Upon arrival at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, you may be tempted to while away your four-hour layover at the airport. It is, after all, the Best Airport in Northern Europe and offers amenities ranging from free Wi-Fi to a book swap, art and design galleries, and a spa. With the city so close, though, it'd be a shame not to get out for a few hours. Here are a few ideas for what to do on a four-hour layover in Helsinki.
To get to the city center from the airport, the cheapest but slowest option is the number 615 bus, which takes around 40 minutes and runs every 10–20 minutes. Finnair shuttle buses cost only slightly more and take 30 minutes, running every 20 minutes. Your quickest way into town is, of course, by taxi, but it is also the priciest.
Helsinki is small enough that you can walk around and see a lot, but for a quick overview of the city, hop on trams 3B or 3T, which take around an hour to loop the city, passing most of the major sights.
Take an Architecture and Design Tour
The public and airline buses will both drop you off outside Helsinki Central Railway Station. With its dramatic Art Nouveau architectural style and giant globe-holding statues, the station is a sight to see on its own. It was designed by Eliel Saarinen (father of Eero), and after just minutes of wandering around the city, you'll realize that design seems to run in the Finnish blood. The celebrated architect Alvar Aalto left his fingerprints all over the city; most famously at the sleek, modernist Finlandia Hall in the Töölö district. There you'll also find the abstract Sibelius Monument and the Temppeliaukio Church, which was excavated out of solid rock. The best part? All these sights are within walking distance of each other.
Alternatively, head to the Design District where nearly 200 shops, galleries, workshops, and museums are clustered together, indicated by a large round black sticker saying "Design District Helsinki" displayed on their windows – they're all independent and locally owned shops. Wander in and check out their unique products – you won't find any big-box stores in this district. You can get a map of the district from the tourist information center in Terminal 2 at the airport.
Enjoy Skytop Cocktails
The Hotel Torni is best-known for its 14th-floor Ateljee Bar, from which you can see across the rooftops of Helsinki, and towards the surrounding forest and Baltic Sea. The bar is a cozy space, but if you can snag a table, it's a relaxing place to sip on a cocktail and admire the views as you while away your layover.
See Kauppatori and Katajanokka
Kauppatori ("market square" in Finnish) is located down by the harbor and is a fun, bustling place to grab a snack from a food stall and take a seat at a little plastic table while watching the boats come and go. The yellow-and-red brick building next to the square houses the Old Market Hall, which dates back to 1888 and is filled with wooden stalls selling Finnish products like cheese, fish, berries, and traditional souvenirs.
Next to Kauppatori, the Katajanokka district is known for its well-preserved examples of the National Romantic style of architecture and is the site of the Uspenski Cathedral, the biggest Orthodox church in Western Europe. The cathedral was built in the mid-19th century when Finland was under Russian rule. About a 10 minute walk away, you'll find the distinctive green-domed Helsinki Cathedral and, most likely, lots of chilled out locals occupying its steep steps. If it's a sunny day, grab an ice cream and join them before heading back to the airport.
Go for a Swim and Steam
Perhaps after a long flight, all you really want to do is take it easy and in Finland, home of the sauna, you're in the right place! One of our favorite places in the city is Yrjönkatu, a classical 1920s public indoor swimming pool. As well as a large swimming pool (bathing suits optional), the building houses saunas and private cubicles with beds and waiter service on the second floor. Access is determined by sex (men- or women-only on alternate days) so be sure to check beforehand.