Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is a seaside city that warmly welcomes families. With beautiful islands, large green parks and a smattering of Moomin-themed attractions, it was love at first sight when we visited Helsinki with kids in early August.
We spent two days and three nights in Helsinki at the start of our summer road trip around Finland. It was definitely enough time to get a feel for the city but not quite enough time to do everything that was on our list. We will just have to go back soon!
For more ideas on planning your trip, take a look at our guide to Finland with kids.
Helsinki with kids
There are lots of things to do in Helsinki with kids from museums and zoos to sea pools and cafes selling amazing pasties (we’re a sucker for a good cinnamon roll in our family!). The following are some of the best attractions and activities that we found.
Pro tip: If you’re going to spending a few days in Helsinki then it’s worth investing in the Helsinki Card, which gives you free or discounted entrance to a huge number of Helsinki sights, as well as a free city bus tour. The hop on hop off Helsinki bus is another good way to get around; you can visit as many Helsinki attractions as you like over 1- or 2-days. Take a look here for more information.
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Suomenlinna Island Fortress
Probably the most famous Helsinki attraction is the island fortress of Suomenlinna. Meaning “the Fortress of Finland”, this complex is located on a series of small islands just 20 minutes away from Helsinki by ferry.
Construction started on the fortress in 1749, when Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden. It was built to defend against possible Russian invasion. The tactic didn’t work, however, as in Finland was annexed by Russia in 1809 as an autonomous grand duchy with its own senate.
Under Russian rule the fortress was expanded and strengthened. Many of the original buildings and structures can still be seen today. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We had a great day on Suomenlinna discovering ancient tunnels, climbing on board a submarine and exploring small coves and beaches. You can even go swimming if you’re prepared to brave the chilly waters!
Suomenlinna is also a living part of Helsinki with a population of around 800 permanent residents who live in the 350+ apartments and houses on the island. There’s also a library, shop and a primary school.
Ferries run to Suomenlinna regularly from the ferry dock at Market Square and tickets cost € 5.00. A water bus also runs during the summer months.
The Helsinki Zoo
Another kid-friendly day trip from Helsinki is to take the ferry to the Helsinki Zoo. Known as Korkeasaari among locals, it’s one of the oldest zoos in the world having first opened its doors in 1889. I
The zoo houses approximately 150 animal species. Among them are tiny pygmy marmosets, snow leopards and the European bison called wisents. You’ll also spot indigenous Finnish species including elk, bears and forest reindeer. Korkeasaari is also home to 1,000 plant species.
The zoo is open every day of the year. Ferries run from the first of May until the end of September departing regularly from the Kauppatori Market Square. From June to August there are also ferries that depart from Hakaniemi. Bus no 16 operates year-round and departs from the train station.
Helsinki City Museum
For the best in imaginative play, head to Children’s Town at the Helsinki City Museum. Located in the Sederholm House, the oldest house in Helsinki built in 1757, Children’s Town is an exhibition designed specifically for kids and it’s a brilliant way to learn more about Helsinki’s history through hands-on activities and experiences.
Kids can jump in a horse-drawn carriage, steer an 18th century ship or discover the most popular TV shows in Finland during the 1970s. There’s the 18th century Sederholm shop where children can role play and a 1930s classroom where you can play at being schoolmaster.
During the summer months, Children’s Town offers daily DIY crafts workshops for families.
Allas Sea Pools
One of our favourite things to do in Helsinki was to swim in the Allas Sea Pools. Located next to Market Square, almost underneath the Sky Wheel, are the Allas Sea Pools that opened in 2016. The outdoor complex offers three different swimming pools: a warm water 25m lap pool, a shallow children’s pool and a sea water pool.
We tried all three pools and even though the sea pool is chilly it was wonderfully refreshing. The sea water pool is pumped in from the Baltic Sea but not from the harbour, rather it’s taken from cleaner currents out at sea and filtered using UV technology.
There are also three saunas at the Allas Sea Pools, a men’s sauna, a women’s sauna and a sauna for private events (the Finns love their saunas!). There’s a cafe on the ground floor and a more upmarket restaurant, Allas Wine & Dine, on the second floor.
Helsinki Moomin Cafe
The Moomins are a national Finnish treasure so it’s only right that Helsinki has a couple of Moomin-themed cafes to visit. The capital is home two Moomin cafes as well as a recently opened Moomin Cafe at Helsinki airport.
The most central cafe is located in Fabianinkatu street, nearby to the Helsinki Cathedral; you’ll recognise it from the large Moomin standing outside! Next door is a shop where you can stock up on all your Moomin memorabilia.
If you’re looking for an even better Moomin experience, then you should visit magical Moominworld in Turku. Fans of Tove Jansson, the author, should visit the Helsinki Art Museum where there is an exhibition dedicated to her work.
This is the oldest café in all of Finland dating back to 1852. It’s still a popular spot for cakes and coffee today.
