Having visited the Nordic Countries of Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark on previous holidays, it was only a matter of time before we ticked off Finland. This happened over the weekend as we headed to Helsinki for a couple of days to explore what the city offered for families with young kids.
Since becoming parents, our holidays have understandably had to change a bit. We still want to see and experience new places, but that needs to be balanced with ensuring that there are things to do for children. Finding that family-friendly halfway point can be tough, but it’s not impossible – take somewhere like Copenhagen or Helsinki.
So why Helsinki? Well, when looking for family-friendly European breaks, it was a place that came up repeatedly on lists. Secondly, the Nordic aspect interested us as we’ve enjoyed the other countries mentioned earlier, and thirdly, we don’t know anyone who has visited with young kids so it was a chance to visit somewhere unknown.
To give you an idea of our itinerary, we stayed for two nights but maximised our time out there with an early morning flight from London Heathrow (7.30am) and an early evening one from Helsinki (7.30pm) – this basically gave us one full day (Sunday) and two half days (Friday and Sunday). The flights with Finnair were around 2.5 hours in duration which isn’t too bad with young kids, plus the time difference of two hours didn’t throw things out of sync too much.
Due to Helsinki’s geographic location, the summer months in Finland mean that there are plenty of daylight hours. We went in early-June and had to contend with a 10.43am sunset and 3.56am sunrise – this meant more daylight hours to explore (plus places stay open later), but it also resulted in more difficulty in getting the kids to sleep at a reasonable time!
We decided to stay at Scandic Park Helsinki. We’ve stayed at Scandic hotels previously in both Berlin and Copenhagen and have been impressed with how family-friendly they are – for instance, there’s a play room for kids, a good buffet breakfast and no issues with things like cots. What’s more, we could get a public bus (415) directly from the airport to our hotel – this took about 45 minutes and meant that we didn’t have to change at the central train station etc.
When it comes to transport, we downloaded the HSL mobile ticketing app so we could buy tickets in advance and didn’t have to faff with finding a ticket machine. An adult day ticket was €9 for all types of public transport (tube, tram, bus and boat), or you could pay €2.20 for 80 minutes. Children under 7 are free on all public transport, plus, even better, if you have a pushchair / pram / stroller, the parent is free too – that meant that we only ever had to pay for one adult despite four of us travelling.
So that’s how we got there, where we stayed and how we got around. In no particular order, here are six of the kid-friendly things we did whilst on holiday in Helsinki:
Natural History Museum
Set over four floors, the impressive early 1900’s building houses a mixture of stuffed animals, prehistoric creatures, skeletons and minerals. Having similar museums not too far away in London and Tring, we weren’t sure whether it’d be worth a trip, but we’re pleased we visited.
The museum has five permanent exhibitions – Finnish Nature, World Nature, The History of Life, The Story of the Bones and Change in the Air – with the displays being themed around the exhibition. For instance, Change In The Air looks at changes in climate and now extinct animals, Finnish Nature displays the animals and landscapes found during the different Finnish seasons, whilst World Nature tells the story of animals from the likes of Africa to Australia.
Not only is the building impressive to walk around, but the displays were some of the best I’ve seen. Rather than just stuffed animals in large, glass cases, the museum has attempted to bring them to life through realistic scenes, including bears hunting for salmon, cave lions chasing reindeer or woolly mammoths fighting each other. The museum is free for under 7’s and €14 for adults – we were there for about 1.5 hours but could have spent much longer.
Fortress Of Suomenlinna
Now an UNESCO World Heritage Site, Suomenlinna is an 18th Century sea fortress which spans six small islands just off the Helsinki mainland. Consisting of ruins, tunnels, coastal paths, beaches, rock pools, museums and even an old submarine, it’s a great place to explore with kids. Sure, they may not understand the history or be particularly interested in it, but exploring bunkers, climbing on cannons or hiding in caves is always going to be fun.
As Suomenlinna is an island, the added bonus is that you need to get a ferry there and back – this takes around 15 minutes. There’s a number of these available, but we just used the HSL ferry which was every 30 minutes or so. As mentioned earlier, as it’s public transport, we got there and back on just one adult ticket (kids free and parent with buggy free), then there’s no entrance fee when you get there.
