Helsinki is vastly expanding, but it’s still a pocket-sized city. It is remarkably family-friendly, even if you have small kids in tow. All public transport is easily accessible with strollers, shopping centers have special childcare rooms and most restaurants offer high chairs and special menus for kids.
Finland is known for its nature and design—and Helsinki combines these two perfectly. Located by the Baltic Sea, during summer you are never far away from the fresh sea breeze. Parks and playgrounds can be found in all the neighborhoods. Most famous Finnish design brands—Iittala, Arabia, Marimekko, Minna Parikka, Finlayson and Artek, for example—are all to be found within walking distance of each other. And if you decide to visit the flea market, you are bound to find these brands there too, at discounted prices.
If you’re exploring Helsinki with your kids, here are three great neighborhoods to check out.
Neighborhood 1: Central Helsinki
Central Helsinki is where tourists habitually linger. It is located between the main Market Square, Helsinki Cathedral, The Esplanade Park and Railway Station. Three big shopping centers—Forum, City Center and Kamppi—and two department stores—Stockmann and Sokos—as well as stores of many major Finnish design brands fall into this area, making it a shopper’s paradise.
Highlights for my own kids around this area include exploring the Stockmann’s toys department, operated by British toy giant Hamleys, an ice cream picnic at Esplanade Park and a visit to Hard Rock Cafe.
Stay at Hotel Haven
This luxury hotel is part of a Finnish hotel chain Kämp Hotels, which offers options for high-end travelers. The hotel somehow manages to combine the feeling of luxury with coziness. It has large rooms, fantastic lobby bar and the breakfast is served in classic surroundings with sea views. I have stayed here with babies, and the experience was still hugely relaxing.
Eat at Bronda
This restaurant might not have a family friendly feel to it at first. It is upscale, and has the sort of glassware you want your kid not to touch. But be not afraid, the restaurant regularly takes part in “Families Lunch” happenings, which are organized to encourage families lunch and dine together more often in restaurants.
Have a cup of coffee at Café Köket
This cafe and restaurant has fun decoration, lots of space, a small play area for the kids and nice food and coffee. It is located in historical building and surrounded by host of designer shops, including Lumi, a Finnish luxury handbag company.
Visit Kiasma Museum of Modern Art
The museum frequently offers art workshops for small kids, which my toddlers loved. Older children can follow so called Monster’s Route located with the museum’s permanent collection. This should make contemporary art more interesting to any pre-teen.
Shop at Stockmann’s Department Store kids section
Stockmann is the largest department store in Scandinavia and has lately put more effort in offering the best in fashion. In the sixth floor of the store you find a host of Finnish kids fashion brands such as Gugguu, Mainio, Metsola, Vimma and Papu.
Neighborhood 2: Hipster Helsinki
The neighborhoods of Hakaniemi, Kallio and Sörnäinen used to be working class, a bridge separated these neighborhoods from the wealthier parts of Helsinki. The bridge is still here. But in recent years these areas have grown very upper middle class, in a hipster way.
These neighborhoods are classified as having the most liberal population in whole Finland, and you find plenty of good—but also the rough side of life—in their streets.
This is the neighborhood in which I gave birth to my first kid. Plenty of families still live here, but since the area is quite vast and needs exploring, I suggest it to be visited with older kids.
Stay at Scandic Paasi
My four year-old daughter fell in love with this hotel. I suspect it is because they offered her a kid’s tattoo and there was a huge bath tub in the room. The hotel is part of Scandic Hotels chain, known for its family friendliness, but this hotel has somewhat smarter feel to it.
Eat at Teurastamo
A Finnish, mini-sized answer to New York’s Meatpacking District, this former butchery has restaurants, grill and distillery among others. During summertime it also hosts a variety of happenings, many of them directed towards families.
Have a cup of coffee at Cafe Cardemumma
This small cafe has grown into somewhat classic in the area. Kids are entertained with pastry as adults rejuvenate with caffeine.
Sauna is essentially Finnish, and this is the rare neighborhood which still has some public saunas. Kulttuurisauna is somewhat a design version of the original thing. While not suitable for small kids, for families with teenagers and who have no hesitation to nudity, this is a must. Women and men bathe in separate saunas. www.kulttuurisauna.fi
Shop at Frida Marina
This is a neighborhood which has quite a few secondhand shops. Frida Marina offers more the vintage end of the branch. Don’t forget to visit the old toy shop almost next door, called Wanha Kaarle.
Neighborhood 3: Seaside Helsinki
Helsinki is surrounded by the Baltic Sea. Seaside Helsinki includes the neighborhoods of Punavuori, Eira and Ullanlinna. All of them are wealthy areas, with a positive and still non-exclusive vibe in them.
These are parts of Helsinki with plenty of parks, boutique shops and small cafés and restaurants to be found. In this area, there are located also two harbors of Helsinki. From here you can catch a ferry to Sweden and Estonia, and during summer months international cruise lines anchor themselves here. Harbors are worth to visit with kids even if you are not planning to take a cruise, since at least the sight of these huge ships makes my kids excited.
Stay at Hotel Indigo
Cool and easygoing, this hotel is very much a favorite among urban travelers who want a nice, quirky room, but who spend their days exploring the city. The hotel staff is trained to give advice on what to do and see in the area. The hotel has a small gym, and also a yoga room for those who want to keep up with their aerial yoga or pilates routine even on a holiday. www.helsinki-boulevard.hotelindigo.com
Eat at Tori
This restaurant combines the creative types and mommies with their babies in a super-easy way. Their meatballs and salmon soup are must-haves.
Have a cup of coffee at Café Ursula
This seaside café has perfect views and it is great for stopping by after a day of walking and playing in the attached Kaivopuisto Park. www.ursula.fi
Visit Kaivopuisto Park
This is where Helsinkians flock during summertime. Easily accessed by tram or walking, not huge but big enough for a game of ball with kids or sunbathing in calm, Kaivopuisto should be part of every family’s trip to Helsinki. Finnish people tend to be outdoorsy, and especially kids are believed to need couple of hours of fresh air every day, so this is where you see local families hanging out.
Shop at Tikau
Tikau is a local brand selling ethically produced pillowcases, scarves and likes. The brand works directly with over 100 artisans in rural India. The shop also has visiting brands and kids wear, all made ethics and values in mind. www.tikau.com