When first-time travelers visit Finland, they usually do most of their shopping in Helsinki. They soon learn, however that many of the country’s great shopping spots lie off the beaten tourist path.
For example, at the Verkaranta Arts & Crafts Center in the heart of Tampere, Finland’s second largest city, you can buy charming knit caps and mittens for children, hand-knit and machine-loomed sweaters for adults, patterns for hand knits and yarn in gorgeous colors. There is also a large selection of other hand-crafted items, both on exhibit and for sale. Pillows and hand-woven placemats, wall hangings, dolls and carved wood toys are all of highest quality.
Even though Finnish merchandise in general is expensive, there are bargains if you know where to look for them. Just a few kilometers outside Tampere, the Finnwear factory outlet carries a wide variety of seconds — everything from plastic refrigerator bowls in decorator colors to Marimekko sweatshirts.
Tourist towns such as Naanttali are usually good places to shop for handmade items, too. Though the prices may be a bit higher, the selection more than makes up for the differential. One of the shops to seek out in Naanttali is Sade (Kaivokatu 13), where clever handcrafted jewelry and designer clothes are specialties. And don’t ignore the hotel gift shops. Some of them carry handcrafts, too — often at very competitive prices.
Hotels and Resorts
Hotel and resort gift counters and shops are good places to buy locally made items — from homemade jam to designer clothes — that you won’t find elsewhere. A few resorts have shops on the premises. For example, the World of Silk, on the grounds of Aulanko resort just outside Hameenlinna, is a kaleido-scope of colorful silks — in the form of yardage, yarn, scarves, neckties and other accessories.
Department Stores and Supermarkets
Like their counterparts in other European countries and the United States, Finnish department stores have lots of sales. The end of the winter and summer seasons are when you will get the best prices.
At the larger supermarkets and discount stores, you’ll find some terrific buys , such as strainers, spatulas and souffle dishes. Also at the supermarket, you can load up on cheeses, jars of Lingonberry jam, smoked salmon and other Finnish delicacies. Hardware stores are good places to buy drawer pulls, cabinet knobs and other accessories that will bring back memories of Finland when you look at them after you get home.
Saving on Taxes
Substantial savings can be made through purchase tax deductions which are allowed foreigners. The system is some what complicated, with rules which seemingly vary from store to store. For example, there’s a minimum that you must spend (usually under $US 100) in one place of business in order to qualify. Then, if the goods are to be shipped to you at your home you get a tax deduction on the spot.
If you choose to carry your purchases, you’ll be given forms (provided you ask for them) to take to the airport, where you will be reimbursed. The deduction is greater if parcels are mailed rather than hand-carried, but freight charges often can eat up any money you might save. Signs with black lettering tell you whether a store is authorized to participate in the program.
One advantage of department store, supermarket and hardware store shopping is that smaller purchases — which might not in themselves reach the magic total required for a refund — can be combined even if they are purchased in different departments.