Finland

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Finland is in Northern Europe and has borders with Russia to the east, Norway to the north, and Sweden to the west. The country is a thoroughly modern welfare state with well-planned and comfortable small towns and cities, but still offers vast areas of unspoiled nature. Finland has approximately 188,000 lakes (about 10% of the country) and a similar number of islands. In the northernmost part of the country the Northern Lights can be seen in the winter and midnight sun in the summer. Finns also claim the mythical mountain of Korvatunturi as the home of Santa Claus, and a burgeoning tourist industry in Lapland caters to Santa fans. Despite living in one of the most technologically developed countries in the world, Finns love to head to their summer cottages in the warmer months to enjoy all manner of relaxing pastimes including sauna, swimming, fishing and barbecuing. Finland has a distinctive language and culture that sets it apart from the rest of Nordic Europe. (less...) (more...)

Population: 5,266,114 people
Area: 338,145 km2
Highest point: 1,328 m
Coastline: 1,250 km
Life expectancy: 79.55 years
GDP per capita: $37,000
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About Finland

History

Not much is known about Finland's early history, with archaeologists still debating when and where a tribe of Finno-Ugric speakers cropped up. The earliest certain evidence of human settlement is from 8900 BC. Roman historian Tacitus mentions a primitive and savage hunter tribe called Fenni in 100 AD, though there is no unanimity whether this means Finns or Sami. Even the Vikings chose not to settle, fearing the famed shamans of the area, and instead traded and plundered along the coasts.

In the mid-1150s Sweden started out to conquer and Christianize the Finnish pagans in earnest, with Birger Jarl incorporating most of the country into Sweden in 1249. Finland stayed an integral part of Sweden until the 19th century, although there was near-constant warfare with Russia on the eastern border and two brief occupations. After Sweden's final disastrous defeat in the Finnish War of 1808–1809, Finland became an autonomous grand duchy under Russian rule.

The Finnish nation was built during the Russian time, while the Swedish heritage provided the political framework. The Finnish language, literature, music and arts developed, with active involvement by the (mostly Swedish speaking) educated class. Russian rule alternated between benevolence and repression and there was already a significant independence movement when Russia plunged into war and revolutionary chaos in 1917. Parliament seized the chance (after a few rounds of internal conflicts) and declared independence in December, quickly gaining Soviet assent, but the country promptly plunged into a brief but bitter civil war between the conservative Whites and the Socialist Reds, eventually won by the Whites.

During World War II, Finland was attacked by the Soviet Union in the Winter War, but fought them to a standstill that saw the USSR conquer 12% of Finnish territory. Finland then allied with Germany in an unsuccessful attempt to repel the Soviets and regain the lost territory, was defeated and, as a condition for peace, had to turn against Germany instead. Thus Finland fought three separate wars during World War II. In the end, Finland lost much of Karelia and Finland's second city Vyborg, but Soviets paid a heavy price for them with over 300,000 dead.

After the war, Finland lay in the grey zone between the Western countries and the Soviet Union. The Finno-Soviet Pact of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance committed Finland to resist armed attacks by "Germany or its allies" (read: the West), but also allowed Finland to stay neutral in the Cold War and avoid a Communist government or Warsaw Pact membership. In politics, there was a tendency of avoiding any policies and statements that could be interpreted as anti-Soviet. This balancing act of Finlandization was humorously defined as "the art of bowing to the East without mooning the West". Despite close relations with the Soviet Union, Finland managed to retain democratic multi-party elections and remained a Western European market economy, building close ties with its Nordic neighbors. While there were some tense moments, Finland pulled it off: in the subsequent half century, the country made a remarkable transformation from a farm/forest economy to a diversified modern industrial economy featuring high-tech giants like Nokia, and per capita income is now in the top 15 of the world.

After the collapse of the USSR, Finland joined the European Union in 1995, and was the only Nordic state to join the euro system at its initiation in January 1999.

Climate

Finland has a cold but temperate climate, which is actually comparatively mild for the latitude because of the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream. Winter, however, is just as dark as everywhere in these latitudes, and temperatures can (very rarely) reach -30°C in the south and even dip down to -50°C in the north, with 0 to -25°C being normal in the south. The brief Finnish summer is considerably more pleasant, with day temperatures around +15 to +25°C (on occasion up to +35°C), and is generally the best time of year to visit. July is the warmest month. Early spring (March–April) is when the snow starts to melt and Finns like to head north for skiing and winter sports, while the transition from fall to winter in October–December — wet, rainy, dark and generally miserable — is the worst time to visit.

