Worldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before.
Eppu here. Shopping in Finland has changed quite a bit in my lifetime. For most of its history, Finland was a poor relative to and fought over by Sweden and Russia. After the second World War, though, and especially after 1970s, Finland has changed drastically and is now one of the most stable, orderly, and prosperous countries in Europe. Nowadays you can find pretty much the same things in Helsinki as you would in any other Western European capitol—spiced with the Finnish flavor, of course.
Like Erik mentioned already (HTH: Eating in Helsinki), 1- and 2-cent euro coins are not used in Finland. While legal tender, shopkeepers might nevertheless decline accepting the coins. Everything is instead rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cent number. (If you’re a coin collector and want a full set, there are 1- and 2-cent coins to buy.)
Perhaps a shock to visitors from outside the EU is the high sales tax or value-added tax (VAT; in Finnish, arvonlisävero or ALV). EU member states are required to collect VAT, but each state is free to set its own rate. Currently in Finland, VAT is 24% for general items, but there are lowered rates of 14% for food and restaurant services (excluding alcohol and tobacco) and 10% for books, medicines, and transportation or cultural event tickets, among others.
Marking the tax may also differ from what you’re used to. After I moved to the U.S., having to do calculus to find out the final purchase prices was an annoyance to me. In Finland, all prices already include any applicable taxes; what you see on the price tag is what you pay.
People living permanently outside the EU or Norway may be able to make VAT-free purchases, but note that retailers are not obligated to offer tax free shopping. If they do, there’s often a sticker at the door or at registers, and a number of requirements apply. See Tax-free sales to travellers in Finland for more.
There’s a movement to start charging a small fee on plastic shopping bags in stores, and some chains have already started, but as of this writing no consensus exists. It’s perhaps best to bring your own foldable totes or prepare to pay for bags.
A few recommendations
kirjakauppa – kirja ‘book’ + kauppa ‘store’
The biggest book store chains are Akateeminen Kirjakauppa and Suomalainen Kirjakauppa (NB. no English site; store locations listed here). Used books can be found in various antikvariaatti or antikvaarinen kirjakauppa.
The iconic Moomin (Muumi) troll family created by Tove Jansson can nowadays be found in many stores and on a great variety of items. Official Moomin merchandise can be found at Moomin Shops, the most centrally located of which is inside the Forum shopping center (link to a map); there’s also a shop at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport.
Design & Fashion
Some of the world’s most imitated and admired designers and architects come from Finland. From Eero Aarnio’s Ball Chair (The Prisoner tv series, Men in Black II) to the Marimekko Unikko poppy pattern (worn by Jackie Onassis) to a new generation of designers, the Finnish style tends towards modern, understated clean lines. Merchandise from design houses and individual designers are often showcased in the Stockmann Helsinki city center department store during the summer season.
Vintage & Second-Hand
Open-air markets and market halls are good places for finding vintage and second-hand items, including older design. The non-profit Fida and UFF chains sell primarily second-hand clothes. Flea markets—kirpputori or kirppis—may also work.
Handmade wares vary from high design to mom-and-pop operators. Both types can often be found at a tori (an open-air market) or kauppahalli (market hall), or the former in various souvenir and/or design shops. One hot spot (though touristy) is the south side of Senaatintori (Senate Square; link to a map)—walk along Unioninkatu, Sofiankatu, Katariinankatu, or Helenankatu towards Kauppatori (Market Square) and the harbor.
- Aarikka—a family-owned business making handmade, primarily wooden jewelry, design products, and decorative items
- Arabia—ceramic tableware from a 100+ year-old company, including Moomin dishes
- Design District Helsinki—a concentration of jewellery makers, design and antique shops, fashion stores, museums, art galleries, restaurants, hotels, studios, and showrooms in downtown Helsinki (see e.g. their map)
- Flea markets, like the Hietalahti Flea Market (summertime only, next to the Hietalahti market hall)
- Iittala—glass and metal home wares
- Kankurin Tupa—souvenirs; wool, ceramic, wood items; Moomins
- Marimekko—designer fabrics, clothes, and accessories
- Moomin Shops—official Moomin merchandise and books
- Stockmann—the most prestigeous department store chain in Finland (the Helsinki city center store is at Aleksanterinkatu 52; link to a map)
- Tax-free sales to travellers in Finland by Finnish Tax Administration
Images: Shop at Suomenlinna by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo on Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Shop window cropped from a photo by Ian Kennedy on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0); Stockmann Book Department by IdeasAlchemist on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Moomins by Mike Burns on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Fiskars shopping by Visit Finland on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0); Window shopping #2 by /kallu on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Hand made by Freeariello on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)
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