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Holidays in Finland

Understanding Finland

History

Not much is known about Finland's early history, with archaeologists still debating when and where a tribe of Finno-Ugric speakers cropped up Roman historian Tacitus mentions a tribe primitive and savage Fenni in 100 AD, even the Vikings chose not to settle, trading and plundering along the coasts

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

Russian rule alternated between tolerance and repression, and there was already a significant independence movement when Russia plunged into war and revolutionary chaos in 1917 Parliament seized the chance and declared independence in December, quickly gaining Soviet assent, but the country promptly plunged into a brief but bitter civil war between the conservative Whites and the Socialist Reds, eventually won by the Whites

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

After the war, Finland fell into the Soviet sphere of influence and toed the Russian line on foreign policy, but maintained a studied policy of official neutrality and managed to retain a free market economy and multi-party elections, building close ties with its Nordic neighbors This balancing act of Finlandization was humorously defined as "the art of bowing to the East without mooning the West" 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 on par with Western European countries

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

Geography

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

Finland is not located on the Scandinavian peninsula, so despite many cultural and historical links, it is technically not considered a part of Scandinavia Even Finns rarely bother to make the distinction, but a more correct term that includes Finland is the "Nordic countries" Pohjoismaat

Climate

Finland has a cold but temperate climate, which is actually comparatively mild for the latitude because of the moderating influence of the North Atlantic Current 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 below -50°C in the north The brief Finnish summer is considerably more pleasant, with average temperatures around +20°C, and is generally the best time of year to visit July is the warmest month with temperatures up to +30°C Early spring March-April is when the snows start to melt and Finns like to head north for skiing and winter sports, while the transition from fall to winter in October-December — wet, rainy, dark and generally miserable — is the worst time to visit

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

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 that 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 horn of plenty, 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 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 Sinuhe and Väinö Linna The Unknown Soldier, and painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, known for his Kalevala illustrations

Bilingualism

Street reference chart
Finnish Swedish English
-katu -gatan street
-tie -vägen road
-kuja -gränden alley
-väylä -leden highway
-polku -stig path
-tori -torget market
-kaari -bågen crescent
-puisto -parken park
-ranta -kajen quay
-rinne -brinken bank hill
-aukio -platsen square

Finland has a 56% Swedish-speaking minority and is officially a bilingual country, so maps nearly always bear both the Finnish and Swedish names for eg 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, one road with two names This is common in the Swedish-speaking areas on the southern and western coasts, whereas in the inland Swedish names are far less common In far north Lapland, you'll almost never see Swedish, but you will occasionally see signage in Sámi instead

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, January 1
  • Epiphany Loppiainen, January 6
  • Easter Pääsiäinen, variable dates, Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays Tied to this are laskiainen 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 40 days after, just another day for the shops to be closed
  • Walpurgis Night or more often Vappu, May 1, although festivities start the day before Vappuaatto A spring festival that coincides with May Day 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 Even though drinking alcohol in public places is prohibited in Finland, the police have absolutely no resources to control thousands of people in the streets and parks! The following day, people gather to nurse their hangovers at open-air picnics, even if it's raining sleet
  • Midsummer Festival Juhannus, 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 Might be a good idea to visit one of the bigger cities just for the eerie feeling of an empty city
  • Independence Day Itsenäisyyspäivä, December 6 A fairly somber celebration of Finland's independence from Russia The President holds a ball for the important people 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
  • Christmas Joulu, December 24 to 26 The biggest holiday of the year, when pretty much everything closes for three days Santa Joulupukki comes on Christmas Eve on December 24, ham gets eaten and everyone goes to sauna
  • New Year's Eve Uudenvuodenaatto, December 31 Fireworks time!

