Visit The Happiest Country In The World: What To Do In Finland With Kids

We may not be able to answer what makes Finland the happiest country in the world, but we’ll explain why you should visit Finland with your kids. In this Go With Nugget episode, we talk to Cat Holladay, a mom of two, who moved her family from sunny Florida to Finland and fell in love with this Nordic country. Cat shares with us why Finland truly offers something for everyone: from pristine nature to unique wildlife encounters, to tasty food and stylish design. Have a listen and read on to get the insider scoop on everything you need to know for your perfect Finland family vacation.

80 min
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FINLAND WITH KIDS: WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER IT

Finland is the perfect country for outdoor loving families who want to experience one of Europe’s most intriguing nordic cultures. Weather you visit in the winter or the summer, each season holds its own unique charm and offers something for everyone in your family.

Finland isn't always at the top of people's destination lists,
but it should be.

— CAT HOLLADAY

KIDS WILL LOVE

Husky dogs and reindeer rides, Finnish candy aisle, seeing the northern lights

PARENTS WILL LOVE

Untouched nature, unique coffee culture, authentic sauna experience, beautiful Finnish textiles

GOOD TO KNOW

Fins believe that learning is best achieved through a little bit of risk in play, so some of the towers on Finnish playgrounds are a lot taller than you would see in other countries and a lot more precarious-looking. But try to step back and let your kids explore. You’ll be surprised by what they’ll push themselves to do if they’re given the chance.

Finland is very allergen-friendly. Almost everything in grocery stores is labeled for gluten, dairy and nut allergies. Most restaurant staff is also well-trained and happy to help with any concerns.

BEST TIME TO GO

It might come as a surprise, but Finland is enjoyable all year round. It just depends on what your family enjoys on vacations. Summer days are long and mild, and allow for lots of outdoor exploration. Winters hold their own special appeal and will certainly leave a lasting impression with your kids with lots of snow activities, snow-covered forests and the northern lights. Winter is the busy season in Lapland, especially around Santa’s official hometown, Rovanemie. So expect prices to be at their peak and lots of crowds. In the south, however, you may have many of the major sights entirely to yourself if you decide to visit in the colder months.

SUGGESTED NUMBER OF DAYS

To appreciate Finland’s diverse landscape and explore some of the more remote areas, Cat suggests you visit for at least 2 weeks. If you only have 1 week, it’s best to pick between the north or the south.

HOW TO SAVE MONEY

Norwegian Airline regularly offers flight deals from major U.S. cities to Helsinki. Also, keep your eyes open for deals where kids fly for free. Finnair, SAS and British Airways have offered deals like this in the past, and not just to Finnish destinations. 

Kids ride free, up to a certain age, on most Finnish trains and ferries. Be sure to check before you buy your tickets.

FUN FACT

Finnish people consume the most coffee in the world and the Finnish language has even distinct words for different types of coffee breaks, such as aamukahvi (morning coffee), päiväkahvi (day coffee), iltakahvi (evening coffee), and the most important, saunakahvi (sauna coffee). So, don’t worry about getting your coffee fix after your jet-lagged kids woke you up at 5 a.m.

WHAT TO DO IN FINLAND WITH KIDS: EXPLORE HELSINKI

What to do in Finland with kids: explore Helsinki

The harbor in Helsinki. Photo: Cat Holladay

Finland’s capital city has a cosmopolitan feel, but access to nature is never far. It’s also the perfect home base for day trips to the surrounding towns and islands. The town of Porvoo is a popular day-trip destination from Helsinki. Its tiny colorful houses offer Instagram-worthy pictures. Another fun day trip from Helsinki takes adventurous families across the Baltic Sea to Estonia and the medieval town of Tallinn.

KIDS WILL LOVE

Sampling Finnish chocolate, year-round outdoor swimming pools, harbor boat ride

PARENTS WILL LOVE

Trying local foods, traditional sauna with ocean views, visit a unique rock-carved church

THINGS TO DO IN HELSINKI WITH KIDS

Helsinki offers something for parents and kids alike. Here are some of Cat’s favorite activities.

