Most people traveling to Finland will arrive by plane, arriving at Helsinki International Airport. The first thing that will strike the visitor is that they have arrived at what seems to be a very well-ordered and civilized society. The number one thing on my list of what is great in Finland is the trolleys they have at the airport. These are miniature versions of the shopping trolleys you would find in a supermarket. They are just big enough to take a heavy coat and some hand luggage—excellent! (You will find them just as you exit the airplane right next to the gate).
From a Finnish reader, Taavi Suorsa: «I would like to correct one assumption that seems like all the Dutch people have of Finland: The mosquito situation is not nearly as bad as people over here think. People seem to think that at the moment they step out of the plane in Finland, the cloud of mosquitoes is attacking them. This is not true, as we know.»
Other passengers to Finland might arrive by boat either from Estonia or Sweden, on mini cruise lines which sail straight into Helsinki harbor located virtually in the middle of the town. Others might arrive by train from St Petersburg or other parts of Russia, and they will find themselves coming into Helsinki station, again in the center of the town.
However you arrive, you will find ready and easily accessible transportation to your next destination. Whether you are able bodied or not, you will find Finland an easy country to get around. Disabled visitors should not feel at all anxious about visiting Finland. In fact, outside of the USA, this is the best country I have ever visited for facilities for disabled people.
Frozen lakes begin to thaw during May and lake systems become a hub of activity. Mini-ferries and working boats are the most popular means of transport during the summer months.
There is a superb selection of city and regional maps that are free of charge and obtainable from local tourist offices. There are also maps for waterways and lakes, trekking areas and national parks, and 19 different road maps.
Visas and Documents
If you are a citizen of the Nordic countries of Denmark, Iceland, Sweden or Norway, you do not need a passport to enter Finland. Citizens of the EU countries need either their national identity card or a passport to enter (except Greece). Other foreign visitors will need a valid passport. You will need a residents» permit for any stay longer than three months except for citizens of the Nordic countries mentioned above. For stays of less than three months duration, most western nationals will not need a visa. It is always best to apply for a resident’s permit before you leave home. Work permits are required for all foreigners other than those coming from the EU and EEA. Employment must be secured before applying for a permit. For more information, apply to the Finnish Directorate of Immigration (Tel: (09) 4765-5857, Siltasaarenkatu 12a, 00530 Helsinki; http://www.uvi.fi).
International and Domestic Flights
Helsinki Airport has once again won the International Airport of the Year. There is a good choice of merchandise for sale in the various shops, including a wonderful selection of Finnish jewelry and Scandinavian glassware. Make sure to get some bear or reindeer meat before going home, what a souvenir! If you are buying gifts for children or want a really unusual present, you can buy Lappish dolls in their traditional dress with their reindeer skin coats and bright colored hats, or you can buy wonderfully detailed Father Christmas and Mother Christmas. I have to mention to those who are interested; my favorite shoe shop is here at the airport! There are plenty of restaurants and cafes selling good quality food at fairly inexpensive prices compared to other European airports. In the International terminal, there are various lounges for frequent flyers or business class passengers. Everything is close to each other, so you don’t waste time walking endlessly around.
More about Helsinki Airport
Helsinki Airport is located in Vantaa, about 20 km to the city centre. If you are taking a domestic flight, you are using Terminal 1. International flights leave from Terminal 2. Terminal 2 is actually also called Terminal 3 and 4, depending on which check-in area you enter. But don’t worry about going to the wrong place, the airport isn’t that big so you will not need many minutes walk to get to the right place.
You can get to the city centre by Finnair airport buses, local buses (No. 615 and 617) or taxis of different companies. A taxi will cost you around € 30.
The Finnair Shuttle Bus runs from 5:00 am to midnight, every 20 minutes during most of the day and every 30 minutes very early in the morning and late at night. It costs only € 4.90 and it»ll take you only 25 minutes to get to Helsinki.
The buses depart from right outside the terminal, so there isn’t a long walk with your luggage. They stop at the Inter-Continental Hotel and the central rail station where you will find the Finnair City Air Terminal. The buses sometimes make stops along the route to drop off passengers on request.
