This year we were lucky enough to tick off a city we have been wanting to visit for years - Helsinki! You may have read my post about the inspiring architecture the city has to offer but I also wanted to share our experiences visiting the Finnish Capital with kids in tow.
There are so many reasons as to why Helsinki is a fantastic choice for a family holiday or city break with the fact it's so safe, clean, creative and welcoming. We stayed a whole week in the city and could have stayed another week and still would not have been able to see and do everything we wanted to as you are really spoilt for choice. Saying that though we did manage to cram a whole lot in and thought we would share our top 10 places to take kids in Helsinki.
|Mr A on the fortress island of Sumenlinna|
1. Suomenlinna Island
Suomenlinna Fortress island is one of 300 islands off the coast of Helsinki, it's a World Heritage site and only a 15min ferry from the city centre. You will want to allocate at least half a day to exploring this wonderful place as there is so much to see and do. The island which is home to about 800 residents who now live in converted fortifications and old garrison buildings, has lots of amenities from museums, parks, restaurants and cafes. We really enjoyed learning more about the history of the island at The Suomenlinna Museum and walked over to see the Vesikko Submarine which had served in the second world war. The boys really enjoyed playing with local kids in the little play park next to Somenlinna Church and the views across the bay back to Helsinki are so beautiful. Before heading back to the mainland we popped into the Cafe Bar next to the harbour for a spot of local Cider.
|Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum|
2. Natural History Museum
As soon as you step through the doors into this beautiful building with it's stunning staircase, archways and original floor tiles you are faced with a huge Elephant and immediately know it's going to be a great place for kids to explore, learn and have fun. This is not the biggest Natural museum but it is one of the best we have been too, with excellent detailed exhibitions including a floor dedicated to dinosaurs which of course was popular with my eldest. You could easily spend a few hours here and they also have a nice little cafe which is flooded with natural light from stunning floor to ceiling windows.
Over looking the harbour and ferry port the sky wheel offers you the best view of Helsinki. Similar to that of the London Eye but on a slightly smaller scale this offers a unique experience and is really great if your short on time and want to do something fun that gives you an different view of the city as the experience itself only lasts around 15mins. Both of my boys loved looking across the bay at the big cruise liners and the cathedral and we would recommend this (although not if you have a fear of heights).
4. Helsinki Zoo
On a personal level I am always in two minds when it comes to Zoos but after some research we discovered that Helsinki Zoo invests a lot in conservation and biodiversity and the zoo is one of very few located on an island. Both boys are huge animal lovers so when we asked our eldest what was the one place he wanted to visit the Zoo was top of the list. As we were there in Springtime the ferry was not running so we took the special zoo bus from central station which was equally interesting as it was nice to get out of the city and see some of the suburbs. Highlights of the day were seeing the reindeer and big cats as well as the bears which can be viewed from multiple spots including the family friendly cafe.
5. Sea Life
This is a great option on a rainy day but you still want to feel that connection to nature. Very family friendly and lots to see and do with very well informed staff that are more than happy to help. It's a fairly small aquarium but half way through the exhibition they have a little "beach" area for children to play in with buckets and spades and loads of sand. My eldest loved the Eels, Spider crabs and Poison dart frogs. Sea Life is also located near Toulonlahti Park which is a lovely open space to explore with a beautiful lake.
|The Inspiring Temmeliaukio Church in Helsinki|
6. Rock Church
Temppeliaukio Church or known as The Rock Church is a must see for all ages despite your religious (or non-religious) status as the interior walls are created by natural rock and it's absolutely fascinating and nothing like you have seen before. Opened in 1969 and designed by architects Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen it adds to the design forward Helsinki and is an architectural feat.
7. Moomin Store
No so much an attraction but rather if your kids are fans of the Moomins such as my son than a little trip to The Moomin Shop forum near Central Station is worth a look as they literally have everything Moomin from bedding to toys, chocolate, clothes and everything in-between. For those who don't know about the Moomins they are more than just characters from children books they are ingrained into Finnish culture and their gentle, peaceful and liberal but defiant ways are more a way of life.
8. City Parks
Helsinki is a very green city with plenty of parks dotting all over the city providing lots of opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy nature. We enjoyed exploring the winter garden around Toolonlahti Bay in the centre of Helsinki, which is great for keen bird watchers, walkers as well as seeing some of the original wooden villas that line the shore of the lake and are a reminder of Helsinki's history. They have also recently opened a little play park at the one end which my eldest loved.
9. Senate Square
Senate Square is located on the oldest part of central Helsinki and if you are limited for time then this is a place to check out as you will find famous landmarks such as the Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace and the main building of the University of Helsinki - all architectural marvels. The square is also nice and large with space for kids to run and often has street performers
10. Sotamuseo Museum
The Military Museum of Finland may not seem like the obvious choice for children but my son is fascinated with the military (even though I am pacifist I support his interests). What we did find is that this museum is a treasure trove for those who want to know more about Finland's history and how they gained their independence. All the exhibitions are child appropriate and very well demonstrated with the chance to climb into a winter log bunker. There are also lots of machinery, snow ski's and tanks as well as a great little Finnish log cabin cafe with a basic but very local menu and was a very pleasant surprise.
Thanks to Visit Helsinki and Finnair for inviting us to explore this amazing city.