Typical vacation time is in July, unlike elsewhere in Europe, where it is in August The midsummer time is also vacationing time During these days, cities are likely to be less populated, as Finns head for their summer cottages

Talking in Finland

See also: Finnish phrasebook

Finland is officially bilingual in Finnish and Swedish, but in practice Finland is largely 93% monolingual in Finnish Finnish is not related to the Scandinavian languages Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese, Russian, or English In fact, it is not even an Indo-European language, instead belonging in the Uralic group of languages which includes Hungarian and Estonian, making it hard for speakers of most other European languages to learn Reading signboards can also be difficult as Finnish has relatively few loan words from common European languages, and as a result it is very hard to guess what words in Finnish mean

Swedish is the mother tongue for 56% of Finns, and 41 % of the Finnish-speakers are able to speak it There are no large cities with a Swedish majority, and the Swedish-speaking communities are mainly smaller rural municipalities along the Southwest coast Many towns and road signs on the coast use alternate Finnish and Swedish names, so road signs can be confusing The small autonomous province of Åland and the municipalities of Närpes, Korsnäs and Larsmo are exclusively Swedish-speaking, and people there typically speak little or no Finnish at all, so English is a better bet Swedish is a mandatory subject in Finnish-speaking schools and Finnish in Swedish-speaking schools, so everyone is supposed to speak and understand it; in reality, though, this only applies to: 1 predominantly or significantly Swedish-speaking areas; 2 larger coastal cities, but even this varies: for example, Helsinki and Turku are bigger cities where most people can speak Swedish enough to deal with important conversations you engage in as a tourist and often somewhat beyond, but where living would be impossible without knowledge of Finnish, whereas towns like Vaasa and Porvoo have a significant Swedish-speaking minority and are more genuinely bilingual ie it would be possible to live there with Swedish only Most larger hotels and restaurants in areas where Swedish is widely spoken do have Swedish-proficient staff

Russian is understood near the Russian border, for example Lappeenranta, Imatra and Joensuu, which are areas frequented by Russian tourists Tourist destinations which are popular among Russians in Eastern and Northern Finland have some Russian-speaking staff

In larger cities, 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 better understood than Swedish 63 % of the population in Finland can speak English Don't hesitate to ask for help: Finns can be shy, but will help out in need Besides English, some Finns can speak German 18 % or French 3 %, other secondary languages Spanish, Russian being rare

TV programs and movies are nearly always subtitled Only children's programmes and movies get dubbed into Finnish

What to see in Finland

A selection of top sights in Finland:

  • Central Helsinki, the Daughter of the Baltic, on a warm and sunny summer day
  • The historical sites of Turku and the vast archipelago around it, best viewed from the deck of a giant car ferry
  • Pottering around the picturesque wooden houses of Porvoo, Finland's second-oldest city
  • Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna, Finland's most atmospheric castle, especially during the yearly Opera Festival
  • Hämeenlinna Castle in Hämeenlinna is Finland's oldest castle Built in 13th century
  • Relaxing at a sauna-equipped cottage in the lake country of Eastern Finland
  • Icebreaker cruising and the world's biggest snow castle in Kemi
  • Seeing the Northern Lights and trying your hand sledding down a mile-long track at Saariselkä

What to do in Finland

Sports

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

During the short summer you can swim, fish or canoe in the lakes They are usually warmest around 20th 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 36 During the warmest weeks, late at night or early in the morning the water can feel quite pleasant when the air temperature is lower than the water's Most towns also have swimming halls with slightly warmer water, but these are often closed during the summer Fishing permits, if needed, can be easily bought from any R-Kioski although they take a small surcharge for it

For hikers, fishermen and hunters, the Ministry of Forestry maintains an online Excursion Map map 37 with trails and huts marked The best season for hiking is early fall, after most mosquitoes have died off and the autumn colors have come out

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

  • Air Guitar World Championships 38, August, Oulu
  • Mobile Phone Throwing Championship 39, August, Savonlinna Recycle your Nokia!
  • Swamp Soccer World Championship 40, July, Hyrynsalmi Probably the messiest sporting event in the world
  • Wife Carrying World Championship 41, July, Sonkajärvi The grand prize is the wife's weight in beer

