Helsinki Airport (HEL IATA) is in Vantaa, Finland. It is also known by the former name, Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. By far the busiest airport in Finland, in addition to serving the capital Helsinki and thereby being one of the most important entry points to the country, it is also an important transit gateway between Europe and Asia.
After World War II, passenger numbers and plane sizes grew heavily both in Finland and worldwide, and Helsinki-Malmi Airport became too small, despite having being opened only in 1938. A new airport — the current Helsinki Airport – was quickly constructed and flights started in 1952, when Helsinki hosted the Summer Olympics. Four years later a second runway opened, and in 1969 a new terminal was opened and transatlantic services to New York commenced. Since the 1980s this terminal has been expanded about once every decade.
Long-haul services to Asia, the services that the airport is nowadays best known for, were started in 1983 when Finnair started flying to Tokyo - the first Western European airline to serve Japan. Due to how far north the airport is, it had an advantage at the time since its planes could fly nonstop over the North Pole. Until the opening of Soviet (and later Russian) airspace to other operators, it was the quickest option for many travellers. Finnair was also the first such airline to serve China (with flights to Beijing Capital starting in 1989). In 1993 Terminal 1 was opened as a new domestic terminal, and three years later it became connected to Terminal 2 in one of its expansions. The airport first handled 10 million yearly passengers in 2000, and the number of passengers has again doubled, exceeding 20 million in 2018. Much of this growth can be attributed to the transit traffic between Asian (especially East Asian) and European airports (particularly ones with no or limited services to Asia).
In 2022, a major expansion was completed, merging the two terminals into one. Unfortunately Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent ban of European airlines in Russian airspace also decimated Finnair's business model, which was already teetering after COVID, and at time of writing Helsinki's hub status is seriously at risk.
The airport was renamed Helsinki-Vantaa Airport in 1977, after the city where it's located, though the English name was shortened back to Helsinki Airport in the mid-2010s.
Formerly divided into two terminals, in 2022 the airport switched to a single terminal with a central check-in, security and arrivals zone for all flights. The building is laid out like a chevron pointing north.
Gates 1–30 are Schengen, 32–50 non-Schengen, and non-automatic passport control between the two can have long lines. However there isn't a security screen between them so your duty-free bottle of liquor should be safe. Qualifying travellers with a biometric EU, EEA, Japanese or Swiss passport can use automated border control gates for both departure and arrival, and travellers with a biometric South Korean, U.S., Canadian, Australian or New Zealand passport can use them for departure. Roughly speaking the lower the gate number the smaller the aircraft, so a domestic or trans-Baltic hop will be down in the single digits, while intercontinental long-hauls leave from the far end of the terminal.
Helsinki Airport is of particular note for its connections to East Asia, as it is on the great circle route (the shortest route) between East Asia and Europe. Therefore, the connections from the region to Helsinki take between 7 and 10 hours and are comparable to flight times to Persian Gulf hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha. The important difference, however, is that most major European cities are between 2 and 3 hours flight time from Helsinki (and much less that for Scandinavia and the Baltic countries), whereas getting to Europe from the Persian Gulf takes 5 to 8 hours. There is also the benefit of the airline being able to "turn around" the plane (the aircraft completes the flight from origin to destination and back) within 24 hours, which is a significant cost advantage and may be passed on to passengers.
The Finnish flag carrier, Finnair (a oneworld member), takes full advantage of it, offering a multitude regular flights from Asia, including Beijing, Seoul Incheon, Shanghai and Tokyo, but also from cities like Chongqing, Nagoya or Osaka. Outside of East Asia, Finnair also serves India, Israel, Singapore, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam. In the other direction, New York City is served around the year and Chicago, Miami and San Francisco in the summer season.
Except for charter airlines, Finnair and oneworld partners JAL (from Tokyo) and Qatar (from Doha) are the only airlines offering long-haul flights from Helsinki Airport. The airport is, however, very well served by Finnair and other European airlines, with connections not only to major hubs but also many other airports across the continent, so that you can find more intercontinental flights with a connection to Helsinki as well as travel to and from Helsinki across Europe comfortably. Of yet another note is Helsinki's proximity to Russia, of which Finnair also takes advantage by offering an unusually wide selection of direct flights there. (Kazan, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Samara and Yekaterinburg)
Finnair operates scheduled and charter flights to a little over 70 European destinations, including most major airports in Western Europe and airports of "sun and sea" destinations on the Mediterranean. Unlike long-haul flights, from Europe there's a wide selection of flights by other airlines (with connections from other airports). Airlines other than Finnair with several daily flights to Helsinki include Aeroflot, Air Baltic, KLM, Lufthansa, Norwegian and SAS.
