Bucket list travel at its best.
Looking for a family-friendly destination that offers a truly unique bucket list experiences for both kids and parents alike? Then head on over to Finland! Yes, the flight is long (especially with kids) but trust us when we say it’s worth it. This Nordic country is globally ranked top for its clean air and water and is famous for being one of the best spots to catch the northern lights throughout the year. What really had us sold from the get-go though, is that it’s the official home of Santa Claus…we don’t know who was more excited – the kids or us!
Going so far and with so many bucket list experiences on offer, it’s important to plan ahead and make sure you make the most of your time in Finland. Read on for our specially curated five-day itinerary.
Best time to visit:
Northern lights: September – March
Winter and snow activities: November – March
Endless summer sun: June – August
Hong Kong to Helsinki direct on Finnair: 10 hours 40 minutes
Day 1: Helsinki
Arrive in Helsinki, Finland’s vibrant seaside capital city with lush green parks, stunning architecture and great shopping – who doesn’t love a bit of Scandi design? The city can be easily explored by foot (and strollers) and most sights can be covered over two days. Our top pick for where to stay is Hotel Kamp, conveniently located on the Esplanadi (Helsinki’s equivalent to the Champs Elysee) and within walking distance to all of Helsinki’s main attractions. This five-star stroller-friendly luxury hotel might be a pricier option but the proximity to everything will make it all worthwhile and will allow you to kick your holiday off in real style.
Sights you cannot miss in Helsinki:
Esplanadi – This is the heart of Helsinki and is quite literally an esplanade with an urban park. Soak up the atmosphere no matter what time of year you are visiting as each season brings something unique to admire.
Senate Square and its surrounding buildings (Helsinki Cathedral, The Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki and the National Library of Finland) make up the oldest and most historical part of central Helsinki. They serve as perfect examples of neoclassical architecture. Here, you can admire the monumental cathedral (Tuomiokirkko), the main tourist attraction of Helsinki.
In need for something to keep the kids entertained? Visit the Helsinki City Museum located right opposite Senate Square. Learn all about Helsinki’s history and visit a very special section called “Children’s Town” where the kids can have a play and burn off some energy.
Uspenski Cathedral is the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe with great aerial views of the city from the top. The red brick façade and golden onion domes illustrate the influence of Russia in Finnish history.
Helsinki Sky Wheel is an observation wheel where you can enjoy 360-degree views of the city. A short 15-minute ride provides breathtaking city and sea views. Tag team it with your partner where one of you can even visit the Sky Sauna underneath for a taste of a true Finnish sauna experience, while the other entertains the children at the Allas Sea Pool Park.
Market Square is Finland’s oldest outdoor market for fish, fruits, vegetables and other produce. Grab a bite and taste the local flavours, don’t be shy to try just about everything! If you like salmon, don’t miss the iconic salmon soup – you won’t be disappointed by this cream-based delight. For the real deal, devour this local favourite aboard a boat docked by the harbour. Keep walking and don’t miss visiting the indoor Market Hall that offers a more international variety of food.
Kappelli is Helsinki’s most famous and oldest dining establishments. Enjoy people watching while you dine through the restaurant’s glass veranda whilst admiring gorgeous views of the Esplanadi park. Its menu is extensive and they offer a fabulous children’s menu too!
Sassy Mama Tip: Be sure to make a reservation at Kappelli and request a table by the window for the best experience.
Day 2: Suomenlinna
Venture out early to explore the rest of what Helsinki has to offer – there’s so much more! Take a leisurely morning walk on the stroller-friendly streets of Helsinki to Temppeliaukio Church also known as “Rock Church” as it is built into solid rock.
Seen enough of the city? The archipelago of Helsinki consists of approximately 330 islands, providing great options for a day trip out. Catch a short 20-minute ferry from the Market Square pier to Suomenlinna, Helsinki’s most famous island. This sea fortress has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a unique monument of previous military architecture. Your little ones will love running free on the walking trails and exploring tunnels which lead to popular sights like “Kings Gate”. Get up close to real cannons that were left behind from the Russian era and further into the island, you can even step inside Vesikko, a restored Second World War Submarine. Watch local glass blower artisans create sculptures; vases and other ornaments that are available for purchase which make for some fantastic souvenirs.
Sassy Mama Tips:
- Check the ferry timings to Suomenlinna to avoid a long wait at the pier and plan your journey accordingly as the ferries run every half hour.
- Check the weather forecast for sunny skies.
- Vesikko is open only during summer and early autumn
Day 3: Ivalo in Finnish Lapland
Go North! Fly out of Helsinki to Ivalo in Finnish Lapland and visit the spectacular Kakslaustatten Arctic Resort. Tucked away 40 minutes from the airport and 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Kakslaustatten is the home of the iconic glass igloos.
This Insta-worthy hotel is one that will certainly spark a lot of holiday envy on your feed and will create magical memories for your children – waking up inside a glass igloo is pretty epic! Boasting an array of cosy cabins, cottages and glass igloos, it recently introduced a new hybrid, the Kelo Glass Igloo that combines the best of both worlds, a log cabin with a glass igloo.
