Getting there & away
EU nationals, Schengen agreement countries, and citizens of Switzerland and small EU affiliates such as Andorra and Monaco can enter Finland with a valid passport or identity card. All other nationalities need a valid passport. Most Western nationals don't need a visa; South Africans are among those that do.
See formin.finland.fi for a full list of requirements.
As with most European destinations, flights are usually cheaper if they include a Saturday night stay. One-way flights are rarely good value.
Online ticket sales work well if you are doing a simple return trip on a specific date; however, online fare generators are no substitute for a travel agent who knows all about special deals, has strategies for avoiding stopovers and can offer advice.
The following are some useful websites for online purchases and price comparisons:
Ebookers (www.ebookers.com) Another good online flight booker.
Expedia (www.expedia.com) Reliable online flight agent run by Microsoft.
Flights.com (www.flights.com) A truly international site for flight-only tickets; cheap fares and easy-to-search database.
Kelkoo (www.kelkoo.com) Compares flight prices from several sources.
Opodo (www.opodo.com) Online sales from a confederation of world airlines.
Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) This US site allows you to search for fares (in US dollars) to and from practically anywhere.
WhichBudget (www.whichbudget.com) Up-to-date listings of routes flown by budget airlines.
Arriving in Finland by ferry is a memorable way to begin your visit, especially if you dock in Helsinki. Baltic ferries are some of the world's most impressive seagoing craft, especially considering they are passenger ferries rather than cruise ships. The big ferries are floating hotels-cum-shopping plazas, with duty-free shopping, restaurants, bars, karaoke, nightclubs and saunas. Many Scandinavians use them simply for boozy overnight cruises, so they can get pretty rowdy on Friday and Saturday nights, when you may need to book in advance.
Services are year-round between major cities: book ahead in summer and if travelling with a vehicle. The boats are amazingly cheap if you travel deck class (without a cabin): they make their money from duty-free purchases. Many ferry lines offer 50% discounts for holders of Eurail, Scanrail and Inter-Rail passes. Some offer discounts for seniors, and for ISIC and youth card-holders; inquire when purchasing your ticket. There are usually discounts for families and small groups travelling together.
Ferry companies have detailed timetables and fares on their websites. Fares vary according to season. Here is a list of operators with their Finnish contact numbers:
Birka Line (018-27330; www.birkaline.com)
Finnlines (010-34350; www.finnlines.fi)
Linda Line (09-668 9700; www.lindaliini.ee)
Nordic Jet Line (09-681 770; www-eng.njl.fi)
RG Line (06-3200 300; www.rgline.com)
SeaWind Line (0800 16800; www.seawind.fi)
Silja Line (09-18041; www.silja.fi)
Superfast Ferries (09-2534 0640; www.superfast.com)
Tallink (09-228 311; www.tallink.fi)
Viking Line (09-12351; www.vikingline.fi)
Several ferry companies ply the Gulf of Finland between Helsinki and Tallinn in Estonia. Since most nationalities (except Canadians) don't require a visa and the trip is so quick and cheap, it's a very popular day trip from Helsinki. Competition between the companies keeps the prices low, and if you're heading to Estonia for onward travel it can be cheaper to get a same-day return ticket than a one-way ticket. Car ferries cross in 3½ hours, catamarans and hydrofoils in about 1½ hours. Service is heavy year-round, although in winter there are fewer departures, and the traffic is also slower because of ice. Cancellations occur if the sea is rough; the express boats are more prone to this. Phone the day before to check on sailings in winter.
Ferries are cheapest: Eckerö Line has only one departure daily but is the cheapest with a return fare of €25 in high season. Tallink, Viking Line and Silja Line have several daily departures (€17 to €25, one way). Vehicle space costs around €17.
Catamarans and hydrofoils cost between €22 and €28 one way depending on the company, time of year, time of day and the day of the week. Linda Line, Nordic Jet Line and Tallink offer these routes. Tallink are somewhat pricier, at €34 to €39 for adults in summer, but have vehicle space on their fast ferry (€23 to €27 one-way for standard-sized cars).
Finnlines has year-round service from Helsinki to Travemünde (from €302 September to May, from €408 June to August one way plus €100 per vehicle, 34 to 36 hours) with a connecting bus service to Hamburg.
Superfast Ferries has a speedy ferry running service between Rostock and Hanko on the south coast of Finland (21 hours), Tuesday to Sunday, and daily late May to late August. The ferries all depart in the evening and the minimum one-way fare is €75 in 'airline seats', or €155 in a cabin. Vehicles cost from €116.
