Who asks for the road doesn’t get lost” ~ Finnish proverb.
Ever wondered what the secret is to having the most enjoyable trip possible? Welcome to my “Be Invisible” series – your ultimate guide for how to not look like a tourist on your next adventure and guaranteed to boost your entire travel experience.
Bursting with helpful tips and tricks, I’ve asked locals from particular cities around the world to share their insider knowledge on the best ways travellers can become “invisible” when visiting their city and enjoy it like a local. If you’re ready to challenge travel stereotypes, overcome language barriers and embrace what I like to call invisible tourism, you’ve come to the right place!
|This guide to things to know before you go to Helsinki was written by Jemima from All Other Colours. The best way to see Helsinki is by being an invisible tourist, so I’m very excited to share her 10 interesting tips for how to best blend in with Helsinkians.
If you’re planning a Helsinki city break, these tips from a local’s perspective will help you have a more enjoyable experience and know what to expect before you go. Read on for more!
10 Things to know before you go to Helsinki
The capital of Finland, Helsinki, is a modern city that welcomes foreigners and tourists. Although people might seem a bit distant and busy, if you get to know them, they are usually very friendly and helpful. If you want to be an invisible tourist, here are 10 Helsinki travel tips for how to easily fit in like a local in Finland’s capital!
Beware of the seagulls
Seagulls are a massive problem in Helsinki during the summer. They are incredibly arrogant and sneaky, and they can spot an unsuspecting tourist in nanoseconds. You don’t see warning signs about “minding the seagulls” for no reason – if you don’t act very carefully, they WILL come and steal your food.
Trying to walk in Market Square or Esplanade while slowly licking your ice cream and marvelling the sights is probably not the best idea. When you get your ice cream, cover it immediately with your other hand. Sit down or stand still when you eat it – and beware the deceitful seagulls that are waiting for you to look the other way just for a second. This might be one reason why Helsinkians mostly enjoy liquid treats in parks; the birds are not too keen on beer or coffee.
Avoid making eye contact
Often Finnish people from elsewhere are more used to making eye contact or maybe even talking to strangers – they might nod to people on the elevators or even greet others. In Helsinki, that is not the norm. We don’t look or stare at other people – in fact; it’s usual to avoid eye contact totally. That is especially the standard when you are walking on the streets and commuting. Looking down, out of the window or at your smartphone is the best way to avoid the awkwardness of having an eye contact with a stranger.
Don’t walk in the bike lane
Biking is a popular form to move around the city, and in many places, there are special bike lanes – usually next to the pedestrian lanes. Locals know that and don’t risk their lives by wandering in the bicycle lanes. If you see half of the pedestrian zone without actual pedestrians there is a reason for that. Don’t wait for angry bike bells – take a look to make sure you are on the pedestrian pavement.
Know the transportation etiquette
This is probably the number one thing to know before you go to Helsinki because it will quickly reveal a non-local: they don’t know how to use the different transportation methods and what is the protocol there.
It’s effortless to spot a newcomer who is pressing the door opening button in the metro – when every local knows that the metro doors open automatically; no need to push any button.
But that only applies to the metro – in trains you actually need to press the opening button. In trams, it varies depending on the model – but generally, you will need to press door open button. On buses, you need to press the stop button before your stop, but the driver opens the doors.
Knowing about buttons is more of a pro-level, though. The most crucial etiquette thing is to not block the opening metro and tram doors on stations – you should step to the side and let other passengers come out first, before going in. For many people who are from big(ger) cities, this is obvious – but in Helsinki, you will always see people blocking their way, and that annoys Helsinkians very much.
Respect the personal space
Finns are known of their need for personal space – some say it is as much 1,5 meters, but I would say in Helsinki half a meter is the limit you should not cross unless it’s very crowded. If you get too close to someone, don’t take personally if they back away a bit. It’s a cultural thing, and Finns are not very used to someone coming too close to them – even if you are talking to each other.
If you are not travelling in the rush hour and there are free seats, don’t sit next to someone but take a free seat.
