….just don’t become an angry bird….
A fear of flying in general can perpetuate the grief of waiting at an airport for a connecting flight. However, fear or no fear, for regular travelers, a boring airport can turn out to be an all-day nightmare.
Whether traveling from international flight to a domestic flight, or using the city as a ‘good-deal’ transit stop, the airports that one finds themselves in are often not much more than shopping malls with a never-ending supply of news agencies, all selling the same magazines on repeat.
Helsinki is a little different. Despite being a relatively small airport, in a relatively small country, with a teeny tiny (relatively) population, Finland’s capital airport is a small hub of awesomeness waiting to be discovered. Here is list the top ten sights, sounds, smells and stuff to fill up a 4, 6, 8, 10 hour transit nicely (depending on your particular destinations but at least you’ll have to go through security control to leave the departure area)….
1. Visit the airport artwork
Helsinki airport is spacious and where you have space, you can safely house art for visitors. With a small open cinema area, showing art house Finnish short, near-silent films on a loop, one can relax into a meditative state while watching images of Finnish nature float by the screen. If this is a just a bit too serene for your tastes, massive modern brightly colored sculptures dot the airport, livening up random corners with expression. It’s not the Tate Modern, but it sure beats watching the runways. Check out Gates 32, 34, 37 and 38 for our favorites.
2. Book Swap Shop
If your an avid reader while traveling, the book swap is the place for you. With texts from all over the world, you can exchange your books for a ‘new’ one. Not only are you getting a free hand-me-down, but you can share the love of a good book with others. It is also a nice little nook to sit down for a few sneaky pages. Who knows in which country your latest read will end up!
During the summer months, there is actually a terrace where visitors can visit free of charge, to view the airlines ascending and descending at Helsinki Vantaa airport. It is located on the top of the office building overlooking Terminal 2, just a short walk out of the Terminal. In the winter, you can still access inside viewing.
4. The Relaxation Area!
This airport has a FREE of charge relaxation with foldable beds, and 2 other types of cosy chairs. There is not massive lines waiting (killing the relaxation if you ask me), but it is worth getting down there to see if there is free space. There are plugs for your tech bits too. The area relaxes at Gate 31, 24 hours a day.
5. Gastronomy Tour
Take a tour of Finnish food, enjoying a small plate at 3 or more different restaurants. Well, this is my advise…you can eat less or more as per your appetite! If my own appetite is anything to go by though, I go for the following –
Starter: Cafe Alvar A at gate 24. Enjoy a glass of sparkling wine and a goats cheese, prosciutto and roasted pepper salad. Inspired by Italy. Alvar Aalto, the cafe’s inspiration, was inspired by Italian culture when he spent his honeymoon there too.
Main Course: Continue to Gate 29, to O’Learys, where you’ll find a classic Irish inspired pub feel, with the best burgers for miles. Enjoy a big one, with all the trimmings.
Dessert: Not very Finnish, but Starbucks makes a great pick-me-up and a cake after all that hearty grub. Try a Grande Soya Frappucino with hazelnut and a piece of banana bread – or similar……
6. Shop, Shop, Shop…
All airports offer shopping, Helsinki is no different. It has to be mentioned, however, as who would want to miss the chance to browse or purchase Nordic treasures like reindeer skins or Moomin plates…?…. There’s plenty to chose from – Mulberry to Moomins, Fish eggs to french champagne, but by far our favorites are Marimekko (Gate 26) for the where boldness of design, and Reima Pop Up (Gate 20) where kids practical water- kid- snow- dirt-proof clothing cannot be beaten…almost…anywhere.
7. Get Out!
If you transit is longer than around 6 hours, and your connection allows for you to go through security and back again for the next flight, I would strongly recommend getting out of the airport. Finnair offers a shuttle bus directly into the city, for a small fee. The timetable is here, pretty easy to understand, even if it is in Finnish. You can enjoy a walk around the city centre – check out the Market Harbour “Kauppatori” for crafts and traditional Nordic gifts and foods. Reindeer meatballs for lunch anyone?
From 17th June – 8th August, The Sibelius Experience is in Helsinki, live performance, commentary and stunning visual imagery of Finland. One not to miss, even if you are in transit. You’ll need 5 hours to do this tour properly…
8. Get Active! Finnish National Parks
Believe in it or not, Finland is a country where modern life and technology is in synergy with nature and authenticity. Just 30 minutes from the airport is untouched National Park, where the walks are peaceful and the air is clean. Stop for lunch at one of the publicly maintained fire pits and cook some sausages “Makarra” over the open fire. There are guided trips with airport transfers available if you need help to get there. In the winter, you can join snowshoe excursions too.
9. Sauna at the airport – Ok, it is not open for everyone all the time, but if you have the foresight to book with Finnair and are a Finnair and oneworld tier level and Business Class passenger, you can have access not only the the Finnair lounge, but to their newly designed and built sauna. Other persons can visit too – for a fee (to be announced soon). All this in the non-schengen area so that the rest of the world can enjoy a slice of Finnish Culture while waiting for the next flight! Sound relaxing? Read more about Saunas here.
10. Archipelago – here we go!
Finland is famous for its extensive Archipelago island system, said to be the largest spanning in Europe! Check it all out close to the airport, within a 30 minute drive, where you can cruise around the islands and check out the beaches for a swim and bbq lunch…. How about a 3 course Authentic Finnish meal to top it all off? This is what the Finns get up to during the summer!
We are sure to find more than 10 things to do while waiting at Helsinki airport. But being in Transit needn’t be a drag. In fact, we think a planned Stopover is a rather good idea!!