The main dining area has room for 90 guests and is very family-friendly with plenty of treats for kids big and small. The Napoleon Cake comes highly recommended and you should definitely try the liquorice ice cream but after you’ve eaten your lunch of dinner of course. Café Ekberg is also a great place to start the day with breakfast or brunch.
Get a birds eye view of the city with a trip on the Helsinki SkyWheel. At 40m high it’s not that tall but it’s still a great way to get a 360 degree view of the capital and it’s a fun Helsinki attraction for kids. A full rotation takes 10-12 minutes.
The Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden
Located near the centre of the city is Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden. Come for the tropical glasshouses and witness wonderful plans such as the coffee bush and the strangler fig.
The Palm House is home to the world’s biggest seed. You’ll also spot oversized lily pads. Entrance is free on the first Friday of every other month.
When planning your Helsinki sightseeing, it’s inevitable that you’ll cross the Esplandi Park at some point. Located in the heart of the city, this is a pretty park that comes alive during summer months when locals and visitors gather for picnics and to be entertained by street artists and performers. It’s also a fun play area for younger children.
The Espa Stage in the park hosts a number of events including the Jazz-Espa concert series held every July.
Heureka, the Finnish Science Centre
Without doubt one of the best things to do with kids in Helsinki is Heureka, the Finnish Science Centre. Located near the airport, this science museum is particularly good for older kids. It’s filled with games, shows and hands-on activities that inspire, inform and generally just get kids very, very excited.
Some exhibitions allow all the family can get involved. Together you can try to build a two-metre high vaulted art or try walking along a tightrope.
The Mind Your Brain! exhibition explores various ways to keep our brains ticking over and consists of games and exercises including puzzles, dances and the importance of laughter.
Helsinki Ice Park
If you visit Helsinki in winter then strap your skates on for an Arctic skating experience. The Finnish capital has lots of ice skating rinks to choose from – take a look at this list from My Helsinki for ideas. One of the most popular ice rinks is Jaapuisto, located next to the Helsinki Central Railway Station. The ice rink is open from December until the end of March and there’s a cafe on site to warm up with hot chocolate after skating.
Helsinki Old Market Hall
Helsinki is home to three market halls but we only had time to visit one and choose the Old Market Hall located on the harbour opposite the Allas Sea Pools.
This market hall first opened in 1889, making it the oldest indoor market in Finland. It’s one of the most popular Helsinki attractions and not just because of it’s history, this is the place to come to try some local Finnish delicacies. There are stalls selling everything from fish and meat to pastries and breads and it’s the perfect place to pick up some lunch or a snack. A couple of stalls also sell a selection of international foods including Spanish and Middle Eastern.
The Old Market Hall is open six days a week (it’s closed on Sundays) from 8am to 6pm. Nearby is the Market Square, one of Helsinki’s main hubs, where you’ll find a daily market with locals selling Finnish souvenirs such as the wooden mugs traditionally used to drink berry tea and reindeer horns. At the beginning of October starts the Baltic Herring Market, which is a great time to visit.
The Kamppi Chapel of Silence
Admittedly, anywhere that has “silence” in the title is not traditionally somewhere that you want to bring small children. However, the absolutely beautiful Kamppi Chapel deserves a visit – even if it’s just a quick one!
Located on a corner of Narinkkatori square in central Helsinki, the multi-faith chapel was designed as a place to calm down and disconnect. No services are held here, rather visitors are welcome to sit inside and simply be.
The chapel was designed by a Helsinki-based architecture firm and features a curved, wooden, windowless exterior and pale concrete walls inside. A skylight runs along the ceiling’s edge, allowing light to shine softly in. We loved our (short, sharp) visit to this chapel.
Vintage Tram Ride
A great way to enjoy sightseeing in Helsinki for children is on a vintage tram ride. Choose to sit in either the motor car dating back to 1909 or the open-sided summer trailer from 1919 and set off on the 20-minute tour of some of the most popular Helsinki attractions including Senate Square.
Trams depart every 30 minutes during the summer months from from the Market Square, at the stop next to the Havis Amanda statue. Tickets cost €6 and can be bought on board the tram.
Linnanmäki Amusement Park
For Finnish thrills and spills head to Linnanmäki, a fun amusement park that kids are sure to love. There are bumper cars and spinning tea cups as well as water rafting adventures and plenty of rides where you’re guaranteed to lose your stomach.
There are rides for kids of all ages, perfect if your family is like ours with older and younger children. The most famous ride at the park is Vuoristorata, a wooden rollercoaster that dates back to 1951 and is still in operation today. The park is open from April to October.
A great place to enjoy an early evening dinner outside during the summer months is at Carusel Café, positioned in front of the seashore in Kaivopuisto park. It serves fresh pastries (including enormous cinnamon buns), sandwiches, pizzas and simple meals. The food is good and relatively inexpensive – for Finland!
