Helsinki, Finland (Things to know before you go)

Helsinki is a small town with a big city vibe.  The restaurants, museums, shopping and public transportation are everything that you would expect in a big city.  But if you can believe it, there are only 600,000 people who live in Helsinki, the city is very walkable and there’s very little traffic.  If I lived in Europe, I would definitely consider Helsinki as it seems like a well balanced city.

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1. Flights

Surprisingly there are direct flights from Seoul to Helsinki (only 9 hours and 20 minutes!) on Finnair. I did not think that Finland was a big destination for Koreans, but apparently there is definitely a fair amount of traffic back and forth via Finnair.  I had never flown Finnair before, but Helsinki is their major hub and we definitely could not pass up a direct flight.

The plane we were on was the Airbus 350 and the seating was a 3-3-3 format. The plane was very new and the attendants were competent and friendly.  The food was mostly Korean (no surprise there), but pretty good and I never went hungry at any point.

2. Visas

United States citizens are authorized up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa upon landing (as Finland is a party to the Schengen Agreement).

3. Getting Around Helsinki

Traveling around Helsinki, you really do not need a car.  There are multiple modes of public transportation and all of them are very accessible.

Airport to Helsinki city

Train: The train runs from 4 AM to Midnight and is only €5.50 from the airport to the city.  Do make sure you purchase the right ticket as there are train inspectors on board the trains. A tip, the tickets from the airport to Helsinki are considered “regional” tickets.

The train station is in the hallway between Terminals 1 and 2.  If you’re worried about taking the wrong train, don’t worry, all trains (I & P lines) go to Helsinki City.  However, depending on where your final destination is, you may have to transfer. Google maps was a great tool for us and I’d suggest checking it to see how to get to your final destination or ask your lodging for directions.

Taxi:  Taking a taxi is the most expensive option, taxis in Finland are not the cheapest.  For a ride from the airport to city center, you’re looking at upwards of €40.

Bus: There are 2 options for buses.  First there is the regular city bus (€5 from ticket machine, €5.50 from the driver). Local bus 615 or 415 are the ones to take and will take about 50 minutes to Helsinki city as it makes a few stops.  You can pick up these buses at Platform 25, located in front of the terminal.

The second option is the FinnAir city bus costs one way: €6.70, round trip: €12.20) and will get you from the airport to Helsinki city center. The bus runs every 20 minutes, has wifi, and takes about 30 minutes to Central Railway Station. You can pick it up at Terminal 1, platform 11 or Terminal 2, platform 10). We opted for the FinnAir city bus since it dropped us closer to our lodging.

In the City

Once you’re in the city, you can sightsee easily and affordably via train, bus, metro, tram and even ferry. Honestly, if the weather were warmer, we would have walked a lot more during our time in Helsinki since everything is pretty close. Unfortunately, it was blistering cold while we were there and we opted for the buses and trams a lot. From the looks of it, the tram is the most popular mode of transportation in the city and a single tram tickets can be purchased from a ticket machine for only €2.50. I would recommend that you pick up a Helsinki City Transport Day ticket which is €9/one day (€4.50 children ages 7-16), €13.50/two days, or €18/three days and also allows you to use the bus and subway! They also have Regional Transport Day tickets in case you are coming from the airport, or want to travel outside of Helsinki city. The best thing about the card is that one day is not a calendar day, it’s for 24 hours.

 

Day Trips and more!

I do want to mention that Helsinki is a great jumping off point for trips around Scandinavia and even to Russia! We took a 2.5 hour ferry ride and did a 1 day trip to Tallinn, Estonia and this was one of the best things we did on our trip. You can also visit Stockholm, Sweden or even St. Petersburg, Russia! Those are much longer ferry rides, but if you’re interested in seeing Russia and don’t want to go through the hassle of getting a visa, Russia authorizes 72 hour visa free travel for those traveling on ferries. Definitely something to keep in mind!

4. Money

As of 1/9/2018, $1 is equal to about €0.83.

Finland is part of the European Union and uses the Euro, which is really handy if you are visiting a lot of the other European countries.  Don’t be concerned about exchanging too much cash as you are able to use your credit card almost everywhere (restaurants, tours, souvenirs).

If you decide to exchange money at the airport, most the kiosks charged a €5.95 commission.

You should also note that it is not customary to tip in Finland.

5. Duty Free

You may be interested in duty free purchases during your travels to Finland, note that not all stores provide duty free services.  Here are a few tips on duty free:

  • Make sure you get your Global Blue form and that it is fully completed by the store.
  • Your purchase will be sealed and you will not be able to open the bag until you get to the duty free desk at the airport.  So make sure you bring your duty free goods in your carryon and don’t even bother doing the duty free paperwork for something you want to use immediately.

6. Cell Phone

Finland does not sell SIM Cards in kiosks at the airport.  You can purchase SIM Cards at R Kioski convenience stores, and it was on sale for €4.90 (regular price was €5.90).  The card came preloaded with €7 on it and you can get unlimited data for €1 per day. WiFi around city center is plentiful, but for the price, we figured we would just play it safe and get 1 SIM card to use during our time there.

7. Where to stay

Helsinki offers a variety of lodging options to fit every budget and taste.  We opted for an Airbnb apartment in the Kamppi area and were very happy with the location, size and cost of the apartment we rented.  The only thing I wished was that the windows were more airtight, those quaint looking buildings sure can be drafty! Whether you decide to stay in a private home or at a hotel, I would highly recommend staying near city center since that will make everything relatively close and convenient during your stay.

Next week I’ll share the places we visited while we were in Helsinki, see you then!

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