Stockholm is the main gateway to Finland, due to the incredibly luxurious passenger ferries that travel regularly between Stockholm and Turku or Helsinki. There are two main competing operators, Silja Line (blue-and-white ferries) and Viking Line (red-and-white ferries), with smaller companies operating on certain routes.
The major source of income for these ferry companies is duty-free shopping. Because the ferries stop at the Åland islands, tax-free shopping is possible on board, even though Sweden and Finland are both in the European Union. Thus Swedes and Finns can avoid the high sales taxes in both countries, especially for alcohol and cigarettes. For the traveller, this means ferry companies can afford to keep fares unusually low. Whether you choose to blow the rest of your cash on board on a megabuffet, disco dancing or a case of aquavit - well, that's up to you.
There are cabins, but you can buy a passenger ticket and sleep in the salons or any spare patch of inside deck (or just not sleep at all, as many partying passengers do). There are luggage lockers on board. Viking Line is the cheapest, but note that Friday-night departures are more expensive than departures on other days of the week. Silja line also does regular special prices.
All Viking and Silja ferries travelling between Stockholm and Turku call in at Mariehamn in Åland. The SeaWind Line runs the same route (11 hours, from €58 per vehicle, including one to four passengers), but stops in Långnäs. Additionally, Birka Cruises travels between Mariehamn and Stockholm, and both Viking and Silja Lines offers service between Mariehamn/Turku and Kapellskär, Sweden, a small harbour in the northern part of Stockholm province. This cuts the journey considerably; a connecting bus to Stockholm is included in the price of the ferry.
Eckerö Linjen sails from Grisslehamn, north of Stockholm, to Eckerö in Åland. It's by far the quickest, at just two hours, and, with prices starting from €5.50 return, it's a bargain, especially as the connecting bus from Stockholm, Uppsala or Gävle (Sweden) is free.
From the main Åland island group it's possible to island-hop across the archipelago to mainland Finland (or vice versa) on free ferries.
RG Lines sails from Vaasa in Finland, to Umeå, Sweden (€50 to €60/SEK450 to SEK540, four hours) one or two times daily (and once weekly to Sundsvall) in summer. Finnlines run a simpler cargo ferry, which connects Naantali, near Turku, with Kapellskär three times daily.
There are ten border crossings from northern Sweden to northern Finland across Tornionjoki and Muonionjoki, and the main highway in both countries runs parallel to the border from Tornio/Haparanda to Kaaresuvanto/Karesuando. There are no passport or customs formalities, and if you're driving up along the border you can alternate between countries.
Between Norway and Finland, there are six road border crossings, plus a few legal crossings along wilderness tracks. The main Nordkapp (North Cape) route goes from Rovaniemi via Inari and Kaamanen to Karigasniemi; there's also a crossing further west at Kilpisjärvi.
There are eight border crossings between Finland and Russia. Along the popular Helsinki-Vyborg-St Petersburg corridor there are two Finland-Russia road crossings: Nuijamaa (Russian side: Brusnichnoe) and Vaalimaa (Russian side: Torfyanovka).
The Russian borders are serious affairs; you must already have a visa to cross into Russia.
It's a long way to Finland by bus from the UK and central Europe - you're unlikely to save too much money over a plane fare. Eurolines (www.eurolines.com) don't have direct services to Helsinki except from Russia, but they may be useful if you plan to visit other Nordic countries en route.
Motorists and motorcyclists will need the vehicle's registration papers, and liability insurance. You may have to contact your insurer to initiate Europe-wide 'Green Card' coverage. A home licence from most Western countries is valid. Contact your local automobile association for details about all documentation.
Car pooling is a good way of sharing costs, especially when travelling long distances. Useful websites to search for drivers or to enter your details for prospective passengers are:
www.allostop.com Canadian site that lists a range of European links.
www.freewheelers.co.uk British site with worldwide lifts.
www.mitfahrzentrale.de In German and perhaps the most useful site. You pay a reservation fee.
The typical route to Finland from any point in Europe goes via Denmark and Sweden. There are direct long-distance trains to Stockholm from various major cities in Europe. Train passes give discounts on most ferry routes across to Finland. There is no train service between Finland and Norway.
To and from central and eastern Asia, a train can work out at about the same price as flying, and it can be a lot more fun. Helsinki is a good place to start your journey across Russia into Asia. Frequent trains run between Helsinki and Moscow, and there are three routes to/from Moscow across Siberia with connections to China, Japan and Korea: the Trans-Siberian to/from Vladivostok, and the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian, both to/from Beijing. There's a fourth route south from Moscow and across Kazakhstan, following part of the old Silk Road to Beijing. These trips take several days, often involve stopovers, and prices vary according to the direction you are travelling, where you buy your ticket and what is included.
