1. Do bring a lot of money
Let’s be straight: Helsinki is expensive. Two things are especially costly: alcohol and gas. And yet, both are consumed by Finns in high volumes.
Most rooms in the city centre are about 200 € per night, while two pints of craft beer cost nearly 20 €. The good news is the hotel rooms are modern and comfortable, and the beer is really good.
2. Don’t put it all off till Sunday
The city is peacefully quiet on Sunday. Mind that the few restaurants that are open have long lines and that shops close earlier. Make sure you plan your activities for the weekdays and Saturday, when the city is bustling.
3. Do take public transport
Public transport in Helsinki is exceptionally handy and won’t make you wait more than a few minutes. There are no ticket barriers in the Helsinki metro, so remember to keep your ticket until the end of the trip, otherwise be ready to pay a fine of 80 €.
For tickets and fares, consider the following options.
4. Don’t stare at Nordic walkers
When you see in the streets locals armed with ski poles, don’t stare or point. Nordic walking is a latest fitness craze. Despite looking somewhat clumsy at first glance, it’s become a very popular workout activity among all ages. So don’t get abashed. Grab a pair of Nordic walking poles in a nearby rental shop and join in!
5. Do try the reindeer
Fine-textured, tender and extremely low in fat content, the reindeer meat is said to have “the delicious but distinctive taste of game”, but to most it tastes like beef.
The export of reindeer meat from Finland is apparently one of the fastest growing segments of the Finnish food industry. Despite its being rather pricey, there seems to be a constant demand for reindeer meat.
Sautéed reindeer is the best known fresh reindeer dish, but you can also try reindeer steaks and cold smoked reindeer.
The interesting thing about the reindeer is that none are truly wild, they are all owned by someone and yet they let them all wander wild in the North.
6. Don’t wear clothes in the sauna
Do not miss a chance to get zen-like experience. Sauna is a religion in Finland. Finns usually have a sauna at home, at work, at the gym. It is not only a place to wash yourself or to relax, it is a meeting place for friends, colleagues and even political decision makers.
Strangely enough for how high the Finns value their privacy, no clothes or swim suits are used in public saunas. Men and women don’t sauna together, except in families, so they feel absolutely comfortable to appear in their natural glory.
7. Do make side trips
Being a city port, Helsinki is a great starting point for a trip to Stockholm (an overnight by ferry) or to Tallinn (a 2-hour ride by ferry), while a train can take you to St Petersburg just in 3 hours.
8. Don’t compare Finland to other countries
Especially Sweden. Don’t dare to wonder out loud why Sweden has more world-famous products, artists and athletes than Finland, or why the western neighbour always beats Finland in ice hockey. The Finns and the Swedes have a longstanding history together which hasn’t always been an amicable one.
Likewise, do not try asking if Finland was once a communist country like its neighbouring Russia. That’s too much for the touchy Finns to handle.
Good topics for conversation embrace cross country skiing, fishing, the Finnish educational system (the best in the world), weather, travelling ̶ everything related to nature and sauna.