How about having a stopover in Finland on the way to Asia? Or on your way back to Europe from the East? I bet you’ve never thought of that – Finnair offers excellent fares between Europe and Asia, and it allows you to stopover in Finland for up to 5 days, with no extra charge. The perfect time to get a taste of this wonderful country that has a special place in our hearts. 

Introducing Stopover Finland

There’s only one thing better than a holiday – two holidays. Imagine having the chance to explore a whole new destination at no extra cost, breaking a long plane journey and discovering a whole new culture. That’s what stopovers are for.

lohja finland lake sunset couple

Don’t miss experiencing a Finnish sunset!

For far too long, we simply whizzed from one airplane to another when taking a connecting flight between Europe and Australia – places like Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok were just meaningless names on our boarding passes, places that we would visit someday. We would watch other passengers fill in their landing cards and head off to the passport queue – while we would just wait into the lounge, wondering what lay behind the airport doors.

Ever since we started giving ourselves more time to travel, we’ve decided to make the most of our stopovers – and unless we’re really pressed for time, we always try to explore stopover cities for at least a few days.

vihti finland lake reeds

Finnish peace

Asian cities are very common stopover destinations, with several airlines and airports offering stopover programs even for just a few hours. However, this is often enough just to scratch the surface of large, complex cities like Singapore or Beijing, leaving you with the feeling of yearning for more. A stopover in a smaller city will give you the chance to make the most of your time, without the need to navigate complex public transport systems or running around like crazy trying to tick off all the sights.

If you’re flying between Europe and Asia (or vice versa), Finnair allows you to stopover in Finland from 5 hours to 5 days, with no extra charge. Even a very short half-day stopover will allow you to explore some of the city centre – the airport and the city are only about 30 minutes apart, traffic is generally not an issue and there are plenty of transport choices, including the awesome Finnair City Bus (with free wi-fi!). If you want to rest, Helsinki is full of cool hotels!

Free things to do in helsinki cathedral

Free entrance: the elegant Tuomiokirkko, the Helsinki Cathedral – easy to visit even on a short stopover!

With a day or two you’ll be able to explore the city deeper, with no need to rush – and if you’re lucky enough to have the full 5 days, you can either decide to head further north to Lapland, or visit other locations close to Helsinki.

Here are some ideas to make the most of your Stopover in Finland – whether you have one, two, or five days.

5 Hour Stopover in Helsinki

1 Day Stopover in Helsinki

Urban Nature and Islands

Hipster Helsinki

2 Day Stopover in Finland

Nuuksio National Park

Porvoo

3-5 Day Stopover in Lapland

Kemi

Salla

Kuusamo

visit kemi finland winter pink sunset

How about a Lapland stopover in winter? This is a sunset in Kemi.

5 Hour Stopover in Helsinki

Helsinki for Beginners

As far as capitals go, Helsinki is tiny. Most main sights are packed in a relatively small area in the city centre, a short walk from the train station where buses and trains from the airport will drop you off. If you’re on a 5 hour stopover, you’ll have enough time to cover Helsinki’s main sights.

Temple of silence helsinki

The Chapel of Silence in Kamppi

Considering an hour to /from the airport, you’ll have enough time to visit Tuomiokirkko (Helsinki Cathedral), the Kamppi Chapel of Silence, the Church of the Rock, and have a walk around Market Square or the Hakaniemi Market Hall to try some fresh Finnish produce.

things to do in Helsinki Rock Church

The Church of the Rock inside

If you’re a fast walker, you could even make it all the way to the Sibelius Monument for a coffee and pulla (cinnamon bun) at Cafe Regatta. Finnish food is delicious! And do you want to know something amazing? Most of these sights are free!

Find out more in these posts:

Free things to do in Helsinki sibelius

Sibelius Monument after a downpour

1 Day Stopover in Helsinki

Urban Nature and Islands

With a full day in Helsinki you’ll have the chance to explore some urban nature – a great option could be Suomenlinna, a UNESCO-heritage fortress island that offers a great combination of nature and historic sights.

Suomenlinna Island Bridge

A view of a bridge joining two islands in Suomenlinna

There are frequent ferries running from Market Square to Suomenlinna, and in 2-3 hours you can have a walk around the island or perhaps visit one of the museums. Really, there are so many things to do that you could even spend the whole day – and you can even sleep there!

lammasaari boardwalk reeds

The log paths of Lammasaari, another Helsinki island

If Suomenlinna is a little too busy for you, no worries – there are plenty of other islands to choose from, over 300 in fact! If you’re visiting in summer, Helsinki’s long days and golden nights are the perfect time to explore the islands. I know, it’s hard to choose between 300 islands – for this reason, we’ve put together a guide on Helsinki islands with plenty of ideas on how to make the most of nature in the city, even on a day-long stopover.

All islands included in the article can be visited in a day, but make sure you check ferry schedules, especially in winter! We especially recommend visiting Lonna and Vallissaari, two really special islands a short hop from Market Square.

vallisaari military forts

Military forts in Vallisaari

Find out more in these posts:

Hipster Helsinki

If you’ve met us in real life, you know that we are not really fashion experts – but I (Margherita) do love the vibe of hipster/bohemian neighbourhoods, and Helsinki doesn’t disappoint!

