|Language:||Finnish, Swedish; recognised regional languages: Sami|
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|<map lat='64.8' lng='25.9' zoom='4' view='0' width='300' height='350' country='Finland'/>|
Finland is a part of the Northern Europe, one of the Nordic countries. It is a member state of the European Union as well as the Schengen Agreement. Its neighbouring countries are Sweden, Norway and Russia, but possibly the most probable transit country on your way hitchhiking there is Estonia. Most people use this way which is called "Via Baltica" - it is a road E67 between Helsinki, Finland and Prague, Czech Republic through Baltic States and Poland.
Hitchhiking seems pretty easy in the Northern part of Finland. It could be a good idea to avoid motorways and opt for smaller local roads once you get closer to Helsinki - sure, there will be less traffic, however, you will get more space for the cars to stop, and avoid a chance of getting stuck on some unlit motorway ramp in the middle of nowhere (consider the early darkness when hitchhiking in autumn/winter!)
Since Finland mostly lacks a motorway network, most of the hitchhiking happens in the "classical manner", standing thumb up on roadside. While doing this, be aware that the Finnish drivers are a lot more careful in traffic than drivers elsewhere in Europe. They will only stop if the place is super-safe. This means a bus stop or similar. Even if there is a bus-stop-sized widening in the road, it does not help if it is unpaved.. Travellers not taking this into account has caused Finland to be known among foreigners as a difficult country to hitchhike, although it isn't actually worse than other western countries if you get around the culture of requiring crazy amounts of safety.
Crossing the borders
Apart from the Russian border, Finnish borders exist only on the map, not in reality. Since the dawn of time there has been very a liberal co-operation between the Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian. However, despite the fact that Finland signed the Schengen Agreement there is a random identity and luggage check when you take a ferry from Ahvenanmaa to Stockholm (Sweden).
Ferries to Stockholm go from Helsinki and Turku. The latter is considerably cheaper. Both ferries also stop in Maarianhamina (Ahvenanmaa), or Mariehamn (Åland), as its Swedish-speaking population calls it. The two companies which run ferries between Finland and Sweden are Viking Line and Silja Line. Both of the companies are focused on bringing the customers a cruise-experience, and are bound to be tacky. Viking Line sells cheaper tickets without a cabin, too, which would be rather useless on the daytime trips between Turku and Stockholm anyway. As of August 2009, a morning ferry from Stockholm to Turku costs 15 euros, and Stockholm-Helsinki - 55 euros (both without a cabin, although prices vary according to season.
Silja Line is the posher of the two, and thus more expensive. It's still tacky, though.
The Viking Line cruise ships have free tourist maps of Turku at their information desks on board. Be aware, though, that if you take a daytime cruise (which is about half the price), you will arrive in Turku at night. During the autumn, winter and early spring that means no daylight which is no help for hitchhiking. In winter nights, extremely cold temperatures might occur as well.
When on-board, during warmer time of the year you might go up outside to enjoy the scenery of the archipelagos of Stockholm or Turku.
Be aware as well of a constant attempt to lure people to buy as much tax-free alcohol and some other things on the ferries. It really isn't much more cheaper, though, than buying them on land. So, do bring a book. Usually there are free Playstation or XBox games at the kids-section to spend the time, plus very often other backpackers wander around (you might as well have a chat with them). You can also try to spot small islands severely damaged by Great cormorants a few hours off Stockholm.
There are Swedish Birka Cruises boats cruising the sea, too.
More info about boats in the region: here (Sweden, Estonia, Germany + lake tourism)
Its possible to hitch from lapland. Aim for Kilpisjärvi down the E8. You do not go into Sweden. If going South down the E8 its possible to go on to Oulu. There is much less traffic up there so longer rides are more common. Just after Oulu there is a service station that is quite busy. There is no customs stopping, unless there is a new car that has not travelled that way before. Then you may get lifts at the border. There is a lot of tourism there and wilderness huts for free staying are possible to find.
- Tallink & Silja Line, ferries to Estonia (only in Finnish/Swedish)
- Viking Line
- Eckerö Line
- Linda Line
Note that as of 2006:
- No walking is permitted on any of existing Finnish-Russian border checkpoints.
