Although my visit lasted only a few days, Finland and I really vibed.
I respected the Finns’ appreciation of fine fresh foods, I adored the quaint red wooden buildings set into thick green forests, and I found the breezy summer days to be so pleasantly cool (for those of us who yearn to escape humidity).
My trip to the south of Finland was during the midsummer months, but I’ve heard that it can be equally as wonderful to visit during winter or the shoulder seasons. Nestled in the northernmost corner of Europe, Finland offers travellers a wide range of attractions from historic architecture to stunning forest-covered islands to viewing the mystical northern lights.
Before you embark on your journey to this enchanting Nordic destination, here are some essential things you need to know to make the most of your visit!
1. The seasons will affect your trip
Finland experiences distinct seasons, each offering a different charm. I visited in the summer for mild and pleasant temperatures, which is also during the “Midnight Sun” season (late May to mid-July) when the sun hardly sets in the northern parts of Finland.
Winter visits to Finland will instead feature snowy streets and will offer opportunities for skiing or even reindeer sleigh rides – you can even travel to Lapland to see Santa Claus Village in the Arctic Circle!
2. You don’t need to learn Finnish
Many Finns speak English fluently, especially in urban areas, so learning Finnish phrases isn’t necessary (though you may find that trying out the local lingo is a fun way of enhancing your travel experience!).
3. You probably won’t need to drive
If you’re planning on hanging out in one of Finland’s cities, you should find it relatively easy to get around via public transport. Finland boasts efficient and reliable trains, trams, and buses which are well-connected and punctual, making it easy to get around without a car. Purchasing a Helsinki Card or regional travel pass may be a good idea to save on transportation costs.
Alternatively, guided escapades to Finland (handcrafted for the discerning adventurer) might make getting around even easier as some transport and activities are included in group tours.
4. Tipping is unnecessary
Unlike in many other countries, tipping is not a common practice in Finland. Service charges are generally included in bills, and it’s not expected to leave an additional tip. This can be difficult to comprehend if you live in a country that does practice tipping (like USA), but just remember that the staff are actually getting paid a decent wage, so they don’t need to rely on tips for their income.
5. It’s a cashless society
Finland uses the Euro (EUR) as currency, but as one of the most cashless societies globally, credit and debit cards are widely accepted even for small transactions. It’s likely that you’ll only need to carry cards rather than cash during your trip to Finland.
6. You’ll have to escape the city for the northern lights
Many people visit Finland to see the famed northern lights, but it’s essential to get out of the capital if you want to witness the aurora. This bucket-list experience is possible to see only if you visit Finland from September to March.
Head north to Lapland (Rovaniemi is the most popular destination) for the best chances of catching this natural spectacle. The lights can be elusive, so plan to spend at least a few days in the area.
7. A sauna visit is essential
You haven’t properly experienced Finland if you miss out on sauna culture. The Finnish people take their sauna tradition seriously – it’s an integral part of the Finnish lifestyle and a must-experience for visitors. Prepare to sweat it out in a hot sauna and (if you’re feeling adventurous) take a dip in an icy lake afterward. Don’t be shy! This is a social activity and it’s not unusual for visitors to join in with the locals.
8. The cuisine is worth a taste
Finnish foods may not be as well-known as some other European cuisines, but it has some unique delicacies. As a vegetarian I didn’t get to try all of the Finnish specialties, but you may be interested in trying the fish or reindeer and game meats. Potatoes, rye bread, and dairy products are also popular, and don’t forget to try the traditional Karelian pasty (karjalanpiirakka).
9. Pay attention to cultural etiquette
Finns are known for valuing their personal space and privacy. Don’t be surprised if you find people keeping a comfortable distance in public places. It’s essential to respect this cultural norm to avoid making anyone uncomfortable. Finns tend to be reserved, but are also friendly. Handshakes are the usual greeting.