The best way to get around Scandinavia is by private car on the excellent road network. In lieu of that, nearly all major towns are serviced by trains, except certain offshore islands, which can be reached only by ferryboat. If you're traveling extensively in Europe, special European passes are also available.
SAS's "Visit Scandinavia" Fare -- The vast distances encourage air travel between Scandinavia's far-flung points. One of the most worthwhile promotions is SAS's Visit Scandinavia Pass. Available only to travelers who fly SAS across the Atlantic, it includes up to six coupons, each of which is valid for any SAS flight within or between Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Each coupon costs $60, $80, and $100, depending on the route. The pass is especially valuable if you plan to travel to the far northern frontiers of Sweden or Norway; in that case, the savings over the price of a regular economy-class ticket can be substantial. For information on buying the pass, call SAS (tel. 800/221-2350; www.flysas.com).
Finnair (tel. 800/950-5000 in the U.S.), along with its domestic subsidiaries, Karair and Finnaviation, offers reasonably priced air transportation to virtually every settlement of any size in Finland, including some that are not accessible by any other means. Its routes cover the length and breadth of the country with at least 100 flights a day.
If you plan to travel extensively throughout Scandinavia or into the Baltic countries, then consider the Finnair Nordic Air Pass. It is available only from May 1 to September 30, and you must have a transatlantic plane ticket to be eligible. Call Finnair (tel. 800/950-5000) for more information.
Finland has its own Finnrailpass for use on the country's elaborate network of railroads. It's a "flexipass," entitling the holder to unlimited travel for any 3, 5, or 10 days within a 1-month period on all passenger trains of the VR Ltd. Finnish Railways. Prices are as follows: $301 for 3 days within 1 month in first class or $203 in second class; $401 for 5 days within 1 month in first class or $268 in second class; and $545 for 10 days within 1 month in first class or $364 in second class. Children pay 50% of the adult fare. Travelers over 65 and children 6 to 16 are charged half the full fare (it may be necessary to show proof of age); children 5 and under ride free.
Second-class trains in Finland are comparable to first-class trains in many other countries. The Finnrailpass should be purchased before you enter Finland; sometimes it's available at border stations at the frontier.
Because Finnish trains tend to be crowded, you should reserve a seat in advance -- in fact, seat reservations are obligatory on all express trains marked "IC" or "EP" on the timetable. The charge for seat reservations depends on the class and the length of the journey.
For more information, contact VR Ltd. Finnish Railways, P.O. Box 488, Vilhonkatu 13, FIN-00101 Helsinki (tel. 09/2319-2902; www.vr.fi). In the United States, contact RailEurope, Inc. (tel. 800/848-7245 or 800/4-EURAIL [438-7245]; www.raileurope.com).
Finland has an extensive bus network operated by private companies. Information on bus travel is available at the Helsinki Bus Station, Kamppi terminal and Simonkentta. For more information you can call tel. 8200/4090 or else go to www.expressbus.com. If you call, you'll be charged 1.65€ ($2.60) for an operator's fee. Tickets can be purchased on board or at the bus station. Ask about a "Coach Holiday Ticket," allowing travel up to 1,000km (621 miles) during any 2-week period.
By Taxi in Finnish Cities
Service on most forms of public transportation ends around midnight throughout Finland, forcing night owls to drive themselves or to rely on the battalions of taksi (taxis) that line up at taxi stands in every Finnish town. In Helsinki, taxi stands are strategically situated throughout the downtown area, and it's usually less expensive to wait in line at a stand until one arrives. If you decide to call a taxi, they can be found under taksiasemat in the local directory. Note: You have to pay the charges that accumulate on the meter from the moment the driver first receives the call, not from when he or she picks you up.
Because of the far-flung scattering of Finland's attractions and the relative infrequency of its trains and long-distance buses, touring the country by car is the best way to savor its sights and charms, especially during the summer months. Bear in mind that driving conditions can be very bad during the long winter months. Snow tires are compulsory in winter. All car-rental companies supply winter tires during the appropriate seasons as part of their standard equipment.
Visitors bringing a motor vehicle into Finland must have a driver's license and a clearly visible sign attached to the vehicle showing its nation of origin. This rule is enforced at the border. Your home driver's license will be honored; an international driver's license is not required.
Rentals -- Avis (tel. 800/331-1212 in the U.S. and Canada), Budget (tel. 800/527-0700 in the U.S. and Canada; www.budget.com), and Hertz (tel. 800/654-3001 in the U.S. and Canada; www.hertz.com) are represented in Finland. Each company maintains 22 to 24 locations in Finland, usually in town centers or at airports, and sometimes in surprisingly obscure settings. For those who want to begin and end your tour of Finland in different cities, a drop-off within Finland can be arranged for a modest surcharge. A drop-off outside Finland, however -- if allowed at all -- is much more expensive.
Kemwel (tel. 800/678-0678; www.kemwel.com) is an auto-rental broker that accumulates into one database the availability of rental cars in markets across Europe, including Sweden. Originally established in 1908, and now operating in close conjunction with its sister company, Auto Europe (tel. 800/223-5555; www.autoeurope.com), it offers convenient and prepaid access to thousands of cars, from a variety of reputable car-rental outfits throughout Europe.
Driving Rules -- Finns drive on the right side of the road, as in the U.S. and Europe. Speed limits are strictly enforced. It's illegal to drive a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol (blood alcohol may not exceed 0.5%), and the penalties for doing so are severe. Be careful to watch for elk and reindeer crossing signs.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- Prices are extremely high and subject to daily changes. Most stations take credit cards and are self-service at the pump. Stations are plentiful in the more congested south. However, if driving in the wilderness of the north, tank up before heading out for a long stretch.
Fly & Drive -- Government taxes, insurance coverage, and the high cost of gasoline (petrol) can make the use of a rented vehicle in Finland more expensive than you might have assumed. One way to reduce these costs is to arrange for your fly-drive trip through Finnair (tel. 800/950-5000). When you book your flight, the airline may be able to arrange a lower car-rental price through Budget, Hertz, or Avis than you could have gotten on your own.
By Ferry & Lake Steamer
Finland's nearly 188,000 lakes form Europe's largest inland waterway. Although railroads and highways now link most Finnish towns and villages, the romantic old steamers (and their modern counterparts) give both Finns and visitors a relaxing way to enjoy the inland archipelago areas of Finland in summer.
The excursion trips of most vessels last from just a couple of hours to a full day. In some cases you can travel from one lakeside town to another. There are even a couple of car ferries that cross some of the biggest lakes, significantly reducing the time required to drive around the lake. Unlike highway ferries, which are few in number today but can be used at no charge, the car ferries charge a fare for both cars and passengers. Information on all lake traffic schedules and fares is available from local tourist offices.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.