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Frequently Asked Questions about Finland - Your questions answered!

 


Map of Northern EuropeWhere is Finland?

Finland is the easternmost of the Scandinavian countries and shares borders with Sweden, Norway and Russia. Approximately one third of Finland is located north of the Arctic Circle. 

Finland is a large country and covers 338,000 sq. km (or 131,000 sq. miles). 10% of the country is covered by water and 68% is covered by forests. There are over 188,000 lakes, 179,000 islands and 4,600km (2,760 miles) of coastline. Despite its large size, only a little over 5 million people live in Finland, which means everyone has plenty of space and it is easy to find your own little hideaway from the world. Finland is 2 hrs ahead of GMT.

 


What language do they speak in Finland?

Predominantly Finnish, which is spoken by approximately 92% of the population, while 6% speak Swedish. Most Finns, particularly the younger generations, can also speak English very well, though they might be a bit shy to do so at first. In fact, English is taught at school to children from the age of nine.

 


Driving through Punkaharju RidgeDo they drive on the left or right?

The Finns drive on the right. When driving in Finland, bear in mind that you need to be at least 18 years old, it is compulsory to wear a seat belt and that you should have your headlights on at all times, except when it is particularly bright and sunny. 

The British EU-standard driving license is accepted in Finland and you do not need an additional permit. Please be aware however that if you will be driving in Lapland, you will need to mind the wild reindeer that often wander on roads. In Lakeland, you will have to be aware of road crossing moose, particularly at dusk. It is also worth pointing out that the drink driving limits in Finland are a lot lower that in the UK and if you will be driving, it is wise not to drink at all.

 


SnowmobilingCan anyone drive a snowmobile?

Generally speaking, you have to be at least 15 years old to drive a snowmobile, though some ski resorts and suppliers also have special children's snowmobiles that even small children can drive in closed, supervised areas. If there are only adult size snowmobiles available, all under 15 year olds need to share a snowmobile with an adult. A driving license is needed if you will be driving on public snowmobiling tracks, but if you stay on supervised tracks within controlled areas for example in a ski resort, the driving license is not needed.

 


Isn't Finland really expensive?

No, this is a myth. Helsinki is the least expensive of the Scandinavian capitals and prices are on a par and often lower than those in the UK.
Alcohol is heavily taxed though, which makes it relatively expensive, but if you stick to non-alcoholic drinks, you won't break a bank. 

Attractions are generally speaking a lot cheaper than in the UK and you can buy special 'Family Tickets', that offer excellent value for money! Also, please note that the quality of all things in Finland is very high and you are unlikely to be able to buy any low priced "value" items, as the Finns tend to prefer high quality to cut price bargains! The currency in Finland is the Euro (€).

 


Small Finnish girl playing on the beachWhat are the Finns like?

Generally, the Finns are friendly, calm and laid-back people. The Finns like to make the most of their abundant and beautiful  countryside and are lovers of the great outdoors. They have an appreciation of nature and tranquility and this is why they enjoy the relaxation offered by their lakeside cabins, away from the towns where they live and work. 

The Finns are very proud of their country, probably due to their long fought battle for independence, that they gained only in 1917.  The Finns have a national character trait known in Finnish as 'sisu', which means self-reliance and persistence to reach your goals no matter what obstacles are on your way. 

Finally, you might notice that it can be difficult to get to know a Finn well, as they tend to be slow to open up with people they have only just met. This is not to say they are unfriendly, but it will take a while before you are classed as a friend. Once you are considered a friend however, you are then a friend for life! 

 


Having fun in snowWill it be cold?

Yes, but only in winter! Finland has four distinctly different seasons and in the summer months temperatures can reach highs of +30C.  The winter is cold and white Christmas is nearly 100% guaranteed in Lapland and Lakeland. The Southern and Western regions are warmer and get less snow due to the warming effect of the sea along the long coastline. 

In Lapland temperatures during December to February can reach lows of -30C, so if you are heading to this region, make sure you wrap up warm! The average temperature in winter in the Lakeland region is -10C to -20C, while in the West and South, average temperatures are -5C to -10C. The summers are far warmer and temperatures of +25C are not unusual, except in the far north. The air all year round is dry and crisp, unlike the wet and damp climate in the UK. This dry cold means the low temperatures do not feel as bitterly cold as you might imagine.

 


Midnight Sun in LakelandWill I experience the Midnight Sun?

Yes, if you are in Finland during the summer months of June to July. The further north you travel, the longer the sun will stay above the horizon. In Lapland,  the sun never sets for up to two months, while elsewhere the sun only goes down below the horizon for an hour or two when the days are at their longest. The long bright summer nights are excellent for night time fishing, rowing on a calm blue lake or just sitting by a fire on your private beach admiring the pink and orange sky!

 


Reindeer safariWhat do the Finns do for fun?

