Prepare everyone for lots of walking. This itinerary takes you all over Helsinki.
Good to know
Finland is very far north and can be quite chilly throughout the year. We last visited the town at the end of June, and it was cold enough to require jackets. Make sure you have warm clothes with you, as the weather can change rapidly.
If you are visiting in the winter, start at daylight. The days are short in the winter, and you'll only have about 6 hours to explore before dark. In the summer, it stays light until about 11 p.m., but the markets won't be open past 5-6, so plan accordingly.
Recommended time of the year
Summer is a wonderful time of year to visit if you like sun and long days. Winter is gorgeous and special, but it can be harder with kids. The market is not open daily in the winter.
Most of the places visited on this itinerary are free, so there aren't opportunities to save money other than your choice of lunch.
About This Day
Visiting Helsinki with kids and grandparents? This is a great day trip for the entire family. Start your day with a quick visit to Helsinki Senate Square and its most famous landmark, the Helsinki Cathedral. Refuel with fresh-brewed coffee and jump on the ferry to Suomenlinna Fort, a wonderful UNESCO World Heritage Site on an island close to the city center. Kids will love exploring the fort. It even has ice cream stalls. After the fort, head back to the city and grab a bite to eat at Kauppatori (Helsinki Market Square) and explore the food stalls at the neighboring Kauppahalli (Old Market Hall). This Helsinki itinerary provides a half to full day of exciting and unique experiences for which you’ll mostly pay in shoe leather. So, wear your walking shoes!
Located on Helsinki Senate Square, the Helsinki Cathedral is one of the most popular and iconic landmarks in Helsinki. Although you cannot enter the building, it is worth a quick stop and photo op. Climb the steps in front of the cathedral for a great view of the city and Senate Square.
DIRECTIONS From the main train station, follow the signs to Senate Square. You can see the large, white cathedral peeking out above the buildings.
TIP Senate Square in front of the cathedral can get crowded with tour groups, buses and visitors. Keep an eye on your children in this location.
Johan & Nystrom is a real coffee house, roasting beans in-house and creating works of art with every cup served. It serves traditional coffee, cappuccino, espresso and hot chocolate. (They do not have specialty things, like frappuccinos.) The staff speaks English really well (as do most people in Helsinki), so don't be afraid to order. You’ll also find a nice selection of pastries if you need a snack.
DIRECTIONS From Senate Square, follow Aleksanterinkatu east. When the street ends at the marina, you'll cross a footbridge called the Lovebridge (check out the locks) onto Kanavaranta. Turn left after the bridge and Johan & Nystrom will be on the right.
Suomenlinna is an 18th-century sea fortress and nature preserve. It is UNESCO World Heritage Site with centuries-old artillery and defensive walls, spread across 6 linked islands. In addition to exploring the old fort, there are walking trails with lots of nature, a church, a drawbridge, a museum, restaurants and ice cream stalls. It's a quiet and historic location to visit while in Helsinki. You'll also get a great view of the city from the middle of nature.
DIRECTIONS From the coffee shop, cross the bridge and stay to the left toward Kauppatori (Market Square). You'll find a small building in which you can purchase ferry tickets to Suomenlinna at Kauppatori Salutorget. Tickets are a few dollars per person and ferries run often. Grab the next boat and head over to the fort. Once on the island stay left - the right side doesn't have much other than attacking geese and a desolate disc golf course.
TIP It can be windy on the islands, so a wind-breaker jacket is ideal.
Kauppatori is a daily market in the streets of Helsinki. There are numerous vendors with clothing, souvenirs and food. If you want an authentic and reasonably priced lunch, pick a vendor, grab a plate of food and sit on the steps of the water. If it's raining, head over to Kauppahalli (Old Market Hall) instead. It's an indoor version of the Kauppatori market and worth seeing, even if you ate at Kauppatori. You’ll find Kauppahalli just at the end of the Kauppatori market and to your left.
DIRECTIONS Arriving back on the mainland from Suomenlinna, walk a few steps to the rows of tented stalls and you're in the Kauppatori market. There are tons of food stalls and it's the perfect place to have an authentic late lunch.
TIP Finnish food is interesting. Although everything is tasty, it can be different for children. If your kids aren't adventurous eaters, stick to more basic items - there are plenty in this area.