Dangers & Annoyances
Helsinki is a safe city and travellers exercising common sense shouldn't experience any problems.
- The lowest temperature recorded in the city was -34.3°C (in 1987). If you're visiting in winter, it's vital to make sure you have warm clothing and waterproof boots with good grip.
- Parts of gentrifying Kallio can be sketchy; stick to busy, well-lit areas after dark.
- From midsummer through to the beginning of August, many Helsinki residents head to their summer cottage, and some restaurants, shops and services close.
The Helsinki Card (www.helsinkicard.com; one/two/three day pass €46/56/66) gives you free public transport around the city and local ferries to Suomenlinna, entry to 28 attractions in and around Helsinki and a 24-hour hop-on, hop-off bus tour.
The Helsinki & Region Card (one/two/three day pass €50/62/72) offers the same benefits and adds in free transport to/from the airport as well as greater Helsinki destinations, including the satellite city of Espoo.
Both cards are cheaper online; otherwise, get them at tourist offices, hotels or transport terminals. To make the cards worthwhile, you’d need to pack lots of sightseeing into a short time.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Eliminate the initial zero from area/mobile codes if dialling from abroad.
|Finland's country code||358|
|International access code||00|
Like the rest of the country, Helsinki is a very easy-going place, and visitors are unlikely to be at risk of making any social faux pas.
- Greetings Greet men, women and children with a brief but firm handshake and make eye contact.
- Small talk Finns value conversation, but don't engage in small talk; silence is considered preferable.
- Saunas Shower before entering a sauna. Nudity is the norm (a towel is required in mixed saunas), but check first. Saunas are strictly nonsexual.
- Punctuality Finns are very punctual and expect the same in return.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
A travel insurance policy to cover theft, personal liability, loss, medical problems and cancellations and delays in travel arrangements is strongly recommended.
- Buy insurance as early as possible. If you buy it the week before you are due to fly, you may find that you’re not covered for delays to your flight caused by strikes or other industrial actions that may have been in force before you took out the insurance.
- Paying for your airline ticket with a credit card often provides limited travel-accident insurance, and you may be able to reclaim the payment if the operator doesn’t deliver.
- Certain bank accounts offer their holders automatic travel insurance.
- Make sure you get a policy that covers you for the worst possible health scenario if you aren’t already covered. Ensure it covers you for any activities you plan to do, such as skiing. Be sure to check the small print.
- Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.
- Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Internet access at public libraries is free. Large parts of the city centre have free wi-fi, as do many restaurants, cafes and bars, and nearly all hotels.
Data is very cheap. If you have an unlocked smartphone, you can pick up a local SIM card for a few euros and charge it with a month's worth of data at a decent speed for under €20. Ask at R-kioski shops for the latest deals.
Credit cards are widely accepted. ATMs (bearing the name 'Otto') are prevalent. There are currency-exchange counters at all transport terminals; visit www.forex.fi to locate others.
- Service is considered to be included in bills, so there’s no need to tip at all unless you want to reward exceptional service.
- Doormen in bars and restaurants expect a cloakroom tip (around €2) if there’s no mandatory coat charge.
From midsummer to early August, some restaurants, shops and bars close for the summer holidays, although the majority remain open.
Alko (state alcohol store) 9am–8pm Monday to Friday, to 6pm Saturday
Banks 9am–4.15pm Monday to Friday
Businesses & shops 9am–6pm Monday to Friday, to 3pm Saturday
Nightclubs 10pm–4am Wednesday to Saturday
Pubs 11am–1am (often later on Friday and Saturday)
Restaurants 11am–10pm, lunch 11am–3pm. Last orders generally an hour before closing.
Main Post Office Across from the train station.
Helsinki, like the rest of Finland, grinds to a halt twice a year: around Christmas and New Year, and during the midsummer weekend.
