Finland has been on K’s bucketlist for years. He saw a photo on Instagram and decided then and there he just had to visit. So when planning our Scandinavian Adventure, we knew we had to spend a few days in the Finnish capital. Helsinki is a cool mix of old and new, family friendly, and is extremely easy to navigate via public transportation. If you’re visiting for the first time, we put together a list of things to do, places to eat, how to arrive and more tips to travel Helsinki with teens and tweens.
Despite the rainy and chill weather, we found Helsinki to be a beautiful city with friendly people looking forward to welcoming summer. We had 72 hour Helsinki Cards but didn’t get to put them fully to use. We were about a week early for the seasonal attractions to start opening. Lucky for us, the passes did include public transport. We took full advantage and jumped on the tram instead of walking to avoid the rain showers – plus we didn’t have to worry about any extra costs!
Helsinki has so much to offer families that you could easily spend more than 3 days enjoying the city, especially in the summer. We’ve put together some of the best things to do in Helsinki with kids. The list includes activities we were able to do as well as activities we wanted to do but weren’t yet open.
Top 10 Things to Do – Travel Helsinki with Teens
1. Visit Fortress of Suomenlinna via ferry
We did luck out one day and the sun was shining as we took the ferry to the Fortress of Suomenlinna. The ferry ride is not only good for transportation, bu
t it’s a relaxing and scenic way to travel. The Fortress of Suomenlinna dates from the 18th century during the Swedish era and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fortress is located on a group of islands located at the entrance of Helsinki’s harbor and is a nice place for families to wander and kids to explore.
We visited the Suomenlinna Museum during our trip to learn more about the history but didn’t get a chance to go inside the Submarine Vesikko as it hadn’t opened for the season. Interestingly, the Suomenlinna Fortress has been used as defense for Sweden, Russia and Finland. It’s a great place to explore and let kids run around, play by the water and even walk through underground tunnels.
Walking around the island is free. Attractions and the ferry are all Free with Helsinki Card
2. Panorama Sightseeing Bus Tour
Perfect for exploring the city on a rainy day, the Panorama Sightseeing Bus Tour will take you around the city and provide interesting history during the journey using provided earbuds and dial up language selections. It was a great way for us to see Helsinki and stay dry. Even the kids enjoyed the ride, though I’m not sure if it was because we weren’t making them go into another museum 🙂
We stopped to walk around Sibelius Par and take photos of the Sibelius Monument which honors the composer Jean Sibelius. The monument is made from clusters of stainless steel organ pipes and has become one of the top attractions in Helsinki. There is also a playground at this park for young visitors.
Free with Helsinki Card
3. Linnanmaki Amusement Park
My kiddos were seriously disappointed we couldn’t visit Linnanmaki Amusement Park. We saw the park during our bus tour and it looked beautiful! My kids were looking forward to trying the rides such as Kieputin, Kehrä, Kingi and Kirnu. I doubt I could have joined them without getting nauseous but my kids love the speed, flips and spins on all the thrill rides. I remember the good old days when I was the same way…
Entrance into the park, events on the Estradi stage, and nine rides (mostly geared toward young children) are free. Tickets and wristbands for the other rides can be purchased. A single ride is 8€ and a wristband for unlimited rides is 39€. Save 3€ with an advance purchase with S-Etukortti from a retailer.
4. Cruise on the Beautiful Canal Route
We all love cruising around and checking out destinations from the water. Canal cruises offer history, fun facts and relaxation while getting a different perspective. In addition to riding past the shoreline and seeing some of Helsinki’s hidden gems, the tour passes by some of the top attractions such as Suomenlinna Island Fortress, Korkeasaari Zoo, and the ice breaker fleet.
Free with Helsinki Card
5. Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
Enjoy the outdoors and let kids roam the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum. The museum consists of 87 old, mainly wooden buildings transplanted from all over Finland and placed in the dense landscape of Seurasaari Island. Cottages, farmsteads and manors of the past four centuries are on display for families to explore. Give yourself at least half the day to explore the museum.
Free with Helsinki Card
6. National Museum of Finland
It’s important for us to include educational opportunities throughout all our travels. That’s why the National Museum of Finland was on my list to visit. Head to the 3rd floor of the museum to let kids visit Workshop Vintti, a hands-on exhibition designed to allow young visitors a chance to learn the history of Finland. This section is geared more toward young children but worth a visit for tweens.
Free with Helsinki Card
7. Senate Square
Wander through Senate Square to see the Cathedral, University, Government Palace, and Sederholm House which is the oldest building of central Helsinki dating from 1757.
Tip – Want to know what events are going on it the city? Check out Helsinki This Week for all the latest news.
8. Rock Church
We saw this church, which is literally built into solid rock, but didn’t get a chance to go inside. We happened to be there on Sunday and it was closed for services. Another lovely church to visit is the Uspenski Cathedral, a Russian-designed Orthodox cathedral which was built in the mid 1800s.
