Traveling to Finland

A very popular post on Big in Finland in Spanish is the one that showcases tips for traveling to Finland. And for all of you who are interested in the topic but don’t speak Cervantes’ language, here they come in English. Without further ado:

Tips for Traveling to Finland

1. Climate

Sunny in Helsinki
Sun in Helsinki.

One of the questions to ask yourself while planning a trip to Finland accordingly is “What clothes should I take with me?” Well, it depends.

There are two Finlands: one per time of the year. In summer the climate is pretty nice but not overly warm, so bringing a light coat while taking the summer clothes you’d take for any other trip will help. Kari, a Finnish friend, jokes that “the only difference between Finnish summer and Finnish winter is that the winter lasts longer” (it also varies the amount of light in the country, of course). If you visit Finland during the summer while coming from a country with extremely hot summers, aim for your usual spring clothes.

In winter take as much warm clothing as you can, and follow our guide of what to wear in Finland and Lapland in winter. Temperatures can reach -30 degrees Celsius, and the right clothing, explained in this post, will be essential. Extremely important items will be a hat, earmuffs, leather mittens with sheep-like fur inside, the thickest of the scarfs and the appropriate socks. Since Finland is an extremely secure country, you can leave your stuff indoors in public cloak rooms and nobody will touch your things.

2. Language

Finnish Language
Finnish words. Source (CC: by)

The Finnish language is a very nice language, but studying it prior to visiting the country (or for working in it, if IT is your field or you work in universities) might not be necessary.

It is, nonetheless, great to know the basic Finnish words and sentences that everyone should know. If someone talks back in Finnish, you can always switch since the Finns have a great command of the English language and they’ll acknowledge the effort. Even many elder Finns know English.

3. Personality

Finns walking in Helsinki
Finns walking around in Helsinki. Source (CC: by).

Finns are more reserved than the inhabitants of other countries, but they definitely are more friendly than Berliners or New Yorkers, for instance. Be friendly but not overly persistent and they’ll be friendly too. A drink or two always help for socializing. Once you become closer friends you can be more familiar with them.

The Finns are good people. If you need help on your trip they will give it to you with a big smile. They value friendship so much that they have the day of friendship on February 14th, instead of St. Valentines.

4. Currency

Finnish euro coins

Finland uses the Euro, so you’re lucky if you are European. The countries around (Estonia, Russia, Denmark and Sweden) didn’t switch to the Euro, so Finland is an obvious travel destination for Europeans that find in the common currency a relief for hassle-free comparison and accounting (as I do). There are no 1 and 2 cent coins in Finland, so expect your prices rounded up or down a tiny bit. If you wish to own these coins, they are a collectors’ item.

5. Prices

Prices for the classic Arabia Moomin mugs
Arabia Moomin mugs: a breakfast classic, with their prices.

Finland is a more expensive country than, let’s say, Germany or Spain, but is cheaper than the other Nordic and Scandinavian countries.

Clothing will be expensive, but their design is superb and worth paying the extra. There is also a brimming culture of second hand shops, so if you’re in for the real vintage you can find fantastic things for almost no money. Talking about food, the difference for most items isn’t that big and you can even find things that are a bit cheaper than in other countries.

Alcoholic drinks, home or in bars and restaurants, are pretty expensive, as the sale of alcohol is a highly regulated business controlled by a government monopoly – the Alko. Nevertheless, a nice beer in the evenings is something nobody should deprive themselves of. The cheapest Spanish (or claiming to be Spanish) wine I saw was the infamous Don Sancho at a cost of 4,80€ per 70 cl for a taste less than subpar.

Transport costs around 2,80€ per trip for Helsinki’s local bus and tram, and around 50€ for a train that takes you out of the city and covers a 400km distance.

6. Discounts

Lidl shop
The Lidl of Joensuu: discount shopping.

