Flights are the fastest but traditionally also the most expensive way of getting around. The new low-cost airliners however provide prices even half of the train prices in the routes between north and south. In some cases it may even be cheaper to fly via Riga than take a train. Finnair and some smaller airlines still operate regional flights from Helsinki to places all over the country, including Kuopio, Rovaniemi, Ivalo and Vaasa. It’s worth booking in advance if possible: on the Helsinki–Oulu sector, the country’s busiest, a fully flexible return economy ticket costs a whopping €251 but an advance-purchase non-changeable one-way ticket can go as low as €39, less than a train ticket. Finnair has cheaper fares usually when you book at least three week before your planned trip. You may also be able to get discounted domestic tickets if you fly into Finland on Finnair and book combination ticket directly to your final destination. Finnair also has a youth ticket (16–25) and senior ticket (+65 or pension decision) that is substantially cheaper and fixed price regardless of when you book.
There are two major airlines selling domestic flights:
- Finnair, the biggest by far. Serves nearly all of the country, with some flights operated by their subsidiary Nordic Regional Airlines.
- Norwegian Air Shuttle flies from Helsinki to Oulu and Rovaniemi, with an expanding network.
In addition there’s a handful of smaller airlines, often just flying from Helsinki to one airport each. The destinations served are often easy to reach by train, bus and car making flights unprofitable wherefore companies and services tend to come and go.
VR (Valtion Rautatiet, “State’s Railways”) operates the railway network. Trains are usually the most comfortable and fastest method of inter-city travel. From Helsinki to Tampere, Turku and Lahti, there are departures more or less every hour in daytime.
The following classes of service are available, with example last-minute prices and durations for the popular Helsinki–Tampere service in parenthesis.
- Pendolino tilting trains (code S) often fastest (€9.90–18.00, 1hr29min–1hr46min)
- InterCity (IC) and InterCity2 (IC2) express trains (€9.90–18.00, 1hr29min–1hr46min)
- Ordinary express (pikajuna, P), only slow night trains for this connection (€21.00, 2hrs44min–2hrs58min)
- Local and regional trains (lähiliikennejuna, lähijuna or taajamajuna), no surcharge, quite slow (€9.90–21.00, 2hrs10min)
The trains are generally very comfortable, especially the intercity and long distance services, which (depending on connection and type of train) may have restaurant and family cars (with a playing space for children), power sockets, and free Wi-Fi connection. Check the services of individual trains if you need them, e.g. facilities for families and wheelchair users vary considerably. Additional surcharges apply for travel in first class, branded “Extra” on some trains, which gets you more spacious seating, newspapers and possibly a snack.
Overnight sleepers are available for long-haul routes and very good value at €11/21/43 for a bed in a three/two/one-bed compartment (with one-bed compartments only available in first class).
One child under 17 can travel for free with each fare-paying adult (check: might have changed), and seniors over 65 years old and students with Finnish student ID (ISIC cards etc. not accepted) get 50 % off. Groups of 3 or more get 15 % off. If booking a few days in advance on the net you may get bargain prices.
Pets can be taken on trains (€5), but seats must be booked in the right compartments. If your pet is big, book a seat with extended legroom. The pets travel on the floor (a blanket can be useful), other than for dogs a cage is mandatory. Vaccination etc. should be in order. For regional transport the rules are different.
Finland participates in the Inter Rail and Eurail systems. Residents of Europe can buy InterRail Finland passes offering 3–8 days of unlimited travel in one month for €109–229 (adult 2nd class), while the Eurail Finland pass for non-residents is €178–320 for 3–10 days. You would have to travel a lot to make any of these pay off though; by comparison, a full-fare InterCity return ticket across the entire country from Helsinki to Rovaniemi and back is €162.
Train tickets can be purchased online, from ticketing machines on mid-sized and large stations, from manned booths on some of the largest stations and e.g. from R kiosks (not all tickets). A fee of €1–3 applies when buying over the counter or by phone. There are usually cheaper offers if you buy several days in advance. A seat is included in the fare of these tickets. The HSL-operated trains in the Helsinki region no longer sell tickets on board. Long-distance trains conductors cease handling cash 1 Sep 2019. Buying on board (with an additional fee of €3–6) allows using booked-out trains, possibly with seat part of the journey.
