If you’re looking for a happy vacation destination in Europe, Finland is a top choice for families. This safe country has a lot to offer all ages, from saunas to Santa (the real one, of course). Bundle up and head north to the land of the midnight sun, Northern Lights, and a thousand lakes.
Top Things to do in Finland with Kids
Finland is a beautiful country, 70 percent covered in forest. The Finnish people value fresh air, clean water, and the right to roam, meaning that by law they can camp and forage for lingonberries wherever they please. Sure, it gets cold starting in September – the north of Finland is in the Arctic Circle – but if the Finns can enjoy life outdoors year-round, so can you! Bundle up and visit Finland for the family adventure of a lifetime.
Family Fun in Helsinki
I recently spent a week in Finland, starting in the capital city of Helsinki. This safe, walkable city was a joy to explore on foot. From the historic Market Hall along the water’s edge to the modern public library, the Oodi, there was so much to see, and so many places to play along the way.
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From my centrally located Hotel Katajanokka, I could walk to the Oodi playground, the Helsinki City Museum (which has a free Children’s Town), Moomin Café (with its indoor play area for kids), and Stockmann Department Store (which also has a kids’ play area). Kids are valued in Finland, so no matter where you go, there is something for them to do!
Day Trip to Suomenlinna
Children age seven and under travel free on public transportation in Helsinki, including on ferries. Plus, if a child is in a stroller, the adult with them travels free as well. Take advantage of this deal to explore beyond the city. Hop on a ferry and see some of the nearby islands. I recommend starting with Suomenlinna.
Suomenlinna sea fortress is a national monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site. This fortress, built in the 18th and 19th centuries, is a vibrant part of Helsinki and home to about 800 people. Take the ferry from Helsinki Market Square and enjoy wandering around the linked islands that make up Suomenlinna. It’s a beautiful place to have a picnic.
Another fun ferry ride will take you to Korkeasaari Island, home to one of the oldest zoos in Europe. This zoo is open year-round, but most visitors come in summer months. On the fall day that I visited, there was hardly anyone around. The ferry stops running in the winter, but the zoo is always accessible by bus.
In addition to 150 animal species to visit, Korkeasaari Zoo has in-ground trampolines, sand pits, and water play areas for kids. There’s also a hut where families can roast sausages for lunch, if you bring your own meat and fire-starter.
Santa Claus and the Magic of Christmas
After several days in Helsinki, I hopped on a quick Finnair flight north to Rovaniemi, the official hometown of Santa Claus. I flew Finnair, of course— it’s the official airline of Santa Claus. If you’re going to visit the “real” Santa Claus in the Arctic Circle, you need to do it right!
Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi is fun for the whole family. I loved hand-feeding Santa’s reindeer, stopping by Santa’s official post office, and visiting with Santa himself. The village is open every day of the year and visits with Santa are free. You’ll just have to pay if you want a photo (you aren’t allowed to take your own).
Nordic Adventure in Lapland
But seeing Santa isn’t all there is to do in Lapland, the northern region of Finland. In this gorgeous area, where there are more reindeer than people, you can hit the ski resorts, explore by snowmobile with a travel guide, try dog sledding, and chase the Northern Lights. For a luxury family vacation in Finland, stay in one of the glass igloos! These aren’t cheap, but alarms will wake you if the Northern Lights are visible at night, so you can watch the elusive Aurora Borealis from the comfort of your bed.
Or, if you prefer a more rustic vacation, camp in one of the national parks, follow the hiking trails, make your own reindeer antler souvenirs, and visit the Ranua Wildlife Park (open year-round with free sleds to pull kids along the boardwalks in winter). No matter the type of travel your family enjoys, there is something for everyone in Lapland. Just be sure to book early because accommodations in Rovaniemi fill up months in advance.
To start planning your trip to Finland, check out the Finnair Stopover Program, which allows you to add up to five days in Helsinki to your European vacation at no additional charge.