Festivals

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

  • Provinssirock 42, rock, Seinäjoki, mid-June
  • Nummirock 43, heavy metal, Nummijärvi near Kauhajoki, late June Midsummer
  • RMJ 44, pop/disco music, Pori, late June Midsummer
  • Tuska Open Air 45 , heavy metal, Helsinki, late June
  • Sauna Open Air 46, heavy metal, Tampere, early June
  • Ruisrock 47, rock, Turku, July
  • Konemetsä 48, electronic music, Ollila near Turku, July
  • Pori Jazz 49, jazz/world music, Pori, mid-July
  • Ankkarock 50, rock, Korso near Helsinki, August
  • Flow 51, indie/electronic/urban, Helsinki, mid-August

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

Northern Lights

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

Buying stuff in Finland

Finland adopted the euro € on January 1st 2002 and the Finnish mark FIM is now obsolete Finland does not use the 1 and 2 cent coins; instead all sums are rounded to the nearest 5 cents The coins are, however, still legal tender and there are even small quantities of Finnish 1c and 2c coins, highly valued by collectors It is common to omit cents and the euro sign from prices, and use the comma as a decimal separator: "5,50" thus means five euros and fifty cents

Getting or exchanging money is rarely a problem, as ATMs "Otto" are common and they can be operated with international credit and debit cards Visa, Visa Electron, Mastercard, Maestro Currencies other than the euro are generally not accepted, although the Swedish krona may be accepted in Åland and northern border towns like Tornio Pre-2002 Finnish mark notes may be accepted on an ad-hoc basis and can be exchanged into euros at Bank of Finland 52 branches until 2012 Money changers are common in the bigger cities the Forex chain 53 is ubiquitous and typically have better rates, longer opening hours and faster service than banks Credit cards are widely accepted, but you will be asked for identification if you purchase more than €50 and may be asked to show it even for smaller purchases

As a rule, tipping is never necessary in Finland and restaurant bills already include service charges That said, taxi fares and other bills paid by cash are often 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 hotel porters will expect around the same per bag

Costs

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

Note that a VAT of 23% is charged for nearly everything, but by law this must be included in the displayed price Non-EU residents can get a tax refund for purchases above €40 at participating outlets, just look for the Tax-Free Shopping logo

Shopping

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

Popular brands for modern or timeless Finnish design include Marimekko 54 clothing, Iittala 55 glass, Arabia 56 ceramics, Kalevala Koru 57 jewelry, Pentik 58 interior design and, if you don't mind the shipping costs, Artek 59 furniture by renowned architect and designer Alvar Aalto Kids and not a few adults love Moomin 60 characters, which fill up souvenir store shelves throughout the country

Beware of limited Finnish shopping hours For smaller shops, normal weekday opening hours are 9 AM to 6 PM, but most shops close early on Saturday and are closed entirely on Sundays Larger shops and department stores are generally open until 9 PM on weekdays and 6 PM on Saturdays and Sundays Stores are allowed to stay open until 6 PM on Sundays 9 PM around Christmas Smaller stores have no limitations During national holidays, almost all stores are closed

Convenience stores like the ubiquitous R-Kioski 61 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 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 25th

Food and eating in Finland

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

Seafood

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

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

Other local fish to look out for include zander kuha, an expensive delicacy, pike hauki and perch ahven

Meat dishes

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

Milk products

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

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

Other dishes

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

Bread

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

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

Seasonal and regional specialities

Attack of the killer mushrooms

The false morel korvasieni has occasionally been dubbed the "Finnish fugu", as like the infamous Japanese pufferfish, an improperly prepared false morel can kill you Fortunately, it's easily rendered safe by boiling just don't breathe in the fumes!, and prepared mushrooms can be found in gourmet restaurants and even canned

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

There are also regional specialties, including Eastern Finland's kalakukko a type of giant fish pie and Tampere's infamous blood sausage mustamakkara Around Easter keep an eye out for mämmi, a type of brown sweet rye pudding which is eaten with cream and sugar It looks famously unpleasant but actually tastes quite good

Desserts

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

Finnish chocolate is also rather good, with Fazer 62 products including their iconic Sininen "Blue" bar exported around the world A more Finnish speciality is licorice lakritsi, particularly the strong, salty kind known as salmiakki, which gets its unique and acquired taste from ammonium chloride

