Driving in Helsinki and Elsewhere in Finland

Published June 25, 2024
A bus in Helsinki

Is Driving in Helsinki Easy?

Driving in Helsinki is moderately easy but still more challenging than in smaller Finnish towns. Driving in the suburbs is simple but it gets more difficult as you approach the city centre. In the Helsinki centre, there is heavy traffic, especially in rush hours so you must be extra careful. For example, trams almost always have the priority. Also, navigation may become challenging since turning left is often forbidden in the city centre. It is important to plan the route.

A red Koff tram in Helsinki.
Helsinki Centre is the most challenging place to drive in Finland. You need to give way to trams in most cases as they usually have priority.

Advice for Driving in the Helsinki Centre

At Helsinki centre, it is important to drive slowly. The speed limit is typically only 30 km/h. Pay attention to the traffic signs and priority rules. Be extremely careful with the trams which are unable to stop fast. Especially, when turning left over the tram tracks, look behind that the route is clear. With a slow speed and careful attitude, driving at Helsinki centre is not too difficult. It is good to know that the majority of Finnish drivers obey traffic rules well, and so should you.

Give way to pedestrians crossing streets since they expect you to stop.

Driving in Other Areas in Finland

Smaller Towns

Driving in other cities in Finland is easier. Tampere and Espoo have only one tram line and other cities have no trams. With a low speed in city centres, driving isn’t too challenging.

Highways

Long-distance driving on highways is perhaps the most comfortable way of driving. Especially, the 2-laned motorways are in good condition and driving on them is relaxing. On regular single-lane highways, you must be more careful because the roads are narrower.

Consider maintaining a safe distance from the previous car. Regular overtaking is not recommended. Arriving safely is more important than speed. If you need to pass a slower car, reserve much distance to perform safe overtaking. Some of the major roads have designated overtaking lanes. Use them when available to ensure safe passing manoeuvres. In winter conditions, allowing extra time for your journey can help you avoid risky overtaking situations.

Outside the cities, animals pose an extra danger. Be prepared to encounter mooses, rabbits and reindeer on the road. Especially, moose 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 an eye on the edge of the forest around the road. The most dangerous places are marked with warning signs.

Parking in Helsinki

Street parking in central Helsinki is readily available, although be prepared for paid parking rates. In the evenings and on Sundays, the parking is often free but then there are fewer free parking spaces. Learn to interpret parking signs because sometimes, it takes only a few minutes to get a parking fine which costs 80 euros.

Helsinki has many underground parking halls which are the easiest way of parking. However, they are pricey and they do not offer free parking in the evenings and on public holidays.

Parking ticket machine in a parking hall.
Shopping malls have usually a few hours of free parking. After that, you need to pay to a machine or use a parking application.

In suburbs, street parking is often free. However, the free parking spots may have time limits. To help parking enforcement know when you arrived, simply display your arrival time clearly on your dashboard. No need for perfect accuracy – a half-hour window is sufficient. For instance, if you park at 1:45 pm, marking 2:00 pm on a piece of paper placed on your dashboard would be perfectly acceptable.

We recommend installing the Parkman application.

Parking sign
Do you understand this traffic sign? From Monday to Friday, you are allowed to park free for only 4 hours between 6:00-and 24:00, other times, no limits

Get some Helsinki Stopover Ideas.

Parking in Other Towns

Parking in smaller towns is more relaxed and quite often, totally free. Street parking is common you will easily find free spots. Near city centres, you may need to pay for a machine or with a parking app.

Traffic Rules in Finland

Finnish traffic rules are quite similar to the rest of Europe. We introduce the most important ones of them.

Basics

You drive on the right side of the road and give priority to the cars coming from the right. Overtaking or passing another car is done from the left.

Intersection in Rauma
Intersections in smaller towns are simpler to drive because there is not much traffic.

Driving License

Almost all licenses that have an English translation are valid in Finland. For example, the EU, UK and US licenses are accepted. To be sure, we recommend checking a car rental company’s license requirements before hiring a car.

