Finland For the First-Timers – What You Need to Know

Viivi Severina

Viivi Severina

Viivi Severina is the Local Contributing Writer at Global Storybook (Finland).
You can also follow Viivi on her adventures at GoTravelGlobal.
Viivi Severina

Latest posts by Viivi Severina (see all)

Finland is often seen as a cold and reserved country of the Northern Europe.  Most people know Finland because of the Nokia phones, some popular games, like the Angry Birds, or because of the odd Finnish culture that can be traced through many internet memes.  All of these facts, as well as the appreciation of peaceful holidays around nature, have increased Finland’s popularity as a worldwide travel destination.  Yet, there are many helpful things, that you might want to remember – prior to visiting this beautiful country of timid Finns, who cherish their own peace and safety.

If you keep in mind these few things that I am about to explain – your trip to Finland will be a lot easier:

• It’s cold throughout the year!  Finland is famous for its cold winters.  Depending on the place that you are going to visit, the weather may be even colder than 30 Celsius degrees.  So, if you are visiting Finland during the Winter time (from November to March) please remember to pack your warmest clothes.  The key to surviving in freezing temperatures are layers and woolen clothes.  Or at least that’s the way Finns have been able to live in the northern coldness for many centuries.

Finland for the first-timers - Global StorybookAnd for those of you who are visiting Finland in Summer – I am so sorry, but even our Summers are cold too!  If we are lucky, there will be a few days during the summer, when the temperature will rise up to 30C.  And if you see any Finns walking around in t-shirts and shorts starting May, that doesn’t mean that you should, as well.  Pack at least one light jacket, a scarf, and a few shirts with long sleeves, if you aren’t used to summers with 20C degrees.

Finns aren’t like most other world cultures, and some of the stereotypes that you might have heard about us are probably true.  Moody, quiet, and shy – these three words are often used to describe Finnish people.  For some foreigners we may seem rude or even angry.  This is generally not the case, yet some of those stereotypes you have heard are true.  I am mentioning this because usually travelers have the biggest problems with understanding the reserved locals.

The best tips I can give you as a local?  Give Finns their own space and skip the small talk.  Don’t talk with people in public transportation or better said, don’t even look anyone in the eye.  Ask for help if you need it, but don’t start meaningless conversations with anyone.

Helsinki – the beautiful capital of Finland. Photo © Andrei Bortnikau/Shutterstock.com

If you want to befriend locals, try the bars.  Alcohol makes us loosen up and the flow of a conversation will be a lot easier.  If going to bars isn’t your thing, another good way to make friends is by asking for help.  Sometimes you may get lucky and the Finn who will be helping you, may be ready to have an even longer conversation.  We don’t love anything as much as making Finland better known amongst foreigners.

 Finland has 338,424 square km of land, while it only has a population of about 5 and half million.  This means we only have about 15 humans (and a lot of animals) for every square kilometer, and so every Finn has more than enough space to be alone if he or she wants to.  This also means that when you travel to Finland be ready to spend time alone.  Even in big cities you may find yourself walking a street totally alone.  But don’t be scared – Finland is one of the safest countries in the world.

Don’t forget to pack your hiking boots.  If you ask Finns for travel tips in our home country, we will always give you a list of nature places to visit.  Finland is the country of a thousand lakes and endless forests, so it’s not surprising that most of our attractions have something to do with nature.  Even if you stay in Finland’s capital Helsinki – it will only take under an hour to get to the closest national park.

Finland for the first-timers - Global Storybook

 Remember the “every-man’s rights”.  This one has everything to do with those hikes to the nature that I would, as a local, recommend for you to do.  Every-man’s rights are a well-known, unwritten law in Finland.  Basically, as long as you don’t go into people’s backyards, don’t destroy nature, don’t litter, and don’t start a fire without a permission, you can walk in the forests freely.  You can also collect berries, mushrooms, and flowers, or even camp for the night.  Finnish forests and nature is there for everyone to enjoy and share.

• Finns and Swedes are rivals in love.  Before Finland was its own country and even before it was part of Russia, it used to be a part of Sweden.  This can still be clearly seen in our culture.  Every Finn must study Swedish for years in school, and there are many Finns who speak Swedish as their native language.  But the most distinct mark that was left from our shared history – is the love/hate relationship that has been going on for years.  We make fun of each other, compete in every possible sport, and declare for everyone who is ready to listen, our passionate hate for the other country.

