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Finland

Finland (Finnish: Suomi, Swedish: Finland) is one of the Nordic countries in northern Europe. It has land borders with Russia to the east and – in the north – Norway and Sweden. Ferries connect the country with Estonia, Germany and more southern parts of Sweden.

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.

Regions

The current formal divisions of the country do not correspond well to geographical or cultural boundaries, and are not used here. Formerly regions and provinces did correspond; many people identify with their region (maakunta/landskap), but mostly according to historic boundaries. These regions include Tavastia (Häme), covering a large area of central Finland around Tampere, Savonia (Savo) in the eastern part of the lakeland and Karelia (Karjala) to the far east. Much of Finnish Karelia was lost to the Soviet Union in World War II, which still is a sore topic in some circles.

Cities

  • Helsinki — the "Daughter of the Baltic", Finland's capital and largest city by far
  • Jyväskylä — a university town in Central Finland
  • Oulu — a technology city at the end of the Gulf of Bothnia
  • Rauma — largest wooden old town in the Nordics and a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Rovaniemi — gateway to Lapland and home of Santa Claus Village
  • Savonlinna — a small lakeside town with a big castle and a popular opera festival.
  • Tampere — an industrial city, home of culture, music, art and museums
  • Turku — the former capital on the western coast. Medieval castle and cathedral.
  • Vaasa — a town with strong Swedish influences on the west coast located near the UNESCO world natural site Kvarken Archipelago

Other destinations

  • Archipelago Sea - hundreds and hundreds of islands from the mainland all the way to Åland
  • Finnish national parks, other protected areas, hiking areas or wilderness areas, e.g.
    • Koli National Park – large scenic national park in Eastern Finland, symbol for the nature of the country
    • Lemmenjoki National Park – gold digging grounds of Lapland, and one of the largest wilderness areas in Europe
    • Nuuksio National Park – pint-sized but pretty national park a stone's throw from Helsinki
  • Kilpisjärvi - "the Arm of Finland" offers scenic views and the highest hills in Finland
  • Levi, Saariselkä and Ylläs – popular winter sports resorts in Lapland
  • Suomenlinna – island off the coast of Helsinki where there is a 18–19th century fort that you can visit by ferry

Understand

History

See also: Nordic history Swedes we are no longer, Russians we do not want to become, let us therefore be Finns. – Adolf Ivar Arwidsson, Finnish national ideologist

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 8900BC. Roman historian Tacitus mentions a primitive and savage hunter tribe called Fenni in 100AD, 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. The Swedish kings installed a Swedish-speaking class of clergy and nobles in Finland, which remained as 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 (Viipuri, Viborg), but the Soviets paid a heavy price 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 to avoid 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 neighbours. 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 world top 15.

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

In 2017, Finland celebrates its 100 years of independence.

Geography

Unlike craggy Norway and Sweden, Finland consists mostly of 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 something of an underestimate. 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 (including the Swedish language, which enjoys co-official status alongside Finnish), it is technically not completely part of Scandinavia. Even Finns rarely bother to make the distinction, but a more correct term that includes Finland is the "Nordic countries" (Pohjoismaat, Norden) or "Fennoscandia". Particularly in the eastern and northern parts of the country, you'll find more examples of traditional, rustic Finnish culture, often with a Russian influence bleeding in from over the border. Southern and Western Finland, meanwhile, do indeed have very much in common with Scandinavia proper — this is particularly true of the capital, Helsinki, which has a lot of Scandinavian features, especially in terms of architecture.

Climate

See also: Winter in the Nordic Countries

Finland has a 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 autumn 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.

Culture

Buffeted by its neighbors for centuries and absorbing influences from west, east and south, Finnish culture as a distinct identity was only born in the 19th century: "we are not Swedes, and we do not wish to become Russian, so let us be Finns."

The Finnish founding myth and national epic is the Kalevala, a collection of old Karelian stories and poems collated in 1835, which recounts the creation of the world and the adventures of Väinämöinen, a shamanistic hero with magical powers. Kalevalan themes such as the Sampo, a mythical cornucopia, have been a major inspiration for Finnish artists, and figures, scenes, and concepts from the epic continue to color their works.

While Finland's state religion is Lutheranism, a version of Protestant Christianity, the country has full freedom of religion and for the great majority everyday observance is lax or nonexistent. Still, Luther's teachings of strong work ethic and a belief in equality remain strong, both in the good (women's rights, non-existent corruption) and the bad (conformity, high rates of depression and suicide). The Finnish character is often summed up with the word sisu, a mixture of admirable perseverance and pig-headed stubbornness in the face of adversity.

Finnish music is best known for classical composer Jean Sibelius, whose symphonies continue to grace concert halls around the world. Finnish pop, on the other hand, has only rarely ventured beyond the borders, but heavy metal bands like Nightwish, Children Of Bodom and HIM have garnered some acclaim and latex monsters Lordi hit an exceedingly unlikely jackpot by taking home the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006.

In the other arts, Finland has produced noted architect and designer Alvar Aalto, authors Mika Waltari (The Egyptian) and Väinö Linna (The Unknown Soldier), and painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, known for his Kalevala illustrations.

Bilingualism

Finland has a 5.5% Swedish-speaking minority and is officially a bilingual country, so maps nearly always bear both Finnish and Swedish names for e.g. cities and towns. For example, Turku and Åbo are the same city, even though the names differ totally. Roads can be especially confusing: what first appears on a map to be a road that changes its name is, in most cases, the Finnish and Swedish names of the same road (e.g. Turuntie/Åbovägen are both "Turku Road"). This is common in the Swedish-speaking areas on the southern and western coasts, including Helsinki, whereas inland Swedish names are far less common. In the far north Lapland, you'll almost never see Swedish, but you will occasionally see signage in Sámi instead. Google Maps, in particular, seems to select the language randomly.

In the bilingual areas the language groups mix well, with few conflicts. Even in Finnish speaking areas, such as Jyvärskylä, Pori and Oulu, many Finnish speakers welcome the contacts with Swedish that the minority and the minority institutions provide; the few Swedish schools in such areas have many Finnish pupils and language immersion daycare is popular, where provided. In politics the bilingualism is an issue. Some Finnish speakers still see the bilingual status of the country as a tool of oppression by the Swedish speaking population and a relic from the time of a Swedish speaking elite, while many Swedish speaking are very worried about their language being marginalized with administrational reforms merging small Swedish institutions with bigger Finnish ones.

Also Sámi, Romani and Finnish sign language are recognized in the constitution, but Finnish and Swedish are the "national languages".

Holidays

Finns aren't typically very hot on big public carnivals; most holidays are spent at home with family. The most notable exception is Vappu on May 1, as thousands of people (mostly the young ones) fill the streets. Important holidays and similar happenings include:

  • New Year's Day (uudenvuodenpäivä, nyårsdagen), January 1.
  • Epiphany (loppiainen, trettondag), January 6.
  • Easter (pääsiäinen, påsk), variable dates, Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays. Tied to this are laskiainen, fastlagstisdag, 40 days before Easter, nominally a holy day that kicks off the Lent, practically a time for children and university students to go sliding down snowy slopes, and Ascension Day (helatorstai, Kristi himmelsfärds dag) 40 days after, just another day for the shops to be closed.
  • Walpurgis Night (vappuaatto, valborgsmässoafton) and May Day (vappu, första maj), originally a pagan tradition that coincides with the more recent workers' celebration, it has become a giant festival for students, who wear colorful signature overalls and roam the streets. Many people also use their white student caps between 6PM at April 30 and the end of May 1st. The latter day people gather to nurse their hangovers at open-air picnics, even if it's raining sleet.
  • Midsummer Festival (juhannus, midsommar), Friday evening and Saturday between June 20 and June 26. Held to celebrate the summer solstice, with plenty of bonfires, drinking and general merrymaking. Cities become almost empty as people rush to their summer cottages. It might be a good idea to visit one of the bigger cities just for the eerie feeling of an empty city – or a countryside village, where the locals celebrate together.
  • Independence Day (itsenäisyyspäivä, självständighetsdagen), December 6. A fairly somber celebration of Finland's independence from Russia. There are church services (the one from the cathedral in Helsinki can be seen on TV), concerts and a military parade. The most popular event is in the evening: the President holds a ball for the important people (e.g. MPs, diplomats, and merited Finnish sportspeople and artists) that the less important watch on TV.
  • Little Christmas (pikkujoulu). People go pub crawling with their workmates throughout December. Not an official holiday, just a Viking-strength version of an office Christmas party season.
  • Christmas (joulu, jul), December 24 to 26. The biggest holiday of the year, when pretty much everything closes for three days. Santa (Joulupukki, Julgubben) comes on Christmas Eve on December 24, ham is eaten and everyone goes to sauna.
  • New Year's Eve (uudenvuodenaatto, nyårsafton), December 31. Fireworks time!

Most Finns take their summer holidays in July, unlike elsewhere in Europe, where August is the main vacation season. People generally start their summer holidays around Midsummer. During these days, cities are likely to be less populated, as Finns head for their summer cottages. Schoolchildren start their summer holidays in the beginning of June and return to school in mid-August.

Get in

Finland is a member of the Schengen Agreement.

  • There are normally no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
  • There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
  • Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
  • Please see Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works, which countries are members and what the requirements are for your nationality.

Visa freedom applies only to Schengen nationals and nationals of countries with a visa-freedom agreement, for example United States citizens. By default, a visa is required; see list to check if you need a visa. Visas cannot be issued at the border or at entry, but must be applied at least 15 days in advance in a Finnish embassy or other mission (see instructions). An ID photograph, a passport, travel insurance, and sufficient funds (considered to be at least €30 a day) is required. The visa fee is 35–70 €, even if the visa application is rejected.

The Finland-Russia border is a Schengen external border, and border controls apply. This border can be crossed only in designated border crossings (most popular road crossings being Vaalimaa and Nuijamaa; temporary special restrictions apply on the northern crossings from Russia, check if relevant) and visas are required. There are border zones on both sides of the border, a few kilometers in width, where entrance is prohibited. Entering the border zones or trying to photograph there will result in an arrest and a fine. The Finnish-Norwegian and Finnish-Swedish borders may be crossed at any point without a permit, provided that you're not carrying anything requiring customs control. Generally, when travelling over the international waters between Finland and Estonia, border checks are not required. However, the Border Guard may conduct random or discretionary checks and is authorized to check the immigration status of any person or vessel at any time or location, regardless of the mode of entry.

By plane

Finland's main international hub is Helsinki-Vantaa Airport near Helsinki. Finnair, SAS and Flybe are based there as is Norwegian Air Shuttle offering domestic and international flights. Around 30 foreign airlines fly to Helsinki-Vantaa, an airport originally built to support the Olympic Games organized in Helsinki 1952. Later, the terminal building was expanded and modernized, and one new runway was built.

International flights to other destinations are again as scarce as they used to be, as Air Baltic and Ryanair have withdrawn most of their services to regional Finland, for instance Ryanair only serves Tampere in the summer. There are direct flights to Tampere and Turku from only a couple of foreign destiations, to Lappeenranta from Bergamo, and to MariehamnOulu and Vaasa from Stockholm. Moreover there are occasional direct charters (especially in December) and seasonal scheduled flights (Dec-Mar) to Lapland.

If your destination is somewhere in Southern Finland, it may also be worth your while to get a cheap flight to Tallinn and follow the boat instructions for the last leg.

  • Peruutetutlennot.fi, Viipurinkatu 12 L 84, ? +358 9 3158 5313, e-mail: otayhteytta@peruutetutlennot.fi. If your flight was delayed more than 2 hours from/to EU or within EU you are entitled to compensation by EU regulations on airline travel. Peruutetutlennot.fi (canceledflights) Peruutetutlennot.fi takes care of claiming on your (and other travellers) behalf and only charges it's fee if claim was successful and they do specialize in flights to/from Nordic countries. The site also hosts a webapp that shows real-time data of delays of Finland bound or outbound flights in as a service to air travellers.

By train

VR and Russian Railways jointly operate services between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki, stopping at Vyborg, Kouvola and Lahti along the way (rail was introduced in Finland under Russian rule, so the gauge is the same). The border controls are conducted in the moving train en route, to avoid delay on the border. The line was upgraded in 2010 and the slick new Allegro-branded trains glide between the two cities in three and a half hours at up to 220 km/h. The route is served four times in a day for both directions. Prices vary between €30 and €80 per direction depending on popularity of the departure and when you book. There is also a traditional slow overnight sleeper from Moscow, which takes around 15 hours.

There are no direct trains between Sweden or Norway and Finland (the rail gauge is different), but the bus over the gap from Boden/Luleå (Sweden) to Kemi (Finland) is free with an Eurail/Inter Rail pass, and you can also get a 50% discount from most ferries with these passes.

By bus

Buses are the cheapest but also the slowest and least comfortable way of traveling between Russia and Finland.

  • Regular scheduled buses run between St. Petersburg, Vyborg and major southern Finnish towns like HelsinkiLappeenranta, Jyväskylä and all the way west to Turku, check Matkahuolto for schedules. Helsinki–St. Petersburg is served three times daily, costs €38 and takes 9 hours during the day, 8 hours at night.
  • Various direct minibuses run between St. Petersburg's Oktyabrskaya Hotel (opp Moskovsky train station) and Helsinki's Tennispalatsi (Eteläinen Rautatiekatu 8, one block away from Kamppi). At €15 one-way, this is the cheapest option, but the minibuses leave only when full. Departures from Helsinki are most frequent in the morning (around 10 AM), while departures from St. Petersburg usually overnight (around 10 PM).
  • There is a daily service between Petrozavodsk and Joensuu (possibly suspended, check).
  • There is a service between Murmansk and Ivalo in northern Finland thrice a week (possibly suspended, check).

You can also use a bus from northern Sweden or Norway to Finland.

  • Haparanda in Norrbotnia area of Sweden has bus connections to TornioKemi and Oulu. See more from Matkahuolto.
  • Eskelisen Lapinlinjat offers bus connections from northern parts of Norway, for example Tromsø. See more from Eskelisen Lapinlinjat.

By boat

See also: Baltic Sea ferries, Cruising the Baltic Sea, Boating on the Baltic Sea

One of the best ways to travel to and from Finland is by sea. The ships from Estonia and Sweden, in particular, are giant, multi-story floating palaces and department stores, with cheap prices subsidized by sales of tax-free booze: a return trip to Tallinn including a cabin for up to four people can go as low as €50, and a crossing from Stockholm to Turku is in the same range (with ordinary tickets being significantly more expensive than offers). If travelling by Inter Rail, you can get 50% off deck fares. The best way to arrive in Helsinki is standing on the outside deck with a view ahead.

The passes over Sea of Åland or Kvarken and Gulf of Finland from Sweden and Estonia, respectively, are short enough for most yachts on a calm day (many also come over the sea from Gotland). As Finland is famous for its archipelagos, especially the Archipelago Sea, coming with small craft is a good alternative. Border controls are not generally required for pleasure craft crossing from Estonia to Finland; however, the Border Guard can discretionarily order individual craft to report to border control. All craft arriving from outside the Schengen area must report to border control (see Border Guard page).

Estonia and the Baltic states

Helsinki and Tallinn are only 80 km apart. Viking Line, Eckerö and Tallink Silja operate full-service car ferries all year round. Depending on the ferry type travel times are from 2 (Tallink's Star class ferries) to 3.5 hours (Tallink Silja's biggest cruise ships). Some services travel overnight and park outside the harbor until morning. Linda Line offers fast services that complete the trip in 1.5 hours, but charge quite a bit more, have comparatively little to entertain you on board and suspend services in bad weather and during the winter. If the weather is looking dodgy and you're prone to sea sickness, it's best to opt for the big slow ships.

The Tallink cruise ferry between Tallinn and Stockholm calls at Mariehamn (in the night/early morning). There is also a service from Paldiski to Hanko by Navirail.

There are no scheduled services to Latvia or Lithuania, but some of the operators above offer semi-regular cruises in the summer, with Riga being the most popular destination.

Germany

Finnlines operates from Travemünde near Lübeck and Hamburg to Helsinki, taking 27–36 hours one way.

Traffic to Germany has been more lively in former times, the best example being the GTS Finnjet, which was the fastest and largest passenger ferry in the world in the 1970's. Freight and passengers could be transported between Helsinki and Travemünde (and the rest of continental Europe west of the Iron Curtain) in only 22 hours, much faster than the other (non-air) routes at the time.

Russia

For years scheduled ferry services from Russia have been stop-and-go. St Peter Line offers regular ferry service from Saint Petersburg to Helsinki for as low as €30 one way.

Saimaa Travel offers sailings along Saimaa Canal from Vyborg to Lappeenranta in the summer months. This route is mostly used for cruises to Russia, taking advantage of the Russian visa exception for short-term cruise visitors.

Sweden

Both Silja and Viking offer overnight cruises to Helsinki and overnight as well as daytime cruises to Turku from Stockholm, usually stopping in the Åland islands along the way. These are some of the largest and most luxurious passenger ferries in the world, with as many as 14 floors and a whole slew of restaurants, bars, discos, pool and spa facilities, etcetera. The cheaper cabin classes below the car decks are rather Spartan, but the higher sea view cabins can be very nice indeed.

There is also a car ferry connection between Umeå and Vaasa (Wasa line; 4 hours), without taxfree sales, but trying to achieve the same feeling as on the southerly routes.

Note that, due to crowds of rowdy youngsters aiming to get thoroughly hammered on cheap tax-free booze, both Silja and Viking do not allow unaccompanied youth under 23 to cruise on Fridays or Saturdays. (The age limit is 20 on other nights, and only 18 for travellers not on same-day-return cruise packages.) In addition, Silja does not offer deck class on its overnight services, while Viking does.

Note also that with Viking Line it often is cheaper to book a cruise instead of "route traffic". The cruise includes both ways with or without a day in between. If you want to stay longer you simply do not go back – it might still be cheaper than booking a one-way "route traffic" ticket. This accounts especially to last minute tickets (you could, e.g., get from Stockholm to Turku for around 10€ over night – "route traffic" would be over 30€ for a cabin with lower quality).

In addition to the big two, FinnLink offers the cheapest car ferry connection of all from Kapellskär to Naantali (from €60 for a car with driver).

Car ferries usually stop for a few minutes at Mariehamn or Långnäs in the Åland Islands, which are outside the EU tax area and thus allow the ferries to operate duty-free sales.

By car

Sweden

As mentioned above, one of the easiest ways to get by car from Sweden to Finland is a car ferry. The European Route E18 includes a ferry line between Kapellskär and Naantali. You could also take the floating palaces, either the nearby pass Stockholm–Turku or the longer pass Stockholm–Helsinki. Farther north there is the E12 (Finnish national highway 3), with car ferry (4 hours) between Umeå and Vaasa.

There are also land border crossings up in Lapland at TornioYlitornioPello, Kolari, Muonio and Kaaresuvanto.

Norway

European Routes E8 and E75 connect Finland and Norway. There are border crossings at Kilpisjärvi, Kivilompolo, Karigasniemi, Utsjoki, Nuorgam and Näätämö. For central and southern parts of Norway, going through Sweden is more practical, e.g. by E12 (from Mo i Rana via Vaasa) or E18 (from Oslo via Stockholm/Kapellskär).

Russia

European route E18, like Russian route M10, goes from St. Petersburg via Vyborg to Vaalimaa/Torfyanovka border station near Hamina. From there, E18 continues as Finnish national highway 7 to Helsinki, and from there, along the coast as highway 1 to Turku. In Vaalimaa, trucks will have to wait in a persistent truck queue. This queue does not directly affect other vehicles. There are border control and customs checks in Vaalimaa and passports and Schengen visas if applicable will be needed.

From south to north, other border crossings can be found at Nuijamaa/Brusnichnoye (Lappeenranta), Niirala (Tohmajärvi), Vartius (Kuhmo) Kelloselkä (Salla) and Raja-Jooseppi (Inari). All except the first are very remote. As of March 2016, Salla and Raja-Jooseppi are open only to Finnish, Russian and Belarusian citizens and their families, until at least September 2016.

