Why come to Finland for a holiday? What’s there to see and do for a family? Isn’t it too cold? Don’t be surprised if you hear these questions and similar ones as soon as you casually mention that you’ll be spending your holidays in Finland. However, the stunning beauty of the country’s natural landscape, its charming cities and deep boreal forests and the mystery that surrounds it makes it a great destination for a family trip.
Bordering Russia, Sweden and Norway, Finland is a place with great people, diverse culture, good food and delicious coffee. Its lakes, fells, rivers and expansive wild areas along with the certainty of snow in winter make it a Nordic playground both in winter and summer. There are plenty of places to visit in Finland and you may find it overwhelming to decide where to start.
Despite its northernmost location, the country maintains a relatively mild climate year round thanks to its many lakes and the warming Gulf Stream that flows in off the Norwegian coast. Winters, however, can be incredibly cold but it’s also peak season for travellers looking forward to enjoying snow activities, the Northern Lights experience and much more!
If visiting Finland in winter is your plan, renting a car to be able to see and do as much as possible at your own pace can be the perfect thing to do for you and your family. Fortunately, driving in Finland is fairly easy. The country has a good road network and roads are well maintained. However, drivers should make sure that they understand the winter road regulations and know how to use everything in their car before they leave the rental lot. Remember to have winter tires placed, preferably studded. If you’d like to rely on extra safety for your road trip, you can always purchase a reliable and thorough car rental insurance policy and take it with you even before leaving for Finland!
As of July 26 2021, traffic from the EU and Schengen countries to Finland is allowed without restrictions. Fully vaccinated travelers will be allowed to visit Finland for nonessential purposes without needing to quarantine or take a COVID-19 test.
Enjoy Helsinki, the Finnish Capital City
Quite unsurprisingly, Helsinki is the first destination that most foreign travellers discover upon their arrival to Finland. It’s the cultural, political, economic and entertainment capital of the country and seduces visitors with its great green parks and seaside location and refreshing and relaxed vibe.
Even if you plan on exploring different areas of the country, you should really reserve some days to discover this wonderful city! It’s very interesting and there are lots to see and do. The city is very community-oriented and is walking friendly, with wide sidewalks and lots of green spaces.
The city boasts magnificent architectural wonders from old wooden and Neoclassical structures to Art Nouveau and modern glass buildings. Influenced by both Russian and European architecture, design lovers will have a blast here! And don’t miss the wide array of stores presenting the very best of Finnish design!
If you are also a history buff, make sure you don’t miss the chance to visit Helsinki’s Empire-style Senate Square. The impressive Helsinki Cathedral dominates the scene flanked by the Government Palace and the National Library. The statue of Alexander II can be found at the centre. At the SE corner of the square you’ll spot the Helsinki City Museum, which is housed in the oldest building in town.
Helsinki Cathedral is one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks. It’s a cathedral of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and it’s the largest religious body by membership in Finland. The building stands out because of its stunning design and many impressive features such as the 12 statues of the apostles on the roof.
Uspenski Cathedral is another highlight. It’s a red brick church with golden cupolas that will certainly remind you of churches you may find in Russia. It’s the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church and the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. It’s built upon a hillside looking over the city and harbor area.
Uspenski Cathedral is near Helsinki Skywheel, a large ferris wheel that sits by the harbour and that is quite difficult to miss. It offers one of the best ways to get nice panoramic views of the city and, since it’s heated, you can enjoy a ride in it even on the coldest days!
Temppeliaukio Church or Church of the Rock is a must-see in Helsinki especially for those interested in seeing a more unique religious building. This Lutheran church is built directly into the rock face and light enters through the skylight above the church. Yes! It’s an underground church completed in the late 1960s, excavated into solid rock and with a copper-lined dome. Its acoustics are impressive and it’s a venue for concerts during the summer months.
Museum lovers will also enjoy their stay in Finland as Helsinki has an incredible array of museums covering almost every interest. The National Museum of Finland is devoted to all things Finnish and it’s a must-see for sure. It covers everything from the history of the country to the people, art, culture with exhibitions and displays that range from Stone Age to the present day
Taking a canal cruise is one of the funniest things to do if you’re in Helsinki during the warmer months. Cruises depart from the Market Square and, for around 90 minutes, they sail across the peaceful canals that run through the city. Most of them will take you past highlights such as the Suomenlinna Fortress.
Admire Suomenlinna Fortress
Suomenlinna Fortress is one of Finland’s most popular attractions. It dates from the XVIII century and it was built to guard what was then the Swedish Empire against the threat of Russia and as a munitions store for the Swedish Army and Navy. The fortress is massive: it spreads across six linked islands and it has gun emplacements, huge walls and large buildings. In 1809 it fell to the Russians and it saw action during the Crimean War. Finland got independent from Russia in 1917 and today it’s mainly a tourism attraction. Located close to Helsinki, it offers visiting families lots of things to see and enjoy.
There are many interesting museums that are part of the fortress. The Suomenlinna Museum is devoted to the history of the fortress and islands in general and it’s the starting point of many of the walking tours. There’s also the Military Museum that displays a wide range of military hardware, a Toy Museum with toys from the early XIX century until the 1960s, the Ehrensvard Museum that focuses on the history of Suomenlinna during the Swedish period and the Customs Museum.