If you are a student discovering the wonders of the Nordic countries, throw away all your international student discount cards. In Finland only the Finnish students with a valid student card will be able to claim discounts. The only place I saw it working for myself – some years ago when I was a student – was in intercity buses for a 50% discount.

If you go to big cities like Helsinki, they’ll have a city-discovery card that you can purchase which offers discounts at certain places. Helsinki’s one is called HelsinkiCard and offers unlimited trips on public transport (that takes you to great sights like Suomenlinna) and free entry to many places.

7. Documents

A passport
A passport is recommended, but not always needed. Source (CC: by)

For getting into the country and around you’ll only need a valid ID from any EU country if you’re from Europe, and a passport otherwise.

For getting in into clubs, if you look young enough (always a pleasure), you’ll need to take your ID or passport with you. Some clubs are for people over 22 years only. If you want to travel to certain other countries from Finland, like Russia, you’ll need a passport and a visa, but for all the others your EU country ID will be enough.

8. Bikes

Get a sturdy Finnish bike: that's a great tip for Traveling to Finland

Bikes are the preferred choice of transport for many people in Finland. Bike tracks are separated from cars and they’re everywhere. Cities in Finland have, as we move away from the center, one-family style houses and therefore the biking area is enormous. In winter, nonetheless, many bow to the low temperatures and opt for public transport.

9. Work

A Finnish office
Finns working. Source (CC: by)

If your interest in travel to Finland includes finding a great job and staying several years, they have a complicated system for working. Most of the jobs will require knowledge of the Finnish or Swedish language, especially the ones that require you to be in touch with the public. If we move to the IT field or extremely specific jobs, as well as universities, you might find something where Finnish language skills are not required.

Do you have extra tips for traveling to Finland?

These are the tips for traveling to Finland that I give most when people ask me. If you think I missed something important, or if you have an experience that deserves to be here, let’s talk about it in the comments!

What’s the advice you give most when asked about tips for traveling to Finland? What’s the one you found most useful from the list?

Light in Winter VS Summer in Finland: a time-lapse video

Time lapse is an image technique that compresses a long period of time in a short video. It is usually done by taking pictures every x seconds (or minutes), that are then played in order, creating an accelerated and gradual effect. Thanks to this technique we can see things like a flower blossoming or how the Northern Lights move in the sky.

Light and darkness in Finland

Now that we are approaching the spring equinox – where the days and nights last the same amount of time – there is no better time to see the difference in the amount of light that bathes Finland in summer and in winter. I contacted the person who recorded the video and he told me that the location is Helsinki and the time of the winter video is January, while the summer part was recorded at the beginning of June.

Having lived both extremes, and that being something new for me the first time I was there, I must say that every year – even with more experience in the matter – I still get surprised myself. I do tend to enjoy the winter less, but on the other side I brighten up so much more than before during the months that the light is in the sky for almost 24 hours a day.

The time-lapse video about the light in winter vs. summer in Finland

It is an excellent document to understand why spring revolutionizes the people of Finland. You will see why they lighten up so much.

Have you ever lived such a dark winter? And what about a summer that bright? I close my eyes right now and remember how I lived the White Nights, those moments where the sun sets but stays right there on the horizon and then comes back up. It is the most invigorating feeling in the world.

Valentine’s day in Finland is all about friendship

No gifts, chocolates or flowers for your partner on St. Valentine’s day if you live in Finland. Almost.

It works like this in the Nordic (not Scandinavian) country: on Valentine’s day you’ll be looked at suspiciously if you make a great love gesture to your significant other. In Finland, the 14th of February has very little to do with crushes, couples or people in love. But nonetheless it has a special meaning.

Caring gestures in Finland

The Finnish culture, unlike for instance Southern Europe’s, isn’t a touchy one. A kiss on the cheek when you meet somebody – something very common in many European countries – will make Finnish faces turn red and, suddenly, everyone will feel very uncomfortable. In the same way, hugs are reserved for people that already know each other and share a certain degree of intimacy.