This means that for walk-up travel at many mid-sized stations, you’ll need to buy a ticket from the machine. This is easier if no-one tries to assist you! Otherwise, thinking to be helpful, they’ll press Aloita and you’ll be faced by a screen asking you to choose between Aikuinen, Eläkeläisen and Lapsi. So spurn their help, wind back to the beginning and press “Start” to get the process in English, including the bank card reader instructions. (Larger machines take cash, but most provincial stations have only small ones for which you need a bank card with chip.) Or if you’re feeling adventurous you can press Börja since you can figure out whether you’re vuxen, pensionär or barn, but you’ll have to choose “Åbo” to get a ticket to Turku.
Generally, the trains are most crowded at the beginning and end of the weekend, i.e. Friday and Sunday evening. Shortly before and at the end of major holidays like Christmas/New Year and Easter, trains are usually very busy, with car-and-sleeper tickets for the most popular services sold out immediately booking opens. If you try booking for these days at a late time, you may find the seat you reserve to be among the least desirable, that is, facing backwards, without recline, and facing towards and sharing the legroom with other passengers.
While VR’s trains may be slick, harsh winter conditions and underinvestment in maintenance mean that delayed trains are not uncommon, with the fancy Pendolinos particularly prone to breaking down. Also much of the network is single-track, so delays become compounded as oncoming trains have to wait in the passing loop. As in the rest of the EU, you’ll get a 25% refund if the train is 1–2 hours late and 50% if more. Real-time train traffic data for every train station in Finland in webapp or iOS app is enabled by the Trafi licensing this data under the CC-BY free licence.
Finnish Railways is being opened up to competition by smaller operators, and some routes and stops have closed. Nevertheless VR remains the near-monopoly provider of passenger services; the fares are not cheap but services are good. Any new operator will face the same challenges of running trains in harsh winters across a vast, sparsely populated country: how could they hope to make a profit?
There are coach connections along the main roads to practically all parts of Finland. This is also the only way to travel in Lapland, since the rail network doesn’t extend to the extreme north. Connections may be scarce between the thoroughfares.
Long haul coaches are generally quite comfortable, with toilet, reclining seats, sometimes a coffee machine and perhaps a few newspapers to read (often only in Finnish, though). Wi-Fi is getting common. Some services stop at an intermediate destination long enough for you to buy a sandwich or eat an ice cream. Coaches seldom restrict the amount of luggage. They have fees for luggage transport, but these are generally not invoked for any amounts you would carry. Bulky luggage is usually placed in a separate luggage compartment, at least if the coach is more than half-full.
There is no dominating operator, but many smaller ones. Matkahuolto maintains some services across companies, such as timetables, ticket sale and freight (but the company Onnibus is not covered). There are Matkahuolto service points at more or less every bus station, in small towns and villages often by cooperation with a local business. Although the staff generally is helpful, they and their tools may not know very much about local conditions in other parts of the country; checking with locals (such as the local host or local bus company) for any quirks is sometimes advantageous.
Most coaches between bigger towns are express buses (pikavuoro/snabbtur), having fewer stops than the “standard” (vakiovuoro/reguljär tur) coaches, near extinction on some routes. Between some big cities there are also special express (erikoispikavuoro/express) coaches with hardly any stops between the cities. Using coaches to reach the countryside you should check not only that there are services along the right road, but also that any express service you are going to use stops not too far away from where you intend to get off or on, and that any service runs on the right day of the week.
Coaches are generally slightly higher priced than trains, although on routes with direct train competition they can be slightly cheaper. Speeds are usually slower than trains, sometimes very much so (from Helsinki to Oulu), sometimes even faster (from Helsinki to Kotka and Pori). On many routes, though, coaches are more frequent, so you may still get to your destination faster than if you wait for the next train. Tickets can be bought in advance, with the seldom used option to reserve seats, although paying to the driver is common (there are few if any conductors left). Credit and debit cards should be accepted on the main express and long-haul services (and when buying tickets in advance), on “regular” services on short distances you are more likely to need cash.
Senior discounts are for those over 65 years old or with Finnish pension decision.
As with trains, student discounts are available only for Finnish students or foreign students at Finnish institutions. You need either a Matkahuolto/VR student discount card (€5) or a student card with the Matkahuolto logo.
For coaches, children aged 4–11 pay about half the price (infants free), juniors (12–16) get a reduction of up to 30 % or 50 % on long non-return trips. In city buses age limits vary from one city or region to another, often children fees apply for 7–14 years old. An infant in a baby carriage gives one adult a free ride in e.g. Helsinki and Turku (but entering may be difficult in rush hours).
