Any city that’s credited with the creation of Moomins (pronounced Mooooomi) and Angry Birds, has to be a hit with kids. No wonder Helsinki is a glorious city to visit for the weekend in summer or winter.
But the city is fun and educational, too. It's inextricably linked with maritime movements and is surrounded on three sides by sea with almost 100km of shoreline and about 300 islands. Parents will appreciate the cool vibe around the city and kids will relish the open spaces and chance to jump on and off ferries and boats.
Children can meet Finland’s most famous resident at the new Santa Claus World at Linnanmäki amusement park (famous for its wooden rollercoaster and arcades) during the park’s summer season until October and during pre-reserved times outside of its season. Accompanied by Santa’s elves, visitors are led through a fairy-tale Lappish setting before meeting the main man himself at his cottage. Kids will enjoy sending a postcard from The Santa Claus World shop with a special Santa Claus World Linnanmäki stamp.
Catch the JT-Line waterbus from the dock near Market Square for the scenic voyage via the tiny island of Lonna to Suomenlinna. A full day is recommended for a trip to this collection of islands, now recognised as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. With 6km of bastion walls, more than a thousand canons, mysterious tunnels, submarine, military and toy museums, cafés and restaurants, it’s a winner for kids as it combines history with the freedom of running around vast green parklands.
And there’s even a cute sandy cove called Horseshoe Beach with little changing cabins and sheltered waters for swimming.
Step inside the Haltia Nature Centre, a 45-minute drive from Helsinki, and you’re greeted with a row of old walking boots from baby to huge bloke size! The playful tone is set for this exhibition, which brings alive Finnish nature. Kids will love the Snow Canyon, an arctic tunnel with creatures caught in motion such as ravens, wolverines and reindeers. An 80m video panorama shows Finland’s five seasons (they have early and late winter) in stunning photography. Kids can follow the journey of a water droplet from mountains to the sea, and even crawl inside a real (stuffed) bear’s den and feel what it’s like to be a bird in its tree house when a squirrel comes nosing around. The building looks like a bird from above, is 75 per cent self-sufficient and a great lesson in living in harmony with nature.
A bit like a Finnish Orla Kiely, with graphic prints, this leading Finnish textile and clothing design company is a draw for mums. Check out the bags, clothes and beautiful homeware at the flagship store on the Esplanade.
This busy market on the watefront is a joy to explore with kids. Bag yourselves a free-range reindeer skin (around €125 per pelt) and all manner of antler products from bottle openers to hooks. There are fur hats galore, knitted booties and, of course, Moomin bits and bobs and all manor of fresh produce.
Kids will love a visit to the official Angry Birds shop at the Kamppi shopping centre in the middle of Helsinki. Be prepared for them to badger you into buying T-shirts, toys and games emblazoned with Yellow Bird and co.
On the way home, the official Moomin Shop at Helsinki airport’s Terminal 2 is a must for presents and souvenirs from reasonably priced prints to biographies of Moomin creator, Tove Jansson.
Known as one of the best restaurants in Helsinki, you might fear taking the kids. But the staff here are charming with children and the food is so delicious you might find your normally culinary cautious child devours a wild bore fillet with cottage cheese and Parmesan mayonnaise served on a very grown-up slate slab. There are always meatballs with mash for little ones, and don’t miss the semonlina pancakes with strawberries and ice-cream.
This imposing Scandinavian bistro right across the road from Market Square used to be a bank, and is a great place to come with older kids to try out local favourites like the creamy morel soup with espresso-rosemary foam (morels can be poisonous which adds to teen excitement!), pan-fried vendace (tiny lake fish) with potato purée and Baltic herring with blackcurrant. There’s always a juicy hamburger to fall back on if they’re not being adventurous.
The Abattoir (or Teurastamo in Finnish) is Helsinki’s dynamic food quarter, housing restaurants, food shops, a barbecue area, cookery school and a public sauna. The aim is to make everything in the Abattoir area edible; for example, the trees and other plants in the yard are being replaced by fruit trees and other crop-yielding plants.
This Helsinki Design District hotel has interconnecting family rooms perfect for parents and two children. The adult room is kept grown-up with chic cube lighting, while the kids room has Moomin cushions, a play mat with a kids’ tent stocked with toys. There’s a jumbo pencil and paper and colouring book and thoughtful plastic cups laid out.
Price: Interconnecting family rooms cost from £263 per night with breakfast.
Kids will love the subtle circus theme at this city centre hotel. There are quirky details like punch bags in some of the rooms, which have sofa beds for older kids. Cots and child beds are provided free for under-threes. Interconnecting rooms are also available. You can borrow Nordic walking poles or bicycles and go exploring. There’s a lovely green park overlooking the waterfront nearby.
Price: Superior rooms (sleeps four) cost from £146 per night with breakfast.
Finnair offers return flights to Helsinki from Heathrow and Manchester from £140 per person.
Travel time: Helsinki is a three hour flight from London, and is two hours ahead of GMT. Public transportation can be taken from the airport to the city center with a journey time of 45 minutes.