Finland: The Land of 1000 Lakes

While it’s not as popular a tourist destination as some of its Nordic counterparts, such as Sweden or Norway, Finland offers a qualitatively different vacation experience. The moniker “Land of 1000 lakes” is actually an understatement. Finland’s landscape is mostly flat, but filled with well over 100,000 lakes. Like the other Nordic countries, in the north of the country, Finland experiences the sun at midnight during the summer, and days where the sun never rises during the winter.

 

Getting in, out, and about

 

Since Finland is a participant in the Schengen Agreement that covers much of Europe, US travelers do not have to apply for any special travel visas to stay in the country for a period of up to 90 days within a 180 day period. You will need a passport that will remain valid for at least 90 days beyond your intended date of departure, as well as a return ticket and enough funds to be able to stay in the country. You can travel throughout the entire Schengen area without a visa, however, bear in mind that customs controls may be in effect that limit what you can bring into a country even when immigration controls that would limit your ability to enter a country are not.

 

The US Center for Disease Control recommends that all travelers be up to date on the common vaccinations, such as those against small pox, measles, and polio. Some travelers may find additional vaccinations advisable depending on what activities they will engage in, but Finland does not require any additional vaccinations. Consult with your local doctor about your travel itinerary well before you travel to determine if you should take any additional vaccinations.

 

Finland’s health care system is considered one of the best in the world. Non-Finnish citizens do have to have to pay for services upon treatment, but most places will accept major credit cards. If you need to travel with prescription drugs, be prepared to provide a doctor’s note that states why you need them, or you may not be allowed to carry them into Finland. The tap water in Finland is safe to drink and often superior to what you will find in the US. Food safety and hygiene requirements tend to be very strict so you need not have to worry if the food is safe when you buy it in Finland

 

Inside most of Finland’s cities, public transportation is ubiquitous and a far more economical way to get around than by taxis, which tend to be more expensive than what you’ll find in the US. Car rentals also tend to be expensive, but the highway system in Finland is extensive, so driving is a viable option. Keep in mind that Finland’s tolerance of driving while intoxicated is far lower than what you’ll find in the US, and even a single alcoholic beverage can put you over the legal limit. Another unique aspect of driving in Finland is that the fines for traffic violations are tied into your income level. A CEO who is caught speeding will have to pay a higher fine than a service worker who is caught doing the same. By law you must keep your headlights on at all times. Some traffic signs may have numbers on them in both red and white. This is shorthand for when the traffic signs apply. If the numbers are in red, this applies to a time frame on the weekends, whereas white numbers indicate weekday enforcement. The numbers will correspond to standard military time, so if you see 8-17 in white letters, this means the sign applies from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm on the weekdays. While Finnish drivers tend to be more conservative in their driving than you’ll find in other parts of Europe, road conditions can get hazardous with icy roads and wildlife crossings, so drive with care.

 

If you do not rent a car, you can still travel throughout Finland’s interior via an extensive railway system. However, travel to the extreme northern parts of Finland is limited to bus travel since the rail system is underdeveloped in this region of Finland. One popular way to travel is to make use of ferries to cross Finland’s numerous lakes, affording you the opportunity to take in some fantastic scenery.

 

The traveler’s tongue

 

Finland is officially a bilingual country with 90% of the country speaking Finnish, and around 6% speaking Swedish. Most people in the larger cities will speak English fluently as well, and in smaller or more rural areas, you can find English speakers typically among the younger generations. Along the border with aRussia, it isn’t uncommon to find people fluent in Russian as either a first or second language.

 

Finnish is a unique language in Europe in that it is not part of the Indo-European family of languages. Consequently its vocabulary and grammar rules are vastly different than what you’ll find in other regional languages. It is technically part of the same language family as Estonian and Hungarian, but these languages are dissimilar.

 

Money matters in Finland

 

Like much of the rest of Europe, but unlike its Nordic neighbors, Finland uses the euro as its unit of currency. Changing money is fairly easy via ATM machines and money changing booths which are common throughout the country. Most businesses in Finland accept major credit cards, but it is a good practice to confirm this in advance.

 

Tipping in restaurants is not a common practice, since most restaurant bills already include a service charge for the wait-staff. If you take a taxi, the best practice is to round up to the nearest whole euro as a tip. A tip of €3 euros is the standard for hotel porters and hotel service staff.

 

Travel costs in Finland tend towards the expensive side. In the 1990’s, Finland was hailed as the most expensive country in the world, and although prices have dropped somewhat since then, it is still an expensive country. For budget travelers, private rooms for hostels in Helsinki range from $35 to $60 USD per person per night. For a more comfortable three star hotel, expect to spend no less than $100 USD per person per night.

 

Entry fees for museums can range from $7 to $35 USD. Even public transportation can be expensive at around $3.50 USD per trip, but this is far less expensive than using taxis. Mid-range meals at a sit-down restaurant can get up to $25 USD per entrée, and even eating at low-end fast-food restaurants is pricey at around $7 USD for a meal

 

Highlights of a vacation to Finland

 

Finland has numerous distinct charms. Here are some highlights:

 

  • Helsinki. Finland’s capital city provides a host of fantastic sights and activities. One must-see is the island fortress Suomenlinna, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Numerous gorgeous churches can be found throughout Helsinki, including the Lutheran Cathedral and the Church of the Rock. You can also enjoy one of Helsinki’s numerous parks, including Sibelius Park, where a magnificent monument to Helsinki’s greatest composer, Jean Sibelius, lies.
  • Turku. This city is situated in the midst of a beautiful chain of islands. In the summertime it is host for a number of outdoor music festivals that draw people from all over the world. Turku’s castle and cathedral are great examples of medieval architecture in this part of the world. Ruissalo, a national park, hosts a championship level golf course among its many attractions.
  • Kvarken Archipelago. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, this set of islands is located near the village of Vaasa, and a great excursion for those who enjoy outdoor activities. With numerous hiking trails throughout the islands, as well as places where you can rent canoes or kayaks, you might want to spend several days exploring. Camping is allowed throughout the archipelago, but if you want to build a roaring campfire, you’ll need to make sure you’re in a designated spot.
  • Levi. If you enjoy winter sports, Levi is for you. With ski slopes for downhill skiing, trails for cross country skiing, and snowmobile tracks, Levi is the premiere place for winter activities in Finland. It also features a heady night life once your day on the slopes is done.
  • Lappajärvi Lake. Since Finland is a country known for its numerous lakes, expect that many travel itineraries will include water sports. Lappajärvi Lake is unique in that it is formed from a crater that was created when a meteorite hit the area. In addition to water sports, you can also enjoy a great day on the golf course or explore on bicycle, foot, or automobile the lushness that surrounds the lake.
  • Kauhava. A great place to visit, especially if you’ve brought the kids with you on your vacation, is Kauhava, the largest amusement park in Finland. With over thirty rides and an outdoor go-kart track, the park is a great place to rev up your adrenaline.

 

The best time to visit Finland is during the summer months, when the country is at its warmest. The month of July is the height of Finland’s vacation season, although if you travel there in that month, do not be surprised to find the cities a bit less populated.