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How to split time between ZRH/LHR/HEL/BCN?

How to split time between ZRH/LHR/HEL/BCN?

Old Aug 1, 2022, 11:23 pm
  #1  
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Question How to split time between ZRH/LHR/HEL/BCN?

Apologies if this isn't the right forum, as my destinations span a number of different areas.

I was able to snag J award tickets to ZRH next year arriving Monday May 22nd, and return 14 days later from BCN on June 5th. In between I know for sure that Mrs. tomatogrower wants to visit London to meet someone, so we have to be there for at least 1 full weekend day, ideally both weekend days. So the straightforward way would be to go ZRH-LHR-BCN, and it would look something like this:

Option 1:
ZRH 3 nights
LHR 5 nights
BCN 6 nights

However, I have a healthy balance of Alaska Mileage Plan miles and noticed that I could do a stopover in HEL for no additional cost. So the trip would look something like ZRH-LHR-HEL-BCN. How would you recommend I split up our days between the different destinations? I have never been to any of these cities. I am considering:

Option 2:
ZRH 2 nights
LHR 4 nights
HEL 3 nights
BCN 5 nights

Option 3:
ZRH 3 nights
LHR 4 nights
HEL 2 nights
BCN 5 nights
Would you recommend any of these itineraries? Or not do HEL as a stopover at all and save it for a hypothetical future Scandinavia/Baltic trip? Alternatively I could drop ZRH as a stopover and change that to a layover.

Some considerations:
  • The flight to ZRH arrives just before noon
  • The flight from BCN departs in the morning (basically, don't count on doing anything that day)
  • We generally prefer a more relaxed pace of travel rather than visit a city a day
  • The last time we were in Europe we needed a few days to recover from jet lag (hopefully mitigated by flying in J this time, but at the same time we're older so it might be a wash). Practically speaking it means that our days are effectively shorter before we get tired.
  • Time in London will have to take into account spending time with our friend, which would cut into our sightseeing time
  • The flight to ZRH was booked on Aeroplan with a flexible fare class, in theory I think this lets me change the itinerary by adding ZRH-LHR for only 5000 more points (haven't confirmed yet, but this should be the cheapest way to get ourselves to LHR)
  • Good food is a consideration for where we want to spend our time. I think this effectively means we want to spend more time in BCN unless I'm mistaken about the cuisine in the other destinations?
  • The other Europe-Europe airlines on the Alaska award charts are Iberia and Aer Lingus. However, I can't seem to book a stopover in MAD with Iberia, and I'm less interested in DUB than HEL.
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Old Aug 2, 2022, 5:55 am
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I'm not sure what your tastes / interests / budget are.

Zurich is incredible expensive although I love Switzerland - the landscape and it's food - particularly in the Italian regions.
London is large with many things to do - it is probably worthy of most of your time.
Helsinki is compact but has a unique character.
Barcelona is interesting but very tourist focussed.

So I would plan something like:

Zurich 2 nights (maybe just 1 depending upon timings and your interests
London 5
Barcelona 4
Helsinki 2
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Old Aug 2, 2022, 1:52 pm
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If you haven't been to Switzerland / the Alps before, I would say Zurich (with easy day trips to see the mountains). But if the plan is to be in the cities, then maybe drop Zurich and rather go to Helsinki? Maybe more relaxing, before London and Barcelona?
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Old Aug 2, 2022, 11:53 pm
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Originally Posted by sydunipete
I'm not sure what your tastes / interests / budget are.
Apologies, I should have specified these.

We prefer relativley high-end travel. Not too adventurous, we like seeing architecture and eating. If we do go to a museum, we take our time - I ended up going to the Louvre for 2 consecutive days, spent a day at each of the Smithsonian museums I visited in DC, etc. We cannot be walking around all day any more, so nature hikes are out. Depending on the COVID situation, I would like to catch a West End show in London. These days I would describe our typical style as planning for one or two destinations a day, then spend the rest of the time wandering around.

Planning to stay at a Hyatt (if available) or Marriott for the elite night credits, and I have free night awards to use up. I would classify my budget as healthy but not extravegant, so maybe cutting back on Zurich days is a good idea. If ~3 hours is a good amount of time to see Old Town, then it sounds like we should do something like explore Old Town the day of arrival and a day tour of the Alps the next day, and then fly to London after?
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Old Aug 3, 2022, 7:17 am
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One of my recommendations for Switzerland is take the train from Zurich to St Mortiz then the Bernina Express to Tirano in Italy. (Amazing scenery.) From there you can catch regular trains to Milano before flying out of there. Obviously that depends on how you feel about schlepping your bags on and off trains and how much you like train travel. (St Moritz in off season - ie. not winter - is a pretty quiet place.)

If you're interested in food then London may not be your thing (as a generalisation).
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Old Aug 3, 2022, 10:05 am
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The great thing about Switzerland, is that you can have fantastic experiences in nature with very short hikes using trains, boats, buses, cog railways and cable cars to do the heavy lifting.

