Helsinki, There and Back #1

This is the second of what will be several trips to Helsinki this year, but the first one which is just a regular return with a little bit of sightseeing. My first trip, back in January, was nested inside Heathrow-Dublin returns for extra tier points, so meant almost the whole weekend was spent flying.

Hilton Garden Inn, Hatton Cross

The journey from my home in Hertfordshire to Heathrow takes around 90 minutes by public transport – train into King’s Cross, tube to Paddington and Heathrow Express to LHR. Add in a buffer in case of transport issues, and even an 11am departure makes for a slightly uncomfortable start time on a Saturday morning, particularly after a long week at work. Fortunately the area in and around Heathrow has numerous hotels, just minutes from the terminals in some cases.

The Hilton Group has a large number of different sub-brands, and “Garden Inn” is one it uses for some of its mid-price hotels. The Hilton Garden Inn at Hatton Cross is smart, comfortable and only 5 minutes walk from Hatton Cross tube station which is only one stop from T123 and two stops from T4 or T5. It’s often possible to get a room for a little over £50, a price well worth paying for extra sleep before a busy day of travel.

Heathrow to Helsinki (80 TP)

The proximity of the hotel means a relaxing start to the day, over to Terminal 3, through fast-track security, and straight to the familiarity of the Cathay First Lounge for breakfast.

My London to Helsinki flight is being serviced by an A320 Neo. The flight time today is relatively short and the landscape on the approach is all white; daytime high temperatures at this time of year rarely make it above freezing.

A Cold Helsinki

Prior to 2015, bus and cab were the only transport options from Helsinki Airport to the city centre, 20km to the south. In 2015 express train became an option, with the opening of the Ring Rail Line, connecting the airport to the central station. The journey takes about 20 minutes and costs only a few euros. Payment by card is ubiquitous in this country, and it’s easy to spend several days here and not need any physical cash.

Getting off the train in Helsinki, and there’s a thick layer of snow everywhere, and an ice skating rink just outside the station.

The city centre is serviced by numerous trams, but it’s only a 20 minute walk to my hotel, and being in no particular hurry it makes sense to walk and see some of the sights of the city by night. I’m staying in the Scandic Grand Marina, a four star hotel by the harbour. Combined, the hotel and business class flights were under £300 in a BA sale, good value considering the 160 tier points the trip will additionally bring.

The return flight to London on Sunday is not until late afternoon, so there’s plenty of time to look around the city. Helsinki is 750 km south of the Arctic Circle, but today the weather feels like it belongs much further north. There’s a biting wind in the air, and even the sea, looking out towards some of the islands in the harbour, is almost completely frozen.

Incredibly there’s someone in trunks, headed for a swim! I wonder how long it’s possible for the human body to survive such conditions.

Wrapped up underneath three layers, and with a thick coat, chute, hat and gloves only partially offsets the cold in the air. Craving some warmth, it takes a while to track down somewhere that’s open before heading to the station and back to the airport. Despite it being midday Sunday, most bars and coffee seem to be closed.

Helsinki to Heathrow (80 TP)

Helsinki airport is the fourth largest in the Nordics, serving over 20 million passengers annually. It feels like a large airport, but has a bright and airy, modern feel. Unfortunately the lounge available to BA passengers falls short. It’s small, and shared with priority pass and other third-party lounge access schemes, so extremely busy as a result. Normally it would be possible to use the Finnair lounge under OneWorld entry rules, but today they’re turning BA passengers away, possibly because part of the lounge is being refurbished.

With only 20 minutes in the lounge before the flight is called, there’s not too much by way of discomfort though. The return is on another A320 Neo, this time G-TTNE, which stops for some mandatory de-icing on the way to the runway.

Clear skies over London make for some pretty views over the city on the approach. Leaving Terminal 3 and heading home, it’s another 160 tier points in the bag.

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