Due to the extreme latitude, Finland experiences the famous Midnight Sun near the summer solstice, when (if above the Arctic Circle) the sun never sets during the night and even in southern Finland it never really gets dark. The flip side of the coin is the Arctic Night (kaamos) in the winter, when the sun never comes up at all in the North. In the South, daylight is limited to a few pitiful hours with the sun just barely climbing over the trees before it heads down again.

Information on the climate and weather forecasts are available from the Finnish Meteorological Institute [1].

Geography

Unlike craggy Norway and Sweden, Finland consists mostly low, flat to rolling plains interspersed with lakes and low hills, with mountains (of a sort) only in the extreme north and Finland's highest point, Mount Halti, rising only to a modest 1,328 m. Finland has 187,888 lakes according to the Geological Survey of Finland, making the moniker Land of a Thousand Lakes actually an underestimation. Along the coast and in the lakes are—according to another estimate—179,584 islands, making the country an excellent boating destination as well.

Finland is not located on the Scandinavian peninsula, so despite many cultural and historical links, it is technically not considered a part of Scandinavia. Even Finns rarely bother to make the distinction, but a more correct term that includes Finland is the "Nordic countries" (Pohjoismaat). Still, the capital, Helsinki, has a lot of Scandinavian features, especially when it comes to the architecture of the downtown, and a Scandinavian language, Swedish, is one of the two official languages of the country.

Activities

Sports

Notably lacking in craggy mountains or crenellated fjords, Finland is not the adrenalin-laden winter sports paradise you might expect: the traditional Finnish pastime is cross-country skiing through more or less flat terrain. If you're looking for downhill skiing, snowboarding etc., you'll need to head up to Lapland and resorts like Levi and Saariselkä.

The king of sports in Finland is ice hockey (jääkiekko), and winning the Ice Hockey World Championship is as close to nirvana as the country gets — especially if they defeat arch-rivals Sweden, as they did in 1995 and 2011. The yearly national championship is the SM-liiga, where 14 teams battle it out, and if you're visiting in season (September to March), catching a game is worthwhile. Tickets start from around €16, and while the action on the ice is brutal, fans are generally well behaved (if not necessarily sober).

The national sport of Finland, though, is pesäpallo, which translates literally as "baseball", but looks and plays rather differently to its American forebear. The single most notable difference is that the pitcher stands at the home plate together with the batter and pitches directly upward, making hitting the ball easier and catching it harder. The Superpesis league plays for the yearly championship in summer, with both men's and women's teams.

During the short summer you can swim, fish or canoe in the lakes. They are usually warmest around 20 July. Local newspapers usually have the current surface temperatures, and a map of the surface temperatures can also be found from the Environment Ministry website [28]. During the warmest weeks, late at night or early in the morning the water can feel quite pleasant when the air temperature is lower than the water's. Most towns also have swimming halls with slightly warmer water, but these are often closed during the summer. Fishing permits, if needed, can be easily bought from any R-Kioski although they take a small surcharge for it.

For hikers, fishermen and hunters, the Ministry of Forestry maintains an online Excursion Map [29] with trails and huts marked. The best season for hiking is early fall, after most mosquitoes have died off and the autumn colors have come out.

And if you'd like to try your hand at something uniquely Finnish, don't miss the plethora of bizarre sports contests in the summer, including:

  • Air Guitar World Championships. August, Oulu. Bring out your inner guitar hero!
  • World Fart Championships. July, Utajärvi. Yes, you read correctly.
  • Mobile Phone Throwing Championship. August, Savonlinna. Recycle your Nokia!
  • Swamp Soccer World Championship. July, Hyrynsalmi. Probably the messiest sporting event in the world. They also arrange a snow soccer world championships each February.
  • Wife Carrying World Championship. July, Sonkajärvi. The grand prize is the wife's weight in beer.
  • Sulkavan Suursoudut. July, Sulkava Finland's biggest rowing event

Festivals

Finland hosts many music festivals (festari) during the summer. Some of the most notable include:

  • Provinssirock. Rock, Seinäjoki, mid-June
  • Tangomarkkinat. Tango Seinäjoki, early July
  • Nummirock. Heavy metal, Nummijärvi (near Kauhajoki), late June (Midsummer)
  • Raumanmeren juhannus. Pop/disco music, Pori, late June (Midsummer)
  • Tuska Open Air. Heavy metal, Helsinki, late June
  • Sauna Open Air. Heavy metal, Tampere, early June
  • Ruisrock. Rock, Turku, July
  • Ilosaarirock. Rock, pop, reggae, Joensuu, mid-July
  • Pori Jazz. Jazz/world music, Pori, mid-July
  • Flow. Indie/electronic/urban, Helsinki, mid-August

Most of the festivals last 2–4 days and are very well organized, with many different bands playing, with e.g. Foo Fighters and Linkin Park headlining at Provinssirock in 2008. The normal full ticket (all days) price is about €60-100, which includes a camp site where you can sleep, eat and meet other festival guests. The atmosphere at festivals is great and probably you'll find new friends there. Of course drinking a lot of beer is a part of the experience.