9. Food Markets
Teens do love to eat! And a great place to try Finnish and International cuisine is at one of the food markets.
Hakaniemi Market is a genuine Finnish market hall; however, the original building is under renovation so you’ll find all the stalls moved into a temporary building next door. We had some absolutely fantastic salmon soup at this market. My mom is still talking about it!
Old Market Hall has Finnish gourmet delicacies and is located near Market Square. It’s in a beautiful building and interesting to wander through. We didn’t end up eating here, but Derrick did find canned bear meat if it’s in your budget. It wasn’t in ours.
Hietalahti Food Market houses restaurants, cafes, and many of its food stalls sell ready-made food. As I’ve mentioned before, food halls are great with kids. Everyone can choose something different. Don’t want a reindeer burger? Get a kabob like K. I had a tasty Japanese noodle bowl and Lucy went for a pizza.
10. Relax at the park and wander Market Square
Helsinki has a ton of green space just waiting for kids to run free or relax over a picnic lunch. When kids of all ages need a break from exploring, spend some time at Kaivopuisto which is the oldest park in Helsinki and is located on the water. Esplanade Park or Espa is located near Market Square with plenty of seating and blooming flowers. Treat the kids to an ice cream or enjoy a cup of coffee yourself while taking it easy.
Old Church Park or Plague park as it’s sometimes known, because nearby is the burial ground for over a thousand victims of the 1710 plague. The park itself used to be a cemetery and still has some of the tombstones. We’re told it’s a popular park for locals and K thinks it must be very cool on Halloween 🙂
Market Square is located on the waterfront and is the departure point for many cruises including the Suomenlinna Fortress Ferry. You’ll also find tents set up along the water selling Finish food and goods. Why not try some reindeer while you’re here and enjoy your meal with a view?
Other Things to do in Helsinki:
If you have more time in the city, there are a few more things we researched to do.
- Lapinlahti Mental Walk – Tour of the oldest Psychiatric Hospital in Finland. I think this is rather odd, but K probably would have enjoyed it.
- Design District -Neighborhood with lots of small, trendy shops and restaurants.
- Helsinki Zoo – Specializing in Nordic animals, this is a great idea for younger kids.
- The Beach – I hear the beaches of Finland are lovely and a wonderful place to visit with kids. Though the average water temperature even in August is only 13°C / 55.4°F – burr! As a comparison, the August average in Nice, France is 23.6°C / 74.5°F. Some of the recommended beaches include Mustikkamaa, Kivinokka and Lammassaari.
What to Buy and Try:
We decided not to make any purchases other than post cards, but based on Derrick’s research, these are the popular souvenirs.
Things to buy:
- Kuksas (wooden cups made by the Lapps or Sami people in northern Finland)
- Reindeer (Fur)
One the things Derrick found to try was canned bear meat. He figured “when in Finland” and was going to give it a try. However it’s super expensive (around 50€ for the cans pictured above), so we didn’t spend the money. Some of the other things to try are listed below.
Things to try:
- Pien Brewery
- Bear meat, elk meat, Pea Soup, Baltic Herring, LingonberryPie
- Kaalikääryleet (Cabbage with meat)
- Salmiakki (The most popular sweet in Finland – salty licorice)
- Karjalanpiirakat (Karelian pies are a rye bread pastry filled with rice or other toppings, like pureed root vegetables. They are most traditionally served with egg and butter over the top)
- Graavilohi (salt-cured salmon)
- Mustikkapiirakka (Blueberry Pie)
- Paistettu muikku (fried vendace/small fish)
- Lohikeitto (Salmon soup)
- Ruisleipä (rye bread)
What’s the temperature in Helsinki in Spring?
Finding out the temperature in Helsinki was necessary when we started packing for our trip. How cold would it be in the Spring? We were coming up on the heels of summer, so how would that affect the temperature in Helsinki?
Spring can be unpredictable. We visited during the very end of April and had chilly, rainy weather. However, I’m told the week prior was freezing and the bus driver laughed when I asked to have the heat turned up on the sightseeing bus. Just recently the last lake had thawed – and this was a few days before May! So plan for cold and rain in the spring and cool weather in the summer.
Layers are a must as well as having coats. K can usually get by with just a sweatshirt, but not so during this trip! Lucy wore her scarf and even had mittens in her pocket. Umbrellas or rain jackets are other items that you should pack.
Getting Around – Helsinki Travel Tip:
Helsinki has a fantastic public transport system consisting of trains, buses, trams, metro and ferries. We took full advantage of the tram system, loving how the clean trams wound around the city. We had to change lines a couple of times, but rarely had to wait long for the next tram to arrive.
The city is also easily walkable allowing visitors to explore more of the city on foot.