Estonia

As mentioned above, there is a car ferry between Tallinn and Helsinki. It forms a part of European route E67 Via Baltica that runs from the Estonian capital Tallinn, crosses Riga in Latvia and Kaunas in Lithuania to the Polish capital Warsaw. The distance from Tallinn to Warsaw is about 970 kilometers, not including any detours. There is a car and cargo ferry service from Paldiski to Hanko.

By bicycle

Bikes can be taken on the ferries (you enter via the car deck, check when to show up) for a modest fee. There are no special requirements on the land borders with Norway and Sweden.

During the recent immigrant issue in Europe, Finnish Border Agency did forbid crossing the border by bicycle over the northernmost checkpoints (Raja-Jooseppi and Salla) from Russia. However it is still apparently allowed to cross the border by bicycle over the southern borders.

By foot

Walk-in from Sweden and Norway is allowed, but crossing the Russian border by foot is not. This ban is probably enforced by the Russian border guard (as asked to by Finland). If they let you walk out, perhaps the Finnish border guard lets you in, given your papers, if any, are in order.

Get around

Finland is a large country and travelling is relatively expensive. Public transportation is well organized and the equipment is always comfortable and often new, and advance bookings are rarely necessary outside the biggest holiday periods, but buying tickets on the net a few days in advance may give significantly lower prices.

The domestic Journey Planner of the Finnish transport agency offers timetables for all trains and most buses and flights, including inter-city transport and local transport for some cities, although using it for the countryside may require quite some fiddling around (it knows only some village names; municipalities and street addresses work better).

In mid-2010s Finland the national Trafi Traffic Authority and Helsinki Region Traffic have been working on the next generation traveler routers based open source software, open standards and open data, so basically copyleft. It is called Digitransit (.fi) and public betas are available for national level and for Metropolitan Helsinki respectively.

Useful websites for finding the cheapest long-distance bus, train and plane tickets are Perille and Matkakeisari.

"Street addresses" work with many electronic maps also for the countryside. "Street numbers" outside built up areas are based on the distance from the beginning of the road, in tens of metres, with even numbers on the left hand side ("Exampleroad 101" is about a kilometre from the fork, on the right hand side, distance from the road to the house not counted).

By plane

Flights are the fastest but traditionally also the most expensive way of getting around. The new low-cost airliners however provide prices even half of the train prices in the routes between north and south. In some cases it may even be cheaper to fly via Riga than take a train. Finnair and some smaller airlines still operate regional flights from Helsinki to places all over the country, including KuopioRovaniemiIvalo and Vaasa. It's worth booking in advance if possible: on the Helsinki–Oulu sector, the country's busiest, a fully flexible return economy ticket costs a whopping €251 but an advance-purchase non-changeable one-way ticket can go as low as €39, less than a train ticket. Finnair has cheaper fares usually when you book at least three week before your planned trip. You may also be able to get discounted domestic tickets if you fly into Finland on Finnair and book combination ticket directly to your final destination. Finnair also has a youth ticket (16–25) and senior ticket (+65 or pension decision) that is substantially cheaper and fixed price regardless of when you book.

There are two major airlines selling domestic flights:

  • Finnair, the biggest by far. Serves nearly all of the country, with some flights operated by their subsidiary Nordic Regional Airlines..
  • Norwegian Air Shuttle flies from Helsinki to Oulu and Rovaniemi, with an expanding network.

In addition there's a handful of smaller airlines, often just flying from Helsinki to one airport each. The destinations served are often easy to reach by train, bus and car making flights unprofitable wherefore companies and services tend to come and go. BASe Airlines and Air100 fill in a few gaps.

By train

VR (Valtion Rautatiet, "State's Railways") operates the fairly extensive railroad network. Where train connections are available, they are usually the most comfortable and often the fastest method of travel. From Helsinki to TampereTurku and Lahti, there are departures more or less every hour in daytime.

The following classes of service are available, with example last-minute prices and durations for the popular Helsinki–Tampere service in parenthesis.

  • Pendolino tilting trains (code S) often fastest (€9.90-€18.00, 1:29-1:46)
  • InterCity (IC) and InterCity2 (IC2) express trains (€9.90-€18.00, 1:29-1:46)
  • Ordinary express (pikajuna, P), only slow night trains for this connection (€21.00, 2:44–2:58)
  • Local and regional trains (lähiliikennejuna, lähijuna or taajamajuna), no surcharge, quite slow (€9.90-€21.00, 2:10)

The trains are generally very comfortable, especially the intercity and long distance services, which (depending on connection and type of train) may have restaurant and family cars (with a playing space for children), power sockets, and free Wi-Fi connection. Additional surcharges apply for travel in first class, branded "Extra" on some trains, which gets you more spacious seating, newspapers and possibly a snack. Check the services of individual trains if you need them, e.g. facilities for families and wheelchair users vary considerably.

Overnight sleepers are available for long-haul routes and very good value at €11/21/43 for a bed in a three/two/one-bed compartment, but one-bed compartments are only available in first class. Advance tickets for overnight trains only allow the booking of a seat, not of a bed.

One child under 17 can travel for free with each fare-paying adult (check: might have changed), and seniors over 65 years old and students with Finnish student ID (ISIC cards etc not accepted) get ~50% off. Groups of 3 or more get 15% off. If booking much in advance on the net you may get bargain prices.

Finland participates in the Inter Rail and Eurail systems. Residents of Europe can buy InterRail Finland passes offering 3–8 days of unlimited travel in one month for €109–229 (adult 2nd class), while the Eurail Finland pass for non-residents is €178–320 for 3–10 days. You would have to travel a lot to make any of these pay off though; by comparison, a full-fare InterCity return ticket across the entire country from Helsinki to Rovaniemi and back is €162.

Generally, the trains are most crowded at the beginning and end of the weekend, i.e. Friday and Sunday evening. Shortly before and at the end of major holidays like Christmas/New Year and Easter, trains are usually very busy. If you try booking for these days at a late time, you may find the seat you reserve may be among the least desirable, that is, facing backwards, without recline, and facing towards and sharing the legroom with other passengers.

While VR's trains may be slick, harsh winter conditions and underinvestment in maintenance mean that delayed trains are not uncommon, with the fancy Pendolinos particularly prone to breaking down. As in the rest of the EU, you'll get a 25% refund if the train is 1–2 hours late and 50% if more. Real-time train traffic data for every train station in Finland in webapp or iOS app is enabled by the Trafi licencing this data under CC-BY Copyleft licence.

Finnish Railways is under heavy process of privatization, and the traditional operations have been challenged by the potential of smaller operators to enter the markets. Yet still, most of the railway network is operated by the former state bureau, providing good service in most of the cases yet high prices in many cases. The underlying issue with Finnish railways is the vastness of the country and the small population. Thus, many routes and stops formerly motivated by political or territorial reasons have been suspended. While part of the railway traffic has been liberated for competition, the bulk of passenger traffic still remains a monopoly of one company.

By bus

There are coach connections along the main roads to practically all parts of Finland. This is also the only way to travel in Lapland, since the rail network doesn't extend to the extreme north. Connections may be scarce between the thoroughfares.

Long haul coaches are generally quite comfortable, with toilet, reclining seats, sometimes a coffee machine and perhaps a few newspapers to read (often only in Finnish, though). Some services stop at an intermediate destination long enough for you to buy a sandwich or eat an ice cream.

There is no dominating operator, but many smaller ones. Matkahuolto maintains some services across companies, such as timetables, ticket sale and freight (but the company Onnibus is not covered). There are Matkahuolto service points at more or less every bus station, in small towns and villages often by cooperation with a local business. Although the staff generally is helpful, they and their tools may not know very much about local conditions in other parts of the country. Checking with locals (such as the local host or local bus company) for any quirks is sometimes advantageous.

Most coaches between bigger towns are express buses (pikavuoro/snabbtur), having fewer stops than the "standard" (vakiovuoro/reguljär tur) coaches, near extinction on some routes. Between some big cities there are also special express (erikoispikavuoro/express) coaches with hardly any stops between the cities. Using coaches to reach the countryside you should check not only that there are services along the right road, but also that any express service you are going to use stops not too far away from where you intend to get off or on, and that any service runs on the right day of the week.

Coaches are generally slightly higher priced than trains, although on routes with direct train competition they can be slightly cheaper. Speeds are usually slower than trains, sometimes very much so (from Helsinki to Oulu), sometimes even faster (from Helsinki to Kotka and Pori). On many routes, though, coaches are more frequent, so you may still get to your destination faster than if you wait for the next train. Tickets can be bought in advance, with the seldom used option to reserve seats, although paying to the driver is common (there are few if any conductors left). Credit and debit cards should be accepted on the main express and long-haul services (and when buying tickets in advance), on "regular" services on short distances you are more likely to need cash.

Senior discounts are for those over 65 years old or with Finnish pension decision.

As with trains, student discounts are available only for Finnish students or foreign students at Finnish institutions. You need either a Matkahuolto/VR student discount card (€5) or a student card with the Matkahuolto logo.

For coaches, children aged 4–11 pay about half the price (infants free), juniors (12–16) get a reduction of up to 30 % or 50 % on long non-return trips. In city buses age limits vary from one city or region to another, often children fees apply for 7–14 years old. An infant in a baby carriage gives one adult a free ride in e.g. Helsinki and Turku (but entering may be difficult in rush hours).

You can get the BusPass travel pass from Matkahuolto, which offers unlimited travel in specified time, priced at 149 € for 7 days and 249 € for 14 days. The pass is not accepted by Onnibus.

Onnibus offers a cheaper alternative (often €5–10 even for long rides if bought early enough) with double-deckers on routes between major cities in Finland. Tickets must be bought online as they do not accept cash. General standard lower than on other coaches and less legroom than in any other buses in Finland. Also the overhead racks are tight, so put everything you do not need in the luggage compartment. Be at the stop 15 minutes before departure, more if you want good seats. Note that the routes do not necessarily serve the city centres, but can provide direct access to some nearby locations. Onnibuses include free unencrypted WiFi and 220V power sockets.

Local transport networks are well-developed in Greater Helsinki, Tampere[1], Oulu[2], Lahti[3] and Turku[4]. In smaller cities public transport networks are usable on workdays, but sparse on weekends and during the summer. There are easy-to-use high-tech English route planners with maps to find out how to use local bus services, provided or linked by Matkahuolto.

Both coaches and city buses are stopped for boarding by raising a hand at a bus stop (blue sign for coaches, yellow for city buses; a reflector is useful in the dusk and night). In some rural areas, such as northern Lapland, you may have luck also where there is no official stop (and not even official stops are necessarily marked there). On coaches, the driver will often step out to let you put most of your luggage in the luggage compartment – have what you want to have with you in a more handy bag.

Ring the bell when you want to get off, and the bus will stop at the next stop. Often the driver knows the route well and can be asked to let you off at the right stop, and even if not (more common now, with increased competition), drivers usually try their best. This works less well though on busy city buses.

By ferry

In summertime, lake cruises are a great way to see the scenery of Finland, although many of them only do circular sightseeing loops and aren't thus particularly useful for getting somewhere. Most cruise ships carry 100–200 passengers (book ahead on weekends!), and many are historical steam boats. Popular routes include Turku–Naantali, Helsinki–Porvoo and various routes in Saimaa.

The archipelago of Åland and the Archipelago Sea have many inhabited islands dependant on ferry connections. As these are maintained as a public service they are mostly free, even the half-a-day lines. Some are useful as cruises, although there is little entertainment except the scenery. These are meant for getting somewhere, so be sure you have somewhere to sleep after having got off.

By car

Car rental is possible in Finland but expensive, with rates generally upwards of €80/day, although rates go down for longer rentals. Foreign-registered cars can be used in Finland for a limited time – registering it locally involves paying a substantial tax to equalize the price to Finnish levels. If you opt to buy a car in Finland instead, make sure it has all annual taxes paid and check when its next annual inspection is due: the deadline is the same day as the car's first date of use unless the registration form says 00.00.xx in first date of use. In that case, which is common only for very old cars, the inspection date is determined by the last number of the license plate. All cars must pass emissions testing and precise tests of brakes etc. Police may remove the plates of vehicles that have not passed their annual inspections in time and give you a fine.

Traffic drives on the right, and there are no road tolls in Finnish cities or highways. Roads are well maintained and extensive, although expressways are limited to the south of the country. Drivers must stay very alert, particularly at dawn and dusk, for wild animals. Collisions with moose (frequently lethal) are common countrywide, deer (mostly survivable) cause numerous collisions in the southern and southwestern parts of the country, and semi-domesticated reindeer are a common cause of accidents in Lapland. Bear collisions happen sometimes in eastern parts of the country. Try to pass behind the animal to let it escape forward. Call the emergency service (112) to report accidents even if you are OK, as the animal may be injured.

VR's overnight car carrier trains are popular for skipping the long slog from Helsinki up to Lapland and getting a good night's sleep instead: a Helsinki-Rovaniemi trip (one way) with car and cabin for 1–3 people starts from €215.

A few unusual or unobvious rules to be aware of:

  • Headlights or DRLs are mandatory even during daylight. Most choose to use headlights at all times. New cars usually come with headlight- and DRL-related automatics which do not always work properly. This is especially true in the Finnish winter – without visually verifying the lights around your car you could be driving without any tail lights in a blizzard with vehicles approaching you from the behind in highway speeds.
  • Always give way to the right, unless signed otherwise. The concept of minor road refers only to exits from parking lots and similar, so this applies even to smaller roads on your right. Almost all intersections are explicitly signposted with yield signs (either the stop sign or an inverted triangle). Usually only highways are explicitly marked with priority signs, so most roads with priority go unmarked; instead, watch for the back of the yield sign on the other road.
  • Signs use the following shorthand: white numbers are for Mondays to Fridays, white numbers in parentheses for Saturdays and red numbers for Sundays and holidays; "8–16" in white means weekdays 8 AM to 4 PM.
  • In Helsinki, trams always have the right of way. Collisions do a "surprising amount of damage". Don't get into arguments with a vehicle that can't change direction and weighs as much as a small battle tank.
  • A vehicle is required by law to stop at a zebra crossing, if at least one other car has stopped, regardless of whether or not there is a pedestrian (in a similar manner as if there were a stop sign).
  • A car is obliged to stop at a zebra crossing, if the pedestrian intends to cross the road. Most pedestrians "intend" to cross the road only when there is a sufficiently large gap in the traffic. Being polite and stopping anyway can create a dangerous situation, when the car behind on the next lane does not recognize the pedestrian and goes by without stopping. Watch the mirrors and be ready to blow the horn.
  • When crossing the road as a pedestrian at a zebra crossing, do not leave a shadow of a doubt that you will cross the road, and cars will stop. With some practice, this works out smoothly, efficiently and without taking undue risks. By default, drivers will assume that the pedestrian "does not intend to cross the road right now", in other words, cars will not stop.
  • Circular traffic can be rather complex. For example, in one spot, two new lanes are created while the outer lane is suddenly forced to exit. This creates a difficult situation, when the lines are covered by snow.
  • Pedestrians walking on unlighted roads without sidewalk or cycle tracks in the dark are required by law to use safety reflectors. Their use is generally recommended, since the visibility of pedestrians with reflector improves greatly.
  • Using seat belts is mandatory. Children of less than 135cm must use appropriate devices (except when "temporary" travelling in the car, such as in taxis).

Winter driving can be somewhat hazardous, especially for drivers unused to cold weather conditions. Winter tyres (M+S) are mandatory from 1 December through the end of February and studded tyres allowed from November 1st to after Easter (and "when circumstances require", with a liberal interpretation). The most dangerous weather is in fact around the zero degree mark (°C), when slippery but near-invisible black ice forms on the roads. Finnish cars often come equipped with an engine block heater (lohkolämmitin) used to preheat the engine and possibly the interior of the car beforehand, and many parking places have electric outlets to feed them. Liikenneturva, the Finnish road safety agency, maintains a "Tips for difficult road conditions" page in English. Note that especially in the Helsinki area, the majority of cars is equipped with steel-studded tyres that allow more dynamic driving and shorter braking distances on frozen surfaces than conventional traction tyres (M+S), as used in some other European countries.

Finnish speeding tickets are based on your income, so be careful: a Nokia VP who'd cashed in some stock options the previous year was once hit for $204,000! With tax records of foreigners unavailable, non-residents are usually fined at a flat €100–200 instead. Speed limits are 50 km/h in towns, 80–100 km/h outside towns and at most 120 km/h on freeways. From around mid-October to April, speedlimits on freeways are lowered to 100 km/h and most 100 km/h limits are lowered to 80 km/h.

Software for GPS navigators that warns of fixed safety cameras is legal and installed by default in many mobile phones. Warning signs before fixed cameras (usually at the start of the supervised road) are required by law.

A blood alcohol level of over 0.05 % is considered drunk driving and 0.12 % as aggravated drunk driving, so think twice before drinking that second beer. Finnish police strictly enforce this by random roadblocks and sobriety tests. The sobriety test is done with a handheld breath alcohol tester and there is no practical way to refuse it.

If you are driving at night when the gas stations are closed (they usually close at 9 PM), always remember to bring some money for gas. Automated gas pumps in Finland in rare occasions do not accept foreign visa/credit cards, but you can pay with Euro notes. In the sparsely-populated areas of the country, distances of 50 km and more between gas stations are not unheard of, so don't gamble unnecessarily with those last litres of fuel.

By taxi

A law deregulating taxis was enacted in spring 2017, which will probably affect availability and prices from the summer 2018. It is too early to say what the effects will be.

Finnish taxis are heavily regulated by the government, so they're comfortable, safe and expensive. No matter where you go in the country, the starting fee is fixed at €5.50, rising up to €8.60 at night and on Sundays. The per-kilometer charge starts at €1.43/km for 1 or 2 passengers, rising up to €2,01/km for 7 or 8 passenger (in minivans). In the countryside you pay for the distance to where you wait, but this is deduced if you are going to where the taxi came from (more or less). A 20–25 km journey (say, airport to central Helsinki) can thus easily cost €30–40. For really long journeys, the price can sometimes be negotiated.

Taxis can come in any colour or shape, but they will always have a yellow "TAXI" sign (sometimes spelled "TAKSI") on the roof. Hailing cabs off the street is difficult to impossible, so either find a taxi rank or order by phone (any pub or restaurant will help you on this – expect to pay €2 for the call). In towns you use the calling centre, in the countryside you might want to call a taxi company directly. Taxi companies around the country can be found at the Taksiliitto site or from local tourist services.

A normal taxi will carry 4 people and a moderate amount of luggage. For significant amounts of luggage, you may want to order a "farmari" taxi, an estate/wagon car with a roomier luggage compartment. There is also a third common type of taxi available, the tilataksi, a van which will comfortably carry about 8 people (many also equipped for wheelchairs). The tilataksis are usually equipped for taking also a person in wheelchair. The fares are the same, but you might have to wait longer (a wheelchair or other special service will rise the price though).

Uber is a more affordable – but apparently illegal – alternative to official regulated taxis in the Helsinki region. A few drivers have been convicted, no case yet handled by the supreme court. The legal risk for customers seems low.

In city centres, long queues at the taxi stops can be expected on Friday and Saturday nights. The same is true at ferry harbours, railway stations and the like. It is not uncommon to share a taxi with strangers, if going towards the same general direction.

At airports, railway stations and other locations from where many people are going to the same direction at the same time, there may also be "Kimppataksi" minivans publicly offering rides with strangers. They are as comfortable as other taxis and will leave without much delay.

Unlicensed taxis (pimeä taksi) may be found in the centres of large towns, particularly on nights and weekends, but their use is to be avoided. You might lose your wallet/purse/phone, get conned or even assaulted. This despite such crimes are generally unusual.

Useful website for calculating the fares and finding taxi booking numbers around Finland is Taksilaskuri.

By ridesharing

Peer-to-peer ridesharing services:

  • kyydit,net – Carpooling site with search engine
  • kimppakyyti.fi – Carpooling site
  • kimppa.net – Oldest and most retro looking carpooling site in Finland

By thumb

Hitchhiking is possible, albeit unusual, as the harsh climate does not exactly encourage standing around and waiting for cars. Many middle age and elderly people hitchhiked as young, but in the last decades high standards of living and stories about abuse have had a deterring effect. The most difficult task is getting out of Helsinki. Spring and summer offer long light hours, but in the darker seasons you should plan your time. The highway between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg has a very high percentage of Russian drivers. See Hitchhiking Club Finland liftari.org or the Finland article on Hitchwiki for further details if interested.

