Travel with kids to Helsinki is easy and fun- there are tons of free activities, outdoor activities, and delicious food in Finland.
The city of Helsinki is the capital of Finland, one of the Nordic countries in the European Union. Not only is is a super cool city to visit with kids (of all ages!), but it’s also a great place to stopover on a Finnair flight to Asia or other parts of Europe.
I also loved Helsinki as a gateway to other European destinations- you can take the train to St. Petersburg, Russia or the ferry into Tallinn, Estonia. I visited Tallinn on this trip, but missed St. Pete’s which I’m so sad about. I just couldn’t get the Russian visa together in time!
Plus, everyone- at least it seemed like everyone- in Helsinki is bilingual, which was so fun for me as a bilingual parent. I loved seeing trilingual museum signs in Finnish, Swedish and English.
I also loved blending in- people constantly thought I was a Finn and started speaking to me in Finnish or Swedish. I would smile and nod until I finally would have to say “English please?” since I understood nothing. It was a fun and humbling experience.
I spent a few days in Helsinki as a guest of Visit Finland, and I got to check out some of the best activities for travel as a family to Helsinki- whether you are staying for a day or a week! Here are 12 of my favorite activities in Helsinki, Finland.
Before you visit- definitely check out The Finnish Way. Such a great capture of life in Helsinki!
1. Helsinki Market Square
You really can’t visit Helsinki without at least walking through the Market Square, and I think Market Square is a great introduction to Finnish culture, food, architecture and weather.
Nestled along the sea and the Gulf of Finland, you’ll find a year-round farmer’s market where you can buy traditional Finnish street food, shop for handicrafts and souvenirs, and enjoy fresh produce from local producers. Make sure to check out the raspberry, blueberry, cloudberries- both fresh and in the jams. The variety of mushrooms is also super fun to check out!
Near Market Square is also one of my favorite restaurants that I visited- Salutorget. It’s in an old bank building and has a great mix of elegance and charm. Plus, the waiters are heavy-handed with the wine pours! Definitely a splurge, but the food is high quality and delicious- portions are big.
2. Allas Sea Pool
You can’t arrive at Market Square without noticing the beautiful swimming pools nestled right next to the sea. There’s even a pool that’s just seawater! The Allas Sea Pools are both heated and cold, perfect for swimming, and the grounds include public, gender-separated saunas so you can warm up after your traditional Finnish dip in the cold sea.
There’s also a gorgeous terrace here with a cafe and wine bar that would be a gorgeous place to see the sunset or just take in Finnish culture in relax mode. There’s also the Helsinki Sky Wheel right here too. More information on Allas Sea Pools here.
3. Visit a UNESCO Site- Suomenlinna Island
I had the opportunity to take the ferry from Market Square across the southern parts of the bay from Helsinki onto Suomenlinna island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and actual home to 850 Helsinkians.
This trip is super fun for families traveling with children. The ferry ride over offers gorgeous views of Helsinki and the surrounding waters, and it’s always fun to ride a boat. Arrival on the island is super fun- there are very few cars and tons of old fortresses to explore. It’s so cool to see the old forts mixed in with the current Helsinkian houses.
You can visit the Suomenlinna Island Visitor’s Center for an overview of the island’s historical significance. There’s a cute toy museum owned by a local woman with an impressive toy collection called the Suomenlinna Toy Museum.
For a nominal family ticket fee (2 adults and 2 children for 17 Euros) you can browse an extensive collection of antique toys and then have a snack in the tiny café. A fun experience if you are an antique toy aficionado, but not exactly geared towards kids.
You can also explore the fortresses on the island- there’s a grocery store to buy all the fixings for a fun picnic in the warm months (very Finnish!). There are restaurants and cafes during the cold months.
Planning the rest of your Finland trip? Check out 15 Things To Do In Finland with kids.
4. Helsinki City Museum
Helsinki City Museum is located in the heart of downtown Helsinki, on the main route if you walk from Market Square to the Helsinki Cathedral. The museum is free, and a great introduction to Finnish culture and ingenuity. There is a whole kids’ area with dress up and things to play with, so it’s a fun place to stop with younger children (probably up to age 10).
For older kids, I was super impressed with the main foyer in the museum- the free internet is ridiculously high speed and the ambiance is very modern and cool. I loved sitting down in the old rocking chairs int he modern space and just chilling out and warming up a bit.
5. Helsinki Cathedral
The Helsinki Cathedral is a large Lutheran church located just a few blocks north of Market Square. It’s one of the most iconic buildings in Helsinki, and really a must-see for a family trip photo op. There is a Finnish national monument in the square below the steps. The church was once the property of the Soviet Union until Finnish independence.
You can go inside the church for free, and there’s an adorable kids areas for during services that I just loved. Read about more of Helsinki’s churches and museums and activities geared towards teens on Kid Tripster.
6. Kaupahalli Food Market
Kaupahalli Food Market is one of Helsinki’s many food markets. Kaupahalli is located right in the center of old Helsinki, by the central market and the docks. I loved wandering the stalls of Kaupahalli and getting a sense of how Finns purchase raw ingredients to create food. Plus there were tons of meringue and chocolate stalls too!