It comes fully equipped with a private fireplace and sauna, trust us when we say you won’t want to leave. Each room is also fitted with an Aurora Alarm System to ensure that sleep won’t get in the way of witnessing nature’s greatest light show. Nestled deep in the Arctic wilderness, Kakslaustatten has two main restaurants that are open daily, Restaurant Aurora with a Glass Igloo bar and Restaurant Kelo. Both offer local Lappish cuisine with a rustic feel. Kakslaustatten has just completed the construction of a 30-meter-high glass igloo tower where you will be able to enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding arctic wilderness and get even closer to the magical arctic sky. If you are really lucky you can have an Aurora Borealis party from right up here.
There is a wide range of excursions that will keep you busy during your stay at this stunning Arctic resort depending on the time of year you visit, just be sure to plan them in advance! Choose from husky sledding, snowmobiling, meeting Santa, gold panning, midnight sun spotting, and northern lights hunting on a Reindeer Sleigh (need I mention more?).
One activity that surely shouldn’t be missed, no matter what time of year you visit, is husky sledding. Well-trained huskies pull you through forest trails with the wind on your face you can inhale the scent of fresh pine (what a contrast from Home Kong!). End the safari by visiting the husky farm meeting cute puppies and cooking traditional Finnish pancakes in a tepee on a log fire.
Visit during late autumn through to winter and stay in the Kelo Glass Igloo room for the highest chances of viewing the northern lights. All you have to do is look straight up at the heated glass ceiling from the warmth of your bed. This is truly #bucketlisttravel at its finest.
Sassy Mama Tip: Invest in a decent camera. Auroras (the northern lights) are relatively dim and is often at the limit of what human retinas can pick up. Cameras, though, are often more sensitive, and with a long exposure setting you can pick up some spectacular shots.
Day 4: Rovaniemi
Head south to Rovaniemi, the Capital of Finnish Lapland, to explore the “official” home of Father Christmas. It’s the perfect trick to keep your kids “nice” till Christmas! Our top pick for a modern, yet luxury stay is the Arctic Treehouse Hotel, located right next to Santa Park and a mere two kilometres to Santa’s Village. Each room is perched on stilts, winning this hotel multiple design awards. Choose between Tree House Suites, Glass House Suites and Executive Suites depending on your party size.
For the best family option, stay at the Glasshouse suites that offers two bedrooms, a private sauna, fireplace and an outdoor deck – sip on some hot chocolate and snuggle up to the warmth of your private fireplace. If you get really lucky, you can even enjoy views of the northern lights from your own room. Rakas, the hotel’s restaurant is renowned in Rovaniemi and rightfully so as it serves up delicious meals, using fresh, local ingredients and caters to all dietary requirements.
Sights you cannot miss at Santa’s Village:
Santa Park, an underground Santa theme park where you will spend the day with Santa’s elves. Take a lesson in elf school, make gingerbread men with Mrs Claus and ride a magic train. This incredible experience will be one you and your family will treasure for years to come.
Santa’s Village is the main attraction in Rovaniemi for children and adults alike, where you can feel the Christmas spirit all year round! Meet the jolly ol’ man himself at the Christmas house and let your kids share their Christmas lists ensuring that they will be on their best behaviour for days!
Cross the official Arctic Circle line (yes, there is an actual, physical line) and enjoy the festive atmosphere no matter when you visit.
Drop by Santa’s Post Office, run by the Finnish postal service, where Santa’s elves help you post your letters anywhere in the world, chopped with an Arctic Circle postmark.
Get up close with the friendly Reindeers whilst feeding them at Arctic Reindeer Farm. There’s even a local petting zoo – Elf’s Farm Yard – where you can feed sheep, chickens, ducks and turkeys
Didn’t get enough of the huskies in Ivalo? Head on over to Husky Park for another safari or for a tour around the farm. If visiting during the winter months, you can even go snowmobiling through the snowy forest.
Sassy Mama Tips:
- Check opening dates and times for Santa Park as it is closed during certain months.
- Book your activities in advance as they get full fast (especially Northern Light excursions). The Arctic Treehouse Hotel can help you with this if you are staying with it.
Day 5: Ranua Wildlife Park
Fancy a day trip to see some arctic animals? Book an excursion with Safartica to Ranua Wildlife Park to witness Finland’s wonderful wildlife. Get close as you will ever get to polar bears, an arctic fox, a brown bear, wolves and many more. Ranua Wildlife Park is home to over 50 arctic and northern animal species and provides nursing and care for lost or hurt animals.
The trail through the wildlife park is built on a wooden footbridge and in the summer strollers are available to rent making it a perfect day trip out of Rovaniemi! Get back into the city in time to explore the stunning architecture of the Arktikum Science Centre and Museum. Learn about the northern culture, history as well as the devastating effects of climate change in the Arctic Circle. The interactive displays will have the kids entertained for the rest of the afternoon and equip them with knowledge, a strong message and a call to action to do their part in tackling climate change.
It’s a short walk from the Arktikum to Rovaniemi’s cute city centre. Walk down to the Kemijoki river to admire Lumberjack Candle Bridge, Rovaniemi’s most significant landmark which also serves as a great photo spot.
Be sure to check out Café & Bar 2, a local favourite, for some great cocktails and the best savoury (or sweet) waffles in town! Not feeling waffles? Not to worry, for a small city, Rovaniemi surprisingly offers many different cuisines to suit a variety of palettes – just have a roam around to explore for yourself.
Enjoy your last night in this beautiful country, reflecting on the wonderful experiences that will be treasured by the whole family for years to come.
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