By bicycle

Most Finnish cities have good bike paths especially outside the centres, and taking a bike can be a quick, healthy and environmentally friendly method of getting around locally. In the countryside you can often find suitable quiet routes, but sometimes this requires some effort. Not all major roads allow safe biking. There are bikers' maps for many areas.

Biking off road is regarded part of the right to access, but biking may cause erosion or other harm, so choose your route with consideration and unmount your bike at sensitive sections. There are some routes explicitly meant (also) for off-road bikes, e.g. at some national parks.

Children under 12 years can use the pavement where there is no cycle path, as long as they do not unreasonably disturb pedestrians. Bikes on cycle paths have to yield for cars on crossing roads.

The roads are generally paved well, although gravel roads are sometimes unavoidable. As long as you don't go off-road, you will not need suspension or grooved tyres.

Beware that a good bike path can end abruptly and force you out among the cars; the bike network building efforts are not too well coordinated. Also at road works, directions for bikers are often neglected

Due to the relatively gentle topographic relief, too hilly terrain is rarely a problem, but in the cold months, wind chill requires more protection against cold than in walking. In some municipalities bike paths are well maintained in winter, in others they are not. Biking among the cars in winter is usually too dangerous (some locals do, but they know the circumstances). In dark hours headlight and rear reflector are obligatory.

Because of the long distances, bicycle tourists are advised to plan well and be prepared to use public transport for the less interesting stretches. Long-distance coaches are well-equipped to take a few bicycles on board. Fares vary by company and distance, typically about half of an ordinary ticket. Packing the bike is not needed, but getting on at the bus station and arriving in time may help finding room for the bike.

Trains take bicycles for €5 if there is enough space (varies by train type, on some trains advance booking is necessary; on IC trains you also need a 50c coin; tandem bikes or bikes with trailer fit only on some trains, €10). Packed bikes are free if the package is small enough (requires taking the bike apart, exact dimensions vary by train type). On the trains to Russia packing the bikes is necessary (100 cm x 60 cm x 40 cm). Bikes are free also unpacked on trains in the Helsinki region, but are not allowed in rush hours (7:00–9:00 and 15:00–18:00).

Ferries usually take bikes for free or for a minimal charge.

Renting a bike at your destination should be possible. In at least Helsinki and Turku there are also municipal experiments for providing bikes cheaply for short rides.

Bikes are often stolen, at least in cities, so have a lock and use it, and try to avoid leaving the bike at unsafe places.

By boat

See also: Boating on the Baltic Sea#Boating in Finland

As a country with many lakes, a long coast and large archipelagos, Finland is a good destination for boating. There are some 165,000 registered motorboats and some 14,000 yachts owned by locals, rowboats and the smallest motorboats not counted. There is a boat on every seventh Finn. If you stay at a cottage, chances are there is a rowing boat available.

Yachts and motorboats are available for charter in most bigger towns at suitable waterways. You may also want to rent a canoe or kayak, for exploring the archipelagos or going down a river.

Talk

See also: Finnish phrasebook, Swedish phrasebook

Finland is officially bilingual in Finnish (suomi) and Swedish (svenska), and both languages are compulsory in nearly all schools (with varying results). Also Sami, Romani and Finnish Sign Language are recognized in the constitution, but they are not spoken outside their respective communities and the speakers are bilingual with Finnish.

Most people you will meet know English.

Businesses with a domestic customer base often have their web pages and other marketing in Finnish only. This is not an indication that they cannot provide service in English and give foreigners a good time (although they might have to improvise more than businesses used to foreigners). If the business seems interesting, just call them to get the information you need.

Finnish, mother tongue of 92 percent of the population, is not related to Swedish, Russian, English or any other Indo-European language. Instead it belongs to the Uralic group of languages (which includes Hungarian, Estonian and Sami), making it hard for speakers of most other European languages to learn. While Finnish and Estonian are close to mutual intelligibility, Hungarian and Finnish are about as close to each other as Spanish and Russian (but as major Uralic languages are few, there is a special relationship).

Reading signboards can be difficult, as Finnish uses relatively few loan words. Using a dictionary, especially for longer texts, is complicated by the word inflection; also the stem of many words varies somewhat (e.g. roof, "katto" in the example below). The relation between spelling and formal pronunciation, on the other hand, is straightforward (just learn how to pronounce individual letters – the difficulty lies in sticking to that), while colloquial speech differs substantially from what is taught in most language lessons.

The Finnish language has relatively few exceptions but quite many rules (where some rules might be considered cleverly disguised exceptions). There are about 17 different cases for "getting some coffee and getting the coffee, going into a pub, being in a pub, getting out of the pub, being on the roof, getting onto the roof, getting off the roof, using something as a roof and so on, which are encoded into the word endings (kahvia, kahvi, pubiin, pubissa, pubista, katolle, katolta, kattona). The conjugation of verbs is unfortunately somewhat more complex. Many different words are formed from the same root by other endings: kirjain, kirjasin, kirjuri, kirjoitin, kirje, kirjelmä, kirjasto and kirjaamo are all substantives related to kirja, "book" (letter, font, bookkeeper, printer, ...), and then there are related verbs and adjectives.

Swedish, closely related to Norwegian and Danish, is the mother tongue for 5.6 % of Finns. There are no large cities with a Swedish majority, and the Swedish-speaking communities are mainly smaller towns and rural municipalities along the coast and minorities in the cities. Many towns and road signs on the coast use alternative Finnish and Swedish names, so road signs can be confusing. The small autonomous province of Åland and e.g. the municipalities of Närpes, Korsnäs and Larsmo are more or less exclusively Swedish-speaking, and people there typically speak little or no Finnish, so English is a better bet. Swedish is a mandatory subject in Finnish-speaking schools since the 1970s (as Finnish in Swedish-speaking schools). In practice, it is rare to find fluent Swedish speakers in the street outside cities and towns with a significant Swedish-speaking community. About half the population regard themselves conversant in it, though, including e.g. any national-level politician. In cities like Helsinki and Turku most people know enough Swedish to deal with simple conversations you engage in as a tourist and often at least somewhat beyond, but living would be quite tough without knowledge of Finnish, whereas in traditionally Swedish towns like Vaasa and Porvoo nearly half the population is Swedish-speaking and service in Swedish is expected by many Swedish speaking locals. Most larger hotels and restaurants in areas where Swedish is widely spoken do have Swedish-proficient staff.

In larger cities, with the exception of the elderly, nearly all people you could possibly meet as a tourist speak English very well, and even in the countryside younger people will nearly always know enough to communicate. In fact, outside of the Swedish-speaking communities, English is usually far better understood than Swedish. Conversely, within some Swedish-speaking communities, English may be better understood than Finnish. 73% of the population in Finland can speak English. Don't hesitate to ask for help: Finns can be shy, but will usually be really pleased to help out people in need.

Russian may be understood in shops and hotels that cater to Russian tourists, particularly near the Russian border, for example in LappeenrantaImatra and Joensuu, but also in some major stores in Helsinki such as Stockmann. Tourist destinations which are popular among Russians in Eastern and Northern Finland have some Russian-speaking staff. Otherwise, few Finns speak Russian.

Besides the languages above, some Finns can speak German (18% conversant) or French (3% conversant), other secondary languages (Spanish, Italian) being rare. For some time there have also been significant immigrant communities, speaking e.g. Russian, Estonian, Somali, Arabic and Kurdish.

Foreign TV programs and films are nearly always subtitled. Only children's programmes, children's films, certain types of documentaries (the narrator part) and nature films get dubbed into Finnish or Swedish.

See

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 Archipelago Sea around it, best viewed from a yacht or from the deck of a giant car ferry.
  • Puttering 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.
  • 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.

Do

Sport

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 Liiga (finnish), where 15 teams battle it out. Additionally, the Helsinki-based Jokerit, a former Liiga member, plays in the Kontinental Hockey League, a Russia-based league that also includes teams from several other post-Soviet states, Croatia, Slovakia, and China. 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). If you happen to be in Finland when they win the World Championship, the traffic in the city centers might be messy, as the fans are running in the streets celebrating, usually intoxicated.

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.

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. Suspended 2016. 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

Outdoor life

See also: Sailing in Finland

During the short summer you can swim, canoe, row or sail in the lakes or in the sea. The water is at its 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. 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. Many Finns swim outdoors in winter also. There are lifeguards in busy hours at some beaches, but non-obvious risks are rare; nearly any shore can be used as long as you do not jump in without checking for obstacles. Cyanobacteria plague the waters in the warmest period, due to eutrophication; if the water seems to contain massive amounts of blue-green flakes, do not swim or use the water, and do not let children or pets into it.

The right to access and the sparse population makes it easy to go hiking wherever you are. If you are serious about it, you might want to check Hiking in the Nordic countries for advice and Finnish National Parks for destinations. There are trails for easy day trips as well as for week-long hikes – and large backwoods for the experienced. The best season for hiking is early fall, after most mosquitoes have died off and the autumn colours have come out, but summer is good too, and all seasons possible.

A lighter version of being outdoors is to go berry picking in some nearby forest. Also in bigger cities, there are usually suitable woods interspersed with the suburbs (i.e. within half a kilometre from a local bus stop). Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is common enough that you nearly anywhere (in July–August) quickly will find berries for your morning porridge, for a pie or as desert with cream and sugar. Other common berries include wild strawberry (from late June), lingonberry (August–September), bog bilberry, raspberry and crowberry. On bogs you may find cloudberry and cranberry, the latter picked late in autumn. Many Finns also pick mushrooms, but that requires you to know what you are doing, as there are deadly ones, including the death cap and the European destroying angel, easy to mistake for an Agaricus (field/button/common mushroom and the like).

In winter (and spring in the north) the way to go is of course cross-country skiing. There are maintained tracks around most cities, as well as around winter sports centres and in national parks. Wilderness back-packers use larger skis and do not rely on pre-existing tracks.

Many Finns are keen fishermen and recreational fishing is equally available to foreigners. In most still waters rod and hook fishing is free. Fishing with (single) reel and lure is allowed in most still waters, provided a national fishing fee has been paid, at a Metsähallitus service point (such as a national park visitor centre) or R-kioski, in the web shop (Finnish only) or by bank giro (2016: €39 for a year, €12 for a week, €5 for a day, plus any bank or kiosk surcharge; children under 18 and elderly over 64 exempted). Report wanted starting date when paying and show the receipt on request. For streaming waters rich in salmon or related species and some specially regulated waters, also separate permits have to be bought. With the national permit and permission from the owner of the waters (most land-owners in the countryside have a share) you can fish with most legal methods. There are minimum sizes, protected species and other special regulations you should check, e.g. when getting the permit. More information from 020-69-2424 (08:00–16:00) and e.g. ahven.net. Moving between certain waters you should disinfect your equipment, including boat and boots (there are salmon parasites and crayfish plague). Many small businesses arrange fishing excursions. Catch-and-release fishing is not practised (but undersize fish is released).

Åland has its own fishing law, where nearly all fishing requires permission from the owner of the waters, which you can get for many specific areas by paying a fee. Residents may fish by rod and hook in their home municipality except 15.4–15.6 and Nordic residents may fish for household use by any legal means in waters without an owner (far enough from inhabited islands).

The Forestry Administration (Metsähallitus) maintains an online Excursion Map with trails and huts marked.

Music

See also: Nordic music

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

  • Sauna Open Air. Heavy metal, Tampere, early June
  • Provinssirock. Rock, Seinäjoki, mid-June
  • 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
  • Tangomarkkinat. Tango, Seinäjoki, early July
  • 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
  • Qstock. Rock, pop, rap, Oulu, end of july

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.

There are also many festivals of classical music, most of them in summer. At these festivals people gather just for individual concerts.

Other events

  • Finncon, Helsinki, TurkuTampere or Jyväskylä. Finland's biggest sci-fi convention and the only major sci-fi convention in the world to be completely free of charge. Held on a weekend in summer, usually in middle July. Free of charge.

Northern Lights

Spotting the eerie Northern Lights (aurora borealis, or revontulet in Finnish) glowing in the sky is on the agenda of many visitors. Far north Lapland in Finland is one of the best places to observe aurorae, as it has good accessibility, high-quality accommodation and inland Finland has relatively clear skies, compared e.g. to coastal Norway. However, seeing them requires some planning and some luck. In summer it is light also in the night, so the aurora often become invisible, and even in the north they do not occur every night. To have a good chance to see them you should stay at least a few days, preferably a week or more, in the far north in the right season.

In the south northern lights are seldom seen. In e.g. Helsinki there are northern lights about once a month, but the areas where you are likely to be have too much light pollution. In northern Lapland, on the other hand, the probability of some northern lights is 50–70 % every night with clear skies, and light pollution is quite easy to avoid there.

Sauna

The sauna is perhaps Finland's most significant contribution to the world (and the world's vocabulary). The sauna is essentially a room heated to 70–120°C; according to an oft-quoted statistic this nation of 5 million has no less than 2 million saunas, in apartments, offices, summer cottages and even Parliament (many agreements in business and politics are reached informally after a sauna bath). In ancient times, saunas (being the cleanest places around) were the place to give birth and heal the sick, and the first building constructed when setting up a new household. The old Finnish saying; "If it is not cured by sauna, tar and liquor, then it is for life" maybe crystallizes the Finnish honor for the holy room.

If invited to visit a Finnish home, you may be invited to bathe in the sauna as well — this is an honor and should be treated as such, although Finns do understand that foreigners may not be keen about the idea. Enter the sauna nude after taking a shower, as wearing a bathing suit or any other clothing is considered a bit of a faux pas, although if you are feeling shy, you can wrap yourself in a bath towel. Unlike in some other cultures, there is not much erotic involved in Finnish Sauna for Finns, even when they bath unisex, it is purely for cleaning and refreshing, or for discussions about e.g. life or politics. Public saunas in swimming halls and spas are generally segregated by gender. There may be a separate mixed sauna with exits to both men's and women's showers, useful for e.g. couples or families; entry to the wrong side is to be avoided. In places with a single sauna, there are usually separate shifts for men and women, and possibly a mixed-gender shift. Children under the age of 7 can usually participate in any shift. In private saunas the host usually organizes the bathing turns along similar lines.

After you've had your fill, you can cool off by heading outside, just to sit at the veranda, for a roll in the snow (in winter) or for a dip in the lake (any time of the year, beach sandals or the like can be practical in the winter) — and then head back in for another round. Repeat this a few times, then cork open a cold beer, roast a sausage over a fire, and enjoy total relaxation Finnish style.

These days the most common type of sauna features an electrically heated stove, which is easy to control and maintain. In the countryside you can still find wood-fired saunas, but purists prefer the (now very rare) traditional chimneyless smoke saunas (savusauna), where a large pile of stones is heated and the sauna then ventilated well before entering.

Anyone elderly or with a medical condition (especially high blood pressure) should consult their physician before using a sauna – although sauna bathing as a habit is good for the heart, you might need expert advice for your first visits.

Social dancing

If you like social dancing – foxtrot, tango, waltz, jive etc. – you should try the dance pavilions (Finnish: lavatanssit at a tanssilava), usually by a lake or in some other nice countryside setting. They have lost popularity since the 1950s, but do have a faithful audience. Similar dances are arranged in many rural community centres. In summertime there are dances at most dance pavilions at least weekly and often a dance somewhere in the region most days. In the winter you can find part of the same crowd at heated indoor locations (mostly community centres, a few of the pavilions, some dance restaurants). See also Tangomarkkinat, the tango festival of Seinäjoki.

Buy

Money

Finland uses the euro. It is one of several European countries that uses this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender within all the countries.

One euro is divided into 100 cents.

The official symbol for the euro is €, and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.

  • Banknotes: Euro banknotes have the same design in all the countries.
  • Normal coins: All eurozone countries have coins issued with a distinctive national design on one side, and a standard common design on the other side. Coins can be used in any eurozone country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
  • Commemorative two euro coins: These differ from normal two euro coins only in their "national" side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country may produce a certain amount of them as part of their normal coin production and sometimes "Europe-wide" two euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. the anniversary of important treaties).
  • Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins of other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, and have entirely special designs and often contain non-negligible amounts of gold, silver or platinum. While they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector value is usually much higher and, as such, you will most likely not find them in actual circulation.

In cash transactions all sums are rounded to the nearest five cents. Thus one and two cent coins are seldom used (although legal tender) and the rare Finnish ones are collectors' items. However, when paying with a card, the payment is honoured to the cent.

Prices are usually given without explicitly stating the currency. Cents are told after a comma, which is the decimal separator. Thus 5,50 means five euros and fifty cents, while 5,– means five euros.

Banking

Getting or exchanging money is rarely a problem in cities, as ATMs are common and they can be operated with international credit and debit cards (Visa, Visa Electron, MasterCard, Maestro). In the countryside ATMs are harder to find. Cash can be got with some cards at some shops.

Currencies other than the euro are generally not accepted, although the Swedish krona may be accepted in Åland and northern border towns like Tornio (and Norwegian crowns likewise in the extreme north). As an exception, Stockmann accepts U.S. dollars, pound sterling, Swedish krona and Russian rubles. Also on the ferries from Sweden and Estonia many currencies may be accepted.

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. For open air markets, small accommodation businesses, for buying handicraft at the workshop and similar, have cash or check in advance.

Exchange bureaux can be found in the bigger cities and near borders and typically have better rates, longer opening hours and faster service than banks. Note that not all bank offices handle cash at all, and those that do may still not handle currency exchange.

Many Finns use a card nowadays, even for small purchases, and the use of cash is rapidly decreasing. Using foreign a card might become an issue if you are not using chip-based card. Many vendors require PIN. Don't get annoyed if Finns pay small 1-5 eur amounts using cards, even when there is a large queue behind.

Tipping

As a rule, tipping is never necessary in Finland and restaurant bills already include service charges; tipping is entirely optional and almost unheard of outside certain sectors. At restaurants tipping is fairly common. 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. Bar patrons may tip the bouncer when leaving for satisfactory service in the establishment in general. Consequently tips are most often pooled. Bars often have a brass tippikello (tip bell) near the counter. Upon receiving a tip, the service person strikes it with the largest denomination of coin given in the tip.

Tipping government and municipality personnel for any service will not be accepted, as it could be considered a bribe.

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 safer to assume double that amount. The cheapest hotels cost about €50 per night and more regular hotels start from about €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 or caravan, plus about €5/2 per person.

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. Children, by varying definitions, often pay about half price or less (small children free), except at children's attractions.

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 and handwoven ryijy rugs. For any Lappish handicrafts, look for the "Sámi Duodji" label that certifies it as authentic. Popular foods to try or to bring home to astonish your friends include every conceivable part of a reindeer, lye-soaked lutefisk (lipeäkala), and pine tar (terva) syrup. If you can't bring yourself to try terva on your pancakes, then you can also get soap scented with it in nearly any grocery or drug store. There are also candies with tar flavor, the most common being the Leijona Lakritsi candies.

Popular brands for modern (or timeless) Finnish design include Marimekko clothing, Iittala glass, Arabia ceramics, Kalevala Koru jewelry, Pentik interior design and, if you don't mind the shipping costs, Artek furniture by renowned architect and designer Alvar Aalto. Kids and not a few adults love Moomin characters, which fill up souvenir store shelves, 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. Small grocery stores in cities often have longer hours. 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. The regulation of opening hours were abandoned 2016, with longer times in big stores the first reaction, but the lasting effects are not yet clear.

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). Regardless of the opening hours of the shop, sale of alcohol is always restricted to 9 AM to 9 PM.

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. 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 of buying an overpriced product that has already been discontinued by the manufacturer or replaced with a newer model.

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 rare for physically small items), the buyer is notified and can pick it up from customs or it is routed to the closest post office after clearing. VAT and possibly import duty, when over certain value, and a clearing fee may be charged, bring a copy of the order that is then signed by the buyer and archived.