You can get the BusPass travel pass from Matkahuolto, which offers unlimited travel in specified time, priced at €149 for 7 days and €249 for 14 days. The pass is not accepted by Onnibus.
Pets are usually accepted on coaches as well as buses. In buses, bigger dogs often travel in the area for prams and wheelchairs. There is a fee for some pets on some services (Koiviston auto: €5 in cash unless they fit on your lap).
Onnibus offers a cheaper alternative (often €5–10 even for long rides if bought early enough) with double-deckers on routes between major cities in Finland. Tickets must be bought online as they do not accept cash. General standard lower than on other coaches and less legroom than in any other buses in Finland. Also the overhead racks are tight, so put everything you do not need in the luggage compartment. Be at the stop 15 minutes before departure, more if you want good seats. Note that the routes do not necessarily serve the city centres, but can provide direct access to some nearby locations. Onnibus also has cooperation with some other bus companies, for legs they do not serve themselves. Onnibuses include free unencrypted Wi-Fi and 220 V power sockets.
Local transport networks are well-developed in Greater Helsinki, Tampere, Turku, Oulu, Kuopio, Jyväskylä and Lahti. In other big towns public transport networks are often usable on workdays, but sparse on weekends and during the summer, while many small towns only have rudimentary services. There are easy-to-use high-tech English route planners with maps to find out how to use local bus services, provided or linked by Matkahuolto.
Both coaches and city buses are stopped for boarding by raising a hand at a bus stop (blue sign for coaches, yellow for city buses; a reflector is useful in the dusk and night). In some rural areas, such as northern Lapland, you may have luck also where there is no official stop (and not even official stops are necessarily marked there). On coaches, the driver will often step out to let you put most of your luggage in the luggage compartment – have what you want to have with you in a more handy bag.
Ring the bell by pushing a button when you want to get off, and the bus will stop at the next stop. Often the driver knows the route well and can be asked to let you off at the right stop, and even if not (more common now, with increased competition), drivers usually try their best. This works less well though on busy city buses.
In summertime, lake cruises are a great way to see the scenery of Finland, although many of them only do circular sightseeing loops and aren’t thus particularly useful for getting somewhere. Most cruise ships carry 100–200 passengers (book ahead on weekends!), and many are historical steam boats. Popular routes include Turku–Naantali, Helsinki–Porvoo and various routes on Saimaa and the other big lakes.
The archipelago of Åland and the Archipelago Sea have many inhabited islands dependant on ferry connections. As these are maintained as a public service they are mostly free, even the half-a-day lines. Some are useful as cruises, although there is little entertainment except the scenery. These are meant for getting somewhere, so make sure you have somewhere to sleep after having got off.
Traffic drives on the right, and there are no road tolls in Finnish cities or highways. From February 2018, driving licences of all countries for ordinary cars are officially accepted in Finland. The only requirement is that the licence is in a European language or you have an official translation of it to Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German, English or French. This applies only to driving licences similar to Finnish classes A and B, for heavy duty vehicles like buses or trucks only some licences are accepted.
Car rental is possible in Finland but expensive, with rates generally upwards of €80/day, although rates go down for longer rentals. Foreign-registered cars can be used in Finland for a limited time – registering it locally involves paying a substantial tax to equalize the price to Finnish levels. If you opt to buy a car in Finland instead, make sure it has all annual taxes paid and check when its next annual inspection is due: the deadline is the same day as the car’s first date of use unless the registration form says 00.00.xx in first date of use. In that case, which is common only for very old cars, the inspection date is determined by the last number of the license plate. All cars must pass emissions testing and precise tests of brakes etc. Police may remove the plates of vehicles that have not passed their annual inspections in time and give you a fine.
Main roads are usually fairly well maintained and extensive, although expressways are limited to the south of the country and near the bigger cities. Lower classed roads may to some extent suffer from cracks and potholes, and warnings about irregularities in the pavement of these roads are seldom posted. Drivers must stay very alert for wild animals, particularly at dawn and dusk. Collisions with moose (frequently lethal) are common countrywide, deer (mostly survivable) cause numerous collisions in the southern and southwestern parts of the country, and semi-domesticated reindeer are a common cause of accidents in Lapland. Bear collisions happen sometimes in eastern parts of the country. Try to pass the rear end of the animal to let it escape forward. Call the emergency service (112) to report accidents even if you are OK, as the animal may be injured.