If you only have one day, your best bet would be exploring the Helsinki Design District. It stretches from Kamppi, west of the train station, to the Esplanade further south, including the lively Punavuori district. The Design District includes 25 streets and over 200 stores – from furniture to fashion, vintage and design shops, from Finnish classics like Iittala and Marimekko to young, up and coming designer boutiques.

stopover-finland-kuuma-cafe

Hipster café Kuuma on Albertinkatu

The highest intensity of designer stores and cute cafés can be found on Fredrikinkatu – but if you’re after a one-stop shop to while away the afternoon you can head a little further to Moko Market, a concept store selling designer household items, books, stationery and accessories. There is also a juice bar, and right next door you’ll find amazing Kaffa Roastery, makers of the best coffee in Helsinki – for something out of the ordinary, try siphon coffee!

Another place worth a visit is Kissakahvila, Helsinki’s cat cafe – you can meet this sweetie while having a delicious paw-shaped cake!

stopover-finland-helsinki-cat-cafe

Tuli, the baby of Helsinki’s cat cafe

If you’re in search of an edgier, more urban vibe, hop on the metro to Kalasatama and head over to Suvilahti, a former industrial district now housing designer shops, cafes and art galleries. A short walk from Suvilahti along the docks you’ll find Sompasauna, an independent sauna that’s free for anyone to use.

stopover-finland-suvilahti

A view of Suvilahti…

stopover-finland-sompasauna

…and Sompasauna!

Lastly, if you’re a Marimekko fan, don’t miss the chance to visit the Marimekko headquarters in Herttoniemi, about 20 minutes east of the city centre by underground. You can snap some bargains at the outlet store, have lunch in the Marimekko cafe and if you’re visiting at the right time it’s also possible to join a factory tour, taking you behind the scenes of this iconic Finnish brand.

stopover-in-finland-marimekko

Visiting the Marimekko factory – the iconic Unikko textile

2 Day Stopover in Finland

Nuuksio National Park

With an extra day, you can venture out of the city. The easiest place to go to is Nuuksio National Park, where it’s possible to hike and camp in summer, and enjoy winter activities including snowshoeing and cross country skiing in the coldest months. Nuuksio is about 35 km from the centre of Helsinki and can easily be reached in about 45 minutes by bus – even though some brave souls have cycled or even hiked to Nuuksio!

hawkhill nature lake swim

Post-sauna lake dip in Nuuksio…

The bus will drop you off at Haltia Nature Centre, offering nature-themed exhibitions and information about all of Finland’s national parks. Haltia is also the perfect place to plan outdoor activities around Nuuksio – they can even help you arrange spending a night in the forest in a tentsile, a tent that hangs between two trees.

tentsile nuuksio 3

Here’s the tentsile, truly a unique experience

Find out more in this post:

Porvoo

If the weather is not the greatest, or if you prefer small town charm to wild Finnish nature, then Porvoo is the place for you.

shore house view porvoo

Porvoo from above

This small town can easily be reached from the airport or Helsinki train station in under an hour, and it looks out of a fairytale with its colourful wooden houses and riverside location. You can spend a day wandering between cobblestone streets, visit many independent shops and designer studios, have a picnic on the riverbank or enjoy the awesome food scene – Zum Beispiel is our favourite restaurant!

sikosaari pig island porvoo cycling

Riding around Sikosaari

Porvoo offers its best in summer – you can grab a cute green bike and cycle to Sikosaari (Pig Island), explore the archipelago or even try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding on the river. The tourist office has bikes and paddleboards for rent.

Find out more in this post:

3-5 Day Stopover in Lapland

Well, I have just one word for you – LAPLAND! Even three days are enough to get a taste of the wild Finnish North, and with five days you’ll be able to enjoy Helsinki AND Lapland, try some cool activities and if you’re visiting at the right time and the weather is good, perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to glimpse the Northern Lights.

salla marghe cuddling husky

Would you like to meet these cuties in Lapland?

Finnair has connections to several airports in Lapland, allowing you to make the most of your stopover and quickly transfer to your final destination at Helsinki airport. If you have a few hours to kill, consider visiting the Finnair lounges that include even a sauna, in true Finnish style!

salla little white reindeer

Or meet a cute baby reindeer?

Lapland is a very large region with endless stopover opportunities. In this article we’ll focus on the places we visited ourselves – hopefully we’ll be able to add to this list very very soon!