Eat

See also: Nordic cuisine

Finnish cuisine is heavily influenced by its neighbors (see Nordic cuisine and Russian cuisine), 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.

Finnish taste is rather mild, and the spices are used sparingly. The traditional culinary experience included more fat and butter than what today is recommended, and was noticeably more down-to-earth, though certainly as delicious as today's food. Contemporary Finnish cuisine includes tastes and influences from all over the world. As the ingredients make much of the food, in Finland, the agricultural products might suffer of the cold climate. Yet the fish, while small in size and rare in occurrence, are tasty. Salmon in shops and on markets in Finland is often imported from Norway. When traveling in the middle of the Finland, there is a rare occasion to purchase freshly caught and prepared fish from one of the thousand lakes. Perhaps one of the most famous and tasty dishes is the "Kalakukko", a tasty and awesome combination of fish, meat and bread.

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 coal roasted (hiilisilakka), 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 rolled in a mix of breadcrumb flour and salt and fried in butter till crunchy. They are traditionally served with mashed potatoes and you will find them sold at most music festivals.

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

Around October each year, in HelsinkiTurku and possibly some other cities on the coastline, you will find a traditional Herring Fair. That is something awesome to try out, the fish is tasty and many people gather around.

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 North. In addition to poronkäristys also reindeer jerky (ilmakuivattu poro) is a known delicacy and hard to come by and slightly smoked reindeer beef cutlets are available at all supermarkets though they too are expensive (delicious with rye bread)
  • 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.

Large quantities of cheese (juusto) are consumed, much of it locally produced mild to medium matured. Imported cheeses are freely available and local farm cheeses can be sampled and purchased at open air markets (tori) and year round market halls. A flat fried bread-cheese (leipäjuusto) can be eaten cold with (cloud berry) jam, in a salad or reheated with meals, a baked egg cheese (munajuusto) block is a common food ingredient made with milk, buttermilk and egg. The most common varieties are mild hard cheeses like Edam and Emmental, but local specialities include:

  • Aura cheese (aurajuusto), a local variety of Roquefort 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

Fermented dairy products help stabilize the digestion system, so if your system is upset, give them a try (those without jam or those labelled AB are probably best for this use).

  • Piimä, a type of buttermilk beverage, thick and sour and contains naturally healthy lactic acid bacteria.
  • Viili, a type of curd, acts like super-stretchy liquid bubble gum but is similar to plain yoghurt in taste. It is traditionally eaten with cinnamon and sugar on top.

Yoghurt, often premixed with jam, is commonly eaten. Skyr, a cultured milk product originally from Iceland, has become a popular yogurt substitute. Flavoured Kefir as a cultured dairy drink is becoming more common and available in larger supermarkets. Soya, almond, hazelnut, rice and coconut milk drinks are to be found in larger supermarkets, sometimes flavoured, usually in long life packaging next to the dairy fridges. Cream and (sweetened) condensed milk is also available.

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 (ruisleipä, rågbröd) is the most popular bread in Finland. It can be up to 100% rye and usually it is sourdough bread, which is much darker, heavier and chewier than American-style mixed wheat-rye bread. Unlike in Swedish tradition, many Finnish types of rye bread are unsweetened and thus sour and even bitter. The sweet varieties are usually sweetened with malt (sometimes also with treacle).

Typically Finnish breads include:

  • reikäleipä, round flat rye bread with a hole, western Finland, the hole was for drying it on sticks by the ceiling
  • ruispala, the most popular type of bread, a modern unholed, single-serving, pre-cut variant of reikäleipä in a rectangular or oblong shape
  • hapankorppu, dry, crispy and slightly sour flatbread, occasionally sold overseas as "Finncrisp"
  • näkkileipä, dried, crispy flatbread, traditionally from rye
  • ruislimppu, traditionally rye, water and salt only (limppu is a catch-all term for big loaves of fresh bread)
  • perunalimppu, rye bread with potato and malt, quite sweet
  • svartbröd (saaristolaisleipä or Maalahden limppu), sweet and heavy black bread from the south-western archipelago (especially Åland), made in a complicated process; originally less sweet, for long fishing and hunting expeditions and for seafarers, excellent as a base for eating roe with smetana
  • piimälimppu, wheat bread with buttermilk, usually sweetened
  • rieska, unleavened bread made from wheat or potatoes, like a softer and thicker variant of a tortilla, eaten fresh

Seasonal specialities

Around Easter keep an eye out for mämmi, a type of brown sweet rye pudding. It looks famously unpleasant but actually tastes quite good (best eaten with creamy milk and sugar). At bigger supermarkets you can buy frozen pool mämmi nowadays around the year. One sweet speciality for the May day is tippaleipä, a palm sized funnel cake traditionally enjoyed with mead. At the Midsummer celebration in late June it is common to serve the first potatoes of that years' harvest with herring. 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.

Regional specialities

There are also regional specialities, including Savonia's kalakukko which is small vendace or other fish wrapped in bacon and enclosed in rye bread dough and baked for long time so the fish bones soften to become actually quite pleasant in texture and Tampere's fast food black sausage (mustamakkara) which is basically blood, fat and soaked barley kernels made into a sausage and is best with lingonberry jam if you can handle blood foods. When in Lappeenranta the local fast food to try is vetyatomi (hydrogen atom) a pie with meat and rice content and fillings (ham and fried egg) available at grillikioski, not only in Lappeenranta since it is very good if you want to eat local flavour fast food.

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 (big ones are called munkki but the small ones are called donitsi). 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 a meal it's common to chomp chewing gum (purukumi) including xylitol, which is good for dental health. Jenkki is a popular domestic chewing gum brand with xylitol (many flavours available).

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. Finns are used to eating a substantial breakfast and lunch, so the dinner doesn't need to be very heavy, and can be two- or single-course. Dinner is served rather early, sometimes as early as 4 p.m., but usually at 5 or 6 p.m.

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. Take note that egg (kananmuna or muna) is found in many prepared foods, ready meals and baked goods, so vegan meals are not common outside selected restaurants but the selection of raw ingredients, speciality grains and health foods is adequate for preparing your own. Likewise gelatine (liivate) in yoghurt, jellies and sweets is common. Both will always be indicated on labels.

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 runs a small kosher deli in Helsinki.

A range of ingredients that have more common allergies and dietary restrictions associated with them may be printed in bold text in the list of ingredients (ainekset or ainesosat) on all packaged goods, at restaurants and markets you will have to ask.

Drink

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 there is also 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. Juice from many berries is to be mixed with water, also when not bought as concentrate; sugar is often already added. Note the difference between mehu and mehujuoma, where the latter may have only traces of the nominal ingredient.

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, 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.

Finnish coffee, however, is prepared usually using filters ("sumppi"), producing rather mild substance. Finding a strong high pressure espresso might be an issue somewhere, but tasting the smooth flavor of mocca blend is something to try about. Discussing the preparation mechanics of coffee with Finns is not such a bad idea, generally they are open for new ideas and tastes. The more traditional option for the filtered coffee in Finland is the Eastern style "mud coffee". In that preparation the grounded coffee beans are boiled in a large pot. Before serving, the grounded coffee is let to calm down, before serving the smooth flavored coffee on the top. Today, one rarely finds this kind of "pannukahvi" in public cafés, however when visiting private homes or summer cottages, it is worth of trying. You can even purchase special grounded coffee in most of the supermarkets for that purpose (it is not that fine-grounded like normal filter coffee let alone like espresso). It is specially tasty with cream, rather than milk.

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.

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 (9 AM to 9 PM), the state monopoly Alko 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 (nowadays all looking to be under 30). 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.

Despite the unusually high cost of booze, Finnish people are well known of their tolerance and culture around celebration. Do not hesitate to join the Finnish parties, which usually are not very dry. While Finnish people tend to stick to individual bills in the bar, when you get with them into the summer cottage, things usually turn other way around and everyone enjoys together what there is on the table.

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 with 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 ("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 flavoured 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 ("tentacle"), a pre-bottled 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/litre it also allows to skip dinner, leaving more time for drinking.

During the winter, do not 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.

Home-made spirits (pontikka): 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. 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 flavoured with juniper berries (an acquired taste).

Sleep

Accommodation in Finland is expensive, with typical hotel rooms about €100/night or more. Many large hotels are cheaper during the weekends and in summer. In addition to the usual international suspects, check out local chains Cumulus, Scandic, Finlandia and Sokos. The small but fast-growing Omena chain offers often cheap self-service hotels, where you book online and get a keycode for your room, with no check-in of any kind needed. What is remarkable is the absence of foreign hotel chains outside of the capital, you only rarely find global hotel brands, but most of the hotels are run either by locals or by some local brand. So do not expect to accumulate your points when staying in the rural areas.

When searching for budget options – and outside cities – check whether breakfast and linen are included, they are in regular hotels, but not in many budget options. Extras, such as sauna and Internet use, are sometimes included also in cheap prices.

One of the few ways to not spend too much is to stay in youth hostels (retkeilymaja), as the Finnish Youth Hostel Association has a fairly comprehensive network throughout the country and a dorm bed usually costs less than €20 per night. Many hostels also have private rooms for as little as €30, which are a great deal if you want a little extra privacy.

For a taste of the Finnish countryside, an excellent option is to stay at a cottage (mökki), thousands of which dot the lake shores. These are generally best in summer (and many are closed in winter), but there are also many cottages around Lapland's ski resorts. Prices vary widely based on facilities, location and season: simple cottages can go for as little as €20/night, although €40–80 is more typical, there are expensive big or luxurious ones, and the price at a winter resort may more than double when schools have vacations. Not all cottages are available for a single night. Beware that, while all but the most basic ones will have electricity, it is very common for cottages to lack running water: instead, the cottage will have an outhouse (pit toilet) and you are expected to bathe in a shared shower/sauna (which you might have to book in advance) or even in the sauna and lake. Renting a car or bike is often necessary since there might be no facilities (shops, restaurants, etc.) within walking distance, and few buses. Decide whether you want to get a cottage far from people, at a "cottage village" or some compromise. The largest cottage rental services are Lomarengas and Nettimökki, both of which have English interfaces.

There are also campsites all around the country. Typical prices are €10–20 per tent or caravan + €4–6/€2 per person, although there are more expensive locations. A discount card may be worthwhile. Night temperatures are seldom an issue in season (typically 5–15°C, although freezing temperatures are possible also in midsummer, at least in Lapland). Most campsites are closed off season, unless they have cottages adequate for winter use.

An even cheaper option is to take advantage of Finland's right to access, or Every Man's Right (jokamiehenoikeus), which allows wild camping, hiking, and berry and mushroom picking as well as simple (rod and hook) fishing on uncultivated land outside built-up areas or yards. Since this is occasionally misinterpreted by visiting foreigners, it may be a good idea to discuss travel plans with a local – or simply ask at the nearest house – to avoid embarrassing situations. Note that making a fire requires landowner's permission.

Virtually every lodging in Finland includes a sauna (see below) for guests — don't miss it! Check operating hours though, as they're often only heated in the evenings and there may be separate shifts of men and women. Saunas at cottages are often heated with wood, you should probably ask for instructions.

Learn

Finland's universities are generally well-regarded and offer many exchange programs, but the high cost of living and the prospect of facing the long, cold Finnish winter mean that the country is not a particularly popular choice. There are no tuition fees for regular degree students, including international exchange students, but tuition fees will be introduced in autumn 2017 for new non-EU/EEA students studying in English (a system with scholarships will be set up). While lectures are usually conducted in Finnish (or Swedish, as in Åbo Akademi), most advanced text books are in English. It is often possible to complete all courses through assignments and exams in English. There are also advanced courses and even whole programs in English, targeted at exchange students. Many universities also offer the option to study Finnish (or Swedish) at various levels.

The Finnish higher education system follows the German model, which means there are two kinds of universities: academic (yliopisto/universitet) and vocational (ammattikorkeakoulu/yrkeshögskola, abbreviated AMK in Finnish). Yliopisto students are expected to graduate with a Master's degree. The Bachelor's degree is mainly meant as an intermediate step for Finnish speakers and isn't very useful for much else. This is changing somewhat with the Bologna process, which in theory makes Bachelor degrees usable for Masters studies across EU. For foreigners, there are some Master's programmes in English. AMK students are expected to graduate as Bachelors. Although entrance requirements are lower, this degree is meant for entering the workforce and does not directly qualify for academic master's programs; if accepted, about a year's worth of additional bridging studies are needed.

A reasonable monthly budget excluding rent would be €600 to €900. Rents vary depending on location such that in Greater Helsinki and particularly Helsinki proper prices may be two times that of cheaper locations or student housing. Many exchange programs fully or partly subsidize accommodation in student dorms. However, the state does not provide student accommodation and dorms are usually owned by student unions and foundations, which usually have waiting lists. Getting the apartment is the responsibility of student. Student union membership at around €70–100/year is obligatory (for undergraduate studies), but this includes access to student health services.

EU citizens can simply enter the country and register as a student after arrival (if accepted to some programme), while students from elsewhere will need to arrange their residence permit beforehand. CIMO (Centre for International Mobility) administers exchange programs and can arrange scholarships and traineeships in Finland, while the Finnish National Board of Education offers basic information about study opportunities.

Work

Finnish unionization rate is high (70%), salaries are reasonably good even for simple jobs and employment laws are strict, but on the flipside, actually getting a job can be difficult. There is little informal work to be found and most jobs require at least a remedial level of Finnish and Swedish. Citizens of European Union countries can work freely in Finland, but acquiring a work permit from outside the EU means doing battle with the infamous Directorate of Immigration (Ulkomaalaisvirasto). However, students permitted to study full-time in Finland are allowed work part-time (up to 25 h/week, as long as they are able to succeed in their studies) or even full-time during holiday periods.

Finland is known for the low intake of immigrants, compared to neighboring countries. That being said, the young generation is more than happy to invite businesses and workers around the globe to settle down. Still Finland is sparsely populated area, and there is much opportunities around. Don't be pushed down if the authorities seem suspicious, that is part of the Finnish culture. However, when you sit down with them and discuss things straight and up front, most of the businesses are able to settle down and work permits might be granted.

For jobs, you might want to check out the Ministry of Labour. Most of the posted jobs are described in Finnish so you may need some help in translation, but some jobs are in English. Publicly posted positions are usually highly competitive, and usually require both a degree or a professional qualification and specific work experience. Thus, informal channels or assistance from an experienced local are valuable.

A rapidly growing trend in Finland, especially for the younger generation, is to work for placement agencies. Although there has been a massive surge of public companies going private in the last ten years, this trend seems to be fueled by the increased demand for more flexible work schedules as well as the freedom to work seasonally or sporadically. Due to the nature of these types of agencies as well as the types of work they provide, it is common for them to hire non-Finns. Some agencies include Adecco, Staff Point, Manpower, Aaltovoima and Biisoni.

For summer jobs, such as trainee positions for university students, the search begins very early, around January, and application periods end in late March. Last-minute positions opening in May are very few and quickly taken.

For Nordic youth (18–28/30) – or other EU/EEA citizens who know Swedish, Norwegian or Danish – there is the Nordjobb. Focusing on summer jobs as cultural exchange, it now offers also some other positions.

If you are invited to a job interview, remember that modesty is a virtue in Finland. Finns appreciate facts and directness, so stay on topic and be truthful. Exaggeration and bragging is usually associated with lying. You can check expected salaries with the union for your field, as they usually have defined minimum wages. Salaries range from €1,200 to €6,500 per month (2010) for full-time jobs.

One category of informal work is berry picking, either on a farm or picking wild berries. To get such a job you mostly have to convince the employer you are going to work hard, harder than most Finns are willing to. Picking wild berries and selling them is exempted from tax and you are free to do the business yourself (like the locals), but you would probably do so only if wanting a fun way to get pocket money. If coming for the income you will have somebody arrange everything (including accommodation and transport) and you will be independent only formally (taking the economic risk: no wage, just somebody buying the berries; you might be able to prove a de facto employment, but only with a good lawyer). Working on a farm you will be formally employed: still low-paid piece work, but employment law applies.

You should always ask for a written employment contract. It is not necessary, but no serious employer should object to giving you one; as somebody less acquainted to the Finnish job market you are more likely to get in contact with those not playing by the rules. Cash payment is usually not possible, so you will need a Finnish bank account. Unfortunately the willingness of different banks to issue them to foreigners varies. You may also need a Finnish social security number (henkilötunnus) from the local maistraatti (register office); see the register office website for information. For construction sites, a tax number is needed; see Tax Administration's FAQ on tax numbers .

Stay safe

Crime

Finland enjoys a comparatively low crime rate and is, generally, a very safe place to travel. Parents often leave their sleeping babies in a baby carriage on the street while visiting a shop, and in the countryside cars and house doors are often left unlocked.

Use common sense at night, particularly on Friday and Saturday when the youth of Finland hit the streets to get drunk and in some unfortunate cases look for trouble.

Racism is generally a minor concern for tourists, especially in the cosmopolitan major cities, but some drunk people looking for trouble may be more likely to target foreign looking people. Avoiding arguments with drunk gangs may be more important if you fit that description. Immigration to Finland was quite limited before the 1990s and not everybody has got used to the globalisation.

Pickpockets used to be rare, but nowadays the situation has changed, especially in the busy tourist months in the summer, when organized pickpockets arrive from Eastern Europe. In restaurants, do not ever leave your phone, laptop, tablet, keys or wallet unattended. There have been some cases in Helsinki where thieves have been targeting breakfast buffets in hotels, where people often leave valuables unguarded for a few minutes. Regardless of that, most Finns carry their wallets in their pockets or purses and feel quite safe while doing it.

Bicycle thieves are everywhere, never leave your bike unlocked even for a minute.

Should something happen, don't hesitate to get in contact with the police. Finnish police is comparable to the police force elsewhere in western Europe — respected by the public, respectful and not corrupt.

In the case a police officer actually approaches you, staying calm and polite will help keep the situation on the level of discussion. They have the right to check your identity and your right to stay in the country. They might ask strange questions like where are you coming from, where are you heading next, where you stay or whether you have seen, met or know somebody. If you feel that some question could compromise your privacy, feel free to politely say so. Finnish police have wide powers for arrest and search, but they are unlikely to abuse them. If the situation deteriorates, however, they will probably take you in custody, with force if needed.

Whatever happens, remember that Finland is one of the world's least corrupt countries. Suggestion of bribes will be met by astonishment or worse. If you get fined, payment on the spot is never expected or even possible. A "police" asking for money would be a dead giveaway that they aren't real police. Ask the police officer to show his badge, here is an example of a genuine badge. In addition to the police proper, the border guard and customs officials have police powers; the border guard acts on behalf of the police in some sparsely populated border areas.

Customs and the police are strict on drugs, including cannabis. Sniffer dogs are used in ports and airports and a positive marking will always result in a full search. Cannabis use is not generally tolerated among the population.

Although in the recent news coverage, there have been articles about various civil groups patrolling the streets, this phenomenon is rather marginal. Other than the police, no street patrols have any official powers, and the police will not tolerate any attempt to assume any powers. On the other hand, there are no street gangs or paramilitary either.

Prostitution is not illegal. However, pimping is, and using the services of a prostitute who is a victim of human trafficking is illegal.

Nature

There are few serious health risks in Finland. Your primary enemy will be the cold, especially in wintertime and at sea.

Finland is a sparsely populated country and, if heading out into the wilderness, it is imperative that you register your travel plans with somebody who can inform rescue services if you fail to return. Always keep your mobile phone with you if you run into trouble. Dress warmly in layers and bring along a good pair of sunglasses to prevent snow blindness, especially in the spring and if you plan to spend whole days outdoors. Always keep a map, a compass and preferably a GPS with you while trekking in the wilderness. Take extra precautions in Lapland, where it can be several days' hike to the nearest house or road. Weather can change rapidly, and even though the sun is shining now, you can have a medium sized blizzard on your hands (no joke!) an hour or two later. Although weather forecast generally are of good quality, there are circumstances where the weather is hard to predict, especially in regions with fells or islands. Also remember that many forecasts only cite day temperatures, while it often is 10–15°C (20–30°F) colder in the night and early morning.