Northern Lights

Spotting the eerie Northern Lights (aurora borealis, or revontulet in Finnish) glowing in the sky is on the agenda of many visitors, but even in Finland it's not so easy. During the summer, it's light all day along and the aurora become invisible, and they're rarely seen in the south. The best place to spot them is during the winter in the far north, when the probability of occurrence is over 50% around the magnetic peak hour of 11:30 PM — if the sky is clear, that is. The ski resort of Saariselkä, easily accessible by plane and with plenty of facilities, is particularly popular among aurora hunters.

Food

Finnish cuisine is heavily influenced by its neighbors, the main staples being potatoes and bread with various fish and meat dishes on the side. Milk or cream is traditionally considered an important part of the diet and is often an ingredient in foods and a drink, even for adults. Various milk products such as cheeses are also produced. While traditional Finnish food is famously bland, the culinary revolution that followed joining the EU has seen a boom in classy restaurants experimenting with local ingredients, often with excellent results.

Seafood

With tens of thousands of lakes and a long coastline, fish is a Finnish staple, and there's a lot more on that menu than just salmon (lohi). Specialities include:

  • Baltic herring (silakka), a small, fatty and quite tasty fish available pickled, marinated, smoked, grilled and in countless other varieties
  • Gravlax ("graavilohi"), a pan-Scandinavian appetizer of raw salted salmon
  • Smoked salmon (savulohi), not just the cold, thinly sliced, semi-raw kind but also fully cooked "warm" smoked salmon
  • Vendace (muikku), a speciality in eastern Finland, a small fish served fried, heavily salted and typically with mashed potatoes

Other local fish to look out for include zander (kuha), an expensive delicacy, pike (hauki), flounder (kampela) and perch (ahven).

Meat dishes

  • Karelian stew (karjalanpaisti), a heavy stew usually made from beef and pork (and optionally, lamb), carrots and onions, usually served with potatoes
  • Liver casserole (maksalaatikko), consisting of chopped liver, rice and raisins cooked in an oven; it tastes rather different from what you'd expect (and not liver-y at all)
  • Loop sausage (lenkkimakkara), a large, mildly flavored sausage; best when grilled and topped with a dab of sweet Finnish mustard (sinappi), and beer
  • Meat balls (lihapullat, lihapyörykät) are as popular and tasty as in neighboring Sweden
  • Reindeer (poro) dishes, especially sauteed reindeer shavings (poronkäristys, served with potato mash and lingonberries), not actually a part of the everyday Finnish diet but a tourist staple and common in the frigid North
  • Swedish hash ("pyttipannu"), (originally from Sweden, Swedish: "pytt i panna") a hearty dish of potatoes, onions and any meaty leftovers on hand fried up in a pan and topped with an egg
  • Makkara traditional Finnish sausage. Affectionately called "the Finnish man's vegetable" since the actual meat content may be rather low.

Milk products

Cheese and other milk products are very popular in Finland. The most common varieties are mild hard cheeses like Edam and Emmental, but local specialities include:

  • Aura cheese (aurajuusto), a local variety of blue cheese, also used in soups, sauces and as a pizza topping.
  • Breadcheese (leipäjuusto or juustoleipä), a type of very mild-flavored grilled curd that squeaks when you eat it, best enjoyed warm with a dab of cloudberry jam
  • Piimä, a type of buttermilk beverage, thick and sour
  • Viili, a gelatinous, stretchy and sour variant of yoghurt

Other dishes

  • Pea soup (hernekeitto), usually but not always with ham, traditionally eaten with a dab of mustard and served on Thursdays; just watch out for the flatulence!
  • Karelian pies (karjalanpiirakka), an oval 7 by 10 cm baked pastry, traditionally baked with rye flour, containing rice porridge or mashed potato, ideally eaten topped with butter and chopped egg (munavoi)
  • Porridge (puuro), usually made from oats (kaura), barley (ohra), rice (riisi) or rye (ruis) and most often served for breakfast

Bread

Bread (leipä) is served with every meal in Finland, and comes in a vast array of varieties. Rye bread is the most popular bread in Finland. Typically Finnish ones include:

  • hapankorppu, dry, crispy and slightly sour flatbread, occasionally sold overseas as "Finncrisp"
  • limppu, catch-all term for big loaves of fresh bread
  • näkkileipä, another type of dark, dried, crispy rye flatbread
  • ruisleipä (rye bread), can be up to 100% rye and much darker, heavier and chewier than American-style rye bread; unlike in Swedish tradition, Finnish rye bread is typically unsweetened and thus sour and even bitter.
  • rieska, unleavened bread made from wheat or potatoes, eaten fresh