For details on Trans-Siberian options see Lonely Planet's Trans-Siberian Railway guide.
There's a wide range of buses from Finland to and from various points in Norway, many running in summer only. The main operator is Eskelisen Lapin Linjat (www.eskelisen-lapinlinjat.com), whose website has detailed timetables.
Most crossings are in the northeast part of Finland; these routes often originate in Rovaniemi and continue via Sodankylä and Ivalo or Inari. They then proceed to Karasjok, Lakselv, Tanabru or Kirkenes. There is one daily bus in summer from Oulu to Nordkapp (North Cape) via Rovaniemi, Inari and Karasjok. On the western route, a daily bus runs from Oulu to Rovaniemi and Muonio; in summer this continues to Kilpisjärvi and Tromsø (12½ hours).
There are two daily express buses to Vyborg and St Petersburg from Helsinki, one originating in Turku. There's also one daily from Tampere and three weekly from Lappeenranta. A visa is required to enter Russia. Check current timetables on www.matkahuolto.info and book tickets at the city bus station or a travel agency. The one-way fare from Helsinki to Vyborg is €34.70 (five to six hours) and to St Petersburg it's €53.50 (eight to nine hours).
If you plan to drive into Russia, you'll need an international licence and certificate of registration, passport and visa, and insurance. Ingonord (09-251 0300; www.ingonord.com; Salomonkatu 5C, 00100 Helsinki) can arrange temporary Russian cover. Scandinavian car rental companies do not allow their cars to be taken into Russia.
Finland uses broad-gauge tracks, similar to those in Russia, so there are regular trains to/from Russia. Tickets for these trains are sold at the international ticket counter at Helsinki train station. The rail crossing is at Vainikkala (Russian side: Luzhayka).
There are three daily trains from Helsinki to Russia, travelling via the Finnish stations of Lahti, Kouvola and Vainikkala. You must have a valid Russian visa, but border formalities have been fast-tracked so that passport checks are now carried out on board the moving train.
The Tolstoi sleeper runs from Helsinki to Moscow (via St Petersburg), arriving at the Russian capital early in the morning. One way costs 2nd/1st class €85/127. The fare includes a sleeper berth in both classes.
The Sibelius and Repin run daily between Helsinki and St Petersburg (5½ hours) via Vyborg (3¾ hours). The Sibelius is a Finnish day train (2nd/1st class €50.80/80.40, seats only). The Russian Repin has 2nd-class seats (€50.80) or 1st-class sleeping berths (€89.10). Return fares are double. There are significant discounts for families and small groups. See www.vr.fi for details.
Alternatively, pick a bus stop from where you can walk to Finland, although you can generally pick up a local bus to the station in the Finnish town or vice versa. Swedish trains travel as far north as Boden; from there take buses (train passes are valid) to Haparanda, and on to Tornio and Kemi. Inter-Rail passes cover bus travel all the way from Boden to Kemi.
There is no direct train service between Finland and Sweden, but train passes give discounts on ferry and bus connections.
Direct flights to Finland are not the cheapest in Europe, but it is served by various budget carriers, including Ryanair from London and Frankfurt, Germanwings from Cologne, and Blue1 from Copenhagen and Stockholm. Most other flights are with Finnair or Scandinavian Airlines (SAS).
Nearly all flights to Finland land at Helsinki-Vantaa airport (HEL; 0200 14636; www.helsinki -vantaa.fi), situated 19km north of the capital.
There are good flight connections to Finland from all over the world. Finnair, the Finnish national carrier, and SAS have scheduled flights to Helsinki from most major cities in Europe, as well as from New York, San Francisco, Cairo, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Osaka and Tokyo.