If out on the lakes and sea, remember that wind and water will cool you faster than cold air, and keeping dry means keeping warm. A person that falls into water close to freezing has to be saved quickly, and even in summer water will cool you pretty soon. Safety in small boats: Don't drink alcohol, wear a life vest at all times, if your boat capsizes – keep clothes on to stay warm and cling to the boat (small boats are made to be unsinkable).

Given the size of the Finnish population, a surprisingly high number of people drown in the lakes every year in summer. As pointed out by an annual public awareness campaign (partly Finnish black humour, partly the truth), the stereotypical accident involves an intoxicated amateur fisherman who capsizes his boat while standing up to pee. Other risks include trying too long a distance across the water or hitting an under-water rock or submerged log.

In winter, lakes and the sea are frozen. Walking, skating or even driving a car on the ice is commonly seen, but fatal accidents aren't unheard of either, so ask and heed local advice. If the ice fails, it is difficult to get back out of the water, as the ice will be slippery. Ice picks are sold as safety equipment (a pair of steel needles with bright plastic grips, connected with a safety line). Stay calm, shout for help, break the ice in the direction you came from, get up, creep away and get indoors with no delay. Help from somebody with a rope, a long stick or any similar improvized aid might be needed (no use having both of you in the water).

The only poisonous insects in Finland are wasps (ampiainen), bees (mehiläinen) and bumblebees (kimalainen). Their stings can be painful, but are not dangerous, unless you receive many stings or a sting by the trachea (do not lure a wasp onto your sandwich!) or if you are extremely allergic to it.

There is only one type of poisonous snake in Finland, the European adder (Finnish: kyy or kyykäärme), which has a distinct zig-zag type of figure on its back, although some of them are almost completely black. The snake occurs across Finland all the way from the south to up north in Lapland. Although their bites are very rarely fatal (except for small children and allergic persons), one should be careful in the summertime, especially when walking in the forests or on open fields at the countryside. Walk so that you make the ground vibrate and snakes usually go away; they attack people only when somebody frightens them. If you are bitten by a snake, always get medical assistance. If you are planning to travel in the nature in summertime, it's advisable to buy a kyypakkaus ("Adder pack", a medicine set which contains a couple of hydrocortisone pills). It can be bought from any Finnish pharmacy. It is used to reduce the reactions after an adder bite somewhat, but you should see a doctor with no delay anyhow. The kyypakkaus can also be used to relieve the pain, swelling and other allergic reactions caused by bee stings. If you see an ant nest, ants have quite likely taken care of all snakes nearby.

As for other dangerous wildlife, although brown bears (karhu), wolves (susi) and some other big carnivores occur across Finland, these are listed as endangered species and usually avoid humans whenever possible. You are lucky if you see one. Talking with your company while in the forest should be enough to avoid getting between a bear and her cubs. If you do see a bear, back off calmly. Contrary to popular belief abroad, there are no polar bears in Finland, let alone polar bears walking on the city streets.

In case of emergency

112 is the national phone number for all emergency services, including police, and it does not require an area code, regardless of what kind of phone you're using. The number works on any mobile phone, whether it is keylocked or not, and with or without a SIM card. If a cellphone challenges you with a PIN code, you can simply type in 112 as a PIN code – most phones will give a choice to call the number (or call without asking).

For inquiries about poisons or toxins (from mushrooms, plants, medicine or other chemicals) call the national Toxin Information Office at (09) 471 977.

The time for help to arrive can be quite long in sparsely populated areas (around an hour, more in extreme areas), so it makes sense to have basic first-aid supplies at hand when visiting cottages or the wilderness. Finns often have an "adder kit" (kyypakkaus, 50 mg hydrocortisone) at their cottages, although this is not enough by itself except for bee or wasp stings: with an adder bite, one should also call 112 immediately.

Stay healthy

You're unlikely to have tummy troubles in Finland, since tap water is always drinkable (and generally quite tasty as well), and hygiene standards in restaurants are strict. If you have any sort of allergies, many restaurants often display in the menu the most common ingredients that people typically are allergic to. Examples: (L) = Lactose free, (VL) = Low Lactose, (G) = Gluten free, if you are unsure just ask the waitress or restaurant staff.

Medication is available in pharmacies only, not in ordinary shops (other than by special arrangements in many remote areas). Any non-trivial medication requires a prescription (stricter criteria than in many other countries).

Finland hosts a number of irritating insects, but if you are planning to stay in the centres of major cities, you are unlikely to encounter them. A serious nuisance in summer are mosquitoes (hyttynen), hordes of which inhabit Finland (particularly Lapland) in summer, especially after rains. While they carry no malaria or other nasty diseases, many species of Finnish mosquitoes make a distinctive (and highly irritating) whining sound while tracking their prey, and their bites are very itchy. As usual, mosquitoes are most active around dawn and sunset – which, in the land of the Midnight Sun, may mean most of the night in summer. There are many different types of mosquito repellents available which can be bought from almost any shop. Another summer nuisance are gadflies (paarma, common where there is cattle), whose bites can leave a mark lasting for days, even for a month. A more recent introduction to Finnish summers are deer keds (hirvikärpänen), that can be particularly unpleasant if they manage to shed their wings and burrow into hair (although they rarely bite and humans are not their intended targets; they are mainly encountered in forests). Use repellent, ensure your tent has good mosquito netting and consider prophylaxis with cetirizine (brand names include Zyrtec, Heinix, Cetirizin Ratiopharm), an anti-allergen that (if taken in advance!) will neutralize your reaction to any bites. Topical anti-allergens in the form of gels and creams are also available as over-the-counter medication. A flea comb can be useful for removing deer keds.

In southern Finland, especially Åland, the Lappeenranta-Parikkala-Imatra-axis and areas near Turku's coast, there are ticks (punkki) which appear on summertime and can transmit Lyme's disease (borreliosis) and viral encephalitis (TBE) through a bite. Although these incidents are relatively rare and not all ticks carry the disease, it's advisable to wear trousers rather than shorts if you plan to walk through dense and/or tall grass areas (the usual habitat for ticks). You can buy special tick tweezers from the pharmacy (punkkipihdit) which can be used to remove a tick safely if you happen to get bitten. You should remove the tick from your skin as soon as possible and preferably without squeezing it, to reduce the risks of getting an infection. If the tick bite starts to form red rings on the skin around it or if you experience other symptoms relating to the bite, you should visit a doctor as soon as possible.

Finnish healthcare is mostly public, in particular intensive care, advanced and emergency healthcare, provided by municipal, central or university hospitals. Types most relevant to travellers are terveyskeskus, municipal mainly outpatient clinic, (keskus)sairaala, (central) hospital with surgery, and yliopistollinen keskussairaala, university hospital. EU/EEA and Swiss citizens can access emergency and health services with their European Health Insurance Card, which means nominal fees for public healthcare in most cases (seeing a doctor usually €15–30, minors free, day surgery €100; some related costs can be reimbursed). Other foreigners are also given urgently needed treatment, but may have to pay all costs. Students have basic health care arranged by the student unions included in their student union membership. There are also private clinics (lääkäriasema or lääkärikeskus), which often can schedule an appointment with less queuing, with more substantial fees (residents usually get reimbursements). If you are not an EU/EEA resident the difference in price may be less significant, check with your insurance company. The clinics may however have to refer the patient to a public hospital anyway, if advanced services are needed.

Respect

Finns generally have a relaxed attitude towards manners and dressing up, and a visitor is unlikely to offend them by accident. Common sense is quite enough in most situations, but there are a couple of things that one should keep in mind:

Finns are a famously taciturn people who have little time for small talk or social niceties, so don't expect to hear phrases like "thank you" or "you're welcome" too often. The Finnish language lacks a specific word for "please" so Finns sometimes forget to use it when speaking English, with no intention to be rude. Also lacking in Finnish is the distinction between "he" and "she", which may lead to confusing errors. Loud speaking and loud laughing is not normal in Finland and may irritate some Finns. Occasional silence is considered a part of the conversation, not a sign of hostility or irritation. Notice that although the phrase mitä kuuluu translates to "how are you", it has a literal meaning in Finnish, i.e. a longer discussion is expected; it is not a part of the greeting as in English.

All that said, Finns are generally helpful and polite, and glad to help confused tourists if asked. The lack of niceties has more to do with the fact that in Finnish culture, honesty is highly regarded; one should open one's mouth only to mean what one is about to say. Do not say "maybe later" when there is no later time to be expected. A visitor is unlikely to receive many compliments from Finns, but can be fairly sure that the compliments received are genuine.

Another highly regarded virtue in Finland is punctuality. A visitor should apologize even for being a few minutes late. Being late for longer usually requires a short explanation. Ten minutes is usually considered the threshold between being "acceptably" late and very late. Some will leave arranged meeting points after fifteen minutes. With the advent of mobile phones, sending a text message even if you are only a few minutes late is nowadays a norm. Being late for a business meeting, even by one or two minutes, is considered rude.

The standard greeting is a handshake. Hugs are only exchanged between family members and close friends in some situations, kisses, even on the cheek, practically never. Touching is generally restricted to family members. The distance between strangers is ca. 1.2 m and between friends ca. 70 cm.

If you are invited to a Finnish home, the only bad mistake visitors can make is not to remove their shoes. For much of the year, shoes will carry a lot of snow or mud. Therefore, it is customary to remove them, even during the summer. During the wet season you can ask to put your shoes somewhere to dry during your stay. Very formal occasions at private homes, such as baptisms (often conducted at home in Finland) or somebody's 50th birthday party, are exceptions to these rules. In the wintertime, this sometimes means that the guests bring separate clean shoes and put them on while leaving outdoor shoes in the hall. Bringing gifts such as pastry, wine, or flowers to the host is appreciated, but not required.

In Finland, there is little in the way of a dress code. The general attire is casual and even in business meetings the attire is somewhat more relaxed than in some other countries (although sport clothing in a business meeting is indeed bad form). Topless sunbathing is accepted but not very common on beaches in the summer, while going au naturel is common in lakeside saunas and the rare dedicated nudist beaches; at normal public beaches swimwear is expected for anybody over 6 years old.

Finns are highly egalitarian. Women participate in society, also in leading roles up to the Presidency. Equal respect is to be given to both genders, and there is little formal sex segregation. Social rank is not usually an important part of social code, thus a Dr. Spencer is usually referred to as simply "Spencer", rather than "tohtori Spencer" or "herra Spencer", without meaning any disrespect.

Connect

By mail

Finland's mail service, run by Posti, is fast, reliable and pricey. A postcard or normal letter to a domestic address costs €1.20/1.10 (express/economy; max 20g), to abroad €1.30/1.20. Åland has its own mail service, with stamps of its own. There are Poste restante services in the cities, but often a better option is to get the post to some trusted address, e.g. your accommodation.

By phone

As you'd expect from Nokia's home country, mobile phones are ubiquitous in Finland. GSM and WCDMA (3G) networks blanket all of the country, although it's still possible to find wilderness areas with poor signal, typically in Lapland and the outer archipelago. The largest operators are Sonera and Elisa, a Vodafone partner, but travellers who want a local number may wish to opt for DNA's Prepaid package, which can cost as little as €6. Ask at any convenience store for a list of prices and special offers.

Public telephones are close to extinction in Finland, although a few can still be found at airports, major train/bus stations and the like. It's best to bring along a phone or buy one – a simple GSM model can cost less than €40.

The area codes (one or more digits following the +358) are prefixed by 0 when used without the country code, i.e. +358 9 123 456 (a land line number in Helsinki) can be dialled as 09 123 456 (123 456 from local land lines), and is often written "(09) 123 456". Mobile phone numbers – as other numbers without true area codes – are written without the parenthesis: "0400 123 456" for +358 400 123 456. Mobile phone numbers usually start with 04 or 05 as in the example.

Numbers starting with 0800 or 116 are toll free with domestic phones. Numbers starting with 0700 are possibly expensive entertainment services. There is no guarantee that any service number is reasonably priced (e.g. Eniro number and timetable information is 6€/min, with the price told in Finnish only), but prices should be indicated where the number is advertised ("pvm/mpm" stands for the price of a normal call). Queuing may or may not be free. Service numbers usually start with 010, 020, 030, 060, 070 or 075 (here including the area code prefix 0) or 10 (without 0). There are also service numbers prefixed with a true area code (such as usually for taxi). Many service numbers are unavailable from abroad.

The prefix for international calls (from local land lines) is 00, as in the rest of EU. Other prefixes may be available.

Telephone numbers can be enquired from e.g. the service numbers 0200 16100, 020202, 0100 100, 0300 3000 and 118, with hard to discover varying costs (often given per 10s instead of per minute), e.g. €1–2/call+€1–6/min with some combinations of operators, service and time of day. Having the service connect the call usually costs extra. For the moment (spring 2016) e.g. 0200 16100 costs €1.83/call+€2,5/min (€0.084/min during a connected call). Some services have a maximum cost of e.g. €24/call.

All of the main carriers offer good roaming services, so using your foreign SIM card should not be an issue. However the costs can be rather impressive. The European Union has agreed on the abolishing of roaming charges, and as that gets implemented calls to an EU number with an EU SIM should cost as in its country of origin.

By net

Internet cafés are sparse on the ground in this country where everybody logs on at home and in the office, but nearly every public library in the country has computers with free Internet access, although you will often have to register for a time slot in advance or queue, unless there is Wi-Fi and you are using your own device.

Wi-Fi hotspots are increasingly common: in cafés, public transport, marinas, what have you. University staff and students from institutions in the Eduroam cooperation have access to that net on most campuses and at some other locations.

Mobile phone networks are another option, either for your smartphone or for a 3G dongle for your laptop. The dongles themselves (mokkula) are usually sold as part of a 24 months' subscription, so check how to get one if using this option. There should be used ones to be bought on the net (tori.fi, huuto.net etc.), as they usually are unlocked.

LTE (4G) networks cover the capital region and major cities. 3G covers most of the country. The mobile phone operators all offer SIM cards for prepaid Internet access (some tailored for that, some for all-round smartphone use – but check surcharges for incoming calls): DNA, Elisa/Radiolinja and Sonera. You can buy them as soon as you arrive at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport at the vending machine by baggage claim, or at R-kioskis, post offices and mobile phone stores around Finland. Remember that you can use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot for other devices. Prices start from under €10, with about €20–30 for thirty days (one month or individual calendar days) of unlimited use.

Go next

  • Russia to the east. You will probably need a visa unless just visiting Vyborg or Saint Petersburg on a cruise, but even Moscow is just an overnight train away. There are tours and regular connections to some internationally less known destinations, such as Petrozavodsk (Finnish:Petroskoi).
  • Sweden, which Finland was part of for 650 years, reachable by an overnight (or day) cruise, or overland from Lapland.
  • Estonia, a couple of hours away from Helsinki.
  • Norway, more precisely the county of Finnmark, can be accessed overland from Lapland.

Riga is the capital of Latvia and one of my favourite cities in the Baltics, as I rediscovered when I was there earlier this year. Latvia’s the middle of the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, located in the north of Europe — below Finland and west of Russia.

While you check out the Latvia Instagram photos, take a listen to our Latvia podcast: hit play below or find episode 303 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Riga

Livu square in Riga's old town is full of colour, a great place to be on a sunny day.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 10, 2015 at 6:04am PDT

Another awesome building in Riga. This city is so pretty!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 11, 2015 at 1:01pm PDT

The Nativity of Christ Cathedral in Riga, Latvia, is the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Baltics. As we passed by, a christening was in progress, the baby in a long white lace gown.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 9, 2015 at 6:20am PDT

The style of buildings in Riga's old town is so ornate, I could look at it all day.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 10, 2015 at 11:15pm PDT

I've posted some close-up shots, now here's a view of Riga from above.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 11, 2015 at 8:34am PDT

I LOVE this spiral staircase, hidden away in Riga's old town.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 10, 2015 at 12:16pm PDT

On the water in Riga

A bit of blue sky and tranquil water in Riga, Latvia.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 18, 2015 at 1:12pm PDT

Riga has its tranquil spots!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 14, 2015 at 8:47am PDT

Riga is beautiful enough by day, but by night, and on the water, it's awesome.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 19, 2015 at 8:48am PDT

Night kayaking on the Daugava River in Riga, Latvia. It was an experience… We saw beavers!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 17, 2015 at 1:05am PDT

Rundale

This kid can't wait to get away from Rundāle Palace in Latvia… I wanted to stay!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 16, 2015 at 1:38am PDT

Rundale Palace in Latvia is really quite an impressive building.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 19, 2015 at 1:04pm PDT

Even the ceilings at Rundale Palace are impressive.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 20, 2015 at 8:24am PDT

We've gone from outside to inside Rundale Palace, this is a close up of one of the chandeliers.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 20, 2015 at 1:05pm PDT

Earlier today I posted a photo of a child running away from Rundale Palace in Latvia. These flowers are from the gardens there.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 16, 2015 at 11:12am PDT

Come join us on Instagram by searching for indietravel — we’re having heaps of fun!

Craig travelled through Latvia with Jay Way Travel as part of the #jaywaybaltics trip (see posts on Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, you name it). More details on our Baltics page.

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Kate Couch

Last month, I said that my one and only goal was to find an apartment in New York. So did I succeed?

YES! I GOT A PLACE. I saw five apartments in total and fell in love with the second one on sight. The entire process was difficult and nerve-wracking and I think I gained several gray hairs over the course of the process. But I’m so excited to move in this week!

The rest of the month was very quiet — one of the quietest months I’ve had in the past few years. I went on a photo-taking frenzy in Rockport a few days ago because I had almost zero photos to put into this monthly post!

Rockport

Destinations Visited

Reading, Lynn, Newburyport, and Rockport, Massachusetts, USA

New York, New York, USA

Favorite Destinations

New York today, New York tomorrow, New York forever.

Chipped Cup

Highlights

Finding the apartment! I thought apartment-hunting in Boston was difficult; in New York, it’s worse. Tenants in New York have a lot of rights, and for that reason, landlords are very strict in who they allow to live there.

While in Boston a landlord would verify that you have a job and check your credit score, New York landlords do a lot more. Most apartments require you to make an annual salary of 40 times the monthly rent. (That works out to one third of what you make.) And when you’re self-employed, it’s even more complicated and requires years of past tax returns and several bank statements.

But I did my research, searched hard, and it worked! I’m moving to Hamilton Heights, Harlem! A lot of my friends were shocked to hear this; in fact, I was dead set on moving to Brooklyn until recently!

I’ll be writing about my decision to choose Harlem over Brooklyn later on, as it’s a huge topic that deserves a full post. The main reason? My biggest priority was to live alone in a really nice apartment.

While I looked all over Brooklyn, Hamilton Heights has much better value for money. Most rentals here are newly renovated and in excellent condition. Transportation is outstanding. On top of that, rents are lower than most decent Brooklyn neighborhoods, even lower than cheaper neighborhoods like Bushwick, Crown Heights, and Bed-Stuy.

How good is the transit? My sister commutes about 100 blocks from Hamilton Heights to midtown and it literally takes her TWO STOPS on the subway. How crazy is that?!

I like Hamilton Heights a lot, and I’ve spent a lot of time here, as my sister has lived here for the past few years. It’s convenient to several subway lines, the architecture is beautiful, and there are lots of cool bars and restaurants. I’ve walked alone at night here quite often and I feel very safe here. It feels like a comfortable, lived-in neighborhood.

The moment I walked into my apartment, I knew it was the one. It just felt so warm. It’s a roomy one-bedroom apartment in a beautiful, well-maintained brownstone on a gorgeous block. It’s actually the entire second floor of the building (!!).

The living room is big enough for a dining table and a desk as well as a couch. The kitchen is separate and has more counter space than any other unit I saw. The bedroom is on the small side, but it fits a queen bed and has tons of storage shelving built in. There’s a long, gallery-style hallway leading to the bathroom.

Best of all…I have an in-unit washer/dryer. That is the HOLY GRAIL in New York City!

Location-wise, the apartment is within four blocks of all the subways (1, A, B, C, D), multiple grocery stores, my sister’s place, a coworking space, some great bars and restaurants, my favorite coffeeshop in the neighborhood, and more! Walk a few more blocks and you’ll hit multiple gyms and a yoga studio with $5 classes.