As well as sauna, Finns love the outdoor living. In winter, the Finns enjoy downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoe walking, snowboarding, reindeer or husky safaris and  ice fishing. In the summer months, popular activities include cycling, hiking, roller-skating, canoeing, relaxing in summer cabins, sailing/rowing on lakes and the sea, horse and pony riding, fishing and generally enjoying the fresh air and the beautiful scenery.  

The towns and cities offer many cultural activities, especially in the summer when Savonlinna Opera Festival and other musical and sports events take place. 

Finland is also home to some of the world's most unusual national and international competitions, such as the Wife Carrying World Championship, The Mobile Phone Throwing Competition, The International Ice Swimming Contest, The World Mosquito Killing Championship, The Ant Hill Competition (who can sit on an ant hill for the longest, naked!), Calling the Cattle Competition and World Sauna Endurance Championship.  

 


Northern LightsWill I see the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights occur when particles from the sun - or a windstorm - are pushed towards the earth's poles and when these particles collide with particles in the atmosphere.  You can only see the Northern Lights when it is dark, so do not attempt to spot them during the Midnight Sun! 

It helps to get as far as possible from any artificial lights, as they can prevent you from seeing these amazing natural lights, that light up the sky on dark, clear nights. In Lapland, the Northern Lights can be seen from early September to early April and in the South from early August to May.

 


Warm outfits are essential in winterWhat should I pack for my trip to Finland?

This obviously depends on what time of year you will be visiting Finland. In winter, take plenty of warm clothing, including thick gloves or mittens, a scarf, a warm woolly hat, a few pairs of warm woolen socks, thick warm shoes with thick soles, thermal underwear and a thick padded jacket. Please remember that you will feel warmer wearing two or three thin layers than just one thick jumper. 

You may also wish to take something to protect your face and lips from the cold dry air. Children's faces in particular should be protected by using plenty of lip balm and clothing such as balaclava hats. Also, take sunglasses as the sunrays reflect from the white snow. If you are going to use a camera, take plenty of batteries as the cold air uses the batteries a lot quicker than you are used to. Also, only take the camera out when you intend to take a picture to protect it from the cold as much as possible. 

In summer you can travel much lighter. Take plenty of casual T-shirts and trousers, shorts, swimsuits and comfortable shoes such as trainers. Finnish people tend to dress in a fairly casual style and only wear formal outfits to weddings or christenings. You probably need something long-sleeved to wear on cooler days and in evenings when enjoying a camp fire or a barbeque on the beach. Children love inflatable toys to play with in the lakes and on the beaches. It is also important to take insect repellant as mosquitoes are common, particularly inland and in Lapland. 

All electrical appliances need a European two pin adaptor. 

 


Iittala candle holdersWhat souvenirs can I buy in Finland?

Finland is famed for technology and design. Nokia mobile phones are designed and produced in Finland and the latest designs are available there before anywhere else. If you like kitchenware or decorative items, look no further than the high quality glassware and ceramics produced by Iittala or Arabia. All items are produced to a high standard and the designs are fresh and very Scandinavian. 

Fiskars scissors are sold all around the world and Hackman produces high quality cutlery and cooking utensils that are both stylish and hard wearing. If you like Scandinavian clothing and fabrics, you should look at the products made by Marimekko, that feature bold colourful designs. For jewellery, look no further than unique Kalevala designs that include necklaces, ear-rings, cufflinks, bracelets and more, all inspired by the Finnish nature and wildlife. If you or your children are fans of the Finnish characters Moomins, you should take the opportunity to purchase a few Moomin mugs, plates, soft toys, fridge magnets etc! 

Finnish chocolate and sweets are very tasty and quite unusual and as such, it is worth bringing back a few confectionary items for your friends back home. Fazer chocolate is a Finnish institution and it comes in a variety of different flavours including mint-crisp, raspberry yogurt, apple yogurt, hazelnut and white chocolate & honey. Another Finnish delicacy is Salmiakki, a salty liquorice type of sweet, not appreciated by everyone! 

 


Do Finnish supermarkets stock similar items to those in the UK?

You can find all kinds of food in Finnish supermarkets from meats and fish to cheeses, pizzas and milk. Large department stores such as Sokos and Stockman have their own food halls, while large supermarkets such as Prisma and CityMarket also stock clothes, shoes, cds and dvds, electrical goods, magazines, sports equipment and much more. 

Please note that you will not be able to buy alcohol, apart from mild beer and cider, in Finnish supermarkets. Wine, strong beer and spirits are only sold in off-licenses called ALKO. Some shopping centres include a separate ALKO shop, while you can also find one in some of the larger ski resorts and most towns. ALKO shops are closed on public holidays and Sundays.   

Medicine can also only be bough in chemists called APTEEKKI. There is usually more than one chemist in town with one of them staying open very late or even all night. Villages and larger ski resorts also often have a chemist, or another point such as a village shop or a post office, where non-prescription medicine is sold over the counter.   

 


Santa Claus and his reindeerCan I meet Santa Claus?