Seasonal and regional specialities

From the end of July until early September it's worthwhile to ask for crayfish (rapu) menus and prices at better restaurants. It's not cheap, you don't get full from the crayfish alone and there are many rituals involved, most of which involve large quantities of ice-cold vodka, but it should be tried at least once. Or try to sneak onto a corporate crayfish party guestlist, places are extremely coveted at some. Around Christmas, baked ham is the traditional star of the dinner table, with a constellation of casseroles around it.

There are also regional specialties, including Eastern Finland's kalakukko (a type of giant fish pie) and Tampere's infamous black blood sausage (mustamakkara [38], best with lingonberry jam). Around Easter keep an eye out for mämmi [39], a type of brown sweet rye pudding which is eaten with creamy milk and sugar. It looks famously unpleasant but actually tastes quite good (best eaten with creamy milk). At bigger supermarkets you can buy frozen pool mämmi nowadays around the year.

Desserts

For dessert or just as a snack, Finnish pastries abound and are often taken with coffee (see Drink) after a meal. Look for cardamom coffee bread (pulla), a wide variety of tarts (torttu), and donuts (munkki). In summer, a wide range of fresh berries are available, including the delectable but expensive cloudberry (lakka), and berry products are available throughout the year as jam (hillo), soup (keitto) and a type of gooey clear pudding known as kiisseli.

Finnish chocolate is also rather good, with Fazer products including their iconic Sininen ("Blue") bar exported around the world. A more Finnish speciality is licorice (lakritsi). Particularly the strong salty liquorice (salmiakki) gets its unique (and acquired) taste from ammonium chloride.

After meal it's common to chomp chewing gum (purukumi) including xylitol, which is good for dental health. Jenkki [40] is a popular chewing gum brand, which provides the xylitol gums with different flavours.

Places to eat

Finns tend to eat out only on special occasions, and restaurant prices are correspondingly expensive. The one exception is lunchtime, when thanks to a government-sponsored lunch coupon system company cafeterias and nearly every restaurant in town offers set lunches for around €8–9, usually consisting of a main course, salad bar, bread table and a drink. University cafeterias, many of which are open to all, are particularly cheap with meals in the €2–4 range for students, although without Finnish student ID you will usually need to pay about € 5–7. There are also public cafeterias in office / administration areas that are open only during lunch hours on working days. While not particularly stylish and sometimes hard to find, those usually offer high-quality buffet lunch at a reasonable price (typically 8.40 € in 2011).

The café scene has quickly developed, especially since the 1990s and above all in Helsinki. The array of cakes and pastries is not perhaps as vast as in Central Europe, but the local special coffees (lattes, mochas etc.) are worth trying when it comes to the two big local coffee house chains: Wayne's Coffee (originated in Sweden) and Robert's Coffee (Finland). Starbucks is also coming to Finland.

For dinner, you'll be limited to generic fast food (pizza, hamburgers, kebabs and such) in the €5–10 range, or you'll have to splurge over €20 for a meal in a "nice" restaurant. For eating on the move, look for grill kiosks (grilli), which serve sausages, hamburgers and other portable if not terribly health-conscious fare late into the night at reasonable prices. In addition to the usual hamburgers and hot dogs, look for meat pies (lihapiirakka), akin to a giant savoury doughnut stuffed with minced meat and your choice of sausage, fried eggs and condiments. Hesburger is the local fast-food equivalent of McDonald's, with a similar menu. They have a "Finnish" interpretation of a few dishes, such as a sour-rye chicken sandwich. Of course most international fast food chains are present, especially McDonald's, which offers many of their sandwich buns substituted with a sour-rye bun on request.

The Finnish word for buffet is seisova pöytä ("standing table"), and while increasingly used to refer to all-you-can-eat Chinese or Italian restaurants, the traditional meaning is akin to Sweden's smörgåsbord: a good-sized selection of sandwiches, fish, meats and pastries. It's traditionally eaten in three rounds — first the fish, then the cold meats, and finally warm dishes — and it's usually the first that is the star of the show. Though expensive and not very common in a restaurant setting, if you are fortunate enough to be formally invited to a Finn's home, they will likely have prepared a spread for their guest, along with plenty of coffee. Breakfast at better hotels is also along these lines and it's easy to eat enough to cover lunch as well!

