Driving in Finland - What You Need to Know?
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Covered in the Article
- Finland - Our Home
- Traffic Rules in Finland
- Winter Driving
- Our Driving Experiences in Finland
- Where to Hire a Car in Finland?
- Where to Drive from Helsinki?
- Bottom Line
Finland - Our Home
We have less than 6 million residents in Finland but our country is still geographically quite big. Distances are long so driving is one of the most practical ways to move around. Cities have good public transportation networks but in the countryside, you need a car. That is true, especially in Lapland.
Between the biggest cities there are train connections or other affordable public transportation solutions. But if you wish to travel somewhere else, hiring or owning a car gives you freedom.
Finland has a well-maintained extensive road network. The road network is 454,000 kilometres long of which 78,000 kilometres are highways. Main roads consist of 13,000 kilometres and the rest 64,900 km are regional and connection roads. Approximately 65% of the highways are paved and the majority of the traffic flows on these paved roads. If you are driving between cities, the roads are almost for sure paved.
It is good to understand different road categories:
Motorways are the best roads. The maximum speed limit is 120 km/h and there are at least two lanes in both directions. A green sign with a road symbol marks a motorway.
Expressways are rare but they exist in some parts of Finland. They are almost like motorways with less traffic and fewer lanes. The maximum speed limit is only 100 km/h. Expressways are marked with a green sign including a car symbol.
Other highways are marked with blue signs. Normally, they have only one lane per direction. The speed limit varies between 60 and 100 km/h. The roads may have an extra lane now and then meant for overtaking slower cars. Regular highways are the most challenging roads to drive because they are narrower, there are more curves and animals appear on the roads more often.
In the countryside, you may find unpaved roads. Surprisingly, unpaved roads may have many curves and still, there is a high-speed limit so extra-cautious driving is needed on these roads. Always keep a safe speed suitable for the situation.
Traffic Rules in Finland
Finnish traffic rules are quite similar to the rest of Europe. We introduce the most important of them.
You drive on the right side and give priority to the cars coming from the right. Overtaking or passing another car is done from the left lane.
Almost all licenses that have an English translation are valid in Finland. Probably, you don't need an international license. To be sure, we recommend checking a car hire company's requirements before hiring a car. If you plan to live long in Finland, you need to convert your license to a local one.
The blood alcohol limit in Finland is 0.5 per mil. However, it may still be illegal to drive even though you are below the limit. You must be fit to drive.
Speed Limits and Fines
The default speed limit in urban areas is 50 km/h. Outside the cities, the limit is 80 km/h. The maximum speed limit on the motorways is 120 km/h but it is always set by a traffic sign. In residential areas, the limit is often 30 km/h or 40 km/h. Pay attention to speed limit signs to know the active limit. Quite often in residential areas, there is the speed limit area sign which affects the whole area, not only one road.
Speeding fines in Finland are high. If you over speed up to 20 km/h, the fine is 200 euros at maximum. If you over speed more than 20 km/h, the fine will be determined based on your annual income and it can be thousands of euros. There are also many speed surveillance cameras so it's better strictly to follow the limits to avoid troubles.
Between the first of November and the last day of March it is compulsory to use winter tyres if there are winter conditions. Driving without them would also be unwise because roads become slippery. You will also get a fine if you still have summer tyres in the car. In case of an accident, your insurance may not compensate you if you have taken a risk and driven with unsuitable/wrong tyres.
In Finland, the minimum permitted tread depth of winter tyres is 3 mm. However, it is recommended not to drive on winter tyres if their groove depth is less than 4 mm. In new winter tyres, the groove depth is about 10 mm and in summer tyres, it is 8 mm.
Car hire companies install the right tyres for hire cars. Ask for advice for winter driving.
Winter driving is something that you can't learn just by reading. It would help if you tried it yourself. However, we can give you tips on how to make the first winter driving safer.
Braking distance on a slippery road is significantly longer. That is why you need to keep a long distance from the car in front of you. In addition, you need to slow down before curves if you suspect the fraction to be low.
It is important to handle the gas, brakes and steering wheel softly. All violent movements may cause sliding which is difficult to control if you have no experience. It is important to be proactive in controlling the speed. We recommend hiring a front-wheel car. Rear-wheel cars, like Teslas, are much more difficult to control.
In winter, you need to adapt to the conditions. It is not always safe to keep the maximum allowed speed but in challenging conditions, you must drive slower. Ice or soft snow on the road is dangerous. It is also important to know how good your tyres are. Different tyre brands have different qualities.
It's cold in the winter. Naturally, cars have heaters but what if your car gets broken in the middle of nowhere? Be prepared and have warm clothes and enough battery in your phone to call for help.
Our Driving Experiences in Finland
We drive every day in Helsinki and nearby areas. We have also driven through Finland from Helsinki to Tromso so we have experience in driving in different parts of Finland.