The fortress can be reached via a short ferry ride from Helsinki or you can also take an exciting helicopter tour!
Explore Lapland and Its Christmas Capital, Rovaniemi
Travelling to Finland with kids on a budget must definitely include experiencing the magical landscape of Lapland and the arctic. Meeting Santa Claus, riding a reindeer or husky pulled sleigh, watching the Northern Lights in awe or spending the night in a glass-domed igloo or sail in an ice-breaker are just a few of the plethora of wonderful experiences you can enjoy here! Lapland, in the northern half of Finland is an Arctic wonderland that embodies the natural and wild Finnish spirit. In a land with endless nights and endless days, you’ll have an unforgettable time here!
Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland and the official home of Santa Claus. Yes! When Santa is not squeezing himself down chimneys and crossing skies on a sledge led by reindeers, he spends his time in Rovaniemi. Needless to say, parents can make their children’s fairytale story come true by visiting Santa Claus Village, decked out in fairy lights and Christmas trees all year round! And don’t forget to say hello to Rudolph!
Apart from that, Rovaniemi is a haven for the intrepid traveller (and for those who have been naughty). It’s located within the Arctic Circle and there’s plenty to see, do and explore!
Rovaniemi and Santa Claus Village
Santa Claus Village is an enchanting landmark where you can meet Santa all year round! It’s located around 8km north of Rovaniemi and you can either take the Santa Express bus from the city centre to the Village or rent a private car and drive there yourself. There’s a shop with lovely Christmas gifts and the village post office is manned by staff in elf costumes and you can send a postcard with the Arctic Circle postmark!
There are plenty of things to enjoy here. Amongst them we can mention
Snowman World: It’s an amusement park where you can make and meet snowmen, slide down ice slides, indulge in local treats at the Ice Bar or Ice Restaurant and have a great day!
- Arctic Circle Husky Park: If you love Siberian huskies, don’t miss the chance to meet these beautiful dogs and their puppies. You can pet them, take pictures of them and enjoy short sleigh rides or husky safaris!
- Arktikum: It’s a science centre and museum where you can learn and explore the nature, history and culture of Northern Finland.
- Ounasvaara Ski Resort: It’s one of the best places to try downhill biking, tobogganing or skiing. With 10 different slides, you’ll find the one you like whether you are a pro or an amateur skier.
- Meet and greet Father Christmas: It’s one of the top things to do here for sure! See all his elves, take pictures with him and tell him what you want for Christmas!
- See the reindeers at the Reindeer Farm: You can visit Rudolph and his cousins at the farm in the village. You can also ride a snowmobile or explore the arctic wilderness on a sledge led by reindeers!
Chase the Northern Lights
Those visiting Lapland from August to April can’t miss the chance of catching glimpses of the awe-inspiring Northern Lights. This mesmerizing phenomenon is visible to the naked eye nearly everywhere in the area due to extremely low light pollution and clear skies. Even though nobody can guarantee you that you’ll be able to see them, since Finnish Lapland is located in the “aurora zone”, the frequency and intensity of the is at its highest.
The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are one of the world’s natural wonders and they attract tourists from all over the world to see them. You can try to chase them yourself or rely on specialized tours to improve your chances.
Cross the Arctic Circle
The Arctic Circle is the northern polar circle and it’s the most northern circle of latitude. Above this line lies the Arctic region, which consists of only about 4% of the earth’s surface. It runs only through 8 countries and Finland is one of them. In fact, it runs just north of Rovaniemi. Yes! You can “cross” the Arctic Circle by heading to Santa Claus Village. There, you’ll find markers, signs and a painted line you can cross. And you can even get an official Arctic Circle crossing certificate to commemorate the crossing!
While you can dance, walk, hop, run and jump to cross the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is the only place where you can cross it underground. In Santa Park, the Arctic can be entered 50 metres below the surface of the earth!
Sail on an Ice Breaker Boat
Those looking for a unique experience should consider sailing on an ice breaker boat as you can do from the town of Kemi in the north of Finland on the Icebreaker Sampo.
In this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you’ll be able to get an idea of everything that such an operational vessel is capable of doing. If interested, you can also take a swim and float in the frozen sea while wearing a full survival dry suit!
Visit Tampere and Enjoy the Lovely Moomin Culture
Tampere is one of the best family destinations in Finland. Located between two lakes, it’s an economical and cultural hub for central Finland and the heart of Moomin culture. Allow some time to explore Tampere Cathedral, Kaleva Church, Museum Vapriikki, Hatanpaa Arboretum, Nasinneula Tower, or Pyynikki Observation Tower _ from where you can enjoy great panoramic views of the city.
The fantastic colorful area of well-preserved wooden houses called Pispala is one of the most famous attractions of the city. Tampere is famous too for its rich cultural and social life with its exciting museums and public saunas. Talking about museums, children will enjoy the Moomin Museum, an art gallery that displays the original art and 3D tableaus as a multi-sensory experience. There’s an impressive reading room that contains Moomin books in different languages!