Kemi

Visit Kemi in winter, and you’ll be able to enjoy two unique experiences – the first is a visit (or even a stay, if you’re game) in the famous Snow Castle, built every year with frozen sea water and including a restaurant, a chapel, a couple of slippery slides and several ice sculptures that follow a yearly theme.

snow hotel kemi superior room

Our awesome castle-themed room in the Kemi Snowcastle

The second experience (something we highly recommend) is a ride on the icebreaker Sampo. A three-hour cruise will give includes a buffet meal, guided ship visit and a dip in the icy Baltic waters – fear not, you’ll be wearing a dry suit! In winter there are three daily cruises, at sunrise (meaning 9.30 am!), in the afternoon to enjoy blue hour and at night, to look for the Northern lights. Kemi is also not far from Rovaniemi, if you want to go and say hello to Santa.

icebreaker sampo clear sky

Sailing back to Kemi

Fly to: Kemi/Tornio (KEM)

Find out more in this post:

Salla

Pretty much any location in Lapland will offer a wonderful choice of epic winter adventures – husky sledding, reindeer safari and snowmobile rides are just some, and if you’re lucky enough to catch the Northern lights… well, you’re in for the experience of a lifetime!

salla finland cross country ski

Cross-country skiing in Salla

We loved our winter stay in Salla, not only because we had the chance to experience all of the above (minus the Northern lights, sadly) but also because we had the chance to go skiing – downhill AND cross-country! Salla is an excellent ski resort and if you want to hit the slopes on your stopover, it’s a great option!

salla finland dogsledding

Loved these guys we met in Salla

Fly to: Kuusamo (KAO)

Kuusamo

Lapland is usually considered a winter destination, but it’s actually amazing in summer and autumn as well – especially in autumn, when the trees change colour and the Northern lights sometimes glimmer in the sky. Naturally, visiting Lapland in autumn or summer means no reindeer or husky safari – you may spot reindeers grazing on the roadside, but that’s it.

stopover-finland-kuusamo-river

River Oulanka, near Kuusamo, in early September

However, even in summer and autumn you can have a truly special experience in Kuusamo – bear watching. A group of bears lives near the Russian border, and bear-watching trips are on offer between May and the end of September – you’ll be watching the bears from the safety of a hide, so fear not. Here’s our post about our experience in Kuusamo, Bear Watching in Finland – with lots more cute bear pictures!

stopover-finland-kuusamo-bear-2

The first bear we spotted

stopover-in-finland-kuusamo-bear-1

And a couple more

Besides bear watching, there are plenty more activities available in Kuusamo – in summer and autumn you can go canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, berry picking and you can even hike a section of the famous Karhunkierros trail. In winter, if you’re a ski lover, you should head to Ruka, a ski resort amongst the best in Finland.

stopover-finland-kuusamo-berries

Another reason to visit Finland – Berry picking! As you can see, I ate half of mine!

stopover-in-finland-kuusamo-river-canoeing

Canoeing on the Oulanka river

Fly to: Kuusamo (KAO)

Would you like to know more about a stopover in Finland? Let us know in the comments!

Where to Stay near Helsinki Airport

If you’re on a Finland stopover, you’re bound to be going through Helsinki airport at some stage. The airport isn’t far from the city centre, and it can easily be reached by bus, train or taxi, but if you want something very, very close for an early morning or late night departure (and don’t want to fork out for an expensive airport hotel) we recommend staying with Forenom

Forenom offers two properties near Helsinki airport – the most convenient is the Forenom Hostel, with compact studio apartments 13 minutes walking distance from the terminal buildings, which become two minutes if you take the free parking bus! If you don’t mind a longer walk or paying a few euro for a taxi, you can head to the Forenom Suites Vantaa Airport, offering spacious and bright apartments less than 4 km from the airport.

forenom-vantaa-helsinki

Our living room in Vantaa

We opted to stay at the Forenom Suites Vantaa Airport during our stopover on our way back between Japan and Croatia. We wanted a place where we could relax for a few hours, and the apartment we got was exactly what we were looking for – we had a great living room with a view on the autumn landscape around the airport, a super warm shower and great wifi, just what you need! You can also ask Forenom to deliver you breakfast for a totally hassle-free stay.

And guess what – there’s no need to worry about late check-ins and early check-outs. The peculiarity of Forenom properties is that you get a code to enter the building and your apartment, meaning you can check in any time, and don’t have to stress if your flight is late. When it’s time to go, just close the door behind you and get ready to jet off to your next destination!

forenom-apartment-vantaa-helsinki

Cool furniture – and check out how bright it is!

We would like to thank Finnair, Visit Finland and Nordic Bloggers Experience for having hosted us during this trip, making this article possible. 

Pin it for later?

stopover-finland-pin

11 Responses

    • Margherita

      Thanks Birgit! I’ve tried to make my post as informative as possible, glad you found it helpful! You’re so right about the tiny reindeer, he’s such a sweety <3

    • Margherita

      Thanks for your comment Elaine. I’d love to visit South Africa one day! And why don’t you open a blog focused on South Africa travel tips! I, for one, would love to read it!

  1. Vangie moreno panganiban

    I will try to visit finlandia before i go back to my country for good!The place is really awesome!!

    • Margherita

      Completely agree Vangie! Finland is really really special 🙂

  2. Vangie moreno panganiban

    I will try to visit finlandia before i go back to my country for good!As i browse to what was being posted i was in loved to your place!Very beautiful!For sure it will be another adventure for me!

  3. PREJAL

    What an amazing post! You’ve written everything so well! I look forward to seeing your other posts now. I would love to get a sight of the bears too. Must get planning! Thank you for writing this so well, again! xx

    • Margherita

      Thank you! The bears were really a great experience, I hope you get to see them too!