Finnish airports that are served by regular scheduled passenger flights have flights from Helsinki. Busier airports (meaning destinations in Lapland and half a dozen bigger cities) are mostly served by Finnair, less busy ones by other companies (usually from other EU countries) under public service obligation contracts, which means that they in middle to long term depend on political goodwill. Some airports in the northern part of the country are also served by Norwegian Air Shuttle.
- See also: Helsinki#Get around
Tickets to central Helsinki (zones ABC) cost €4.60 and allow transfers to bus, metro or tram for 100 minutes. You can buy tickets from the machines with cash or chipped credit cards. You have several options to get tickets. Tickets are no longer sold on the regional trains (in COVID-19 times neither on the long-distance ones).
- The ticket machines by the tracks – these have the full selection of local and mainline tickets. For that reason they may have quite a queue; daytime there may be VR staff there to guide strangers in how to use them. There are two blue HSL machines with all ticket options, and two green VR machines for long-distance trains and some local ticket options including central Helsinki.
- VR ticket machines on the platform (limited options, but will get you to the centre)
- HSL ticket machines in the baggage claim areas
- HSL app (which can give you a route and sell you the ticket at the same time)
- The Alepa supermarket or most R-kioski convenience stores (any type of cards or cash).
The fastest and most comfortable public transport link to central Helsinki is the Ring Line (Kehärata) commuter train, which runs to Helsinki Central Railway Station every 10–30 minutes from 04:30 until 01:15, taking about 30 min. Follow the signs to the fully-accessible entrance.
The station lies on a loop: the P-train runs clockwise via Tikkurila to the Central Railway Station and returns via Vantaankoski, the I-train runs counter-clockwise via Vantaakoski to Central Railway Station and returns via Tikkurila. P-trains are a few minutes faster to Helsinki centre, but it's always faster to hop on an I-train than to wait for the next P, and regardless of which train you take you'll always end up at the Central Station. However, the trains do arrive at different sides of the Central Station (P to the eastern and I to the western side) so depending on your onward journey, either might be more convenient.
If you're continuing north from Helsinki by a north-bound long-distance train (towards Tampere), you can take the P-train to Tikkurila and connect there instead of detouring via the city centre.
- Regional bus 615 (every 15–30 min), about 45 min to the Central Railway Station. Same ticket as above – price includes onward transfers. The bus leaves from the bus area, platform 10. Tickets can be bought from the ticket machine or other options you see above. Trains are faster, more comfortable and priced the same, but unlike the train, the bus runs every 30 minutes all night.
- Regional buses 561 to Itäkeskus (zones BC, €2.80), for convenient connections to the metro and eastern suburbs of Helsinki.
- Vantaa bus 576 to Tikkurila (zones BC, €2.80), connections to the central and eastern parts of Vantaa.
- Vantaa bus 574 to Myyrmäki (zones BC, €2.80), connections to western Vantaa: suburbs of Myyrmäki, Martinlaakso and Hämeenkylä.
Overall, the opening of the Ring rail line and the West metro has meant cuts in the bus services in the capital region, which means there are no direct buses to notable districts of Espoo from the airport.
Many coaches to Turku have a well coordinated transfer connection from the airport.
Taxis were deregulated in Finland in July 2018; after that there's a larger variety of rates and taxi companies. Three big taxi companies have their own pickup lane outside the terminal — FixuTaxi, Taksi Helsinki and Menevä. The fourth lane are for all other companies. Generally speaking, regular taxis to the centre cost €35–50. Taxi rates are posted on a sticker in the window on the rear right-hand side door of the car. There may be fixed prices to Helsinki centre and some other areas. Some companies have an airport surcharge (especially from the airport).
There may be some taxi sharing options, where a company offers cheaper rides by combining parties going in the same direction (cf minivans).
Helsinki airport is about 20 km north of central Helsinki along freeway 45, which means a less than half hour-drive in light traffic, though during afternoon rush hour expect it to take closer to 45 minutes. On roadsigns the airport is signposted with a plane icon, and closer to the airport signs say Lentoasema (Finnish) and Flygstation (Swedish).
If you are dropping off passengers, follow the signs to stop curbside outside the terminal (where you're not allowed park), or use the short-term parking (see below).
If you are picking up passengers or otherwise need to stop for a while, an "Arrivals" signs will direct you to the surface-level short-term parking next to the terminal. If you leave within 10 minutes, there is no charge (otherwise, pay at a machine). Actually, every parking garage is free if you leave within 10 minutes. Otherwise, the cost is €2 for each starting 20 minutes (except the first free 10 minutes).
There are long term parking garages on the airport premises operated by the airport authority Finavia, and further away long-term parking lots operated by private companies (they have free shuttle buses to the airport).
Walk — this airport is not so large that buses or rail transport would be needed, and the formerly separate terminals are now fully integrated. The southwestern section of the terminal is for non-Schengen flights and for you to enter or exit that part of the airport, you'll go through border controls.