Bus No. 615 and 615T both leave frequently from platform 10 of the bus station on Rautatientori, right by the central train station. Tickets cost € 3.40 and are purchased from the driver as you enter the bus. Upon arriving at the bus station, you will see clear signs indicating where the buses to the airport leave from. There are even pictures of aeroplanes on the bus stops at the relevant departure points. Buses generally leave every 20 minutes or so during the day and the journey takes 35–40 minutes.
There is no free parking at the airport—10 minutes = € 1.
There is no business class service on domestic flights within Finland, and therefore there is no business class lounge in the domestic terminal. However, there is a lounge for the members of the Finnair frequent flyers club. Unfortunately, many a business class passenger, arriving in Helsinki and traveling on, has found their way to this lounge and been turned away.
Finland can offer some of the cheapest domestic flights within Europe. The principle domestic carrier is Finnair, and now Blue1, a low-cost airline, has started a business. Golden Air will fly internally to a few smaller destinations. They fly to all the big centers in Finland but all flights are routed through Helsinki. This means that it is almost impossible to fly east to west across Finland. You have to go south to Helsinki and then fly on. The smallest aircraft in the fleets are used on routes that have few passengers or for late night journeys with only a handful of customers. Unfortunately, these internal journies will take longer on the small aircraft’s rather than the normal jets. However, I do have to say that the Finnair pilots have to be the best in the world at landings! No others like them—so smooth!
Having arrived at your destination airport, there is NEVER a problem traveling on from there to your hotel or place of stay. At the very small airports, you will be asked whether you want a taxi whilst you are on board the airplane and a taxi will be booked for you. At larger airports, taxis will be waiting outside; alternatively, you can catch either the airport taxi or the Finnair bus. At Helsinki airport, the airport taxi will take you to your destination. When leaving, you can order the airport taxi to come and pick you up. Likewise, at other large airports around the country, airport taxis will be waiting to transport you onwards. Airport taxis differ from normal taxis because they will take up to ten passengers. However, in reality, there is never normally more than five. The Finnair bus is great value for money and very reliable. You will recognize the coach by the blue and white Finnair logos on the side. The drop-off points are usually the main railway station, the main bus station, the center of town and probably a few of the hotels. The Finnair bus operates like a regular bus service so you can catch this bus on your return to the airport. It will make the same stops and will collect you probably one hour 15 minutes before the flight takes off.
The airports around the country are small, so there is no need to check in hours before your flight. Generally speaking, half an hour before the flight takes off is usually long enough even if you are catching an international connection. When traveling abroad via Helsinki, you can check your baggage right through to final destination and still check in just a short time before take off.
In all the time I have travelled with Finnair, I haven’t suffered much of a problem with lost luggage. Once my luggage didn’t turn up in Finland, but arrived a few hours later on the next flight. On another occasion, my luggage was lost three times. Spectacularly it was on the same trip, and my case eventually caught up with me in Dublin 24 hours later. However, I have met two people whose luggage are constantly lost. One person had lost her luggage so many times in one year that she was featured on the BBC’s Watchdog programme.
If your luggage doesn’t turn up on the conveyer belt at your destination airport, this is what you need to do. First of all, go along to the Finnair desk which is usually the check-in desk for outgoing passengers. You will need to report how many pieces of luggage you are missing, and you will be asked to identify a generic type of case from various photographs. If you arrive in the middle of the day, you will probably find that your suitcase will follow you on the next plane. Therefore, within about three hours, you will have it. However, if you arrive the last thing at night, you should ask them to give you an overnight bag. This bag contains all the essentials: ladies» and gentlemen’s toiletries, and some clean underwear. If your luggage hasn’t turned up by the next day, you can claim compensation by writing to Finnair.
Customer care! Be warned. None of this information will be given to you. You need to know that you can have the overnight bag and that it is your right to claim compensation for a bag that has been lost for more than a few hours.
If your luggage is broken during transit, report this at the Finnair desk on your arrival. There will be some paperwork for the airline to fill in. However, you will be given a letter or a voucher to go to a local luggage shop to pick yourself a new case. All you need do is choose a new case and they will swap it over without any fuss whatsoever.