I recently spent a few days in Helsinki, Finland. I had heard good things – such as being ranked the #1 happiest country in the world, having the #1 ranked education system in the world despite students spending only 5 hours/day in school with little homework, home of Linus Torvalds (founder of Linux), etc.
Finland is the probably the country most similar to Japan I’ve seen outside of Asia. Modern, clean, and civilized. I stayed at a hostel and was pleasantly surprised to see that shoes were not allowed to be worn inside – something I cannot recall ever seeing outside of Asia. People are respectful and orderly, for example always staying on the right side of the escalator.
My first impression from the airport was positive. It was the first maskless flight I’ve taken in 2 years (almost cried tears of joy). Loved that the baggage claim had a line a meter around the conveyer belt saying to wait there (people crowding around conveyer belts making it difficult to find and pick up your luggage drives me crazy). Like many civilized European countries, there are no turnstiles for trains. This always amazes me as an American. I imagine if NYC were to remove subway turnstiles, the MTA would lose 80% of its revenue overnight.
Everything is nice, modern, and clean. Interiors of coffee shops, malls, restaurants, etc. are usually very tastefully done – similar to Seoul, South Korea. The ferry to/from Helsinki to Tallinn is probably the nicest I’ve ever been on with tasteful interior design.
The city itself is by the sea and has lots of parks. I was impressed to see people swimming even when it was cold.
I love the food here – salmon, salads, poke bowls, etc. – exactly my style. Lots of ethnic options as well like Vietnamese food, Mexican, etc.
The people seemed very friendly. Polite, and often smiling. Everyone speaks perfect English. Racially it is quite a homogenous country, and probably the blondest country I’ve ever been to. While I was on my laptop in the common area of the hostel, some Finnish-looking lady said she was going to make tea and asked me if I wanted some. In my computer-absorbed daze I was so shocked at this selfless act from a total stranger that it took me a couple seconds to compose myself and respond.
Saunas are big in Finland. I went to a free outdoor sauna by the sea that was fantastic. You can alternate between the sauna and swimming in the sea. Although there are some lockers, it’s safe to just leave your belongings in the open because Finland is a civilized country (unlike much of the U.S). Clothing optional. Great social atmosphere. This sauna is free because it’s entirely volunteer run. Amazing.
Overall I really enjoyed Helsinki. I wish more Americans could see cities like Helsinki and see what a civilized society that has it’s sh*t together looks like.
In terms of downsides, it is expensive. I paid 50-60 euros/night for a dorm bed in a 8-bed hostel, though I’ll say the hostel was definitely very nice (no shoes as I mentioned). A hotel will probably run you at least 100 euros/night. For food expect to pay a minimum of 10 euros (eg. for a kebab), and around 15-20 euros for a nice healthy salmon avocado salad.
Also although the weather was perfect in July when I visited, Finland is a very cold and dark country in the winter. Personally as someone who hates cold weather, this unfortunately disqualifies Finland for me as somewhere I’d personally live except for in the summer.
Also Helsinki is a small city of 631,000 people (though surprisingly bigger than Copenhagen’s 602,000).
Overall I really enjoyed Helsinki. I’m on the ferry to Tallinn now, but I’m sure I will return again. Again I wish more Americans would visit civilized countries like this. There’s definitely a lot the world can learn from Finland.
(first posted on my other site here: https://zsync.xyz/p/helsinki-finland-first-impressions. I’m also back in Helsinki for a few days or so, so hit me up if you want to meet)