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 INFORMATION STATION
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Facts at a Glance
 Area: 338,000 sq km

Population: 5,158,000

Capital city: Helsinki (pop: 560,000)

People: 98% Finns, Gypsies, Samis

Language: Finnish & Swedish (English is widely spoken in tourist establishments)

Religion: Lutheran & Orthodox

Government: Democratic republic

President: Tarja Halonen

Prime Minister: Anneli Jäätteenmäki


Environment
 

With an area of 338,000 sq km, Finland is the seventh largest country in Europe. Located between Sweden and Russia, with which it shares a 1269km border, it also shares one with Norway's arctic north (716km) and Sweden's north-west (586km). The Gulf of Finland separates southern Finland from Estonia. Forests cover two-thirds of Finland, the arctic zone one-third. Post-glacial lakes are the country's dominant feature, and if marshes and bogs are also counted, water covers about 10% of the country. Finland's highest point, the Halti, rises 1328m above sea level.

Finnish flora is surprisingly rich and varied during the dynamic period between late May and September. Some low-lying valleys in the south resemble jungles by late July. The three main types of forest are pine, spruce and birch. Deciduous forests, of which birch is the most typical, are the most varied in terms of flora. The brown bear is the largest furball you will come across in Finnish forests; other mammals include elks, foxes, lynxes, lemmings and hedgehogs. Reindeer abound in north Finland, and beavers are quite common. There are over 300 species of birds including black grouse, whooper cranes and birds of prey, such as ospreys. Chaf finches and willow warblers are the two most common species in forests.

Finland can get mighty cold - in the south it gets down to -15°C in January and February, while in the north it's often below -30°C during the winter months. It's also dark most of the day during this time. When summer rolls around and the midnight sun does its thing, expect about 15°C in the north and around 20°C in the south (although it can get above 30°C).




Economic Profile
 GDP: US$118.3 billion

GDP per head: US$22,900

Annual growth: 5%

Inflation: 2.6%

Major industries: Metals and engineering equipment, telecommunications, timber and paper products

Major trading partners: EU (Germany, Sweden, UK), Russia, USA,

Member of EU: yes

Euro zone participant: yes


Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: Most western nationals, including Americans, citizens of EU countries, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Malaysians, Singaporeans and most South Americans do not need a visa.

Health risks: Slippery pavements. If you're mushroom picking, make sure you know what you're eating.

Time: GMT/UTC +2

Electricity: 220V, 50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

Tourism: 2.5 million visitors per year


Money & Costs
 Currency:euro (EUR), formerly markka (mk)
Relative Costs:
Meals

  • Budget: US$5-8
  • Mid-range: US$8-15
  • Top-end: US$15+




  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$15-30
  • Mid-range: US$30-80
  • Top-end: US$80+
  • Finland was declared the world's most expensive country in 1990, right before it was hit by recession. Since then the markka has been reasonably low and prices are much more bearable. If you're travelling on a tight budget you should be able to get by on around $25 a day. This would cover hostel accommodation, self-catering and no alcohol or bottled drinks. If you want to have a slightly more user-friendly holiday, a budget of around $50 a day should do it, and for a few more luxuries, such as your own bathroom, taxis and a restaurant meal or two a day, you'll need about US$100 a day.

    Finland's three national banks have offices all over the country, but they will charge you slightly more for exchanges than private exchange bureaux. Travellers cheques are expensive to change. Many Finnish ATMs will accept foreign cards on the Visa or Plus system, but if they don't take your plastic rest assured that credit cards are accepted all over the country.

    Tipping is generally not necessary anywhere. Service charge is usually included in restaurants' listed price. Bargaining will get you nowhere in most shops, but could come in handy if you're after trekking equipment or used bikes, when you might get a 10% discount if you ask nicely.




    When to Go
     

    Whatever time of year you visit Finland, there's something happening. Most museums and galleries are open year-round, and there is as much to do in the depths of winter as there is at the height of summer. Nevertheless, you'll probably have a better time if you come in the warmer months, either in summer or anytime from May to September. As well as the advantages of warm weather, summer is the time of the midnight sun. Winter north of the Arctic Circle is a chilly confluence of strange bluish light and encroaching melancholy. Despite snow falls from November, it stays pretty sludgy until late winter: skiing isn't great until February, the coldest month, and you can ski in Lapland right through to June.


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