- Vaalimaa–Torfianovka border checkpoint is permitted to cross by cycling.
- Russian visa can not be issued at the border checkpoint.
It is always open. Traffic is high there, and you might find there both long-distance trucks (however, see info below about trucks ) as well as lots of locals, from both sides of the border, with Russians coming to buy goods they don't have in Russia, and Finns going to the other side to buy alcohol, cigarettes and fuel. On a Finnish side, you can find most of them at the first petrol station, just before the customs zone. You can also ask drivers on the parking, and those queuing to the terminal. A ride to Torfianovka is enough – there's lots of transport going to Vyborg and St. Petersburg from there.
As of 2006, it was a complete waste of time to hitch a truck over the border to Russia – freight terminal is separate for trucks and the queue there is extremely slow: sometimes you wait for hours, sometimes for days. Same terminal from Russia to Finland, though, seems to be faster.
To get back from Russia to Finland, simply ask drivers at the parking lot by one of the supermarkets around there on the Russian side.
There is a checkpoint on the road 13 going south from Lappeenranta and bypassing the village of Niirala on the north. There is less traffic here but the route is more scenic, going along the Saimaa canal (Russian: Сайменский канал; Finnish: Saimaan kanava).
Next border checkpoint to the north from there is Niirala-Värtsilä, on the road 70 south of Joensuu. The trafic is low, a road goes to Sortavala and then further to St. Petersburg via the south shore of lake Ladoga (with a portion of an unpaved road), or via the north shore to Petrozavodsk.
There are a few more border checkpoints: from Imatra to Svetogorsk, from Kuhmo to Kostamuksha, from Salla towards Kandalaksha, and from Inari towards Murmansk. These days most of these checkpoints work 24/7. Good way to hitch a ride from Russia to Finland is to hang around some stores near borders and look for Finnish license plates. A smart trick you can do to lift up your chances to get a ride is by offering a driver you speak to to bring an extra load of cigarettes and alcohol - most of the Finnish drivers won't resist that!
The language most people in Finland speak is Finnish which isn't a Scandinavian language. The country is officially bilingual as there is a large Swedish-speaking minority on the west coast of Finland. Anyhow, most of the people speak good English, too, so most of the foreign hitchhikers won't have big language problems in Finland.
Some older people, however, might have no English language knowledge at all, so you might as well learn some basic Finnish phrases. Note, that with a knowledge of Swedish, however, you can come pretty far (it is useful all over Scandinavia).
Useful Finnish expressions for hitchhikers:
- Hello = Terve
- Hi = Moi or Hei
- Hitchhiking = Liftaaminen
- To hitchhike = Liftata
- A ride = Kyyti
- Thank you = Kiitos
- Where are you driving to? = Minne ajat?
Hitchhiking is quite safe in Finland. As always, common sense is your friend.
Legal matters for hitchhikers
Hitchhiking is legal in Finland. Anyhow, there are some places where it is illegal for the cars to stop, and some places where it is illegal for pedestrians to stand. Both of these make hitchhiking illegal de facto in these places.
It is illegal to hitchhike on the motorways (called “moottoritie”) and some motorways (“moottoriliikennetie”) in Finland. You can recognize these from the green signs.
The cars can not stop in crossing areas, and some cars not obeying this rule and taking hitchhikers on board are known to be fined.
Hitching on the motorways and two lane expressways is prohibited. On any other motorway you can legally hitch. You can also hitchhike at the motorway on-ramps, and at the motorway petrol stations' areas. Basically, same rules as in countries in Western Europe and in most states of the USA.
Hitchhiking used to be popular in the 70's and 80's, and many drivers will tell the hitchhiker(s) they've hitched themselves back in their days. Nowadays this practice is rather rare among Finns, but there are always some, especially in summer time, when local hitchers get inspired by European backpackers heading to Lapland. Hitching in Finland is much more difficult/impossible in late autumn and winter.
- Finnish Hitchwiki
- Finnish hitchhiker's club − the site is mostly in Finnish but there is an English section.
- IRC Channel Liftari @ IRCnet
- Hitchhiker's guide to Europe − a hitchhiking site by a Finn
- Liftausvinkkejä − hitchhiking tips in Finnish
- Lonely Planet − Finland eBook (2003) preview
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