Stand on the right side of the escalators
As you already might have figured out, most of the things that reveal a tourist in Helsinki are related to transportation. If you plan to stand in the left side of the escalators – especially in metro and train stations – you might as well have a huge “Tourist” sign on your forehead.
Locals know better to stand on the right side of the escalators – unless they are walking or running, which is why the left side is reserved for those who are more in a hurry. If you want to fit in, don’t block the escalators by standing on the left side!
Make sure you walk fast
Although Helsinki is not the biggest metropole in the world, it is the biggest city in Finland – and one thing that seems to be common for people living in big cities is that they are always in a rush. Even if they are not, they still walk relatively fast.
I often hear people from elsewhere in Finland saying that Helsinki people walk so fast, and indeed people seem to walk slower in other Finnish cities.
One thing that often reveals an out-of-town is that they walk slowly, perhaps even stop to look around. If you want to fit in, walk fast and don’t glance furtively. Generally, Helsinkians respect the traffic lights – but in some places when locals know the traffic, they might cross the streets even with red lights.
Carry your own shopping bag
Helsinkians are quite environmentally conscious. Veganism is more common in Helsinki than elsewhere in Finland. Many choose to have goat milk in their coffees instead of regular milk – usually, you don’t need to even pay any extra for that. In some places, vegetarian milk might be the only option!
Instead of buying plastic bags when shopping, many people in Helsinki carry their own textile bags or other carrier bags. Obviously, you will help to save the environment and money, as plastic and paper bags normally cost everywhere.
Nothing will make you look more local than having a cool textile bag, where you can put your groceries, other purchases or books.
The trendiest option might be one by the Finnish design brand Marimekko – the bag, which has the brand’s graphic logo printed on it and is made from organic cotton, is not on sale, but occasionally you can get it as a free gift when you buy something else, and it seems like everyone in Helsinki is carrying their Marimekko IT-bag. But don’t worry – any bag will do.
Weigh your veggies
In Finland, you will usually need to weigh in your vegetables, fruits and some other foodstuff, as pick ‘n’ mix candy and pastries in grocery stores. There is one exception: Lidl, where the cashier weighs your products when you are paying.
In other shops, prepare to look for a scale and the number code that will tell you which one to press on the scale. You will get a sticker that the cashier uses to scan the code. Every day, busy locals are sighing when the person in front of them doesn’t know about the system and the cashier needs to run off to weigh in the products.
Know the alcohol regulations
Finland has relatively strict alcohol legislation. You can buy beer, cider and other mild alcoholic beverages up to 5.5% alcohol percentage per volume from grocery stores, kiosks and gas stations between 9 AM – 9 PM, as long as you are at least 18 years old. Carry an ID, because staff are obligated to ask ID for anyone that looks under 30. Locals know the law, so they are not trying to buy alcohol beyond these hours and are used to showing identification.
Locals also know, that wines and stronger liqueurs need to be bought from the special Alko-shops, that have a monopoly for selling stronger alcoholic beverages. Age limits are 18 for beverages up to 22% alcohol per volume and 20% for stronger liquors, like scotch and vodka. ID’s are frequently asked in Alko, too.
Know the age limits to the pubs and clubs; you can normally find that information on their websites. The minimum age limit to get into any bar is 18, but usually, the age limit might be higher for some trendy clubs.
|For more tips and advice for travelling solo in Europe, head to Jemima’s lovely blog All Other Colours or follow her adventures on Instagram and Pinterest!|
With these travel tips, are you ready to be invisible in Helsinki?
Now you’ve discovered the best secrets for how to act like a local in Helsinki, perhaps you’re ready to make the trip! Why not compare hotel prices here? If you’d like some more ideas and inspiration, here’s all my articles on Europe to get you started.
Do you have any extra tips to add to this list of things to know before you go to Helsinki? Let me know in the comments below. I hope you enjoyed this instalment of my Be Invisible series! If you found this helpful, please share it or follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok or Instagram for more!
Until next time,
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