We decided to walk the Blue Route which takes you across the fortress via the main sights. Starting at the Jetty Barracks and ending at the King’s Gate, the route is about one mile long, so not too bad for little legs. Although manageable wtih a pushchair, there’s quite a lot of cobbled streets and hills, so it can get quite knackering.
Leikkiluola Indoor Playground
Situated at Jaffa station, this is basically a big indoor playground made to look like an underground cave. There are three main sections – (1) an under 3’s play area with ball pit, soft shapes, puzzles and other things, (2) a trampoline cage with 12 separate trampolines (6 normal and 6 curved), and (3) a larger, multi-tier soft play featuring slides, tunnels, a ball pool, air canons, a football / basketball court and much more. L had great fun, but particularly loved the tube slide – you basically get into a rubber ring and come down a slide.
I know, the last thing you probably want to do is visit a soft play when you’re on your holiday, but this is a good option if you need an indoor activity or fancy a sit down as the kids blow off some steam. It’s free for adults and under 1’s, €9 for 1 to 2 year olds and €14 for over 3’s – this gets your kid a wristband for the entire day, so you can come and go as you choose. We visited for about 1.5 hours on a Sunday early evening and it was basically dead – even better!
Helsinki City Museum – Children’s Town
One of the permanent exhibitions at the Helsinki City Museum is Children’s Town. Opened in 2016 and free for all, this was created to give an interactive and hands-on experience for kids to learn about Helsinki’s past. Set over three floors, each room has a different theme or activity for children to explore.
I’ll be honest, we didn’t really read or learn much about Helsinki’s past. Instead, we just followed L as she went from room to room happily interacting with all of the exhibits. To give you an idea, kids can play dress up, perform a puppet show, look at old toys, get on a boat, pretend to make shoes, work in a shop, sit in an old classroom and play with a dolls house. As the museum is located by Senate Square, it’s well worth popping by if you’re in that area.
Linnanmäki Amusement Park
Consisting of 42 rides and plenty of other attractions, Linnanmäki is actually Finland’s most popular amusement park. Situated to the north of the city, it’s actually free to enter and has nine free rides, so you can actually pop along just for these. Or, if you’re not as tight as me (!), you can buy various wristbands and ride tickets to make a full day of it.
We actually visited on two occasions for a few hours each – the day we arrived and the day we left. It’s a pretty cool park and has a nice atmosphere, with the free rides being an unexpected bonus. As L is a fraction under 100cm, she was able to go on Muksupuksu (a train ride) and Pienoiskaruselli (a vehicle roundabout), however we also managed to sneak onto the over 100cm Kuuputin (an elevating carousel) and Pilotti (a plane flight). There’s also a little playground kids can explore.
What’s more, Panoraama is also free. This is a 53 metre sightseeing tower which gives great views over the city due to the parks location at the top of a hill. A little tip – aim to enter the park via the South Entrance though as the hill to the other entrance is a bit of a killer – particularly if baby wearing and / or pushing a stroller!
SEA LIFE Helsinki
Despite it appearing like there’s a SEA LIFE wherever you go, they’re always well worth a visit with kids. The Helsinki version is handily located at Linnanmäki Amusement Park, which allows you to kill two birds (or should that be fish?) with one stone.
This one felt quite small compared to other SEA LIFE’s we’ve visited, but there’s still plenty of things to look at and interact with. This includes around 50 aquariums in themed zones with plenty of different species, such as piranhas in Rainforest and clownfish in Tropic. There’s also a walk through tunnel featuring sharks and other fish, plus displays for specific marine animals, such as seahorses and starfish. There’s also a sand pit (not sure why!), which L spent ages playing in.
During the day, they also have a number of Talks and Feeds – we saw the tropical fish being fed when we arrived, which was an added bonus. A ticket allows you re-entry during the day and is free for under 3’s, €13 for kids and €16.50 for adults. Ultimately, if you’ve been to one SEA LIFE, you’ve kind of been to them all, but it’s still a decent, educational place to go for a few hours.
So those are six family-friendly places we managed to visit, and would recommended, when we visited Helsinki. Of course, time was limited and we didn’t get chance to go everywhere we would have liked – Helsinki Zoo and Heureka science centre being too notable exceptions. Finally, if you’re looking for other child-friendly places, then check out this amazing Helsinki For Kids illustrated map – we used it when planning the trip and also printed it out to take with us.
Have you been to Helsinki with kids? What did you think? Did you visit any kid-friendly places I’ve not suggested? Let me know below!