So you could say that I chose the neighborhood with my head and the apartment with my heart.

Kim, Kate and Caroline in NYC

While I was too busy waiting to hear from brokers to hit up the New York Times Travel Show, I did make it to one of the post-show parties and got to hang out with lots of my blogger buddies! I always relish every chance to see my friends and it’s been a while since I’ve been at a big blogger event.

Oh, and while apartment-hunting, an adorable little man, the super of one building, asked me if I was a Columbia student. I patted his shoulder. “Sir, you flatter me. I’m neither that young nor that smart!”

Furnishing and decorating! OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS, THIS IS SO MUCH FUN. I’ve always loved art and design and I’m so happy that I finally get to design a place for myself!

You know, I actually never really furnished my post-college apartments in Somerville and Boston. I hung up my diploma — that was it. I knew from the beginning that my dream was to travel the world, and I couldn’t justify spending on money on something I’d be putting into storage before long.

Now, it’s finally time.

Kate, Lisa and Alexa in Rockport

My friends sent me off in style. Lisa and Alexa insisted on giving me a special going-away-day from Massachusetts, and we spent it day-tripping to Rockport, a little seaside town on the North Shore.

Rockport used to be a tiny fishing village; today, it’s popular with artists. It was actually the filming location for the Alaska scenes in the movie The Proposal. The only issue? Most of Rockport shuts down in the winter months! Definitely go in the summer.

We finished at home with a bottle of champagne and an HGTV marathon. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.

Rockport Bearskin Neck

Challenges

You don’t want to know how much money I spent this month. Moving is expensive, New York is expensive, furnishing a place from scratch is expensive…

Also, I’m growing my eyebrows out. I used to have much thicker, darker brows when I was younger (even when I was in my early twenties) so I’m experimenting to see if I can grow them back. It’s not a great look so far — pretty much the only thing more awkward than growing out your bangs.

SNOW! COLD! It’s hard enough living in the suburbs without a car of your own. Add freezing cold weather and snow and it’s no surprise I became a virtual hermit this month.

Other than these little peccadilloes, it was an easy January, and for that I am grateful.

Rockport

Most Popular Post

How to Arrive in Bangkok — Wow, this post did well! I love writing in-depth posts for the cities I know best.

Oysters at the Grog

Other Posts

Kate’s Picks: Where to Go in 2016 Before It’s Too Late — Japan for the exchange rate, Nicaragua before the canal is built, and Jordan to expand your friends’ horizons.

Scenes from England’s Lake District — One of the most beautiful places I’ve been in the UK.

Quit Fucking Around and Build Yourself a Fuck-Off Fund — This post was HUGE! And a very important message.

The Ultimate Girls’ Getaway to Koh Lanta, Thailand — My favorite place in the world. My third trip was my favorite.

Make This The Year You Start Your Own Business — Literally the only way you can have job security.

Seven Quirky Travel Accessories For Your Future Home — Some of my favorite new finds from Airportag.

Rockport

News and Announcements

Not a lot of big news to report. January’s challenge was to find and furnish a place, something that I’ve achieved for the most part.

But for February? Hmm.

Then I got an idea. We’re in a leap year — why not do something with the number 29?

So I decided — 29 days, 29 friends! I want to spend time with 29 different friends over the course of the month. Not necessarily new friends (though meeting new friends would be AWESOME!) — I want this specific challenge to be about reconnecting with the friends I already have.

And to add to the list, I want five of those friends to be people I haven’t seen in at least five years. I have a few in mind already.

So if you’re in New York and we know each other, drop me a line! Let’s hang out soon.

Castlerigg Sunset

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

Everyone loves a glorious sunset. I’ll never forget this sunset at Castlerigg Stone Circle in the Lake District of England!

Rockport

What I Read This Month

I read a piece on XOJane that suggested completing an author in 2016. What a great idea — you read all the works by an author you love (or at least everything you can find!).

I had already planned on completing Junot Diaz this year, but I could easily do Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Elizabeth Gilbert, Toni Morrison, or Barbara Kingsolver. As much as I adore Lionel Shriver, her books take a lot out of me (in a good way) and they’re best spaced out over a long time.

But a suggestion for you? Steve Martin. Yes, that Steve Martin. His books are magnificent and very different from what you think they would be. My favorite is Born Standing Up; I also love Shopgirl, The Pleasure of My Company and An Object of Beauty.

Here’s what I read this month:

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs — This book is going to stay with me for a LONG time. Robert Peace grew up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Newark. He was brilliant and hardworking, earning a scholarship to Yale. After Yale, he traveled the world, then returned to selling drugs in his old neighborhood and was murdered.

How could this happen? How could this be prevented? I can’t stop thinking about these questions. What if he had had a mentor? What if he hadn’t been so loyal to his friends and family above all other things? This book was tremendously eye-opening when it comes to race and especially class in America, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates — This is one of the biggest books on race in America. Written as a series of letters to his son on what it means to be black in America today, Coates weaves through the history of his life from Baltimore to “The Mecca” (Howard University) to New York, Paris, and beyond.

This book was more of a challenge than I anticipated — it’s dense, it’s difficult, it’s beautiful and not a single word is wasted. As racial violence grips America, I’m trying to read more so that I understand more (not least because I’m moving to a historically black neighborhood). This book isn’t the easiest read, but I feel like it should be required reading for Americans, especially in an election year.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — This Kindle short is based off Adichie’s TED Talk on contemporary feminism in Nigeria and beyond. So it’s a quickie read — and I’m not sure if I’m being dishonest by including it in my book round-up here! It’s an argument for why feminism needs to be taken seriously and appreciated by all citizens of the world — but she delivers it in the most delightful, charming way. Definitely worth a read.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling — I like Mindy Kaling a lot and I really enjoyed her first memoir. Like the Fey/Poehler/Dratch memoirs, she has great things to say about working hard in a female where women struggle to be acknowledged (not to mention women of color). But I think Kaling’s biggest strengths are when she writes about feeling like an outsider and faking it until you make it.

Anyway, I’m hoping that if we meet, we’d be friends. Her high school was actually one of my high school’s rivals. I’d love to tell her stories about the freaky incest-space-shadow-baby plays her high school would present at Dramafest.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert — I adore Liz Gilbert and will read anything she writes. This book isn’t quite a self-help book, nor is it quite a memoir — it’s a guide on how to bring more creativity into your life and how best to use it. It’s a quicker read than I expected, and I absolutely loved it. I feel like I have a whole new way of seeing things, both the creative work I do for my career and the creative work I do for myself. Definitely worth a read, and Gilbert is one of my favorite literary voices.

What I Watched This Month

Mozart in the Jungle. I put it on after it won a few Golden Globes and I ended up binge-watching all 20 episodes over three sessions! It’s a show about the secret lives of the best classical musicians in New York. It’s a bit soapy, a bit funny, and an interesting look at the life of a professional classical musician.

If you are a creative or work in the arts, you need to see this show. Seriously. More than anything, it’s about the relationship between art and money. And if you’re a musician, especially a classical musician, you’ll love it, too. It reminded me of my nights partying, skinny-dipping, and drinking with the musicians in Kuhmo, Finland, before watching them perform Bach and Sibelius the next day!

What I Listened To This Month

“Lazarus” by David Bowie.

As usual, I woke up, grabbed my phone, and opened Facebook. My stomach tightened when I saw that David Bowie was trending. I knew he’d been ill with heart problems and living out of the public eye for awhile. Had he left us?

And the first thing I saw was this video, which I watched immediately.

I was overcome.

He knew he was dying for a long time. And instead of withdrawing from the world, he chose to create a beautiful final collection of music, as unique as his material had always been.

I thought I would listen to this song once, be sad, and turn to my usual favorite Bowie songs, “Young Americans” and “Modern Love” and “Golden Years.” But I kept listening to “Lazarus” and marveling at how bravely and beautifully Bowie decided to leave this world.

RIP.

Snowy Harlem via Instagram

Coming Up in February 2016

Moving day is February 3! My dad is driving me down and helping me move in my belongings. Furniture will be arriving over the next few weeks. Let’s just hope the weather doesn’t look like that above photo!

I won’t be traveling anywhere in February (other than home to Boston for a bachelorette party two days after I move, amusingly enough), but I’m making BIG plans for the spring and summer. I’m also arranging lots of meetings with my New York-based travel contacts so we can put some cool trips together.

Guys, the travel tingles are returning. That makes me SO HAPPY. Last week I got an idea for a trip and I researched and planned it maniacally, my heart racing, until I realized it was 3:30 AM and I should probably go to sleep.

That trip might end up happening — or it might not. We’ll see. The important thing is my mojo is sloooowly coming back. For awhile I was afraid that I had lost it after pushing myself too hard for too long.

It’s still there. And it’s raring to go.

One last thing — I am deeply grateful to have what I have today. Five years ago, my dream was to earn $1,000 per month from my blog so I could afford to live in Southeast Asia. That dream obviously grew and changed over time as I grew and changed as a person.

To be at the point where I can live on my own in Manhattan — and still travel — is something that I didn’t think would be possible a few years ago. I’ve worked so hard for this but I’ve also had a fair amount of luck, not to mention privilege. I won’t ever forget that, and I’m enormously grateful to all of you who continue to read my material and allow me to remain a full-time blogger.

What are your plans for February? Share away!

Jane chilling with her new furry friend in Köngäs © Jane Grisman

Jane chilling with her new furry friend in Köngäs © Jane Grisman

Jane Grisman, writer and editorial support at Lonely Planet, is just back from a snowy escape in Lapland.

Tell us more… I spent a magical week in Finnish Lapland with my boyfriend and his family after Christmas. We stayed in a chalet in Levi (also known as Sirkka), which is the largest ski resort in Finland.

In a nutshell… Lapland truly is a real life winter wonderland, for adults as well as children. It may be the home of Father Christmas, but there is far more than just festive cheer on offer. With its frozen lakes, snowy mountains, frosty forests and the breathtaking Northern Lights, the natural beauty of Finnish Lapland really did take my breath away.

The Christmas markets at a href=

The Christmas markets at Levi © Jane Grisman

Defining moment? Surviving snowmobiling! It turns out that if you travel at 40mph in temperatures of minus 25°C, the wind chill factor at night brings a whole new level of cold to the experience. Minus 25°C plummeted to minus 40°C, and within the first 30 minutes of the 3 hour snowmobile safari, I’d lost all feeling in my fingers and icicles had formed on my eyelashes. It was an incredible experience, but not for the fainthearted.

Good grub? Reindeer hot dogs are a tasty snack. We grabbed a freshly cooked reindeer hotdog and a mug of hot Glöggi at the traditional Christmas market in Levi. Glöggi is the Finnish version of mulled wine, infused with spices, raisins and almonds – very welcome in sub-zero temperatures.

So, learn anything new?  The Sami are the only indigenous people recognised by the European Union. The Samiland Exhibition at the Levi Summit Congress Centre gave us a fascinating insight into the history of the Sami and their way of life. We took a cable car up the mountain to the indoor and outdoor exhibition, stopping to feed the reindeer along the way, and explored the traditional Sami buildings which show how Sami people have lived through the ages.

sledding

On a husky safari in Köngäs © Jane Grisman

Favourite activity? Finland has a huge range of winter activities on offer, but husky sledging was by far my favourite. We took a 10km safari in Köngäs, just north of Levi, and drove our own dog sleds which was amazing. Racing over snow-drenched fields gave us breathtaking panoramic views of Lapland. Seeing how excited the huskies were before, during and after the ride made the safari an unforgettable experience!

Bizarre encounter? Daylight – a rare sight in winter. On our first day, sunrise was at 12:21pm and sunset was 12:27pm, so we only had 6 minutes of daylight. It sounds a lot more drastic than it was though, as twilight lasts for around 5-6 hours so there was still plenty of time to explore and soak up the stunning sunrises.

 

Boston Fourth of July

When Donald Trump announced he was running for president, we joked that he’d be done within a few months. Comedians had a field day. He couldn’t gain any serious support, could he?

Until he started leading all the polls…and winning primaries.

Holy shit. This could actually happen.

“If Trump gets elected, I’m leaving the country!”

I know. Everyone says it. But there’s no way to actually do that, is there?

OF COURSE THERE IS! You could leave the country in SO many different ways — ways that are 100% legal and ethical.

Kate on the Sydney Bridgeclimb

1) Get a working holiday visa in Australia or New Zealand.

If you’re 30 or under, you qualify to spend a year living and working in Australia or New Zealand! These are the only traditional working visas currently available to Americans.

In both countries, you can apply for the visa if you’re as old as 30; you can enter the country within one year of receiving your visa, which means you could start your year at age 31. Australia also offers the option of taking a second year if you spend three months working in “regional Australia” (rural areas and outside the most popular tourist destinations). Edit: I’ve since learned the second year is not available to Americans, sadly. Brits and Canadians can take advantage of this option, however.

You could spend your year bartending in Cairns or Queenstown, working on a winery in the Barossa Valley or Marlborough, working at a corporate job in Melbourne or Wellington, or taking on a hospitality job just about anywhere. And those are just a few of the possibilities.

For more, check out the Australia working holiday visa site and the New Zealand working holiday site.

Hongdae

2) Get a job teaching English abroad.

Teaching English abroad is one of the easiest ways U.S. citizens can get a job working abroad. Most countries only require a university degree in any field; others also require a TEFL certificate.

The most opportunity for Americans is in Asia. South Korea tends to offer the best packages: a competitive salary plus free housing and free flights to and from your home country. Many teachers in South Korea are able to comfortably save more than $10,000 per year and pay down debt or go traveling afterward.

Japan, China, and Taiwan also have great environments for teaching English with decent benefits. Entry-level teaching jobs in Southeast Asia and Latin America tend to pay only enough to get by.

While many Americans dream of teaching English in Europe, it’s extremely difficult to work in the EU without EU citizenship and the jobs are thus few. Eastern Europe and Turkey are a better bet.

Options in the Middle East tend to pay the most but have the most stringent requirements, often a teaching certification and experience in your home country and/or an advanced degree.

This is just the most basic of overviews — head to ESL Cafe to learn anything and everything about teaching English abroad.

El Tunco, El Salvador

3) Join the U.S. Foreign Service.

Dreamed of working as a diplomat around the world? The U.S. Foreign Service is your way in. If you’re able to pass the notoriously difficult Foreign Service Exam, you’ll be eligible to work two-year contracts in countries around the world.

The goal of the U.S. Foreign Service is “to promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the U.S. abroad.” Basically, you represent the United States while abroad.

There are several different tracks: Administration, Construction Engineering, Facility Management, Information Technology, International Information and English Language Programs, Medical and Health, Office Management, and Law Enforcement and Security.

You don’t get to choose your destination — you could be headed to any of 270 embassies around the world — but if you work in a hardship destination, you’ll often get preferential treatment regarding your next assignment. Like two of my lovely readers whom I met in Mexico last year — after working as diplomats in Pakistan, they got stationed in Cuba next.

Check out all the details on the U.S. Foreign Service’s website.

Bitola

4) Join the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps is perhaps the most famous volunteer program in America, starting in 1961 under President Kennedy. Volunteers are sent around the world in primarily two-year contracts working in the fields of Education, Health, Community Development, Environment, Youth in Development, Agriculture, and Peace Corps Response.

You don’t get to choose where you go — you’re sent where your skills are needed the most. That means if you speak Spanish, there’s a good chance you’ll be sent to Latin America; if you speak French, there’s a good chance you’ll be sent to Africa.

Most people I’ve known to serve in the Peace Corps describe it as life-changing. It’s a fantastic way to serve your country and make lasting contributions toward building a better planet.

For more, visit the PeaceCorps.gov.

Koolbaai

5) Find a job abroad.

I know it sounds daunting to find a job abroad when you don’t know anything about it, but Americans do it successfully every day!

The U.S. State Department has put together a comprehensive list of resources for finding work abroad, no matter what field you’re in.

Ljubljana

6) Study abroad or get another degree.

Are you still in college? Studying abroad will be one of the most valuable (and fun!) things you do in your college career. Here are the lessons I learned from my semester in Florence in 2004.

Already have a degree? This could be a great opportunity to get your master’s abroad! Several countries offer you the option of getting your master’s in just one year, unlike the standard two years in the United States.

You probably know that several countries offer free university education to their citizens. Well, several countries offer free university education to international students as well, including Americans! Don’t speak the local language? They offer degrees given in English as well.

It was big news when Germany began offering free education to international students in 2014. Other countries include Brazil, Finland, France, Norway, Slovenia, and Sweden.

Many of these countries also offer stipends, making getting your degree infinitely more affordable than in the U.S.

London Millennium Bridge

7) If your job has an international office, see if you can transfer.

This isn’t an option if you work for a small, independent, local business. But it could work if you work for a larger company.

I used to work for a company with offices in Boston and London, and plenty of people migrated across the Atlantic in each direction. The company took care of the sponsorship and all the red tape.

Another option: if your company has an international parent company, see if you can find a job abroad in one of your parent company’s other companies.

Playa Samara

8) See if you can start working remotely.

If your job is mostly doable online, you may have the ability to start working remotely and set up shop anywhere in the world.

Note that this is something best done little by little. Start by doing exceptionally outstanding work for awhile, then ask your boss if you can work remotely one day per week. Make that your most productive day of the week. If it goes well and your company is pleased, keep negotiating for more time working remotely.

If you’re able to transition to working 100% remotely, keep in mind that you may need to stay within the same time zone or in a destination where you have excellent internet. Still, that’s a small price to pay for working from, say, a beach town in Costa Rica!

Berlin

9) Look into the German Artist Visa.

Entering the EU long-term is a major challenge for most Americans, but one of the easiest ways in (aside from getting a student visa) is to get the German “artist visa.”

“Artist” is a relative term here. In this case, it means freelancer. If you’re able to prove multiple contracts paying you enough to get by, that may be enough for you to secure this visa and live in Germany.

Most people with this visa choose to live in Berlin due to its art scene, expat scene, and relatively low cost of living (albeit one that continues to rise). Increasingly popular alternatives are hip Hamburg and artsy Leipzig.

Check out Travels of Adam’s guide to getting the German artist visa or, alternatively, a student visa.

Paris Marais

10) Become an au pair in Europe.

If you love kids, don’t mind living with a family, and want to live like a local, becoming an au pair could be an excellent option for you. Many Americans become au pairs by finding a job and family online, then registering for a student visa to give you a year in the country.

The student visa could be for as little as a few hours of language study each week; some countries, like France, are notoriously lax about whether you actually attend class and many au pairs decide to ditch the classes entirely.

Being an au pair could be the time of your life — or a complete disaster. The best thing is to know exactly what kind of experience you want — how many kids and how old? Living with the family or in your own apartment? Urban, suburban, or rural environment? Would you be expected to cook or not? — and finding a family that fits your needs well.

Ashley Abroad has a great resource for getting started as an au pair.

Christmas at JJ's

11) Save up, quit your job, and backpack the world for awhile.

Yes. You can absolutely do this. Plenty of people around the world travel for months at a time — it’s very common for people from other western countries, but far less popular for Americans.

If you want your money to go the furthest, stick to a cheaper region. Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Central America, and Eastern Europe are all great options. You can live in parts of these regions on less than $1000 per month if you want to (but that amount doesn’t include start-up expenses like flights, gear and insurance).

Here’s how I saved $13,000 in just seven months. That was almost enough to sustain me for six months in Southeast Asia from 2010-2011, but keep in mind prices have increased a bit since then.

Santa Cruz Atitlan Guatemala

12) Move somewhere cheap for awhile.

Not in the mood to be traveling all the time? You could just move somewhere. Many countries have visa policies that allow you to live long-term by leaving the country every few months and coming right back. (Be sure to check on your country’s latest visa regulations, as they can change at any time.)

I still think that Chiang Mai, Thailand, offers the maximum value for a great price. As a solo adult, you can comfortably get by in Chiang Mai for less than $800 per month, or even less if you’re part of a couple, and there are plenty of amenities for the many expats who live and work there.

Other popular options for expats? Oaxaca, Mexico. Ubud, Bali. Bangkok, Thailand. Medellin, Colombia. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala (particularly Panajachel and San Pedro). If you have the ability to live in the EU, consider Berlin, Germany; Lisbon, Portugal; Budapest, Hungary; Prague, Czech Republic; or any town you can imagine in Spain: Madrid, Sevilla, Granada, Barcelona.