Airlines flying to and from Finland (all phone numbers in Helsinki with an 09 code unless otherwise stated):
Adria Airways (JP; 6151 4135; www.adria-airways.com)
Aer Lingus (EI; 6122 0260; www.aerlingus.ie)
Aeroflot Russian Airlines (SU; 659 655; www.aeroflot.com)
Air Baltic (BT; 020-386 000; www.airbaltic.com)
Air Finland (FIF; 251 200; www.airfinland.fi)
Air France (AF; 8568 0500; www.airfrance.com)
American Airlines (AA; 9800 14620; www.aa.com)
Austrian Airlines (OS; 020-386 000; www.aua.com)
Blue1 (KF; 06000 25831; www.blue1.com)
British Airways (BA; 6937 9538; www.ba.com)
Czech Airlines (OK; 681 2650; www.csa.cz)
Finnair (AY; 81881; www.finnair.com)
FlyMe (FLY; 0100 30010; www.flyme.com)
Iberia (IB; 6877 8950; www.iberia.es)
Icelandair (FI; 6126 070; www.icelandair.com)
Lithuanian Airlines (TE; 6226 2299; www.lal.lt)
LOT Polish Airlines (LO; 6937 9036; www.lot.com)
Lufthansa (LH; 020-386 000; www.lufthansa.com)
Malev Hungarian Airlines (MA; 622 0922; www.malev.hu)
Ryanair (FR;0600 16010; www.ryanair.com)
SAS Scandinavian Airlines (SK; 06000 53686; www.scandinavian.net)
SN Brussels Airlines (SN; 6937 9358; www.flysn.com)
Spanair (JK; 6151 4135; www.spanair.es)
Swiss International (LX; 6937 9034; www.swiss.com)
Most Asian countries offer fairly competitive deals, with Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong the best places to shop around for discount tickets. Flights from Asia to Europe tend to be cheaper in Asia than flights Europe, so it's worth purchasing the return flight while in Asia. Most airlines sell a standard European fare, regardless of the distance flown from the first stop.
Flying from Australia is a two-stage journey (at least), with likely stopovers in either Singapore or Bangkok, and cities in Europe. It's also possible to go via Japan and/or Russia. Finnair flies to Sydney, in partnership with Qantas, British Airways and Cathay Pacific. KLM, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and a few other European airlines fly to Helsinki from Australia via London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Vienna and other cities.
You may want to consider a round-the-world option, which can work out not much more expensive. These are often the best value from New Zealand. Depending on which airline you choose, you may fly across Asia (Singapore Airlines, Thai Airlines, Air New Zealand), with possible stopovers in India, Bangkok or Singapore, or across the USA (United, American Airlines, Continental), with possible stopovers in Honolulu, Australia or one of the Pacific islands.
Trailfinders Australia (02 9247 7666, 03 9600 3022; www.trailfinders.com.au) Reliable travel agent.
Travel.Com (www.travel.com.au) Good Australian online site that allows you to look up fares and flights into and out of the country.
Helsinki is well connected to most European capitals and major cities by a number of airlines. Particularly good are the connections with Scandinavian and Baltic capitals.
The budget airlines Ryanair, Germanwings, and Blue1 offer the cheapest fares off-season (check www.whichbudget.com for the current situation in this rapidly-changing market), but in summer you may find that the regular carriers offer more competitive fares.
France OTU Voyages (01 44 41 38 50; www.otu.fr); Voyageurs du Monde (01 40 15 11 15; www.vdm.com); Nouvelles Frontières (08 25 00 08 25 nationwide, www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr) Reliable travel agents with online booking.
Germany Just Travel (089 747 333; www.justtravel.de) English-speaking travel agent.
Italy CTS Viaggi (199 501150; www.cts.it) Specialists in student travel.
Netherlands Airfair (020 620 5121; www.airfair.nl) Useful flight agent.
From Britain, the cheapest service to Finland is often Ryanair's daily flight from London Stansted to Tampere. There are also direct nonstop scheduled services run by Finnair and British Airways from Helsinki to London, Manchester, Dublin, and, as of April 2006, Edinburgh.
Discount air travel is big business in the UK - this is the discount centre of Europe. Advertisements for many travel agencies are in the travel pages of the weekend broadsheet newspapers, Time Out, the Evening Standard and the free TNT magazine. Shop around - many of the ultracheap fares you see advertised won't be available when you call, but something usually comes up.
As well as the websites mentioned above, some recommended travel agents are:
Ebookers (0870 814 0000; www.ebookers.com)
North South Travel (01245 608 291; www.north southtravel.co.uk) Profits go to the developing world.
Nortours (0870 7447 305; www.norvista.co.uk) Specialists in Nordic travel.
Scantours (020 7839 2927; www.scantours.co.uk) Specialists in the region.
Trailfinders (www.trailfinders.co.uk) Check website for closest branch.
Finnair flies direct from Helsinki to New York and, in summer, to Toronto, but it's likely that you'll find cheaper fares involving a change of flight in another European city. You could fly to London, for example, and take advantage of the budget Ryanair service to Tampere.
Popular travel agents:
STA Travel (800 781 4040; www.statravel.com) Offices in major US cities.