TAKE A TOUR OF FAZER CHOCOLATE

An institution in Finland, Fazer is a family-run chocolate manufacturer that offers family-friendly tours, unlimited samples and terrific goody bags. Do we need to say anything else?

SWIM IN THE BALTIC SEA

Don’t worry, you don’t have to brave the Arctic temperature. Within Helsinki’s harbor, families  can visit Allas Sea Pool, a family-friendly pool and sauna landscape. The water is drawn from the Baltic Sea and the heated pool offers a welcoming 80 degrees Fahrenheit  (27 degrees Celsius) year-round. This is also a terrific place to introduce your kids to a traditional Finnish sauna experience. Cat took her son when he was just 3 years old, and he loved it. For her in-depth advice on how to visit a sauna with kids, read Cat’s sauna guide and make sure you listen to the full podcast episode.

VISIT THE MARKET SQUARE

Every Finnish town has a central market, but Kauppatori market in Helsinki is the biggest and most famous in Finland. You’ll find lots of local offerings, and it’s a terrific place to grab food. Make sure you sample at least some of the sausages. Your kids will like them, too! And if it’s raining, head over to Kauppahalli (Old Market Hall) for an indoor version of Helsinki’s famed market.

What to do in Finland with Kids:

Local specialties at Helsinki’s market square. Photo: Cat Holladay

EXPLORE FORT SUOMENLINNA

Fort Suomenlinna is a must for any history-loving family. But outdoor-loving families may find it equally charming, due to its unique sea location. A short ferry ride from downtown Helsinki, this UNESCO heritage site stretches across 6 islands. In addition to the main fort, families will find a submarine, a few cafes, and even a brewery. Cat recommends visiting in the spring and summer, when the island is covered in flowers and temperatures are more conducive to an ice cream treat.

What to do in Finland with kids: Fort Suomenlinna

Flowers cover the ruins of Fort Suomenlinna in early summer. Photo: Cat Holladay

CHECK OUT THE CHURCH OF THE ROCK

Temppeliaukio Church (Church of the Rock) might be one of the most unusual churches you drag your kids to see, but it’s worth it. Hidden under an unassuming mound of stone, this church is built directly into solid rock and is fully underground.

SUGGESTED NUMBER OF DAYS

5 days will let you take in all that Helsinki has to offer, while also allowing you to take a few day trips.

WHERE TO STAY IN HELSINKI WITH KIDS

Cat’s family enjoyed staying at the Clarion Vantaa for their spacious family rooms and abundant breakfast buffet. The family rooms even come with a little toy box for kids. The hotel is near the airport, but you can get into Helsinki in less than 30 minutes by train, and the train station is just outside the hotel.

WHAT TO DO IN FINLAND WITH KIDS: VISIT TAMPERE

At first glance, Tampere might seem a bit unassuming, but any parent who loves Scandinavian textiles and graphics will not want to miss this town, just 2 hours north of Helsinki. Tampere is the center of the Finnish textile industry and the perfect place to buy unique souvenirs made in Finland. It’s also home to an incredible textile workers museum that will appeal to parents and kids alike, thanks to its many hands-on exhibits. In summer, families can also visit Särkänniemi, an amusement park owned by the city of Tampere. Kids will love the rides and parents will appreciate that there is no hefty cover charge — instead, you only pay per ride and parents watching from the sideline have free admission. Särkänniemi is also home to an aquarium, a zoo and the largest tower in Finland, which also boasts a spinning restaurant.

KIDS WILL LOVE

Rides at Särkänniemi, breathtaking views from the Näsinneula observation tower.

PARENTS WILL LOVE

Learning about Finland’s textile industry, buying unique souvenirs, a meal with rotating views

WHAT TO DO IN FINLAND WITH KIDS: EXPLORE TURKU

What to do in Finland with kids: Visit Turku

You can easily spend half a day inside Turku Castle. Photo: Cat Holladay

A must for any castle-loving family, Turku is known for its incredible 13th-century castle, one of the oldest buildings in Finland. According to Cat, it’s also one of the most child-friendly castles you will find in Europe. They offer kid-focused guided walking tours and workshops specifically designed for little ones. There is even an entire kids section, the Children’s Castle, where children can dress up in costumes and partake in other hands-on activities. During the summer the castle might get crowded, but nothing compared to similar historic sites in other parts of Europe. In winter you will most likely have the castle entirely to yourself.