If you're really on a budget, you can save a considerable amount of money by self-catering. Ready-to-eat casseroles and other basic fare that can be quickly prepared in a microwave can be bought for a few euros in any supermarket. Note that you're usually expected to weigh and label any fruits or vegetables yourself (bag it, place it on the scale and press the numbered button; the correct number can be found from the price sign), and green signs mean possibly tastier but certainly more expensive organic (luomu) produce.

One should be aware that more often than not, cheap food contains disproportionate amounts of fat.

At restaurants, despite the high prices, portions tend to be quite small, at least when compared to USA and Canada, and even many European countries.

Dietary restrictions

Traditional Finnish cuisine relies heavily on meat and fish, but vegetarianism (kasvissyönti) is increasingly popular and well-understood, and will rarely pose a problem for travellers. Practically all restaurants offer vegetarian options, often marked with a "V" on menus.

Two ailments commonly found among Finns themselves are lactose intolerance (laktoosi-intoleranssi, inability to digest the milk sugar lactose) and coeliac disease (keliakia, inability to digest gluten). In restaurants, lactose-free selections are often tagged "L" (low-lactose products are sometimes called "Hyla" or marked with "VL"), while gluten-free options are marked with "G". However, hydrolyzed lactose (EILA, or HYLA brand) milk or lactose-free milk drink for the lactose intolerant is widely available, which also means that a lactose-free dish is not necessarily milk-free. Allergies are quite common among Finnish people, too, so restaurant workers are usually quite knowledgeable on what goes into each dish and often it is possible to get the dish without certain ingredients if specified.

Kosher and halal food are rare in Finland and generally not available outside very limited speciality shops and restaurants catering to the tiny Jewish and Islamic communities. Watch out for minced meat dishes like meatballs, which very commonly use a mix of beef and pork. The Jewish Community of Helsinki [41] runs a small kosher deli in Helsinki.

Drinks

Thanks to its thousands of lakes, Finland has plenty of water supplies and tap water is always potable (In fact, never buy bottled water if you can get tap water!). The usual soft drinks and juices are widely available, but look out for a wide array of berry juices (marjamehu), especially in summer, as well as Pommac, an unusual soda made from (according to the label) "mixed fruits", which you'll either love or hate.

Coffee and tea

Finns are the world's heaviest coffee (kahvi) drinkers, averaging 3-4 cups per day. Most Finns drink it strong and black, but sugar and milk for coffee are always available and the more European variants such as espresso and cappuccino are becoming all the more common especially in the bigger cities. Starbucks has arrived in Helsinki-Vantaa airport, but all the biggest towns have had French-style fancy cafés for quite some time and modern competitors, like Wayne's or Robert's Coffee, are springing up in the mix. For a quick caffeine fix, you can just pop into any convenience store, which will pour you a cuppa for €2 or so. Tea hasn't quite caught on in quite the same way, although finding hot water and a bag of Lipton Yellow Label won't be a problem. For brewed tea, check out some of the finer downtown cafés or tea rooms.

Dairy

In Finland it is quite common for people of all ages to drink milk (maito) as an accompaniment to food. Another popular option is piimä, or buttermilk. Viili, a type of curd, acts like super-stretchy liquid bubble gum but is similar to plain yogurt in taste. It is traditionally eaten with cinnamon and sugar on top. Fermented dairy products help stabilize the digestion system, so if your system is upset, give them a try.

Alcohol

Alcohol is very expensive in Finland compared to most countries (though not to its Nordic neighbours Sweden and Norway), although low-cost Estonia's entry to the EU has forced the government to cut alcohol taxes a little. Still, a single beer will cost you closer to €4-5 in any bar or pub, or €1 and up in a supermarket. While beer and cider are available in any supermarket or convenience store (until 9 PM), the state monopoly Alko [42] is your sole choice for wine or anything stronger. The legal drinking age is 18 for milder drinks, while to buy hard liquor from Alko you need to be 20. ID is usually requested from all young-looking clients. Some restaurants have higher age requirements, up to 30 years, but these are their own policies and are not always followed, especially at more quiet times.

Surprisingly enough, the national drink is not Finlandia Vodka, but its local brand Koskenkorva or Kossu in common speech. However, the two drinks are closely related: Kossu is 38% while Finlandia is 40%, and Kossu also has a small amount of added sugar, which makes the two drinks taste somewhat different. There are also many other vodkas (viina) on the market, most of which taste pretty much the same.

A local speciality is Salmiakki-Kossu or Salmari, prepared by mixing in salty black salmiakki licorice, whose taste masks the alcohol behind it fearfully well. Add in some Fisherman's Friend menthol cough drops to get Fisu ("Fish") shots, which are even more lethal. In-the-know hipsters opt for Pantteri ("Panther"), which is half and half Salmari and Fisu. Other classic shots are Jaloviina (Jallu) cut brandy and Tervasnapsi "tar schnapps" with a distinctive smoke aroma.