But you should remember that only Finns can make fun of Swedes, and Swedes can make fun of Finns.  In the end, we are like siblings who are always fighting, yet still support each other.  I mention this for this exact reason.  If you are staying in Finland for a long time, you will encounter this part of our culture at some point.  So, just remember that it doesn’t mean that the relationship between Sweden and Finland is bad.  It’s just peculiar.

 If you are on budget, travel and live like the locals.  Finland is an expensive country and there is no way around this.  However, with some local tips you can save a ton of money, compared to the general tourist prices offered in Finnish cities.

Finland for the first-timers - Global Storybook

Photo © IgorGolovniov/Shutterstock.com

1. Use cheap long-distance buses.  If you travel to Finland, visiting one city won’t cover the trip, so you should follow the example of the Finns.  With companies like Onnibus and Expressbus, you can travel between the major cities by paying only a few Euros per trip.  It is slower than using the train, but you will save a lot of cash.

2. Hotels and hostels are expensive in Finland.  Because you must sleep somewhere – try out Airbnb.  In bigger Finnish cities, it’s usually the cheapest option.

3. Dining in a restaurant is a lot more expensive than making your own meals in Finland.  Go to a convenience store and buy the ingredients to prepare your own food.  (Lidl is usually seen as the cheapest chain, but also shops like Prisma and Citymarket sell affordable food.  Try to avoid the small shops).  If making your own food isn’t an option, check the prices of the restaurant before going in.

Finland for the first-timers - Global Storybook

• In case you ever get into any trouble – if you get lost, or just simply want to take a cool holiday photo, you can always trust the Finnish police.  Over 95% of Finns trust police almost completely.  If this alone doesn’t inspire your trust in Finnish cops – the fact that our entire police force uses their guns only a few times a year, and even in these cases, it’s usually just a warning shot, or to put a hurt animal out of its misery, probably should.

In addition to being trustworthy, Finnish police is also kind and friendly.  If you see these men and women dressed in blue uniforms, and if they don’t seem to be too busy – ask for directions or maybe even for a fun photo together with them.  Since usually there isn’t much happening in Finland, police officers would be happy to help any traveler with anything.  If you are ever need any serious help – the Finnish emergency number is 112.

 The final thing that I want to share with you, are some general recommendations for the things that you should try in Finland.  There are many different cities and travel destinations in Finland, but these experiences are routine for locals and are possible to do in any part of our lovely country.  You can even say that, without trying these specific things – your Finnish experience will not be complete.

  1. Go to a sauna.  A Finnish sauna is a hot and steamy room that has many health benefits to it.  It’s also a common part of many Finnish homes, from houses to even small apartments.  There are a number of sauna guidelines that you should be aware of, but Finns will always be happy to explain them to you.  Just locate the closest public sauna (or a swimming hall), and remember that people usually go to a sauna… naked.

Finland for the first-timers - Global Storybook2. Eat “salmiakki.”  Salmiakki is a traditional Finnish salty licorice and a type of candy often hated by foreigners.

3. During Winter try skiing.  If you are visiting Finland during the snowy months, participating in some kind of winter sports is a must activity.  Skiing, skating, or hill sledding, are just a few activities that will get you started.

Finland for the first-timers - Global Storybook4. During Summer visit some local festivals.  In summer, there aren’t that many options to try winter sports, but fortunately Finnish summers are always full of fun events.  Finns are known as crazy party animals and we just love drinking.  These two sides combined with our amazing taste in music, are what makes these local summer festivals so great.  Just pick your favorite – from a small town festival to a bigger city festival with international DJs and bands, we have them all.

Finland by Viivi Severina

Photo © Viivi Severina

This list is full of things that you should remember when you visit Finland, but the locals are usually nice and are ready to help.  So, if you don’t know what to do in any situation or need any help with anything else, just approach any Finn bravely.  Our moody faces and sassy attitudes are just a decoy, that will fall if someone needs any help.  There’s only one thing that we love more than our solitude, and that’s getting everyone else to love Finland!

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