Alcohol Limit

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.

In the wintertime, the maximum speed limit is 100 km/h.

An intersection in Hyvinkää.
A road intersection in Hyvinkää, Finland. Pay attention to the arrows painted on the road to know which driving directions are allowed.

Speeding fines in Finland are high. If you overspeed up to 20 km/h, the fine is 200 euros at maximum. If you overspeed 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.

Finnish Road Network

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 surely paved.

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.

E18 road in the summer
You can drive at a maximum speed of 120 km/h on motorways in Finland.

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 speed limit of 80 km/h so extra-cautious driving is needed on these roads. Always keep a safe speed suitable for the situation.

Winter Driving

Winter driving in Helsinki is much easier than long-distance winter driving or driving in northern towns. Even if you plan to drive only in Helsinki, you must pay attention to the weather conditions and have winter driving skills.

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.

A tunnel on the road E18
Finland has many tunnels, headlights must be on all the time and while driving in the winter make sure to have winter tyres because ice and snow make the road so slippery.

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. A long distance from the previous car is important, especially in the cities. 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 handle.

Modern cars have EPS and ABS technology to keep the car more stable on a slippery road.

Slippery motorway
It is important to keep more safer distance than usual when driving in the winter as the roads in Finland become so slippery.

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. Early in the fall, there may be black ice on the ice roads in mornings which may surprise you.

Keep eye on speed limit signs in order to follow legal limits.
When driving in Finland, speed limits must strictly be followed at all times to avoid hefty fines and for your safety.

Winter Tyres

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 on. In case of an accident, your insurance may not compensate you if you have taken a risk and driven with unsuitable/wrong tyres.

Studded tyres are common in Finland and they are best for winter driving even though are are a little noisier. It is good to know that in the Helsinki centre, there are a few roads where studded tyres are forbidden. But you still need regular winter tyres in the winter.

Peugeot 208 parked in the winter
In Finland, the law requires that winter tyres should be used according to weather or driving conditions between November and March. During this winter period, the tyres’ tread main grooves must have a minimum depth of 3 mm.

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. If you plan to rent a car in the winter, we recommend asking for studded tyres for safer winter driving. Also, ask car rental companies for advice for winter driving.

Where to Rent a Car in Helsinki?

If you arrive by air, we recommend hiring a car straight from the airport. There are car rental offices also in the city and some of them can bring a car to your hotel.

It is good to compare car rental companies and their prices on Discover Cars. Full protection with 0 excess will bring peace of mind. The full protection does not cost much and you don’t need to be worried about minor scratches or incidents caused by winter conditions or your own mistakes. However, getting a car scratched by 3rd parties is uncommon in Finland.

Questions and Answers

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.
Is driving in the Helsinki centre difficult?
It may be a little tricky but with a good attitude, you will survive. Keep an eye on pedestrians and trams.
Are speeding fines in Finland expensive?
Yes, they are. You don’t want to get a fine.
Are Finnish roads paved?
The roads in cities and between the cities are paved. Some smaller roads elsewhere may be unpaved.
Can I drive also in winter?
Sure. There is no special permission needed but make sure the car has winter tyres, preferably studded ones if you are an inexperienced winter driver.
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.
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 rental car gives you the freedom to see places outside the capital area.

Bottom Line

We recommend renting a car if you plan to stay in Finland for more than 3 days and want to see areas outside the city centres. In the Helsinki Centre, a rental car does not give much additional value. However, a rental car is practical for visiting nearby cities like Espoo and Vantaa, for example, making a day trip to the Nuuksio National Park or Flamingo Spa.

Road from Helsinki to Turku
The road E18 from Helsinki to Turku is nice to drive in summer.

Finnish drivers are known for following traffic rules, making the roads safe for everyone. Helsinki drivers are particularly courteous. Speed limits are strictly enforced, and fines can be high, so adhering to them ensures a smooth journey. By driving cautiously and following the rules, you can expect a relaxed driving experience in Helsinki or elsewhere in Finland.

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