National public holidays:
New Year’s Day 1 January
Epiphany 6 January
Good Friday March/April
Easter Sunday & Monday March/April
May Day 1 May
Ascension Day May
Whitsunday Late May or early June
Midsummer’s Eve & Day Weekend in June closest to 24 June
All Saints Day First Saturday in November
Independence Day 6 December
Christmas Eve 24 December
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December
- Smoking Forbidden in all enclosed public places.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added tax (VAT) is levied at 10% for books, medicines, passenger transport, accommodation services and cultural and entertainment events, 14% for restaurants and 24% for most other items. It should already be included in stated prices.
Non-EU residents may be able to claim a refund on a minimum €40 spent per shop per day. The website www.vero.fi has details.
Public telephones basically no longer exist in Finland.
The country code for Finland is 358. To dial abroad it’s 00.
Purchasing a Finnish SIM card at any R-kioski shop for your own phone (provided it's unlocked) is cheapest. Top the credit up at the same outlets, online or at ATMs. Roaming charges within the EU have been abolished.
Finland is on Eastern European Time (EET), an hour ahead of Sweden and Norway. In winter it's two hours ahead of UTC/GMT; from 3am on the last Sunday in March to 3am on the last Sunday in October the clocks go forward an hour to be three hours ahead of UTC/GMT.
- Public toilets are widespread but can be expensive – often €1 a time.
- On doors, ‘M’ is for men, while ‘N’ is for women.
Between June and August, multilingual ‘Helsinki Helpers’ – easily spotted by their lime-green jackets – are a mine of tourist information.
Strömma In the city tourist office; sells various tours and local cruises, as well as package tours to Stockholm, Tallinn and St Petersburg. Also sells the Helsinki Card and Helsinki & Region Card.
Hit the Helsinki App Store at http://apps.hel.fi on your smartphone or tablet for a range of helpful programs. Tourist info is also downloadable at www.visithelsinki.fi.
Travel with Children
Helsinki has a lot to offer kids, with summer boat trips, amusement parks and outdoor events year-round. Finland is a child-friendly society and just about every hotel and restaurant will be keen to help out with cots or high chairs. Family rooms are available even in business hotels.
Ferry Destinations & Cruises
Getting there is half the fun when it starts with a ferry ride.
- Helsinki Zoo
Encounter a host of animals at Helsinki's zoo, spread across the island of Korkeasaari.
- Royal Line
Kids under 12 cruise for free on Royal Line's sightseeing trips.
Most museums are free to under-18s.
The pick of the museums for kids is the hands-on Heureka science centre, near the airport at Vantaa.
Kiasma has loads of interaction, though check that special exhibits won’t raise any ‘adult themes’.
- Luonnontieteellinen Museo
Dinosaurs at Helsinki's Natural History Museum, the Luonnontieteellinen Museo, are a hit with youngsters.
Finland's national museum brings history to life, especially at its hands-on Workshop Vintti.
Opportunities to get into the water abound.
Kallio's Sea Life aquarium has walk-through tunnels for shark spotting.
- Allas Sea Pool
One of the superbly sited outdoor pools at Allas Sea Pool is dedicated for kids.
Hietaranta has golden sands for building castles and safe beach swimming.
This beautiful park has a great beach and good playground.
In the satellite city of Espoo, this water park is great splashy fun, with plenty of water slides.
Travellers with Disabilities
Helsinki is well equipped for visitors with disabilities. By law, most institutions must provide ramps, lifts and accessible toilets; all new hotels and restaurants must install disabled facilities. Trains and city buses are also accessible by wheelchair. Ongoing projects are in place to maximise disabled access in all aspects of urban life.
Before leaving home, get in touch with your national support organisation – preferably the ‘travel officer’ if there is one. The website www.finlandforall.fi has a searchable database of accessible attractions, accommodation and restaurants.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
- Check first with the Finnish embassy or consulate in your home country to find out whether volunteering affects your visa status.
- Go Abroad (www.goabroad.com) lists volunteering opportunities in Helsinki.