Ragusa, Sicily

13) Get a second citizenship based on your ancestry.

Several European countries offer the option of getting a passport based on your ancestry. I’ve known Americans who have gained Irish, British, Italian, and German citizenship due to their parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents being born in those countries.

The best part? Gaining EU citizenship means you can move around freely within the EU, not just the country where you hold the ancestry! I have an American friend with new German citizenship who’s thinking about moving to London. That’s totally fine on a German passport.

Do research this first — every country is different and has its own conditions. Some don’t offer ancestry-based citizenship at all. (While my great-grandfather immigrated from Italy, I don’t qualify for Italian citizenship because he naturalized before my grandmother was born.) Here’s a guide to obtaining citizenship in European countries.

Israel also offers citizenship based on the Law of Return. You must either be Jewish by birth (meaning your mother or grandmother is Jewish) or a convert to Judaism.

Keep in mind that this could potentially take years, depending on the country. It took three years for my friend Mike to get his Italian citizenship. (Then again, as someone who lived in Italy and visits often, they are not the most organized of nations when it comes to this kind of stuff. Or anything else, frankly.)

Skellig Michael

14) Fall in love with someone from a different country, get married, and move to their country.

I know a lot of people, particularly women, dream of this — meeting a handsome fisherman on a Greek island, or a brawny Australian at a beach bar in Thailand, and falling in love and it being destiny and your friends being so jealous.

Well…as someone who has lived in another country for two different boyfriends, let me tell you that the reality can often be quite difficult, even if you have a good relationship. Living in a different country is like fighting through hundreds of cultural differences every day, and there can be a chasm in your relationship if you’re struggling while your partner is surrounded by everything he knows and loves. It’s much harder if you don’t speak the local language or you’re living in a small town.

Whatever you do, make sure you have a strong support system on the ground. Make sure you have interests, activities, and a social circle outside your partner. Most importantly, make sure your partner understands how challenging it is for you to be there, even if you’re happy most of the time. Make sure he makes an effort to travel to America, too.

You’re the one who is sacrificing here. Even if you were excited to move there. Even if he supports you financially. Even if you work online and have the freedom to live anywhere.

quebec-ice-slide-gallery

15) Just move to Canada!

Everyone says they’re moving to Canada if a candidate they hate is elected. Well, this guy actually moved to Canada when George W. Bush was elected. That link gives you an overview of ways for Americans to move to Canada today.

Pink House New Orleans

But in all seriousness…

I know this is a tongue-in-cheek list, but I seriously hope you’re not voting for Donald Trump. (I know I’m preaching to the choir here. The kind of person interested enough in other countries to read a travel blog is not the kind of person who would support a xenophobic presidential candidate.) Please do everything you can to keep him from being elected.

But there’s something else I want to say.

In the past six years, I’ve met many American travel bloggers who have said something along the lines of, “I just don’t like it in America. I don’t want to live where I could be killed in a random shooting or where I could be bankrupted if I’m hospitalized. I don’t like it here anymore, so I’m leaving.”

I get it. I was like that. Parts of me still feel that way. But not anymore.

I recently moved back to the U.S. after more than five years of travel. There were many reasons. One is because I am sick of doing nothing. I want to be here and fight to make my country better. And I’m getting started.

All of us can run away. Believe me — there’s stuff about America that keeps me up at night. Frequent school shootings and a Congress that refuses to pass any kind of reasonable legislation like closing the gun show loophole. Black Americans, including children, being killed by the police for no reason at all. The racism, both overt and subtle, that our president receives on a daily basis. Out-of-control elections and candidates supported by corporations. The possibility of a religious ideologue being appointed to the Supreme Court.

So why do I even bother? Because when you choose to be inactive, you’re giving power to the opposition.

If you choose to travel, or to live abroad, that’s wonderful! But don’t use it as an excuse to check out of America completely. Donate money to causes that will make America better. Donate your time to causes and see if you can help online. Get absentee ballots, familiarize yourself with candidates in every race, and vote in every election. These things really can make a difference.

Would you leave the country if Trump was elected?15 legal, ethical ways to leave the country if Donald Trump gets elected.

Hear about travel to Helsinki, Finland as the Amateur Traveler talks to Inna from the Finnish Family Travel Blog about her hometown. 

Join Vagabondish on Twitter and Facebook.

Sadly, Estonia isn’t on the radar for most American travelers. In fact, according to a very scientific survey that I conducted, more than 90% couldn’t find it on a map if they tried. It’s a shame because the country is a place of beautiful and bold contradictions. Its people have embraced the convenience and ease of technology (for everything from election voting to healthcare), while maintaining a deep connection to nature.

The latter isn’t surprising. Estonia is home to some of Europe’s most breathtaking scenery. While the country is tiny relative to its neighbors, the diverse landscape stretches across more than 1,500 islands, beautiful forests, and pebble-covered beaches. Its long and dramatic history has left the countryside dotted with ancient castles, stunning churches, and hilltop fortresses. All of which is a goldmine for nature-loving, adventure travelers!

Lahemaa National Park, Estonia

Lahemaa National Park, Estonia © Pjotr Savitski

Lahemaa National Park

Seventy kilometers east of the capital city of Tallinn lies Lahemaa National Park — the country’s oldest park of its kind. Its massive size — 725 square kilometers including 250 square kilometers of sea — make it the largest in Estonia and one of the largest in all of Europe. This makes for a wide array of explorable terrains and an excellent variety of outdoor opportunities. To the north, the Gulf of Finland offers pristine space for kayakers and beach-goers; inland, even the most experienced hikers will find the wild, rugged terrain challenging; and the park is replete with wildlife including lynx, wolves, and bear.

Vilsandi, Estonia

Vilsandi, Estonia © Johan Viirok

Vilsandi

Even among Estonia’s long list of islands, Vilsandi stands out. At just nine square kilometers, it’s hardly a blip on the country’s map, yet it’s fast becoming one of its most popular destinations. Accessible almost exclusively by boat or kayak (although some trucks are actually able to reach it too!), it’s a quiet, pristine place that’s changed little since Dutchman Johann Doll “discovered” the island after escaping his sinking ship off its rocky shores in 1703. In particular, the island is a popular spot for tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl and Baltic grey seals.

Suur Munamägi, Estonia

Suur Munamägi, Estonia

Suur Munamägi

Hikers interested in “peak bagging” will find Estonia’s landscape less “mountainous and craggy” and more “slowly undulating”. The country’s highest peak, Suur Munamägi (literally “Big Egg Mountain”), stretches to a reasonable — and adorable — 318 meters (1,043 feet). While it won’t top anyone’s bucket list for “technical climbing”, it’s still a lovely setting to behold. Ask the locals about the folklore surrounding the series of five towers — one of which included a five-person bar — erected atop the peak’s summit during the last two centuries. Today, it’s capped with a 346-meter (1,137 feet) observation tower that provides unobstructed views of up to 50 kilometers in every direction.

Haapsalu Bishop’s Castle

Outdoor buffs that enjoy a bit of history with their exploring will love Haapsalu Bishop’s Castle. The stunning 13th-century structure is one of the best preserved castles in all of Estonia. While some of the installations — a children’s playground in the castle moat and a giant chessboard — may seem a bit hokey, the castle itself is stunning. Visitors can climb the 38-meter-tall bell tower which is said to be haunted by the White Lady, arguably the country’s most infamous ghost!

Kate and Javier Ziplining

Every December, I put together a list of my favorite destinations of the year. I love picking out the places that made my heart beat the fastest!

Last year, the big winner was Nicaragua. In 2014, Finland was a memorable standout. In 2013, Japan hit the hardest. In 2012, I loved the Faroe Islands.

This year was far lighter on travel than the past. I only visited four new countries (Colombia, Slovakia, Poland, and Luxembourg) and much more of my time was spent closer to home — something that I think will continue to be a trend.

Furthermore, I don’t think any one destination stands above the others. As a result, this list is in a completely random, unranked order. It may seem a bit weird to include both giant regions and small towns on the same list, but this feels right to me!

One thing: keep in mind that these are destinations I hadn’t visited prior to 2016. So places like Paris, Savannah, and Cape Town are not eligible.

Here we go!

Krakow

Kraków, Poland

Kraków was one of my biggest travel oversights coming into 2016, and I’m so glad I finally made it happen. It’s no big surprise; it has so many qualities that I love in a destination.

A medium-sized city. Absolutely beautiful architecture. Low prices and very good value for money. Delicious food — both Polish and international (I actually ate at a Corsican restaurant one night!). Out-of-this-world ice cream, served in tiny Kate-sized portions. And a beautiful park that runs in a ring around the town that you can circle for hours and hours if you’d like.

Krakow at NightKrakowKrakow FlowersKrakowKrakow Treats

I did luck out in Kraków. I had perfect early fall weather. I met up with a great local-reader-turned-new-friend, Dominika, who took me out to cool places (including the cafe with the dessert above) and showed me her favorite spots. But what I remember most was the light. Just look at that top photo. It’s barely retouched.

The evening light in Kraków was so beautiful, it nearly brought me to tears.

Read More: AK Monthly Recap: September 2016 (full post coming soon!)

Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

Visiting Puerto Rico was one of my goals for 2016 and I was so delighted when an opportunity presented itself — especially since it came during the doldrums of winter!

What struck me the most was how perfect an all-around destination Puerto Rico is for Americans. You don’t need your passport, there are nonstop flights from lots of cities, English is widely spoken in the tourism industry, and your US phone plan will work. You can lie on a beach, zip-line through the mountains, or explore art and history. Puerto Rico has it all.

Orocovis, Puerto RicoSan Juan, Puerto RicoOld San Juan, Puerto RicoKate in San Juan, Puerto RicoHilton Caribe, San Juan, Puerto Rico

My favorite highlight of Puerto Rico: a day trip to Culebra Island. I was initially skeptical, but Flamenco Beach lived up to the hype — it’s one of the most incredible beaches I’ve ever visited. A wide expanse of soft pinky-white sand, neon turquoise water, and even a few tanks for good measure.

I need to go back for more — Vieques is calling my name and I hear the beach on nearby Culebrita is even better!

Read More: Puerto Rico Seriously Has It All

Colmar

Alsace, France

It was actually a struggle for me to choose between Alsace (the region) and Strasbourg (the city) for this round-up. I loved Strasbourg, but did the smaller city of Colmar deserve equal recognition? Or was I being unnecessarily contrarian just again, because SO many bloggers love Colmar and I wanted to be different?

Eventually, Alsace won out. Because the things I loved most were universal to the region. Fresh flowers bursting out of every free inch of pavement. Brightly colored shutters and doors on half-timbered houses. Delicious white wines and fabulous tartes flambées. Decent prices and friendly locals. Obviously French, but also very German, with an interesting history of being volleyed back and forth between the countries.

dscf9862Tarte Flambee in Colmardscf9870dscf9946 Strasbourg Street Sign

As soon as I left Alsace, I knew my time there had been criminally short. Right away, my readers started telling me that I had missed the best place of all — the village of Riquewihr. Apparently lots of people like to go on road trips through Alsace, tasting ciders and wines along the way. You wouldn’t have to twist my arm!

Read More: A Taste of Alsace in Strasbourg and Colmar

Hudson New York

Hudson, New York

“You have to get away from the city at least once a month,” New Yorker after New Yorker told me, and after spending April without leaving the city, I knew I had to be better. I started researching local getaways and the town of Hudson kept appearing.

A small town in the Hudson Valley two hours north of New York on the train. Despite its small size, a town leading a foodie Renaissance in the region, with tons of chefs opening acclaimed restaurants. Filled with boutiques and cozy little shops and cafes. It sounded a lot like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town that I love, only with even better restaurants.

My friend Tess had visited recently and echoed all these things. “Plus it’s so cheap!” she exclaimed. Sold.

Hudson New YorkCrimson Sparrow Hudson New YorkCrimson Sparrow Hudson New YorkHudson OctopusMoto Coffee Hudson New York

Even though I thought I had my finger on the pulse of what made Hudson tick, there were surprises. How so many people had given up city life to move there. How massively LGBT-friendly it was.

The only thing is that I feel like I’ve seen all there is to see in Hudson. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing, though. Small can be good.

Read More: Hudson, New York: The Coolest Small Town in America

Salento Colombia

Salento, Colombia

When I planned my trip to Colombia, I assumed that the whole country would end up on this list at the end of the year. Truthfully, while almost everyone I know who has been to Colombia considers it one of their favorite countries, it just didn’t quite gel for me overall.

Timing was one reason — I was exhausted and it wasn’t a good time for any trip, much less a lengthy trip in a developing country. And I was traveling in my old-school backpacker style (albeit with private rooms) that I now think is becoming part of my past.

But while I didn’t fall madly in love with Colombia, I did swoon for the town of Salento. Small, beautiful, and brightly painted. So many delicious places to eat. A plaza that came to life on Sunday nights. A mirador overlooking the town. And so many coffee plantations.

SalentoCoffee Bean SalentoSalentoBeer in SalentoSalento

Salento was so chilled out, which was exactly what I needed after Cartagena and Medellín. And my day trip to the Valle de Cocora was a major highlight as well. If you’re planning a trip to Colombia, I couldn’t recommend Salento more!

Read More: Traveling in Colombia: The Best Moments

Shinn Estate Vineyards Long Island

The North Fork of Long Island

I had an image of Long Island held from my university days: isolated suburbia, rich privileged kids who flunked out of school and got their parents to buy their way back in, and not the prettiest accents of all time. Not a fair assessment, I know. It never was and I never should have let it cloud my judgment. I was an idiot in college. We all were.

That all ended when my friends and I took a day trip to the North Fork to explore the wine scene. I found a beautiful country escape with vineyard after vineyard, some truly outstanding cabernet francs, great restaurants, and the best strawberry rhubarb pie of my life.

Sparkling Pointe Long IslandLieb Cellars Long IslandKate at Sparkling Pointe North Fork Long IslandBriermere Farm Long IslandLieb Cellars Long Island

There was only one place where the Long Island stereotype reared its head — Sparkling Pointe, where the jewelry was large, the crowd was tipsy, the Yankees hats were omnipresent, and the accents were loud. But it wasn’t that bad.

Long Island is a killer destination. I’m blown away that such a good wine region is just a few hours from where I live. And that’s not all — one of my next goals is to make it to the Hamptons in 2017!

Read More: A Day Trip to the North Fork of Long Island

Coral Bay Sunset

Western Australia

How can WA not go on this list? It was the craziest, most exciting destination of the year by far. Not to mention one that I’ve yearned to visit for more or less forever.

What did it for me? It was the sparse, remote landscape, how you would almost never see other people and would then say hi to them out of disbelief that they were there, too. It was the crazy wildlife — the quokkas on Rottnest Island, of course, but also the manta rays and sharks in Ningaloo Reef. And dolphins and kangaroos. The crazy landscapes: bright yellow pinnacles in the desert, pink lakes throughout the region. Perth’s hip factor. The gorges in Karijini. Man. I could go on forever about Western Australia.

Dolphins Monkey MiaKate at Mount NamelessPinnacles DesertKalbarri NP WA Shark Bay Scenic Flight

Part of me feels in disbelief that this trip even happened. But the memories here are ones that I will cherish forever.

If you want to go somewhere not as many tourists visit, or somewhere that feels off the beaten path, WA will be a very satisfying destination for you.

Read More: My Favorite Experiences in Western Australia

Stellenbosch Vineyard

Stellenbosch, South Africa

It took three trips to South Africa to get me to visit Stellenbosch, the lauded wine region just one hour from Cape Town. What took me so long, seriously? Stellenbosch is amazing!

Beth and I decided to come here after a long, busy trip through Johannesburg, Kruger, and Cape Town, and we basically spent four days in a row doing little more than going from winery to winery, tasting wine with chocolate, tasting wine with cheese, tasting wine with meat, tasting wine with salt, buying reserve bottles to take home (none of which cost more than $11!!!!!), and reminiscing about the rest of our trip.

Wine Tasting StellenboschStellenboschKate in StellenboschStellenbosch Flowers in WinterStellenbosch Wine and Chocolate

I thought visiting Stellenbosch in July, their winter, would be hit-or-miss, but turns out it was a fantastic time to visit. The wineries were far less crowded than they would have been in high season. We had a few sunny days that resulted in beautiful photos. And there’s nothing like cozying up next to a fireplace with a glass of red on a cold day!

Read More: AK Monthly Recap: July 2016 (full recap coming soon!)

Haye-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye, Wales

I had never heard of Hay-on-Wye before it popped up in my South Wales itinerary; uncharacteristically, I hadn’t even Googled it before arriving. But perhaps it was for the best, because I was stunned at how hard and fast I fell for this tiny Welsh town.

In short, Hay-on-Wye is the used bookstore capital of the world. They even have a world-famous literary festival that Bill Clinton called “The Woodstock of the Mind.” Between the bookstores, the cafes, and the many quirky shops (including an antique map shop, where I bought a 150-year-old map of northern Italy!), I could have stayed a week in introverted bliss.

Hay-on-WyeUsed Bookstore Hay-on-WyeHaye-on-WyeChandelier Store, Haye-on-WyeHaye-on-Wye

South Wales was a beautiful place, filled with gorgeous scenery and surprisingly delicious food, but no place stole my heart as quickly or as firmly as Hay-on-Wye.

Read More: A Dreamy Trip to South Wales

Old San Juan Cat, Puerto Rico

And that’s a wrap, folks!

At this point, I have zero trips planned for 2017. Which is fabulous!

I have some vague ideas — I think somewhere in the former Soviet Union could be a possibility for the summer months (Central Asia? Caucasus? Russia and the Baltics?), Putin-Trump situation notwithstanding. My dream destinations of Corsica and Sardinia are very likely for September or so.

I should visit friends in Austin, Las Vegas, and Seattle. There have been a ton of cheap direct flights to Cuba from New York on JetBlue — I’ll be keeping my eye on those. I’m enjoying Christmas markets in Germany so much that I want to come back next year. And of course, there’s this crazy travel blogging business, which could take me to any number of locales.

Anything is possible. This time last year, I had no clue that Western Australia or Colombia were even possibilities!

Now, I want to hear from you!

What was your favorite new destination of 2016? Share away!

My trips to Kraków, Alsace, Hudson, Salento, the North Fork, and Stellenbosch were entirely at my own expense. My trips to Puerto Rico, Western Australia, and Hay-on-Wye were sponsored. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Photo: Gatanass

Photo: Gatanass

1. We’re pretty smart.

Finland is one of the top countries on the quality of education; in 2015 we were placed 5th on PISA ranking for OECD countries. Education all the way up to higher university degrees is free, and we get to play a lot while we learn relevant subjects taught by the highest-educated teachers in the world.

2. Gender equality

No country is perfect on this, but we’ve got a whole generation of kids who were surprised after the 2012 election that a man could become a president.

3. Our nature is amazing.

Our cities have the cleanest air and nature is easily accessible from anywhere in the country.

4. We also like to keep our nature amazing.

We recycle everything. There’s a bin for glass, metal, paper, cardboard, plastic, biodegradables, batteries… Compared to many other western countries, we live in a real eco bubble here, where everyone is involved in keeping the planet safe.

5. We have great teeth.

Not due to great dental care (nothing wrong with it either, it’s just a tad pricey) but because we include to every meal at least one piece of bread that, if thrown against a wall, would surely make a large hole in it.

6. We embrace silence.

A friendship is best measured by the ability to comfortably spend time together without talking.

7. We’re strange — and proud of it.

Sauna, ice-swimming, wife carrying, Nordic walking, the world’s worst small talk. We do it, and we love it.

8. Santa Claus

Santa has a cosy house (or a few) up in Korvatunturi, Lapland. Do not try to tell us that Santa is from the North Pole — It will get you in trouble here.

9. Our language is awesome.

We do eat jauhelihamakaronilaatikkoand and go äitienpäivälahjaostoksille for Mother’s day gifts. And the best of all, cheers in Finnish is Hölkynkölkyn.