Beer (olut or kalja) is also very popular, but Finnish beers are mostly nearly identical, mild lagers: common brands are Lapin Kulta, Karjala, Olvi, Koff and Karhu. Pay attention to the label when buying: beers branded "I" are inexpensive but has low alcohol content, while "III" and "IV" are stronger and more expensive. In normal shops you will not find any drinks with more than 4.7% alcohol. You may also encounter kotikalja (lit. "home beer"), a dark brown beer-like but very low-alcohol beverage. Imported beers are available in bigger grocery stores, most pubs and bars, and Czech beers in particular are popular and only slightly more expensive. In recent years, some microbreweries (Laitila, Stadin panimo, Nokian panimo etc.) have been gaining foothold with their domestic dark lagers, wheat beers and ales.

The latest trend is ciders (siideri). Most of these are artificially flavored sweet concoctions which are quite different from the English or French kinds, although the more authentic varieties are gaining market share. The ever-popular gin long drink or lonkero (lit. "tentacle"), a prebottled mix of gin and grapefruit soda, tastes better than it sounds and has the additional useful property of glowing under ultraviolet light. At up to 610 kcal/liter it also allows to skip dinner, leaving more time for drinking.

During the winter don't miss glögi, a type of spiced mulled wine served with almonds and raisins which can easily be made at home. The bottled stuff in stores is usually alcohol free, although it was originally made of old wine and Finns will very often mix in some wine or spirits. In restaurants, glögi is served either alcohol-free, or with 2cl vodka added. Fresh, hot glögi can, for example, be found at the Helsinki Christmas market.

Quite a few unusual liquors (likööri) made from berries are available, although they're uniformly very sweet and usually served with dessert. Cloudberry liquor (lakkalikööri) is worth a shot even if you don't like the berries fresh.

Homemade spirits: you have been warned! More common in rural areas, illegal and frequently distilled on modified water purification plants - which are subject to import control laws nowadays - anecdotical evidence suggests that those are occasionally played as a prank on unsuspecting foreigners. Note that "normal" alcohol slows the metabolism of poisonous methanol and thus acts as an antidote. Politely decline the offer, especially if still sober.

Finally, two traditional beverages worth looking for are mead (sima), an age-old wine-like brew made from brown sugar, lemon and yeast and consumed particularly around May's Vappu festival, and sahti, a type of unfiltered, usually very strong beer often flavored with juniper berries (an acquired taste).

Shopping

Finland uses the euro (€, EUR) as its money. It is one of 24 European countries that use this common European currency: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (which are all eurozone countries of the European Union or EU) together with the six non-EU members Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican that also solely use euros but have no say in eurozone affairs. These 24 countries together have a population of more than 330 million.

One euro is divided into 100 cents. Except for Kosovo and Montenegro, all issue their own coins with a distinctive, national face. However, all the coins' obverse looks the same, as do all bills or banknotes and all are legal tender in all 24 countries. Finland does not use the 1 and 2 cent coins; instead all sums are rounded to the nearest 5 cents. The coins are, however, still legal tender and there are even small quantities of Finnish 1c and 2c coins, highly valued by collectors. It is common to omit cents and the euro sign from prices, and use the comma as a decimal separator: "5,50" thus means five euros and fifty cents.

Getting or exchanging money is rarely a problem in cities, as ATMs ("Otto") are common and they can be operated with international credit and debit cards (Visa, Visa Electron, MasterCard, Maestro). Currencies other than the euro are generally not accepted, although the Swedish krona may be accepted in Åland and northern border towns like Tornio. As an exception, Stockmann accepts U.S. dollars, pound sterling, Swedish krona and Russian rubles. Money changers are common in the bigger cities (the Forex chain [30] is ubiquitous) and typically have better rates, longer opening hours and faster service than banks. Credit cards are widely accepted, but you will be asked for identification if you purchase more than €50 (and may be asked to show it even for smaller purchases). Visa Electron and Visa Debit card readers are found in all major and most minor shops, so carrying large amounts of cash is not usually necessary.

As a rule, tipping is never necessary in Finland and restaurant bills already include service charges. That said, taxi fares and other bills paid by cash are occasionally rounded up to the next convenient number. Cloakrooms (narikka) in nightclubs and better restaurants often have non-negotiable fees (usually clearly signposted, €2 is standard), and — in the few hotels that employ them — hotel porters will expect around the same per bag.

Finland's pre-euro currency the Finnish mark (FIM, markka) is no longer legal tender and cannot be exchanged even at the Bank of Finland any more.