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 local student ID you will usually need to pay about € 5-7

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 63 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

Dietary restrictions

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

Two ailments commonly found among Finns themselves are lactose intolerance laktoosi-intoleranssi, inability to digest the milk sugar lactose and coeliac disease keliakia, inability to digest gluten In restaurants, lactose-free selections are often tagged "L" low-lactose products are sometimes called "Hyla", while gluten-free options are marked with "G" However, hydrolyzed lactose HYLA brand milk 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 64 runs a small kosher deli in Helsinki

Drinking in Finland

Thanks to its thousands of lakes, Finland has plenty of water supplies and tap water is always potable The usual soft drinks and juices are widely available, but look out for a wide array of berry juices marjamehu, especially in summer, as well as Pommac, an unusual soda made from according to the label "mixed fruits", which you'll either love or hate

Coffee and tea

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

Dairy

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

Alcohol

Alcohol is very expensive in Finland compared to most countries though not to its Nordic neighbours Sweden and Norway, although low-cost Estonia's entry to the EU has forced the government to cut alcohol taxes a little Still, a single beer will cost you closer to €5 in any bar or pub, or €1 and up in a supermarket While beer and cider are available in any supermarket or convenience store until 9 PM, the state monopoly Alko 65 is your sole choice for wine or anything stronger The legal drinking age is 18 for milder drinks, while to buy hard liquor from Alko you need to be 20 ID is usually requested from all young-looking clients Some restaurants have higher age requirements, up to 30 years, but these are their own policies and are not always followed, especially at more quiet times

Surprisingly enough, the national drink is not Finlandia Vodka, but its local brand Koskenkorva 66 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, but look out for Ström, "The Spirit of Santa", a Finnish attempt at a super-premium vodka

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

Beer olut or kalja is also very popular, but Finnish beers are mostly nearly identical, mild lagers: common brands are Lapin Kulta, Karjala, Olvi, Koff and Karhu Pay attention to the label when buying: beers branded "I" are inexpensive but has low alcohol content, while "III" and "IV" are stronger and more expensive In normal shops you will not find any drinks with more than 47% alcohol You may also encounter kotikalja lit "home beer", a dark brown beer-like but very low-alcohol beverage Imported beers are available in bigger grocery stores, most pubs and bars, and Czech beers in particular are popular and only slightly more expensive

The latest trend is ciders siideri Most of these are artificially flavored sweet concoctions which are quite different from the English or French kinds, although the more authentic varieties are gaining market share The ever-popular gin long drink or lonkero lit "tentacle", a prebottled mix of gin and grapefruit soda, tastes better than it sounds and has the additional useful property of glowing under ultraviolet light

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

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

Accommodation in Finland

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 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

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 When there are guests, men and women usually bathe separately The temperature is regulated by throwing water onto the stove kiuas: the resulting rush of heat, known as löyly, is considered the key to the sauna experience Some sauna-goers also like to flagellate themselves with leafy branches of birch vihta in western Finland, vasta in eastern Finland, which creates an enjoyable aroma and improves blood circulation

If the heat is too much, cup your hands in front of your mouth or move down to a lower level to catch your breath After you've had your fill, you can cool off by heading outside for a dip in the lake or, in winter, a roll in the snow — 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 the sauna is heated by filling it with hot smoke and then ventilated well before entering

Anyone elderly or with a medical condition especially high blood pressure should consult their physician before using a sauna

Accommodation in Finland is expensive, but many large hotels are cheaper during the weekends and summer In addition to the usual international suspects, check out local chains Cumulus 67, Scandic 68, Finlandia 69 and Sokos 70 The small but fast-growing Omena 71 chain offers cheap self-service hotels, where you book online and get a keycode for your room, with no check-in of any kind needed

One of the few ways to limit the damage is to stay in youth hostels retkeilymaja, as the Finnish Youth Hostel Association 72 has a fairly comprehensive network throughout the country and 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

