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News & Advice

Take advantage of a Finnish stopover by taking a break from the airport

Q&A: Travel unravelled

Q. I am flying to deepest Finland from Heathrow, with a five-and-a-half-hour stopover in Helsinki. Is this enough time for sightseeing or am I doomed to wander the corridors and gift shops waiting for the hours to tick by? Alastair Kleissner, Cardiff

A. Lucky you. Finnair has global ambitions as a far-north hub, with connections to many Asian destinations – including the hard-to-reach Chinese city of Chongqing and (from March) Xian. Yet Helsinki still has a small, manageable airport with reliable links into the city centre, which makes it ideal for in-transit exploration.

At Heathrow, check your baggage through to the final destination, so you will not be burdened with it, and make sure you get a boarding pass for the onward flight.

At Helsinki Terminal 2, you are free to leave the airport while technically in transit – you just need your passport to get out, and the boarding pass to get back in.

Once through passport control, there should be a Finnair bus waiting to whisk you along uncrowded roads in 20 minutes (fare €6.30) to the city centre – in the shape of the handsome art nouveau Central Railway Station.

When you arrive at the station, check the timetable for buses back to the airport; given the 45-minute deadline for domestic flights, you will probably want to catch a bus about 80 minutes before your flight departs. This means you have three hours plus to explore one of the most fascinating capitals in the European Union.

Pick up a map from the station tourist office and start wandering. First, go due east to the edge of the harbour, then over the bridge to Katajanokka – location for the Uspenski Cathedral (pictured), a magnificent structure that looks as if it has floated across the Baltic from St Petersburg. Then head inland along the elegant avenue of Esplanadi, diving into the Karl Fazer Cafe, a 1891 coffee house at Kluuvikatu 3.

Next, go south – if it is a fine day, to the park known as Kaivopuisto, with fine views over the Baltic; otherwise, the Design Museum (designmuseum.fi) is well worth an hour or so. Your brief stay may convince you to stay longer next time and perhaps make a weekend of Helsinki.