The City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus can also be utilized and makes a nice way to travel with kids. Just ensure you aren’t trying to board the “red line” with your Helsinki Card. This hop on hop off bus isn’t included with the card.
Tip – Traveling with a little one? If you are traveling with a child aged 0-6 years in a pram, pushchair or wheelchair, you are entitled to free travel on HSL’s public transport services. This is available for only 1 adult and the child only. See more information here.
Getting to Helsinki:
Of course, the best way to get to Helsinki all depends on where you’re coming from. If you’re wondering how to get from Stockholm to Helsinki, we arrived via the Viking Line Ferry from Stockholm and highly recommend it as a way to travel between countries. Our transportation and an overnight stay was all included plus we pre-booked the buffet for dinner. We paid approximately $100 per person. Simply board the ship, relax while sailing past the archipelagos, have dinner, go to bed and then, when you wake-up, it’s time to disembark in Helsinki!
If you’re concerned about rocky seas, you can take an inexpensive flight on Norwegian Air. While the seas were a bit rough during our travels due to weather, we didn’t feel ill. Lucy and I are prone to sea sickness. but didn’t experience much of a problem. The family room (with a view) was surprisingly large and comfortable. We could have saved money by staying in a different room class, but I wanted a window and higher deck.
We also left Helsinki via the Tallink ferry to head to the final destination of our trip, Estonia! Since the ride is only a couple of hours, you could take a day trip into Tallinn if it’s not on your itinerary. A discount for the ferry is included with the Helsinki Card.
We had a 72 hour Helsinki Card and picked it up just across from the main train station. It was a great value for the money and I highly recommend ordering yours online in advance to save money. The Helsinki Card includes over 28 attractions and tours, free public transport and offers discounts at over 22 attractions!
The pass is available for 1, 2, or 3 days but has 24, 48 or 72 hours validity period. That means you can activate your card at anytime during the day and still make the most out of the benefits.
The included travelcard allows you unlimited travel across all transport networks in Helsinki for the duration of your pass; 1, 2 or 3 days.
- ✔ Buses
- ✔ Trams
- ✔ Metro
- ✔ Local Trains
- ✔ Suomenlinna Ferry
Bus and tram ticket prices as of 2018 if you don’t have the Helsinki Card:
Bus single journey = 2.20€ if mobile purchase, 1.10€ child
=3.20€ from bus, 1.60€ child
= 2.90€ from ticket machine, 1.50€ child
Tram single journey = 2.50€ from ticket machine
1 Day ticket = 9€ adult, 4.50€ child
2 Day ticket = 13.50€ adult, 6.75€ child
2018 Helsinki Card Prices:
How much we would have spent without the card?
Ferry normal cost = 5€ (roundtrip) adult and 2.50€ child
Suomenlinna Fortress –
Guided Tour of Suomenlinna – Save Adult €11; Child €4 (I wouldn’t have done the tour but it’s an included option)
Suomenlinna Museum – Save Adult €8; Child €4
Submarine Vesikko – Save Adult: €7 Child: €4
*Option to see a military museum as well
*Card includes ferry ride
National Museum of Finland –
Normal Entry Price: Adult: €12.00 Child: €0.00
Cruise on the Beautiful Canal Route –
Normal Entry Price: Adult: €25.00 Child: €12.50
Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
Normal Entry Price: Adult: €9.00 Child: €3.00
Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church)
Normal Entry Price: Adult: €3.00 Child: €0.00
Free Panorama Sightseeing Bus Tour
Normal Entry Price: Adult: €32.00 Child: €16.00
City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour –
Normal Entry Price: Adult: €30.00 Child: €15.00
Helsinki Card Benefits: The tour is available as long as your Helsinki Card is valid
Adding in everything listed above, we would have spent 144.50€ per adult assuming a 2-day tram pass. That’s a savings of 76.50€ with the Helsinki Card per adult!! I’d say the pass more than paid for itself plus we didn’t have to worry about overspending. The passes were already factored into our travel budget.
Yes, Scandinavia is expensive. We were able to save on costs by having the Helsinki Cards, eating breakfast in and cooking dinner in at our apartment. Part of the fun for us when traveling is checking out what is cool and in season at the grocery stores. The apartment allowed 2 grandparents, 2 parents, and 2 kids plenty of space while keeping within budget. We also choose to eat lunch at the markets not only to save money but to try local cuisine. Now, I’m starting to crave salmon soup!
Helsinki is a very family-friendly destination. We loved exploring the city before the tourists descended, but were disappointed that many attractions were closed. We enjoyed wandering the streets, seeing Suomenlinna Fortress, admiring the city from the water and indulging in Finnish cuisine. We would love to visit again and see more of Finland and it’s rustic landscape.
What travel Helsinki tips can you share? Let us know in the comments.
Disclosure: We received Helsinki Cards to help facilitate this article and may earn a small commission on sales. As always opinions are 100% my own and may differ from others.