A kiss on the cheek
This only happens in Finland among very good friends. Source (CC: by-nd).

This is not something bad, and it is something that you have to understand when you travel to Finland. Simply, they don’t do it that way and they never thought someone else would like to do it differently. It is a cultural characteristic of the Finns. A firm handshake will be the most common greeting amongst friends and during introductions.

It might be difficult in the beginning, but it will be internalised quickly. I always try to adapt my manners while traveling. Sometimes I am in doubt when I change countries and hesitate between hugs, kisses or handshakes. But the proper greeting is something that you get used to very quickly.

St. Valentine’s Day is Ystävänpäivä: Friendship day

All this takes us to the meaning of St Valentine’s day in Finland. This day, traditionally romantic in the rest of the world, is something different in this country. The notion of the 14th of February as a “special day” arrived quite late to Finland, compared to the rest of the world: it was listed as a “special” day for the first time in 1987.

¿Me has regalado algo por el día de la amistad?

This is NOT a popular present for Valentine’s day in Finland. Source (CC: by-nc-sa).

Ystävänpäivä is the Finnish name for St. Valentine’s day. It means “Friendship Day” in the Finnish Language, or “Day of the friends”.

What you do on this day in Finland is to give cards and small gifts to your friends, and to receive them as well. No heart-shaped things, but instead small things for everyone you care about, no matter up to which extent. It is not uncommon, nonetheless, that being presented with a gift will result in a blushed face. I mean, a public declaration of friendship? It might be too much for some shy Finns.

But if you’re in love don’t worry: thanks to the Hollywood influence, Valentine’s day is also a popular date to declare your love or to get married.

Or to go and hike with friends.

Have you celebrated Valentine’s day in Finland? What do you think about the way they do it, the Ystävänpäivä?

Northern Lights forecast and predictions

A trip to the far North doesn’t guarantee that you will see an Aurora Borealis – even though some places are better than others in Finland, and at certain times you can see them better than at others (late winter and early autumn are especially good).

Is there a way to get a Northern Lights forecast or predictions?

In the following image we can see the current extension and position of the Auroral Oval over the Northern hemisphere.

Northern Lights forecast and prediction

This image is composed thanks to multiple passes of the NOAA POES satellite. The red arrow points to midday (and therefore there is sunlight there: no chance to see any Northern Lights).

In this link you can see the latest image of the NOAA POES satellite.

The golden rule to get your Northern Lights forecast: the redder the color of the Auroral Oval, the higher the chance that an Aurora will occur. To be more certain, we should also look at the “n” factor on the image; it will tell us how much we can trust the data. If n is bigger than 2, the data is pretty accurate. If it is lower, you can take the Northern Lights forecast with a grain of salt.

How is the Northern Lights prediction calculated?

The activity level of the Northern Lights is calculated statistically, in accordance with the flux of particles that travel from the sun and that ultimately provoke this phenomenon to appear.

The satellite makes a pass over the Earth every 10 minutes and measures the strength of the particles flux. This measurement is superimposed over an Earth map and gives a pretty good estimate of the place, the extension and the intensity that is happening on the Auroral Oval. Thus, all this information is used as a Northern Lights forecast on the Northern Hemisphere.

The forecast wast right: the Northern Lights appreared

If you’re planning to go this year to see the Northern Lights in Finland, a good place full of Aurora information is the National Research Center of Northern Lights in Sodankylä, in the Finnish Lapland. After all, if the Finns chose that place for their research facility, they know that a lot will happen there. Other great places with easy access to roads, towns and accommodation in that area are Luosto, Saariselkä, Rovaniemi or Oulu.

If you’re curious how the sky over Sodankylä is looking right now, here’s an updated photo of the sky in this region.

Have you used the NOAA POES Northern Lights forecast before? Do you use apps or other resources for forecasting Aurora Borealis? Let us know in the comments below.

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