Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: Sightseeing in deepest Finland
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Wednesday 06 February 2013
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, South Wales
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 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, 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.
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