The airport is more crowded than it used to be, so prepare for delays when going through security, particularly during the holiday periods like the school's winter break in late February, Easter and Christmas, and to some extent the summer holiday period from mid-June to mid-August. If you are flying a budget carrier or an airline with one flight a day or less (e.g. Icelandair), you are urged to arrive at the recommended time (to be on the safe side, about 2½ hours prior to departure) since they have fewer check-in agents. Nevertheless, the situation is seldom comparable to, say, Heathrow or Frankfurt Airport.
- VIP Lounge (Landside, 3rd floor).
- SAS Lounge (Gate 13).
- Finnair Lounge (Gate 22).
- Aspire Lounge by Swissport (Gate 27).
- Sculpture: no doubt many travellers have wondered what might happen if you took a big copper sheet and detonated a series of explosions beneath it. The answer is pinned up airside here: it's meant to resemble sunshine on the Baltic coast sand dunes. So now you know.
Eat and drink
Places to eat and drink mostly open early morning and close sometime between 20:00 and midnight. Some restaurants open only at lunchtime, and a few places are open 24 hours.
There's a decent selection of places to eat and drink landside on the lower floor of the terminal (in addition to a proper grocery store). You can find two international chains that also are present airside; Burger King and Starbucks. In addition, there's a hotdog stand, as well as a restaurant with light dishes (Bistrot Airport) and the bar MOI Helsinki.
Airside, the Schengen area of the terminal has the widest selection — in particular between gates 24 and 29 where you can also find most of the airport's shops. If you're looking for an à la carte restaurant, your options are the airport's main restaurant Fly Inn and Pier Zero, both serving Finnish and Scandinavian cuisine. Places with large selections of alcoholic drinks include an Irish pub (Oak Barrel), a winebar (Wine & view), a sports bar (O'Learys) and the Arctic Bar. And again, some cafés.
Behind the passport gates, in the non-Schengen area, there are two restaurants proper; an Asian restaurant (Two Tigers Sushi and Noodles) and the Nordic Kitchen. Moreover, there are some fast food places and cafés there.
Currency exchange is by Change Group. Their rates are +/- 10% official rate, but they extract 6% commission (€6 minimum) on top of that, so it nets out at a 26% buy-sell spread, the average poor airport deal.
Landside, there are limited options for shopping; a couple of kiosks, a pharmacy and the Alepa grocery store on the lower floor of the terminal. It's open 24 hours, so it's good especially if you arrive late at night when most stores are closed. There is another one at Elielinaukio at the north-western corner of Helsinki Central Railway Station, where the airport buses terminate — and next to railway tracks 13–19. In addition there are shops for arriving passengers in the baggage claims areas 2A and 2B.
Airside, there are many more shops and their distribution is not very different from the places to eat and drink — the biggest concentration is in the central part of the airport between gates 24 and 29. The biggest ones, by size and by selection, are the four Helsinki Duty Free Shops, two each in the Schengen and non-Schengen areas. As elsewhere in the European Union, flights to destinations within the EU VAT (European Union Value Added Tax) area are considered domestic flights for tax purposes, so you will pay a price including duties for your purchases if your next destination is, say, Paris. Some exclaves and islands, for instance Åland and the Canary Islands are within the EU but not part of its VAT area and flying there you can shop tax free like you'd be flying outside the Union.
Shops with several outlets airside include kiosks operated by WH Smith and R-kioski and the food shop Finefood. Brand fashion shops like Burberry, Boss, Longchamps and Victoria's Secret, that you will encounter on major airports around the world have a presence here, in the central section of the airport (gates 24–29) and/or in the non-Schengen area (some of these operate two shops). Finnish design and brands including Marimekko and Iittala, shops selling all kinds of souvenirs (from t-shirts to reindeer hides), as well as jewellery and watch shops can likewise be found in these two sections.
The airport has a Wi-Fi network, available at no cost. The network name is "HEL Free Wi-Fi-Open www.finavia.fi". Devices with Wi-Fi enabled are tracked on the airport to follow people's movements, according to the airport operator Finavia "to improve the customer experience and services at our Airport".
There's one hotel inside the terminal, and another one immediately next to it. Both are landside, meaning that there are no airside transit hotels.
- 1 Hotel GLO Helsinki Airport, Helsinki-Vantaa Airport Terminal, ☏ , fax: , [email protected]. The only hotel in the airport building, immediately outside baggage claim. Day rooms are also made available for use, depending on the booking situation, between 09:00 - 19:00.
- 2 Hilton Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, Lentäjänkuja 1, ☏ . Full-service hotel right next to the airport, opened in late 2007. Soundproof windows, bar, restaurant, sauna. €150.
In addition to these two, there is a cluster of hotels a few kilometers south of the airport near the beltway Kehä III — see Vantaa#Sleep.
- Vantaa, where the airport is situated.