KIDS WILL LOVE

Wearing knight’s armor at the dress-up room, seeing the treasures of the Castle Elf 

PARENTS WILL LOVE

Rich history, amazing architecture, uncrowded experience

WHERE TO STAY IN TURKU WITH KIDS

Cat recommends Hotel Centro Turku, which offers spacious family rooms and a delicious breakfast buffet. Your kids will love sampling the fresh pastries with cloudberry jam.

WHAT TO DO IN FINLAND WITH KIDS: EXPLORE ONE OF FINLAND’S MANY ISLANDS

What to do in Finland with kids: Åland Islands

Summer is the best time to enjoy the beauty of the Åland Islands.

If you are visiting in the summer, Turku is also the gateway to the stunning Turku archipelago. A cluster of over 20,000 rocky islands, the archipelago is arguably one of Finland’s most beautiful natural landscapes. Cat recommends that your family rent a traditional self-catering cabin and enjoy a few days of complete seclusion.

Even further into the Baltic Sea, between Sweden and Finland, you’ll find another archipelago worth exploring with kids, the Åland Islands. Only 60 of the 6,500 islands are inhabited, but they are a popular summer retreat for Finns and Swedes alike.

KIDS WILL LOVE

Kayaking, experiencing the midnight sun, splashing in the water

PARENTS WILL LOVE

Outstanding seafood, island-hopping, pristine nature

What to do in Finland with kids: Turku Archipelago

Cat’s son is picking flowers on the Turku archipelago. Photo: Cat Holladay

What to do in Finland with Kids: Åland Islands

Rent a bike and explore the island’s cute little towns. Photo: Cat Holladay

What to do in Finland with kids: Visit Aland Island

Kids will love island-hopping by boat. Photo: Cat Holladay

What to do in Finland with Kids: Åland Islands

The islands are full of picturesque sceneries. Photo: Cat Holladay

SUGGESTED NUMBER OF DAYS

Cat suggests 3 days for each of the archipelagos to get a feel for the unique island culture.

GOOD TO KNOW

If you are short on time, there are ferries from Helsinki directly to the Åland Islands.

WHAT TO DO IN FINLAND WITH KIDS: VISIT RAUMA

What to do in Finland with kids: Visit Rauma

Beautiful wooden houses in Rauma. Photo: Cat Holladay

Rauma is home to some of the best-preserved wooden homes in Finland. Founded in the 14th century, its Old Town is now a UNESCO heritage site that still feels off the beaten path. The pastel-colored homes also make for an Instagram-worthy backdrop. So, get your camera ready and explore with your kids.

KIDS WILL LOVE

Tasty local pastries, bright colorful wooden houses

PARENTS WILL LOVE

Beautiful photo opportunities, wandering through the cobblestone streets, Saturday’s farmers market

WHAT TO DO IN FINLAND WITH KIDS: EXPLORE LAPLAND

Lapland in the winter is what most parents (and travelers, in general) will picture when they think of Finland — snow-covered forests, husky sleds, reindeer, ice fishing and the northern lights. If you are a kid who believes in Santa, you might also think of his hometown, which can be found far up north in Finland. While winter is the main tourist season in Lapland, summers also delight with tons of hiking opportunities, foraging for berries and experiencing the midnight sun. 

KIDS WILL LOVE

Getting up close with reindeers, riding with huskies, meeting Santa

PARENTS WILL LOVE

Eating smoked salmon, seeing ice castles, chasing the northern lights

THINGS TO DO IN LAPLAND WITH KIDS

What to do in Finland with kids: Husky Ride

Your kids will never forget a husky sled ride. Photo: Cat Holladay

GO ON A SLED RIDE

One of the biggest attractions when visiting Lapland is a sled ride through the snow-clad landscape. Your family can choose between husky dogs or reindeer rides and there are plenty of outfitters to pick from. But do your homework and make sure you go with a reputable company who treats their animals well. Cat’s family chose Safartica.

