On the 15th of December I was lucky to be on the first direct Europe to Hokkaido flight for more than 15 years. Check out this review of Finnair Helsinki to Sapporo to find out about my first trip to Japan.
Hokkaido is the second largest of the Japanese islands. With a population of just 5.2 million it is not overly built up and still wild in places. It’s located north of the main Island Honshu, on which you will find Tokyo, Hiroshima and Osaka.
Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and the city has the fifth largest population in Japan with round two million people. Located at the same longitude as Toronto it has similarly cold winters but warm summers.
Over the years Sapporo has hosted many sporting events. It held matches in both the football (2002) and rugby (2019) world cups. And was host for the Winter Olympics in 1972. So there have been plenty of reasons to visit, but you haven’t been able to fly direct from Europe to Sapporo for many years.
Although the AWE365 team appreciate visiting cities and experiencing different cultures we are all about the adventure sports. So before we get into this review of Finnair Helsinki to Sapporo flight we will tell you why you should visit.
There is a huge amount to do on Hokkaido if you want to get active. During the winter the island is covered in snow and being rather mountainous there is excellent skiing and snowboarding.
Most people don’t realise but there are hundreds of ski areas in Japan. As the most northern island, Hokkaido is home to some of the best Japanese resorts including Niseko. Hokkaido regularly gets the most snow worldwide and is renowned for the lightest fluffiest snow on the planet.
In the summer the mountains open up for hiking and cycling, with a downhill and enduro mountain biking scene that is growing. There is also white water rafting and kayaking, canyoning and climbing, scuba diving and skydiving, surfing and SUP plus a lot more.
It has been more than 15 years since the last direct flight from Europe to Hokkaido. In that time Finnair has become the leading airline flying from Europe to Japan.
So it was natural for them to add Sapporo to their flights into Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka. The maiden flight from Helsinki to Sapporo was on the 15th of December 2019 and will run twice a week year round. Travelling from London via Helsinki reduces the flight time by two hours compared to flying via Tokyo.
I have to be honest I did not realise that first flights on new routes were a big deal. However, the flight was full, including dignitaries and tourists who wanted to be part of the first direct Europe to Hokkaido flight with Finnair.
Of course being based in the UK I had to get to Helsinki first. So I flew from Heathrow with Finnair to Helsinki which took three hours. Finnair put me in business class – which was a first for me.
The flight to Helsinki did not depart until after 10 in the morning. However due to engineering works on the trains I could not get to Heathrow on time from my home in Newhaven.
I could have got a late evening train or National Express and slept in the airport – I have done it before for very early flights! But instead I booked a night at the new Holiday Inn on Bath Road. It is less than ten minutes from Heathrow on the bus.
It is a very nice new hotel that only opened in 2019. The receptionists were very friendly as were all the other staff I encountered. My room was absolutely lovely with plenty of space, a very comfortable bed and a gorgeous bathroom.
The bar in the hotel is nicely done with loads of space. I also found it quite social and chatted to a couple of other lone travellers. I had a huge late lunch before travelling to Heathrow so only had a snack that evening. But I can recommend the salt and pepper calamari.
The self-service breakfast was excellent, with all the ingredients for a very good full english. Alternatively there were plenty of fruit, continental and cereal options.
If you need to overnight at Heathrow I recommend the Holiday Inn at Bath Road. A room costs from £68 per night.
I will put this out there right at the start. I flew business class from London to Sapporo via Helsinki in both directions. As I’d never flown business before this was a huge treat and understandably I loved it!
The fully reclining seat was not just comfortable, but roomy and in my mind extravagant. I normally fall asleep on flights anyway, but being able to lay down made getting some shut-eye much easier.
The food, drinks and service was incredible. A glass of bubbly before take off, drinks in real glasses, food on real plates and with proper cutlery. And the meals were exceptionally tasty with plenty of options.
It turns out a fully reclining seat will not help you sleep if the entertainment is too good to turn off! I found myself watching movie after movie and actually had to force myself to rest. With WiFi available I was also able to get some work done and message my wife from the air.
Helsinki to Sapporo takes around eight hours flying across Russia. Finnair have become the leading European operator into Japan because Helsinki is pretty much on the quickest flight path from London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin and much of Europe.
Although I was travelling in business I did have a quick look at economy. Whilst you obviously do not get as much space the seats looked comfortable with good leg room.
I spoke to a couple of people who flew economy, they were happy with the food, personal entertainment and seats. Compared to other airlines Finnair seem to put the passengers first which is a refreshing change.
The full review of my time in Japan will have to wait for another day. But we snowboarded in both Niseko ski area and Sapporo Kokusai. Early season conditions were not ideal for the first couple of days in Niseko, but we still had fun.
However, it then snowed non-stop for around 24 hours. So in Kokusai we had around 25 to 40cm of fresh powder to play in. It carried on snowing moderately most of the day and earlier tracks had been covered by more snow.
Having experienced Japow first hand I can confirm it is super light, dry and fluffy. I have at times experienced similar snow elsewhere, but rarely. Powder in Europe is usually a little heavier and wetter. It was an amazing experience and I am now hooked on Japow.
In addition to the slope time we had many incredible meals. From sushi to sukiyaki, yakitori to katsu curry and tempura to udon noodles I ate all the classics. We also got to try some lovely Japanese whisky and tasty craft beers.
During a visit to a cultural centre we learned about the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido. The unique culture and way of life in Japan is fascinating. The last night in Sapporo we had a big night out in the city – I ‘sung’ more karaoke than I care to admit…
Having taken the first direct Europe to Hokkaido flight for 15 years my first question is why did they ever stop?
From London to Sapporo via Helsinki took just over 13 hours with around 90 minutes in Helsinki. Going via Tokyo from London takes two to three hours longer.
To conclude this review of Finnair Helsinki to Sapporo flight I thoroughly recommend it. Not only is it a little quicker but the prices are competitive and Finnair looks after you exceptionally well.
I also highly recommend visiting Hokkaido. In the winter there is incredible skiing and snowboarding and in the summer there are lots of activities to do. Japan is fascinating, the people are friendly and the food incredible. I plan to return as soon as possible.
Finnair flies from Heathrow, Manchester, Dublin and Edinburgh to Sapporo, via Helsinki with return fares from £600 in Economy and £2,800 in Business. To book go to www.finnair.com or call +44 208 001 01 01 for more information.
I hope you found this review of Finnair Helsinki to Sapporo flight useful. Please check out our other articles about skiing in Hokkaido to help plan a trip. Or visit the Japan tourist board website: www.japan.travel/hokkaido