Costs

Declared the world's most expensive country in 1990, prices have since abated somewhat but are still steep by most standards. Rock-bottom traveling if staying in hostel dorms and self-catering costs at least €25/day and it's well worth doubling that amount. The cheapest hotels cost about € 50 per night and more regular hotels closer to € 100. Instead of hotels or hostels, look for holiday cottages, especially when travelling in a group and off-season, you can find a full-equipped cottage for €10-15 per person a night. Camp-sites typically cost between € 10 and € 20 per tent.

Museums and tourist attractions have an entrance fee in the range of €5-25. Using public transport costs a few euros per day and depends on the city. One-way travel between major cities by train or by bus costs between €20 and €100, depending on the distance.

A VAT of 24% is charged for nearly everything (the main exception being food at 14%), but by law this must be included in the displayed price. Non-EU residents can get a tax refund for purchases above €40 at participating outlets, just look for the Tax-Free Shopping logo.

Shopping

As you might expect given the general price level, souvenir shopping in Finland isn't exactly cheap. Traditional buys include Finnish puukko knives, handwoven ryijy rugs and every conceivable part of a reindeer. For any Lappish handicrafts, look for the "Sámi Duodji" label that certifies it as authentic.

Popular brands for modern (or timeless) Finnish design include Marimekko [31] clothing, Iittala [32] glass, Arabia [33] ceramics, Kalevala Koru [34] jewelry, Pentik [35] interior design and, if you don't mind the shipping costs, Artek [36] furniture by renowned architect and designer Alvar Aalto. Kids and not a few adults love Moomin [37] characters, which fill up souvenir store shelves throughout the country, and Angry Birds products now plague the entire country.

Beware of limited Finnish shopping hours. For smaller shops, normal weekday opening hours are 9 AM to 5 or 6 PM, but most shops close early on Saturday and are closed entirely on Sundays. Larger shops and department stores are generally open until 9 PM on weekdays and 6 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. Stores are allowed to stay open until 6 PM on Sundays (9 PM around Christmas). Smaller grocery stores have no limitations; some are open during the same hours as larger stores but some are open later. During national holidays, almost all stores are closed. Shopping hours for small and speciality stores in small towns and in the countryside are often much shorter than in big cities, but most national chains keep the same hours throughout the country.

Convenience stores like the ubiquitous R-Kioski keep somewhat longer hours, but still tend to be closed when you most need them. If in desperate need of basic supplies, gas station convenience stores are usually open on weekends and until late at night. Some of the gas station convenience stores are open 24/7, particularly the ABC! chain. Supermarkets in Helsinki's Asematunneli, underneath the Central Railway Station, are open until 10 PM every day of the year, except on Christmas Day (December 25).

Most products need to be imported, and unfortunately this shows in the selection of goods and the pricing. It is not uncommon to see exactly the same product in different shops, at exactly the same price.

While shopkeepers may vehemently deny this to a foreigner, prices in smaller stores are by no means fixed. When buying hobby equipment, it is not uncommon to get 30% discount (hint: Find the international price level from a web shop and print it out). The more specialized the goods, the higher the gap between Finnish and international prices, and mail order may save a lot of money. When a package is intercepted by customs (which is quite rate for physically small items), the buyer is notified and can pick it up from customs. VAT and possibly import duty are charged, bring a copy of the order that is then signed by the buyer and archived.

When buying consumer electronics, one should be aware that the shelf life of products can be rather long, especially if the shop isn't specialized in consumer electronics. There is a risk to buy an overpriced product that has already been discontinued by the manufacturer or replaced with a newer model.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Finland on Wikivoyage.

Popular cities in Finland

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Helsinki or Helsingfors is the capital of Finland. Founded in 1550, the "Daughter of the Baltic" has been the Finnish capital since 1812, when it was rebuilt by the tsars of Russia along the lines of a miniature St. Petersburg, a role it has played in many a Cold War movie. Today, Helsinki pulls off the ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Kauppahalli
  • Uspenski Cathedral
  • Swedish Theatre
  • Kauppatori Market Square
  • Sederholm House
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Tampere is the third largest city in Finland with around 215,000 inhabitants (around 300,000 in the metropolitan area). Being located 170 km north of the Finnish coastal capital Helsinki, it is also the biggest inland town in the whole Nordic region. Geographically, the city lies on a narrow isthmus between ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Nasinneula Tower
  • Sarkanniemi
  • Tampere Cathedral
  • Tampere Hall
  • Moomin Museum
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Turku is a city on the Southwest coast of Finland at the mouth of Aura River in the region of Finland Proper. Turku, as a town, was settled during the 13th century and founded most likely at the end of the 13th century, making it the oldest city in Finland. It quickly became the most important city of the ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Museum of Pharmacy and Qwensel House
  • Sibelius Museum
  • Turku Cathedral
  • Abo Akademi
  • Turku Market Square
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Vantaa is in the Uusimaa region in southern Finland, right north of Helsinki. Part of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, it is the fourth most populous city in Finland. For practical purposes also the northern suburbs of Helsinki are included in this article.