STAY AT A GLASS IGLOO

Staying in a glass igloo is a once-in-a-lifetime experience your kids will never forget. And if you are lucky, you may even see the northern lights right from the comfort of your room. On the contrary, staying at a snow hotel is probably something you’d want to skip, especially with kids. Cat’s family tried it, and despite the arctic sleeping bags, they got uncomfortably cold around 3 a.m. Instead of spending the night at a snow hotel, Cat suggests you buy a day pass and visit during the day.

What to do in Finland with kids: Glass igloo

Staying at a glass igloo isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it. Photo: Kristen Bou

What to do in Finland with kids: Snow Hotel

Cat’s son enjoys exploring the Arctic Snow Hotel in Rovaniemi, Finland. Photo: Cat Holladay

SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

The northern lights are phenomenal in Lapland, and it’s an experience your family doesn’t want to miss. They are best seen from November through March, and they tend to come out late, past midnight. While you might pause at the thought of overtired kids the next day, Cat ensures us it’s worth it to stay up for this natural spectacle. And while you could join an organized tour to see them, she thinks it’s more fun (and practical, with kids) to go out and look for them yourself. Cat suggests you find a public shelter with a fire pit, preferably next to a lake for a clear sightline. Then grill some sausages, make hot cocoa, play some games, and wait. You will not regret it. If you are interested in capturing the northern lights with your camera, Cat also has a guide on how to do it.

MEET SANTA

What to do in Finland with kids: Santa's Village

Santa Clause Village may be touristy, but it’s still a memorable experience. Photo: Cat Holladay

Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa. So, if your little ones believe in the jolly man with the white beard and the red coat, you’ll want to take them here! The best part, meeting him at the Santa Claus Village is completely free. However, private meetings and visiting his reindeers do cost money.

It's truly the best Santa Claus
I've ever seen.

— CAT HOLLADAY

NUGGET’S ADVICE FOR TRAVELING TO FINLAND WITH KIDS

Finland is one of the most family-friendly countries in Europe, but the weather can make it tricky when visiting with kids — especially in the winter months. Here are a few tips from local parents on how to enjoy Finland with kids, rain or shine.

TIP 1

drive careful in the winter

Roads in Finland are pristine and easy to navigate, but be careful during the winter. If you aren’t experienced in driving in (a lot of) snow and ice, it might be better to opt for public transit during the colder months. If you do decide to drive, be extra careful and go slow. The same advice applies to walking. Many towns will have (partially) heated sidewalks, but you still want to be extra careful when walking on snow and ice.

TIP 2

invest in proper clothing for a winter visit

Finland can be magical in the winter, and you’ll find Finnish kids playing outside all year round. For your family to find equal joy in the colder months, be sure to invest in proper clothing, including moisture-wicking, long thermal underwear and a durable outer shell. A pair of warm, waterproof snow boots are also a must.

TIP 3

consider taking the train

The train system in Finland is superb. You can easily explore all major cities by train, especially in the southern part of the county. For a special treat your kids will never forget, take them on the overnight Santa Claus Express train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi.

TIP 4

maximize daylight

This won’t be an issue in the summer, but if you are visiting in the winter you may only have 5 to 6 hours of daylight. Use those hours to explore outside, and once the sun sets head indoors. Maybe try a sauna for the first time. 🙂

ABOUT OUR GUEST

In January 2017 Cat Holladay moved from Gainesville, Florida, to Finland, with her son and husband. Upon her arrival, Cat was greeted with freezing temperatures and only 6 hours of daylight. Despite these minor drawbacks, she embraced everything Finland had to offer and immersed her family in its culture, history and nature. Now a mom of two, she is back in the States and still misses Finnish coffee culture, cozy winters and the seemingly endless summer days. You can read about her expat adventures and family travels at The Compass Is Calling. And, don’t miss her incredible Nugget itineraries.

What to do in Finland with Kids: Riding bikes

Cat biking with her son in Finland. Photo: Cat Holladay

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