Santa Claus, as we all know, lives in the Finnish Lapland. You can visit him in his own Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi at the Arctic Circle. In the Santa Claus Village, you will be able to meet the man himself and even get your photograph taken with him and his elves. Santa Claus also has his very own Post Office in the village, from where you can post all your Christmas greetings with a special Santa Claus Post Office stamp! 

Alternatively you can also meet Santa Claus in the Santa Park, a small theme park for young children (also in Rovaniemi). If you are in Finland at the Christmas time, you might well spot Santa Claus anywhere in Finland, as he will personally deliver presents to Finnish children on the Christmas Eve. If you are very lucky, he might even make a private visit to your cabin!  

 


SaunaHow do I heat up the sauna?

It is believed that the sauna was invented in Finland. Today there are over one and a half million saunas in Finland, that is one for every three inhabitants! Most Finns have a sauna in their own home and communal saunas are available everywhere. Almost all holiday cabins have a sauna and spending time in the hot steam is considered an essential part of a holiday in Finland. Logs for wood burning saunas are usually provided by the cabin owner and they can be found stacked in the woodshed outside the cabin or already indoors. Bear in mind that it is worth avoiding alcohol and heavy meals just before you will have sauna, as these might make you feel unwell in the heat. See our handy 'Beginner's Instructions for Sauna': 

  • Heat up your sauna. How you do this will depend on what type of sauna you are using. Generally there are two types – electric and wood burning. The electric stoves are easy to use as you can just switch the stove on and easily alter the temperature from the dial provided. After switching the sauna on, it takes about 45 minutes to get the temperature to rise to 70 degrees. Wood burning stoves require a little more skill. Start with just a few logs and put them in the stove. Surround the logs with crumbled newspaper and bark and light both with a match. You may have to do this a few times before the logs set on fire, so be patient. To raise temperature, keep adding logs about every 5-10 minutes, until you have the desired temperature. To maintain the temperature, you need to keep adding more logs every 10-15 minutes or so.    

  • For beginners 40-60 degrees is a suitable temperature. For hardened sauna users 70-90 degrees would be better. Remember though that the sauna is no place for a test of endurance!

  • When the sauna has reached your desired temperature, remove your clothes, fill a bucket with cool water and take it with you to the sauna room. Place a towel or a special sauna cloth called "pefletti" onto the bench and sit down.

  • Create steam by throwing water onto the hot stones on top of the stove using a ladle provided. Remember that the hot steam will add to the temperature in the sauna room. At this stage it is optional to pat/beat yourself with birch branches ("vasta" in Finnish) to invigorate your skin and release the pleasant aroma of birch trees. This beating is very relaxing and does not hurt at all!

  • Enjoy the warming sensation of the sauna, as it relaxes your body. Pour some cool water on your head if you feel uncomfortable in the heat. This will make you feel cooler immediately. 

  • When you get too hot, let yourself cool down by leaving the sauna room temporarily. Beginners should not stay in the sauna for longer than 10 minutes and should keep leaving the sauna room temporarily for showers or dips in the cooling lake.

  • Repeat the heating and cooling process as many times as you like, but only stay in the sauna as long as you feel good.  

  • When you are finished, turn off the switch for an electric stove, or let the fire die out in a wood burning stove.

  • Finish off with a cooling shower or dip in the lake. Then rest and have a cold drink as you are probable dehydrated. 

  • Always leave the sauna in a clean condition by rinsing the floor and the seating area.  

  • Note: Please bear in mind that a sudden change from a very hot sauna to extreme cold is never recommended. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, it might be worth consulting your doctor before trying sauna.   

  


rasberry cakeWhat is Finnish food like?

Finnish food is seasonal and each season has its own menus and delicacies. In summer, a lot of berries and vegetables are eaten and fresh strawberries, potatoes, peas, cucumber and tomatoes are particularly popular and can be bought from all market stalls. At this time of year, desserts are often made of fresh berries such as blueberries and cloudberries. Potato makes up a large portion of the Finnish diet in any season. 

In autumn, mushrooms and wild berries such as lingonberries and cranberries are picked and turned into delicious meals and desserts. Heavier food is eaten during the cold winter months when pork, beef, moose and reindeer are popular. Different types of fish are eaten all year round, including winter, when the fish is caught through a small hole on ice. 

A mention should also be given to sausages ("bangers"), that are often grilled in the end of a stick above a fire or on a barbecue and then enjoyed with mustard and cold beer. The Finns love this delicacy so mush that according to a popular joke, the national vegetable of Finland is sausage! Finally, you will notice that the Finns love bread with each meal. Try rye bread, which is delicious and a greatly healthier option to white bread. 

  


Virtual FinlandWhere else can I find information about Finland?

One excellent source of all kinds of information about Finland and the Finns is a website called
Virtual Finland. This website, produced by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Finland, is a true goldmine of information. Click on the link above to find out more. 

  

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