An even cheaper option is to take advantage of Finland's right to access, or Every Man's Right jokamiehenoikeus, which allows camping, hiking, and berry and mushroom picking as well as simple rod and hook fishing on uncultivated land Note that making a fire requires landowner's permission

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, but there are also many cottages around Lapland's ski resorts Prices vary widely based on facilities and location: simple cottages can go for as little as €20/night, while luxurious multistory mansions can go for 10 times that Beware that, while all but the most basic ones will have electricity, it's very common for cottages to lack running water: instead, the cottage will have an outhouse pit toilet and you're expected to bathe in the sauna and lake Renting a car is practically obligatory since there are unlikely to be any facilities shops, restaurants, etc within walking distance The largest cottage rental services are Lomarengas 73 and Nettimökki 74, both of which have English interfaces

Virtually every lodging in Finland includes a sauna see box 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

Working in Finland

There is little informal work to be found and many jobs require at least a remedial level of Finnish 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 77 However, students permitted to study full-time in Finland are allowed work part-time up to 25 h/week or even full-time during holiday periods

For jobs, you might want to check out the Ministry of Labour 78 Most of the posted jobs are described in Finnish so you may need some help in translation, but some jobs are in English

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

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 - €6,500 per month 2010

Cities in Finland

aanekoski  espoo  eura  eurajoki  forssa  hameenlinna  hamina  hanko  harjavalta  haukipudas  heinola  helsinki  hollola  huittinen  hyvinkaa  iisalmi  ilmajoki  imatra  jamsa  janakkala  jarvenpaa  joensuu  joutseno  jyvaskyla  kaarina  kajaani  kangasala  kankaanpaa  kauhajoki  kemijarvi  kemi  kempele  kerava  keuruu  kirkkonummi  kokemaki  kokkola  kotka  kouvola  kristiinankaupunki  kuopio  kurikka  kuusamo  kuusankoski  lahti  lappeenranta  lapua  laukaa  lempaala  lieksa  lieto  lohja  loviisa  maarianhamina  mantsala  mikkeli  muhos  mustasaari  naantali  nakkila  nastola  nivala  nokia  noormarkku  nurmijarvi  orimattila  oulainen  oulu  parainen  pietarsaari  pirkkala  pori  porvoo  raahe  raisio  rauma  riihimaki  rovaniemi  sakyla  salo  savonlinna  seinajoki  siilinjarvi  sipoo  tammisaari  tampere  tornio  turku  tuusula  ulvila  uusikaupunki  vaasa  valkeakoski  valkeala  vammala  varkaus  vihti  ylivieska  ylojarvi  

What do you think about Finland?

How expensive is Finland?
(1 EUR = 1.18 USD)
Meal in inexpensive restaurant11.04 EUR
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)58.8 EUR
McDonalds meal6.72 EUR
Local beer (0.5 draft)4.75 EUR
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 5.53 EUR
Cappuccino3.39 EUR
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)2.28 EUR
Water (0.33 bottle)1.34 EUR
Milk (1l)1.15 EUR
Fresh bread (500g)2.24 EUR
White Rice (1kg)2.14 EUR
Eggs (12) 2.33 EUR
Local Cheese (1kg) 8.21 EUR
Chicken Breast (1kg) 11.44 EUR
Apples (1kg) 2.14 EUR
Oranges (1kg) 2.2 EUR
Tomato (1kg) 3.15 EUR
Potato (1kg) 0.87 EUR
Lettuce (1 head) 1.49 EUR
Water (1.5l)1.62 EUR
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 9.3 EUR
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)2.77 EUR
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 2.79 EUR
Cigarettes5.06 EUR
One way local bus ticket2.73 EUR
Monthly pass for bus52.57 EUR
Taxi start6.62 EUR
Taxi 1km1.5 EUR
Taxi 1hour waiting40.7 EUR
Gasoline (1 liter) 1.78 EUR
Utilities for a "normal" apartment155.9 EUR
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend) 20.43 EUR
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre 706.9 EUR
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre 466.16 EUR
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre 934.73 EUR
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