The café is also very environmentally friendly; it was the first in Helsinki to have its own solar panels and they use wind turbines as well as sea heating. Kaivopuisto park is itself a really nice park and very popular with families. There’s a path that follows the sea front, perfect for walking or scooting, and a large skate park as well.
The Helsinki Underground Playground
If you’re trying to find things to do in Helsinki in winter then you’ll want to know about the city’s underground playground. Located in the heart of the city, this space is home to bouncy castles, a ball pit, computer games, a LEGO play table, a climbing wall and a glow-in-the-dark ghost cave. You’ll find it near the Hakaniemi metro station.
The Finnish Museum of Natural History
Another good option if you visit Helsinki during the winter months is a trip to the Museum of Natural History. Here you can take a virtual trip around Finland, exploring its various destinations and climates, as well as delve into the bigger stuff with the ‘History of Life’ exhibition.
Another fun day trip from Helsinki is to Seurasaari Island and the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum. This museum is a wonderful way to get a glimpse of traditional Finnish life. Original Finnish cottages, farmsteads and manors pepper the grounds. These date back over the last four centuries and were dismantled in their original location and relocated here.
During the summer months there are daily guided tours in English. Or, you can simply wander among the homes yourself and see how life has changed over the years. There’s a cafe and shop here as well.
The museum is open from mid-May to the end of September. On June 21 it hosts the Midsummer Bonfires, a traditional midsummer festival celebrated throughout Finland. You can reach the museum on bus number 24, last stop at Seurasaari.
Sea Life Helsinki
Enjoy fish feedings, discover sea urchins and walk under the saves at Sea Life Helsinki. The capital’s aquarium is filled with colourful sea creatures including sharks, clownfish and piranhas. The Sea Lab and Conservation Cove is the place to go to learn more about conservation and climate change.
It’s rare that I suggest leaving as a city highlight but when you’re in Helsinki you really should take advantage of the fact that the beautiful city of Tallinn is just a quick ferry ride away. You can visit as a day trip, or do as we did and spend three days and two nights exploring the capital of Estonia. You can read about all the things to do in Tallinn with kids here.
Helsinki family hotels
We passed through Helsinki three times on our summer road trip of Finland staying in a mixture of hotels and Airbnb apartments.
The first hotel we stayed was the Scandic Hotel Simonkenttä, which was central and came with a fantastic buffet breakfast. They don’t have family rooms, however, and we got two double rooms. For more Helsinki family hotel ideas take a look at this top 10 list from TripAdvisor.
We then stayed in one mediocre Airbnb apartment, which wasn’t great and I won’t recommend! However, our final night in Helsinki was at this really lovely apartment. If you have never rented through AirBnB before, I can offer you a £27 Airbnb referral credit (this means you get £27 off your first booking).
Eating in Helsinki
There are lots of great restaurants in Helsinki although do remember that eat out in Finland is not cheap. Some of our favourites included Skiffer, which makes fantastic pizzas with a Finnish twist. I had the Baltic Sea Pizza and it was delicious. There are various locations around the city.
We also ate at Savu Restuarant, that sits on a small island not too far from Market Square. It’s not open year-round so do check timings before you go. One of the best meals we had in Helsinki was at an Italian restaurant, Gusti. The Old Market Hall is also a great place to eat.
Getting to Helsinki
There are lots of ways to get to Helsinki although definitely one of the best ways is by boat! We flew from London to Helsinki and then enjoyed a return trip from Helsinki to Tallinn by ferry.
From Helsinki to Tallinn Ferry
We travelled to Tallinn by ferry from Helsinki and it was a really lovely experience. The fast ferry only takes two hours and there are regular sailings daily.
From Stockholm to Helsinki
Ferries from Helsinki to Stockholm take around 16 hours. Three ferry companies currently run the route between the two capitals; Tallink Silja operate their crossing up to 7 times per week, Viking Line 7 times per week & the St Peter Line service is available up once a week. You can also catch a quick 45minute flight from Helsinki to Stockholm.
It is very easy to get to Helsinki from the airport. We caught the train from Helsinki airport that goes right to the city centre. It leaves from right outside the terminal and is cheap!
The best time to visit Helsinki
Helsinki weather is a tale of two extremes. Summer is when Helsinki really comes alive with long sunny days drawing locals and visitors alike to the parks, islands and for swims in the Baltic sea. The wriggly coastline hides sandy beaches and inlets, and beyond sailboats crisscross the waters with day trippers enjoying the Midnight Sun. Island hopping by boat is a wonderful way to see the city.
Winter brings its own kind of magic, when the vibrant greens of summer give way to the blues and whites of a Nordic winter. Winter is a still a good time to visit Helsinki – the city even has an underground playground for younger kids to enjoy during the cold months. Just make sure you wrap up warm. If you’re wondering how to pack for an Arctic winter, then take a look at our cold weather packing guide.