Driving in Helsinki and Other Cities
Helsinki is the most challenging place to drive in Finland. Driving in the suburbs is a lot easier but it gets more challenging as you approach the city centre. There is busy traffic and so you must pay attention all the time. For example, there are many trams in the Helsinki centre and they have almost always priority. For cars, turning to the left is often forbidden in the Helsinki centre so you must plan your driving route carefully. Even Google Maps can give wrong directions.
At Helsinki centre, it is important to drive slowly. Pay attention to the traffic signs and priority rules and also to pedestrians. Be extremely careful with the trams which are unable to stop fast. With a slow speed and careful attitude, driving at Helsinki centre is not too difficult. Finnish drivers obey traffic rules well, and so should you.
Driving in other cities is easier. Tampere and Espoo have only one tram line and other cities have no trams at all. With a low speed in centres, there won't be too challenging situations.
Driving on Highways
Long-distace driving on highways is perhaps the most comfortable way of driving. Especially, the motorways are in good condition and driving there is relaxing. On regular highways, you must be more careful because the roads are narrower. You need to overtake cars now and then and that is the riskiest part of your driving. Be sure to reserve a lot of space for safe overtaking. The worst accidents happen when overtaking fails. Overtaking in winter can be dangerous if there is ice or snow on the road.
Outside the cities, there are also animals. Be prepared to encounter mooses, rabbits and reindeer on the road. Especially, mooses are dangerous if you drive faster than 80 km/h. It is a good idea not to exceed this speed when the visibility is poor or there are warning signs for mooses. If you still prefer driving faster, make sure that the road has protecting fences from animals and keep eye on edge of the forest around the road. The most dangerous place are marked with warning signs.
You can quite easily find a parking place in the Helsinki centre but it costs a lot. Learn to interpret parking signs because sometimes, it takes only a few minutes to get a parking fine. In suburban, parking is often free but there is a time limit.
Free parking places are often time-limited. You must indicate the arrival time visible to the parking inspector. It is enough, for example, to write the time on paper that is put on the dashboard. A half-hour precision is enough. For example, if you arrive at the parking place at 1:45 pm you can mark 2 pm as the arrival time.
Parking in smaller towns is more relaxed and quite often, totally free.
Where to Hire a Car in Finland?
You can hire a car almost from any city or directly from an airport. We recommend comparing car hire companies and their prices on Discover Cars. It is wise to have full-covering insurance for the hire car. That does not cost much and you don't need to be worried about minor scratches or incidents caused by winter conditions.
Where to Drive from Helsinki?
You don't need a car to reach the Helsinki centre. Parking there is so expensive that it becomes almost cheaper to use Uber. However, if you plan to see the areas outside the city centre, a car is practical. We list you a few nice ideas, but there are hundreds of interesting places in Finland.
Nuuksio is a national park 20 kilometres from Helsinki. There are many lakes, paths to hike and places for camping. It is practical to drive to a parking place in Nuukisio and then continue on foot.
Neighbouring cities, Espoo and Vantaa, have also other sights that can easily be reached by car.
Turku is the oldest town in Finland. There is a direct motorway from Helsinki to Turku with many tunnels. Driving time is only 1 hour and 45 minutes. The road is in perfect condition and it is one of the nicest roads to drive in Finland. There is much to see in Turku and moving by car is practical. Unfortunately, parking also in Turku centre costs but not as much as in Helsinki.
If you plan to have a road trip in Finland, we recommend driving from Helsinki to Lapland and maybe further to Norway. You need many days to complete the trip and overnight accommodations on the way.
- Do I need a car when visiting Finland?
- If you plan to stay only in Helsinki or in another big city, a car is not necessary. A hire car gives you the freedom to see places outside the capital area.
- What is the default speed limit in Finland?
- The default speed limit is 80 km/h in non-urban areas and 50 km/h in urban areas.
- Are Finnish roads paved?
- The roads in cities and between the cities are paved. Some smaller roads elsewhere may be unpaved.
- Are speeding fines in Finland expensive?
- Yes, they are. You don't want to get a fine.
- Where to hire a car in Finland?
- We recommend comparing car hire companies on Discover Cars, our favourite hire car comparison platform.
- Is driving in the Helsinki centre difficult?
- It may be a little tricky but with a good attitude, you will survive. Keep eye on pedestrians and trams.
- Can I drive also in winter?
- Sure. There is no special permission needed but make sure the car has winter tyres.
- Is it difficult to drive on snowy roads?
- Driving isn't more difficult but if you lose control of the car, you have a big problem. That is why you must keep the speed low and remember that much space is needed to stop the car on a slippery road.
We recommend hiring a car if you plan to stay in Finland for more than 3 days and want to see also areas outside the Helsinki centre. Driving around is easy and the roads are in good condition. Driving yourself in summer is a beautiful experience when there are 20 hours or even more daylight every day. In winter, a road trip to Lapland is a nice idea, but driving is more challenging.
Traffic rules in Finland are obeyed well. Fines are expensive so it is necessary to strictly follow speed limits. If you drive carefully, we expect you not to get any challenges.
Have you driven in Finland? Share your driving experiences below. You may also want to join our Finland-related Facebook group: Travelling and Living in Finland and start a discussion there.