Originally Posted by sydunipete
One of my recommendations for Switzerland is take the train from Zurich to St Mortiz then the Bernina Express to Tirano in Italy. (Amazing scenery.) From there you can catch regular trains to Milano before flying out of there. Obviously that depends on how you feel about schlepping your bags on and off trains and how much you like train travel
We did this trip this summer (Milano to Zurich). It was the most wonderful train trip I have taken, but it also became a very long day on trains.

From Zurich I would consider going to Rigi Kulm, via Luzern and boat to Vitznau one way and Arth Goldau the other way.
A few changes, but also opportunities to grab a coffee or something to eat. And as much or little walking as you want.
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Old Aug 3, 2022, 11:53 am
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Skip Helsinki on this trip and maximize your time in the other cities. Ideally focus on two cities. All four cities have excellent museums.

Last edited by sushanna1; Aug 3, 2022 at 11:54 am Reason: clarity
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Old Aug 3, 2022, 5:45 pm
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I love all four cities but my choice would be Zurich for four nights and five nights each in LHR and BCN. If jet lag is an issue, you basically lose your first day in Zurich. I always fly J and jet lag still gets me so first days that are not business trips are usually just a walk, a nap, and a nice dinner. The Marriott in Zurich is an easy walk from the main train station. That means in addition to what you might see in Zurich such as the Zurich Museum of Art, the Altstadt (Old Town), several interesting and historic churches, parks, and fabulous shopping, food markets, etc, you could take a train to Bern (about an hour) to see the fabulous Paul Klee Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts there. I also took a train one day (also about an hour) to Basel to the Fondation Beyeler Museum. Four nights in Zurich means you would leave on Friday for LHR so you would have both weekend days there. There are very good restaurants in Zurich and London and so much to do in London you’ll easily fill your time. In Barcelona, be sure to have dinner one night at the port. Touristy but I had a very good meal.
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Old Aug 3, 2022, 7:51 pm
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Kind of a tough call there re: Helsinki. I am inclined to think that your itinerary would be a bit full with all four cities included, and if London and Barcelona are set in stone, Helsinki is a bit outside what I would consider comfortable travel distance.

On the other hand, it is such a fine city that I'd move heaven and earth to keep it. If you like museums, Helsinki is chock full of them and I would rank a place like Kiasma (contemporary art museum; just completed a multi-year renovation) very highly indeed. Then literally around the corner is the "traditional art" museum Ateneum. Up the street is the (free) National Museum. Like seriously these places are all within five minutes' walk of each other, and within the same radius is the brand-new library (which is well worth a visit if you are in any way a bibliophile). There are a ton of interesting, tiny museums accessible by tram and bus from city center. Food-wise, Helsinki is one of those "new Nordic" capitals and you can find any cuisine at any price range.

But I am thinking that I agree with the reply here that suggests leaving HEL out on this trip. Just, please get up to Finland sometime soon!
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Last edited by Phrastus; Aug 3, 2022 at 7:58 pm
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Old Aug 3, 2022, 11:02 pm
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Originally Posted by sushanna1
Skip Helsinki on this trip and maximize your time in the other cities. Ideally focus on two cities. All four cities have excellent museums.
Would you suggest I should skip Zurich and go straight to London then? Spend a week in London, week in Barcelona?

If I had to choose between Helsinki and Zurich, seems like the consensus would be Zurich then?

I was considering Helsinki in the first place to reduce time in London, as the food isn't there and I had been told that there wasn't that much to do there (sounds like I've been misinformed on the latter...).
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Old Aug 4, 2022, 1:08 am
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Zurich is fantastic! Don’t skip it. You have been misinformed about London.
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Old Aug 4, 2022, 3:39 pm
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Originally Posted by Phrastus
Up the street is the (free) National Museum.
Actually Finnish National Museum is not free on most times, the free entry is only on each Friday 4 pm - 6 pm (the latter is also the closing time).
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Old Aug 6, 2022, 12:27 am
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Now I'm debating whether I want to plan on repeat visits to London (if there's so much stuff to see there) and trim days from it now to see Helsinki anyway... I'm just really trying to shoehorn HEL in haha.
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Old Aug 6, 2022, 9:36 am
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If you find you really want to go to Helsinki, I would then skip Zurich. Four cities will give you a hurried trip. And chances are higher that you will fly through Zürich on a later trip than Helsinki.
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Old Aug 6, 2022, 12:23 pm
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The rest of Switzerland is far more amazing than Zurich. Trains make it easy to day trip to other cities. Go to the top of some mountain, boat trip on a lake.

If you like museums, the British museum in London is amazing, the Natural history museum is cool just for its venue if nothing else.

Barcelona has some cool museums. The maritime museum is often overlooked but very cool.
But the best part is just to enjoy the city itself. Eat, drink, relax.

Last edited by pbiflyer; Aug 6, 2022 at 12:39 pm
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