VR’s overnight car carrier trains are popular for skipping the long slog from Helsinki up to Lapland and getting a good night’s sleep instead: a Helsinki-Rovaniemi trip (one way) with car and cabin for 1–3 people starts from €215.
Finnish driving culture is not too hazardous and driving is generally quite safe. Winter driving can be somewhat risky, especially for drivers unused to cold weather conditions. Winter tyres are mandatory from 1 December through the end of February and studded tyres allowed from November 1st to after Easter, and “when circumstances require”, with a liberal interpretation. While traction tires or mud+snow (M+S) tires fulfill the legal requirement, most cars are actually equipped with proper steel-studded tyres, which allow more dynamic driving and shorter braking distances on frozen surfaces. The most dangerous weather is in fact around the zero degree mark (°C), when slippery but near-invisible black ice forms on the roads, and on the first day of the cold season, which can catch drivers by surprise. Finnish cars often come equipped with an engine block heater (lohkolämmitin) used to preheat the engine and possibly the interior of the car beforehand, and many parking places have electric outlets to feed them. Liikenneturva, the Finnish road safety agency, maintains a “Tips for difficult road conditions” page in English.
Finnish fines for endangerment of traffic (such as speeding 20 km/h over the limit) are based on your income, so be careful: a Nokia VP who’d cashed in some stock options the previous year was once hit for $204,000! With tax records of foreigners unavailable, non-residents are usually fined at a flat €100–200 instead. Speed limits are 50 km/h in towns, 80–100 km/h outside towns and at most 120 km/h on freeways. From around mid-October to April, speed limits on freeways are lowered to 100 km/h and most 100 km/h limits are lowered to 80 km/h.
Software for GPS navigators that warns of fixed safety cameras is legal and installed by default in many mobile phones. Warning signs before fixed cameras (usually at the start of the supervised road) are required by law. Radar detectors, however, are illegal and are often confiscated by customs.
A blood alcohol level of over 0.05 % is considered drunk driving and 0.12 % as aggravated drunk driving, so think twice before drinking that second beer. Finnish police strictly enforce this by random roadblocks and sobriety tests. The sobriety test is done with a handheld breath alcohol tester and there is no practical way to refuse it.
If you are driving at night when the gas stations are closed (they usually close at 9 PM), always remember to bring some money for gas. Automated gas pumps in Finland in rare occasions do not accept foreign visa/credit cards, but you can pay with Euro notes. In the sparsely-populated areas of the country, distances of 50 km and more between gas stations are not unheard of, so don’t gamble unnecessarily with those last litres of fuel.
Finnish taxi regulation was largely abandoned from July 2018. Taxi businesses are now free to take any price they wish and to use more or less any vehicle. Still, most companies stick to standards similar to those before the reform, and calling centres usually enforce uniform pricing (negotiating a different price with a driver is allowed, but unusual). If the fare is to be more than €100 the customer has to be warned, and in any case the pricing must be stated in print (a web page suffices) or told to the customer before the journey begins. Taximeters are not compulsory any more. Drivers still have to take a test to get a taxi licence.
The former pricing had a base fee of €5.90 in weekdays, €9 in nights and Sundays, and a fee of €1.50–2.15/km depending on number of passengers (plus fees for waiting time, wheelchair handling etc.). A big change is that many taxis now add the fare per kilometre and the fare by minute (more or less doubling the nominal charge), instead of collecting the latter only for waiting time. If the taxi fare differs much from the old one, check carefully whether the price is a rip-off. Especially at nightclub closing times and at air- and seaports there may very well be some drivers trying their luck with less careful (drunk or foreign) customers. Prices differ also otherwise, e.g. €30–50 between the big companies for getting from Helsinki airport to Helsinki centre. In the capital region prices rose some 14% in the year after the liberalisation, elsewhere they have mostly stayed about the same.
Taxis can come in any colour or shape, and the yellow “TAXI” sign (usually spelled “TAKSI”) on the roof is not compulsory any more. The usual ways to get a taxi is either to find a taxi rank, order by phone (in towns mostly using a calling centre for the area) or, increasingly, use a smartphone app. In the countryside you might want to call a taxi company directly. Taxi companies can be found from local tourist services, and any pub or restaurant will help you get a taxi – expect to pay €2 for the call.