After looking at all the ingredients in the food market, stop at Story Restaurant for traditional Finnish salmon soup, or any other of their traditional Finnish dishes. There are three Story Restaurants in Helsinki, but I loved eating the food in the market hall. there are big windows with views of the harbor and sunlight streaming through while you eat. Delicious and relaxing!
Want to make Finnish food at home? Check out our Finnish Spoon Cookies recipe!
7. Moomin Cafe
Have you heard of the Moomins? Not only are they a Finnish national obsession, but they are also apparently a cult phenomenon. They are little cute white characters originally from children’s books and comic strips, and now have their own tv shows and movies that have been translated into countless languages.
The Moomin Cafe is located inside of the popular Finnish department store Stockmann, and is a great place to take everyone! They have delicious Moomin themed coffees, treats, and main dishes. It’s located in the heart of downtown and includes an awesome play area for young children (swings!) and a cool Lego table for older kids. Loved it!
In the mood for a road trip? I think visiting Moominworld would be the perfect activity! for a Finnish family vacation.
8. Helsinki Railway Square
The Helsinki railway station is sort of the city centre/home base for a lot of other trips away from the Market Square and deeper into Helsinki. It’s a hub for transportation all over the city- from the airport to the ferry lines, and also to the zoo, amusement park.
From the railway station, it’s also an easy walk to the public library, rock church and countless other museums around Helsinki. Speaking of which…
9. Oodi Public Library
This library, I think, is a can’t miss in Helsinki- it might be the coolest building I have ever been in. Doesn’t hurt that I have an undying love affair with books and that I feel most at home in libraries.
The Oodi Public Library just opened in December of 2018 and was designed to be a public living room for Finns. And it’s awesome.
On a typical day, you’ll find people having business meetings, playdates, study groups and more. There is a gorgeous patio on the top floor and a super cool bathroom* in the basement. Live trees grow indoors among the books, you can check out board games, and there are numerous cafes inside. I loved this space- you can travel the world and never find another one like it.
Add a fun plaza and kids play area right in front, this is a great, free way to spend an afternoon in Helsinki.
*A quick note on Finnish bathrooms- because I had so many problems in them! Culminating in an awkward experience where I walked out of my bathroom stall to find 5 1st grade Finnish boys washing their hands. they looked at me and burst out laughing.
So- bathrooms in Finland are #1- super far away from entrances, and not in any logical place. For real. #2- there’s one door for the bathroom- both male and female.
Generally, once you go inside the inner bathroom two things will happen- either there will be two doors with signs on them indicating male or female inner chambers, or there will be a bunch of doors to gender-neutral stalls.
Bathroom stalls generally have sinks, towels, and bidets in them. Then, in the outer chamber, there are more sinks, towels, and occasional water filling stations.
So- you just need to make sure you are in the right place before you get into your bathroom stall.
10. Terastaumo in Helsinki
I didn’t get to visit this but it looks epic. “A melting pot of food and culture,” this is a super cool food market and gastronomic space in the northern part of Helsinki. Check their website for info on menus, cooking classes and more.
This is a great stop on the way to the amusement park.
11. Helsinki Amusement Park- Linnanmaki
The Helsinki Amusement Park is a super fun place to see Finns enjoying themselves and relaxing. The architecture is understated and cool, and there are all kinds of places to eat food from around the world. Craving Mexican or Asian? They’ve got it.
The way this amusement park works is that it’s free to go in and wander around, and you are asked for your ride ticket at the beginning of each ride. Super cool.
Even better, there are children’s playgrounds and areas with free rides for young kids. So you could wander for free, eat some fun food, and then decide which rides you want to ride and purchase your ticket accordingly. Can Disneyland do this?
You could visit the amusement park, have some fun amusement park food and ride a few rides for young children without ever paying! Find more about the tickets here.
Head to visit Sana Claus after you visit Helsinki. Check out our guide to Santa’s Village here.
12. Helsinki Zoo- Korkeasaari
This zoo is on an island! This means you can arrive by ferry (7 Euro per person round trip) or by tram (8 Euro pero person for a 24 hour pass) from downtown Helsinki. No need for a car seat!
The zoo houses both endemic and non-endemic species to Finland, and feeding times are an especially fun time to visit. Helsinki Zoo uses entire animal carcasses to feed animals, so it’s super interesting to see big cats go after a reindeer leg or other carcass. (Sorry, didn’t get a photo of that!)
The zoo also has an awesome hut with a grill, skewers, pans, and charcoal. You just need to bring your own food and a starter. The hut is located right on the water and is the perfect way to enjoy a day outing just like a Finnish family. I think young kids would especially get a kick out of a picnic here.
If you aren’t into picnicking, you can also eat in the zoos café, which is next to the brown bear exhibit. Enjoy traditional Finnish food while you watch huge brown bears do their thing in a large cage.
The zoo is open year-round, and there are lots of exhibits and tons of places to walk. Visit their website for more information on entrance fees.
13. Stay in a Prison
I stayed at the Katajanokka Hotel which is a former prison turned into a hotel. The receptionists are dressed in black and white striped uniforms, and each of the rooms is referred to as a cell.
The rooms are extremely comfortable and modern, and the location is great. It’s just a short 10-minute walk to Market Square and right on several lines of public transportation.
The hotel has a sauna, bar/restaurant, and an excellent breakfast spread. For rates and booking information visit their website.
Don’t forget to bookmark our Packing Tips for Finland!
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