Family Vacations to Helsinki, Finland

Europe Family Travel: Helsinki, Finland
Water World—also known as Helskinki (Corel)

Helsinki Highlights

  • Browse stalls of fresh fish, flowers, and fruit at Market Square.
  • Explore an 18th-century island fort.
  • Ride a 50-year-old wooden roller coaster.
  • Check out trendy Finnish clothes and furnishings in the Design District.
  • Enjoy togetherness Finnish style with a family sauna.

Think "Finland" and what comes to mind is likely to be "water," "boats," "stylish design," and "saunas," all of which 'tweens and teens like. Helsinki, Finland's capital, lies on a peninsula in the Gulf of Finland, surrounded by the sea on three sides. The busy harbor serves as the nation's main port and the place to board boats to explore neighboring islands.

At the lively harborside Kauppatori (Market Square), vendors sell fish, fruit, flowers, and other Finnish products. See trays of fresh salmon, herring, and arctic char arranged on ice, and in summer, baskets brimming with strawberries, blueberries, lingonberries, and cloudberries.

From the harbor it's a 15-minute boat ride to the 18th-century fortress Suomenlinna (Finland's Fortress) that stretches over eight interconnected islands. Built as the Swedish fort Sveaborg in 1748, conquered by the Russians in 1808, and renamed Viapori, the fort returned to Finnish control in 1917 when Finland gained independence from Russia. At this UNESCO World Heritage site, discover just how cramped life can be on a submarine by walking through the WWII-era Vesikko. Also check out the model ships at the Ehrensvärd Museum, and see dolls, teddy bears, and war games from the 19th century to the 1960s at the Toy Museum.

In spring and summer Finns make the most of the moderate temperatures and long days by being outdoors. Take to the streets by walking through Esplanade Park and by romping with your kids in Kaivopuisto Park. Tour Senate Square, graced with the historic Lutheran Cathedral. Browse Helsinki's downtown design district for quintessentially Finnish products from iittala glass and tableware, to brightly patterned Marimekko clothes and linens, to the clean lines of Artek furniture. The area's Design Museum has exhibits on the art of Finnish style.

At Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, view works from the 1960s to the present and outside watch skateboarders roll past this popular haunt. To see historic architecture, visit the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, a display of 18th- and 19th-century wooden buildings from all over Finland. Interpreters dressed in traditional attire demonstrate spinning and other skills. Check the schedule for folk dancing and other special performances.

Playful rides are the forté of Linnanmäki Amusement Park, a good spot for young kids and gradeschoolers, although coaster enthusiasts prefer the 50-year-old wooden roller coaster. The tanks at Sea Life Helsinki, an aquarium inside the park, feature fish from the tropics to the Arctic. Currently on exhibit are a wide array of poisonous sea creatures, including sea snakes, puffer fish, and coral catfish—something the kids might find fascinating.

And what would a visit to Finland be without a stop at a sauna? For the classic, wood-burning experience, visit the Kotiharjun Sauna, the last wood-heated, public sauna in Helsinki. They have separate men's and women's facilities but for family togetherness Finnish-style, book the family sauna (although this is an electric sauna).

Tip: Purchase the Helsinki Card and gain free admission to city transportation and many attractions.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 26 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 17 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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