In bigger cities there are increasingly several calling centres to choose from, with different pricing. Many companies are enlarging their area of operation. Check that they have enough cars (or a free car nearby for you to use) in the relevant area – them claiming they serve the area does not necessarily mean they have a big market share there.
A normal taxi will carry 4 passengers and a moderate amount of luggage. For significant amounts of luggage, you may want to order a “farmari” taxi, an estate/wagon car with a roomier luggage compartment. There is also a third common type of taxi available, the tilataksi, a van which will comfortably carry about 8 people. The tilataksis are usually equipped for taking also a person in wheelchair. In addition to these types, more or less any vehicle is now allowed to be used as taxi. If you want child seats, mention that when ordering, you may be lucky. Child seats are not compulsory for “temporary” rides, such as with a taxi.
In city centres, long queues at the taxi stops can be expected on Friday and Saturday nights. The same is true at ferry harbours, railway stations and the like. It is not uncommon to share a taxi with strangers, if going towards the same general direction. At airports, railway stations and other locations from where many people are going to the same direction at the same time, there may also be “Kimppataksi” minivans publicly offering rides with strangers. They are as comfortable as other taxis and will leave without much delay.
Peer-to-peer ridesharing services:
- kyydit.net – Carpooling site with search engine
- kimppakyyti.fi – Carpooling site
- kimppa.net – Oldest and most retro looking carpooling site in Finland
Most Finnish cities have good bike paths especially outside the centres, and taking a bike can be a quick, healthy and environmentally friendly method of getting around locally. In the countryside you can often find suitable quiet routes, but sometimes this requires some effort. Not all major roads allow safe biking. There are bikers’ maps for many areas.
Biking off road is regarded part of the right to access, but biking may cause erosion or other harm, so choose your route with consideration and unmount your bike at sensitive sections. There are some routes explicitly meant (also) for off-road bikes, e.g. at some national parks.
Children under 12 years can use the pavement where there is no cycle path, as long as they do not unreasonably disturb pedestrians. Bikes on cycle paths have to yield for cars on crossing roads unless there is a yield sign, the car is turning or the cycle path is marked as continuing over the crossing street (be careful, not all drivers watch for bikers). Leading your bike you are a pedestrian.
The roads are generally paved well, although gravel roads are sometimes unavoidable. As long as you don’t go off-road, you will not need suspension or grooved tyres.
Beware that a good bike path can end abruptly and force you out among the cars; the bike network building efforts are not too well coordinated. Also at road works, directions for bikers are often neglected.
Due to the relatively gentle topographic relief, too hilly terrain is rarely a problem, but in the cold months, wind chill requires more protection against cold than in walking. In some municipalities bike paths are well maintained in winter, in others they are not. Biking among the cars in winter is usually too dangerous (some locals do, but they know the circumstances). In dark hours headlight and rear reflector are obligatory.
Because of the long distances, bicycle tourists are advised to plan well and be prepared to use public transport for the less interesting stretches. Coaches are well-equipped to take a few bicycles on board. Fares vary by company and distance, typically about half of an ordinary ticket, or a flat €5. Packing the bike is not needed, but getting on at the bus station and arriving in time may help finding room for the bike. On some lines you should check the day before.
Trains take bicycles for €5 if there is enough space (varies by train type, on some trains advance booking is necessary; on IC trains you also need a 50c coin; tandem bikes or bikes with trailer fit only on some trains, €10). Packed bikes are free if the package is small enough (requires taking the bike apart, exact dimensions vary by train type). On the trains to Russia packing the bikes is necessary (100 cm x 60 cm x 40 cm). Bikes are free also unpacked on trains in the Helsinki region, but are not allowed in rush hours (7:00–9:00 and 15:00–18:00; this may have changed).
Ferries usually take bikes for free or for a minimal charge.
Renting a bike at your destination should be possible. In several towns, including Helsinki and Turku, there are also municipal bike-sharing systems.
Bikes are often stolen, at least in cities, so have a lock and use it, and try to avoid leaving the bike at unsafe places.
As a country with many lakes, a long coast and large archipelagos, Finland is a good destination for boating. There are some 165,000 registered motorboats, some 14,000 yachts and some 600,000 rowboats and small motorboats owned by locals, i.e. a boat on every seventh Finn. If you stay at a cottage, chances are there is a rowing boat available.
Yachts and motorboats are available for charter in most bigger towns at suitable waterways. You may also want to rent a canoe or kayak, for exploring the archipelagos or going down a river.