10. We’re very straight forward.

You want to ask us a question? Expect an answer. Finns tend not to tiptoe around any subject. You will most likely know exactly where you stand in their lives. If not, just ask. No games played, just full on honesty. More like this: 6 things the Finns love to hate

Photo: Bernt Rostad

Besides being the home of weird street art, steamy saunas and much-needed sisu that locals apply to deal with winter, Helsinki has some pretty sweet bars that will give you the best night out ever. If you’re up for a reindeer burger or a game of pool, I’ve got you covered. Check out my favorite 10 spots.

All of these spots and more can be found on Matador Network’s new travelstoke app.

1. A21 Helsinki Oy

 A21 Helsinki OyHelsinki, FinlandWhat I love most about this spot is the variety of cocktails which seems endless, since the mixologists take their craft very seriously and have even won awards. Go for the “Suomen Neito” made with Finnish berries and the “Sex in the Forest,” as they are both made with Nordic ingredients. If you prefer to go for something you know and love, get a gin and tonic, they’re delicious. #cocktails #casual

2. Cafe Mascot

 Café MascotHelsinki, FinlandThe best feature of Café Mascot is its personality (of which it has plenty). There are a ton of live shows as well as pool tables and board games, so really hanging out here is a full experience, not just a boring conversation or awkward first date over a beer. They do theme nights some of which are rap or reggae, so you’ll definitely stay entertained. #casual #dancing

3. Cafe Tin Tin Tango

 Cafe Tin Tin TangoHelsingfors, FinlandIf you’re in Helsinki for a few days and really have to do laundry but also really want a beer, look no further. This funky spot has a laundry machines so you can totally do your chores while getting a buzz on. It serves breakfast as well before it turns into a bar in the evening, so really, you can’t go wrong here. #free-wifi #casual #bar #laundry

4. Corona Baari & Biljardi

 Corona Baari & BiljardiHelsinki, FinlandIf you happen to be good at pool, being your crew over here and challenge them for a beer or traditional Finnish lonkku. May the best player win! #billiard #casual #food

5. Finnish National Theatre

 Finnish National TheatreHelsingfors, FinlandThis is the Finnish National Theater’s club. Perfect spot to catch some live jazz, indie or movie screenings and see up and coming artists and enthusiasts. #livemusic #casual #club

6. Ateljee Bar

 Ateljee BarHelsinki, FinlandIf you’re trying to sightsee but really just want to get your drink on, Ateljee is your spot. Located high up on the top of the Torni Hotel, it gives you an excellent view of the entire city, so you can sip on a glass of wine while configuring your camera settings for an epic panorama shot. #bar #view

7. Gastropub Stone’s

 Gastropub Stone’sHelsinki, FinlandAwesome burgers! This gastropub will totally spoil you with a long list of drinks and cozy atmosphere. Since you’re in Finland, try the reindeer burger. Make sure you don’t being any kids though, that may spoil the whole Christmas thing for them. #burgers #free-wifi #open-late

8. Erottajankatu

 ErottajankatuHelsinki, FinlandAh, good old karaoke – embarrassment for the entire family/ friend group. Do it here if you dare. Atmosphere is chill so even if you can’t sing, nobody will boo you. #karaoke #bar #casual

9. Ravintola Marian Helmi

 Ravintola Marian HelmiHelsinki, FinlandBeer lovers, rejoice! This bar has a huge selection of both local and international brews. If only one could set up a beer pong table…(feel free to take that idea and run with it). #beer #casual

10. Bryggeri Helsinki

 Bryggeri HelsinkiHelsingfors, FinlandIf you’re a foodie, you’re in for a treat. Bryggeri makes everything from scratch using raw, local ingredients, meaning everything from your beer to your slow-cooked elk entrecôte is as gourmet as they come. There are lots of vegetarian options for dinner as well. #beer #food #casual #free-wifi

More like this: 6 reasons Helsinki is the ultimate community

Photo by Annie Spratt

Driving behind a school bus one recent winter afternoon, I watched a boy of about 10 get off the bus and cross the street to go home. What stood out to me about this commonplace afterschool scenario, however, was that the boy was glued to his smartphone the entire time — so much so that he wandered off his driveway and walked about fifteen feet into his snowy yard, looking up only when he realized he was up to his knees in snow. He righted his path and got back onto his driveway and continued walking towards his house, head bent again towards whatever entertaining world the phone was providing.

School trends

That particular moment exemplifies the trends that American schools have been experiencing in recent years: children are spending an average of over 40 hours per week on screens, not including the time they spend on computers when they’re at school. Schools are also noticing decreasing attention spans (humans now have shorter attention spans than goldfish), a notable increase in a range of mental and physical health problems, and parents with an increased sense of fear for the safety of their children. Meanwhile, school teachers are struggling with increased demands on having their students meet a variety of learning standards and are often trying to gain more classroom time by minimizing recess-time.

These troubling trends occurring in American schools today can seem overwhelming, so coming up with one solution can seem unlikely at best. However, employing the principles of outdoor education in every American school has the potential to address all of these concerning trends.

Outdoor education 101

Picture this: There are two equal groups of middle schoolers standing in horizontal lines facing each other. One side represents a group of deer and the other side represents the resources those deer need to live, which the students determined are food, water, and shelter. When the teacher yells “Oh Deer!” the deer run towards the resources, each deer partnering up with the type of resource it needs. If a deer cannot find a resource to pair with, the deer dies dramatically in the field, decomposes, then becomes a resource. If a deer does find a matching resource, the student playing the resource joins the group of deer — this represents an increase in the deer population due to access to resources. Before playing another round, the teacher carefully leads the students through graphing the change in deer population (as you might imagine, there are more deer after round one) and hypothesizing what will happen in the next round. Through this outdoor activity, the students are not only exercising and having fun but also covering a range of math and science education standards all at once.

When embedded in a curriculum that includes regular outdoor, hands-on experiences focused on using the natural world as a lens to solve problems, come up with new ideas, and develop questioning skills, an activity like “Oh Deer” perfectly exemplifies the interdisciplinary impact of outdoor education.

The benefits of outdoor education

In a 6th-grade outdoor geology class I used to teach, I brought my students to an area full of big rocks and told them to explore — by climbing, tunneling, and crawling—in an effort to answer one question: how did these rocks get here? Students naturally tested their limits on the slippery rocks, helping one another through tight squeezes and pulling each other to high places. They not only developed grit and self-esteem by challenging themselves, but also communicated with each other face-to-face and hand-to-hand, developing direct interpersonal skills. Considering such a broad question during their explorations also encouraged critical thinking and problem-solving in a real-world setting, which is correlated with higher test scores, academic achievement, and memory retention.

In younger children, regular outdoor learning experiences help them develop fine motor skills, enhance creativity, and develop the capacity for empathy — critical skills acquired during early childhood and correlated with becoming responsible adults. Outdoor education takes a slightly less structured approach for these younger children, free play being especially important for brain development, but playing with sticks, making fairy houses, matching natural objects to colorful paint chips, and making leaf rubbings all enhance their imaginations and engagement in the world around them.

In the words of Senegalese forester Baba Diuom, “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” And as naturalist John Burroughs put it “Knowledge without love will not stick. But if love comes first, knowledge is sure to follow.”

And regardless of if you’re a teacher or a parent, we could all do to spend more time outside: just a few 10-minute experiences in nature per week have proven mental-restoration benefits.

Outdoor education around the World

Did you ever consider the meaning of the word “Kindergarten?” In German, it translates to “children’s garden.” The first Kindergartens started in Europe in the mid-18th century were designed to encourage play and learning, primarily in an outdoor setting. Humans all over the world have recognized the learning value of outdoor experiences for a long time; let’s explore a few examples of the successes of outdoor education around the world today.

At Maruntabo, a forest kindergarten in Japan, young children use knives to prepare group meals, they climb and crawl in a variety of natural habitats, and they guide their own learning through exploration and curiosity. These programs have been catching on in Japan, and among many other benefits, are seeing way fewer children absent due to sickness than in indoor school settings.

In Finland, children in one forest school unknowingly learn their numbers by counting how many of them hop into a hole in the ground. They explore on their own, helping guide the curriculum themselves, developing their cognitive functioning, staying healthy, and never getting bored. Finland has some of the healthiest children in Europe and their government recommends children engage in a minimum of 3 hours of physical activity per day to keep them healthy and focused on learning.

In the UK and Norway, there are many forest schools where children brave the cold year-round outdoors, making fires, climbing trees, and assessing risk on their own.

Let’s get started

Improving mental and physical health, enhancing academic achievement and performance, and fostering community engagement is as simple as getting outdoors for hands-on learning experiences regularly throughout our lives. Schools, struggling with budget cuts, can also easily save money by becoming outdoor-based as the greatest teaching supplies can be found for free in nature. The trend towards keeping children indoors, immobile, and screen-reliant is harmful and expensive. But slowing this trend is simple: have students do their writing assignments outdoors where they can write about the change of seasons, have them make art with natural objects in their schoolyard, have them create shelters with sticks to test their engineering skills, or simply give them free time to explore, observe, and ask questions about the natural world on their own. In fact, try it out yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Remember that boy who wandered into his snowy yard, glued to his phone? In that same area, a small group of boys just a little older than him were asked to brainstorm what their community would be like at its best. They created an elaborate mind-map with categories as broad as “food security” and “healthy rivers” and as specific as wanting a community gathering place. None of them mentioned smart technology, TVs, or computers. When their teacher pointed that out to them, they still weren’t interested in adding any of that to their list.

Perhaps we all have had enough screen time. Now is the time for schools to provide the alternative: the fun, mystery, and magic of life and learning in the great outdoors. More like this: Helicopter parenting damages children. This NYC playground looks to address that

Lonely Planet Finland (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

#1 best-selling guide to Finland*

Lonely Planet Finland is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Hike through forests and fells, spectacular gorges and ravines, fizz over the snow behind a team of huskies on an overnight dog-sled safari, then change the pace with chic shopping at Helsinki's cutting-edge design stores; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Finland and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Finland Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - Sámi society & traditions, Finnish lifestyle & culture, history, design, literature, music, painting, sculpture, food & drink, outdoor activities Over 50 maps Covers HelsinkiTurku & the South Coast, Aland Archipelago,  Tampere & Hame, The Lakeland, Karelia, West Coast, Oulu, Kainuu & Koilllismaa, Lapland and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Finland our most comprehensive guide to Finland, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Scandinavia guide.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, Andy Symington, Catherin le Nevez.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

*Best-selling guide to Finland. Source: Nielsen BookScan. Australia, UK and USA

Finland: The Essential Guide to Customs & Etiquette (Culture Smart!)

Terttu Leney

Culture Smart! provides essential information on attitudes, beliefs and behavior in different countries, ensuring that you arrive at your destination aware of basic manners, common courtesies, and sensitive issues. These concise guides tell you what to expect, how to behave, and how to establish a rapport with your hosts. This inside knowledge will enable you to steer clear of embarrassing gaffes and mistakes, feel confident in unfamiliar situations, and develop trust, friendships, and successful business relationships. Culture Smart! offers illuminating insights into the culture and society of a particular country. It will help you to turn your visit-whether on business or for pleasure-into a memorable and enriching experience. Contents include * customs, values, and traditions * historical, religious, and political background * life at home * leisure, social, and cultural life * eating and drinking * do's, don'ts, and taboos * business practices * communication, spoken and unspoken

Finland History: Origins of the Finns, The Era of Swedish Rule, 1150-1809, Independence and the Interwar Era, 1917-39, Society, Economy, Government and Politics

Henry Albinson

History of Finland Also include, Finland Culture, Finland government and politics, Finland art and culture, Finland tourism and investment. Present-day Finland became habitable in about 8,000 B.C., following the northward retreat of the glaciers, and at about that time Neolithic peoples migrated into the country. According to the legends found in the Finnish folk epic, the Kalevala, those early inhabitants included the people of the mythical land Pohjola, against whom the Kalevala people-- identified with the Finns--struggled; however, archaeological and linguistic evidence of the prehistory of the region is fragmentary.According to the traditional view of Finnish prehistory, ancestors of the Finns migrated westward and northward from their ancestral home in the Volga River basin during the second millennium B.C., arriving on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea sometime during the next millennium. According to this folk history, the early Finns began a migration from present-day Estonia into Finland in the first century A.D. and settled along the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland. Recent research, suggesting that the Finns arrived in the region at a much earlier date, perhaps by 3,000 B.C., has questioned this traditional view, however

Finland (Insight Guides)

Insight Guides

Kayak in the serene Lakeland, enjoy a cruise on the Baltic, or take in the splendor of the Northern Lights in Lapland – Insight Guide Finland helps you get the best out of this outdoor paradise. The guide has been fully updated by our expert Scandinavia author for this new edition, which also features Insight’s trademark stunning photography and more information on culture and history than any other guide. Whether you’re heading for the cool capital, Helsinki, or Lapland in the far north, this book tells you everything you need to know, and also helps you enjoy all the unmissable Finnish experiences, whether it’s relaxing in a traditional sauna or biking around the gorgeous Åland archipelago. Full color, highly detailed maps throughout will help you get around and travel tips give you all the information you need to plan a memorable trip, including our selection of the best hotels and restaurants.

Finland and Northern Scandinavia (National Geographic Adventure Map)

National Geographic Maps - Adventure

• Waterproof • Tear-Resistant • Travel Map

National Geographic's Finland and Northern Scandinavia Adventure Map is designed to meet the unique needs of adventure travelers with its detailed and accurate information. Cities and towns are easy to find in the user-friendly index. Motorways, expressways, and other roads are clearly designated and include distance in kilometers so travelers can easily plan their best route. Specialty content such as hundreds of diverse and unique recreational, ecological, cultural, and historical destinations make Adventure Maps the perfect companion to a guidebook. National parks, castles, churches, campsites, winter sports resorts, archeological sites, museums, and scenic viewpoints are among the sites noted to help you take advantage of the region’s many natural attractions and activities.

The southern half of the region is shown on the front side of the map spanning from Finland's southern tip to the city of Rovaniemi in the north. Sweden's eastern coast is included from the city of Umea north to Jokkmokk. The reverse side of the map covers the northern half of the region from Norway's island of Vega north to the far reaches of its Norwegian and Barents Sea coasts. Northern Sweden is shown from Hemavan to the country's northern borders with Norway and Finland. The northern portion of Finland is included from Salla to the border with Norway.

Every Adventure Map is printed on durable synthetic paper, making them waterproof, tear-resistant and tough — capable of withstanding the rigors of international travel.

Map Scale = 1:975,000Sheet Size = 25.5" x 37.75"Folded Size = 4.25" x 9.25"

Travel Journal Finland

VPjournals

Going on holiday to Finland? This useful travel journal will help you research, plan and record everything to get the most out of your trip.

Plan using the list of cool places to visit in Finland, great places to eat and a handy list of the best websites so you can do your own research.

Included in this book:

Trip Planning: Cool Places to visit in Finland Great places to eat in Finland Research your trip, including great websites to do your own research Postcard Reminder & Packing List

Finland Trip Diary Write a daily diary during your trip

Record details of people you met during your vacation

Plus a shoe and clothes size conversion chart to help you get the right sizes

”An amazing journal to record and remember your trip or to give others as a gift for their upcoming holiday”

Enjoy your trip to Finland, it is an incredible place

Michelin Finland Map 754 (Maps/Country (Michelin))

Michelin

Renowned for over 100 years for their clear, accurate and easy-to-read mapping, Michelin country maps give travelers an overall picture of their route, with practical road and travel information; and city maps containing extensive street indexes orient them quickly so they can find their way to their destination.

Finland, Cultural Lone Wolf

Richard D. Lewis

Finland, Cultural Lone Wolf is the story of an accomplished nation and her extraordinary people. Pursuing a "Lone Wolf" policy, Finland raised itself from a struggling, war-battered state in 1945 to one of the most developed countries in the world. The exponential rise of Nokia from tire and timbers to leading the world's telecommunication industry is indicative of the Finns and their characteristic business style. These remarkable people speak a language unique in its origins and have kept their cultural identity intact despite the influences of powerful neighbors, Sweden and Russia. Uniquely qualified to write about Finalnd, best-selling author Richard Lewis traces the fascinating Finnish origins, as well as her history, geography, values and culture. His extensive experience with Finnish business provides him with keen insight on leadership style, negotiation strategies and the uniquely Finnish suomi-kuva (Finland image). And Lewis shines when describing Finnish humor, complete with hilarious jokes and stories. Finland, Cultural Lone Wolf shows a nation and a writer at their best.

Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Petty crime (pickpocketing, bag snatching) occurs, particularly from April to September. Be particularly vigilant at automated banking machines (ABMs), the Helsinki railway station, the Helsinki metro, the Esplanade and trams.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations occur periodically and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. Avoid all demonstrations, follow the advice of local authorities, and monitor local media.

Road travel

Driving can be hazardous in winter. Icy road conditions are common. Some roads may close, particularly in northern areas. Be wary of moose wandering on major highways.

For updates on road conditions, visit the Finnish website on Travel and traffic information.

Public transportation

Public transportation (bus, train, tram and subway) is extensive and very efficient.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

Exercise normal safety precautions. Ensure that personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times, especially on public transportation.

Emergency services

Dial 112 for emergency assistance.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Tick-borne encephalitis

Tick-borne encephalitis is a viral disease that can cause swelling of the brain. It is spread to humans by the bite of an infected tick. Vaccination should be considered for those who may be exposed to tick bites (e.g., those spending time outdoors in wooded areas) while travelling in regions with risk of tick-borne encephalitis.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is not required to enter this country.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Western Europe. When in doubt, remember…boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!


Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Western Europe, certain insects carry and spread diseases like Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in Western Europe, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Good medical care is widely available in Finland.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Canada and Finland are signatories to the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. This enables a Canadian imprisoned in Finland to request a transfer to a Canadian prison to complete a sentence. The transfer requires the agreement of both Canadian and Finnish authorities.

Illegal drugs

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect a jail sentence and a heavy fine.

Some substances, such as khat, that may be legal in other European countries are prohibited in Finland.

Medications

You are allowed to bring in medicinal, homeopathic and anthroposophical products from countries belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA)—including the countries of the European Union (EU) plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway—for a maximum of one year’s treatment, and from non-EEA countries for a maximum of three months’ treatment for personal use.

If required, you must be able to prove that the medicinal product is intended for personal medication. The intended use of prescription medicine must be confirmed by a prescription or medical certificate issued by a person authorized to do so. You must bring the required documents when importing the medicinal product into Finland.

You are allowed to bring in medicinal products classified as narcotic drugs from the Schengen states for personal use for a maximum of 30 days’ treatment. (For a description of the Schengen area, see the Entry/Exit Requirements tab). For importation from a Schengen state, you are required to produce a certificate indicating entitlement to import a medicinal product having a particular trade name. The certificate and the prescription for the purchase of the medicine must be issued in the state where the importing person normally resides.

You may import the same medicinal product classified as a narcotic drug for a second time, or repeatedly, only after a period equivalent to the prescribed treatment period of the previous imported medicinal product. From non-Schengen states, you are allowed to bring in medicinal products classified as narcotic drugs for personal use for a maximum of 14 days’ treatment.

Road travel

You must be at least 18 years of age to drive a car in Finland.

An international driving permit is recommended.

Penalties for drinking and driving are strict. The legal blood alcohol limit for drivers is 0.05 percent. Drivers who register this level of blood alcohol or above may be arrested immediately.

The use of cellular telephones while driving is prohibited, unless fitted with a hands-free device. Low-beam headlights are obligatory at all times. Snow tires are mandatory from December 1 until March 31.

Money

The currency is the euro (EUR).

Credit cards are widely accepted and automated banking machines (ABMs) widely available.

When crossing one of the external border control points of the European Union (EU), you must make a declaration to customs upon entry or exit if you have at least €10,000 or the equivalent in other currencies. The sum can be in cash, cheques, money orders, traveller’s cheques or any other convertible assets. This does not apply if you are travelling within the EU or in transit to a non-EU country. For more information on the EU legislation and links to EU countries’ sites, visit the web page of the European Commission on cash controls.

Climate

Severe cold weather and deep snow cover occur in winter.