Interesting places:

  • Heureka Finnish Science Centre
  • Finnish Aviation Museum
  • Myyrmanni Shopping Centre
  • Keimola Golf
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Espoo is the second largest city in Finland with the population of 248,355. It is part of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area along with the cities of Helsinki, Vantaa, and the small city of Kauniainen which is completely encircled by Espoo. The national park of Nuuksio is situated in northwestern Espoo.

Interesting places:

  • Iso Omena
  • Hvittrask
  • WeeGee Exhibition Centre
  • Solvalla Swinghill Ski Resort
  • Master Golf Club
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Oulu is a city of more than 190,000 inhabitants in Oulu province, Northern Finland. As a result of two consolidations of neighbouring municipalities, first Ylikiiminki on January 1st 2009, and then Haukipudas, Kiiminki, Oulunsalo and Yli-Ii on January 1st 2013, Oulu is now the fifth most populous city in ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Oulu Market Square
  • Toripolliisi Statue
  • Oulu Cathedral
  • Oulu Beach
  • Tietomaa
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Rovaniemi is the capital of Finnish Lapland.

Interesting places:

  • Lordi Square
  • Arktikum
  • University of Lapland
  • Ethnographic Museum
  • Lappia House
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Jyväskylä is a nice university city in Central Finland. It is the biggest city in the Finnish Lakeland area. Its population was about 85,000 until January 1, 2009, when the surrounding regions were merged with it, thus increasing the population of Jyväskylä to 130,000.

Interesting places:

  • University of Jyvaskyla
  • Alvar Aalto Museum
  • Jyvaeskylaen Jaahalli
  • Jyvaeskylae Art Museum
  • Laajis Ski Resort
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Lahti is a town in southern Finland, which lies on the shore of Vesijärvi. Lahti is a traditional industrial city. However, the city has suffered heavily during the economic downturns, especially in the early 90's, earning a somewhat gritty reputation. Unemployment and alienation are still commonplace in ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Ristinkirkko
  • Sibelius Hall
  • Lahden Stadium
  • Radio and Television Museum
  • Salpausselka Stadium
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Kuopio is in Eastern Finland.

Interesting places:

  • Puijo Tower
  • Kuopio Cathedral
  • University of Kuopio
  • Rauhalahti Smoke Sauna
  • Kuopio Ice Hall (Niiralan Monttu)
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States in Finland

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Popular cities:

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Popular cities:

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Points of Interest in Finland

A selection of top sights in Finland:

  • Central Helsinki, the Daughter of the Baltic, on a warm and sunny summer day
  • The historical sites of Turku and the vast archipelago around it, best viewed from the deck of a giant car ferry.
  • Pottering around the picturesque wooden houses of Porvoo, Finland's second-oldest city
  • Renting a car and exploring the Lake Land of Eastern Finland, an area dotted with around 60 000 lakes with a similar number of islands, which in turn have their own lakes...
  • Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna, Finland's most atmospheric castle, especially during the yearly Opera Festival
  • Hämeenlinna Castle in Hämeenlinna is Finland's oldest castle. Built in 13th century.
  • Relaxing at a sauna-equipped cottage in the lake country of Eastern Finland
  • Icebreaker cruising and the world's biggest snow castle in Kemi
  • Seeing the Northern Lights and trying your hand sledding down a mile-long track at Saariselkä
  • A ride on the historical "Linnanmäki" wooden roller coaster (Helsinki). Unlike modern designs, only gravity keeps it on the track, and it requires a driver on each train to operate the brakes.

Kauppahalli - Helsinki

Porvoo Museum - Porvoo

Museum of Pharmacy and Qwensel House - Turku

Lappeenranta Fortress - Lappeenranta

Oulu Market Square - Oulu

Lordi Square - Rovaniemi

Olavinlinna Castle - Savonlinna

Hame Castle - Hameenlinna

Nasinneula Tower - Tampere

Kajaani Castle - Kajaani

Water Tower - Vaasa

Mikkeli Cathedral - Mikkeli

Ristinkirkko - Lahti

Rauma Market Square - Rauma

Pori Theatre - Pori

Puijo Tower - Kuopio

Siida - Inari

Uspenski Cathedral - Helsinki

Swedish Theatre - Helsinki

Kauppatori Market Square - Helsinki

panoramio Photos are copyrighted by their owners

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