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.

Discount Cards

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 code358
International access code00
General emergency112

Etiquette

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

Helsinki has a small but active scene with several dedicated venues and a host of gay-friendly spots. There’s a list of gay-friendly places at www.visithelsinki.fi, and the tourist office stocks a couple of brochures on gay Helsinki.

Every summer Helsinki Pride includes balls, karaoke and picnics.

Insurance

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

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.

Money

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.

Tipping

  • 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.

Opening Hours

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.

Post

Main Post Office Across from the train station.

Public Holidays

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

  • 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.

Telephone

Public telephones basically no longer exist in Finland.

The country code for Finland is 358. To dial abroad it’s 00.

Mobile Phones

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.

Time

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.

Toilets

  • Public toilets are widespread but can be expensive – often €1 a time.
  • On doors, ‘M’ is for men, while ‘N’ is for women.

Tourist Information

Between June and August, multilingual ‘Helsinki Helpers’ – easily spotted by their lime-green jackets – are a mine of tourist information.

Helsinki City Tourist Office Busy multilingual office with a great quantity of information on the city. Also has an office at the airport.

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.

More Information

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.

  • Suomenlinna

Activities on Finland's island-set fortress include a nostalgic toy museum and crawling through the submarine. There's also a safe beach here.

  • 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.

Museums

Most museums are free to under-18s.

  • Heureka

The pick of the museums for kids is the hands-on Heureka science centre, near the airport at Vantaa.

  • Kiasma

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.

  • Kansallismuseo

Finland's national museum brings history to life, especially at its hands-on Workshop Vintti.

Amusements

  • Linnanmäki

In Kallio, amusement park Linnanmäki has thrill-seeking rides.

  • Sky Wheel

Kids can identify Helsinki landmarks on this sightseeing Ferris wheel.

  • Hohtogolf

Minigolf at this indoor complex is played on glow-in-the-dark courses.

Aquatic Fun

Opportunities to get into the water abound.

Sea Life

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

Hietaranta has golden sands for building castles and safe beach swimming.

  • Kaivopuisto

This beautiful park has a great beach and good playground.

  • Serena

In the satellite city of Espoo, this water park is great splashy fun, with plenty of water slides.

Winter Activities

  • Serena

Come winter, the Serena water park also offers skiing on gentle downhill runs.

  • Jääpuisto

Wrap the kids up for ice skating at Jääpuisto, while you stay snug in a nearby cafe.

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.

Volunteering

  • 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.