Recently, I had the pleasure of touring Northern Europe. Besides relaxing and spending time with my family, my objective was to test the outer limits of the trip by discovering at least one family ecotourism activity in each of the cities that we would be visiting. In the first of a series entitled Ecotourism in Northern Europe, I invite you to appreciate the potential of Helsinki family travel. As the capital of Finland, Helsinki combines elements of both Swedish and Russian cultures, cuisines and attitudes. During the summer, Helsinki nights are brief and only last a few hours, which allows for ample opportunity to meander along the neighborhoods, markets, and parks.
This pedestrian-friendly city, which was built along a series of peninsulas and islands that overhang the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland, has a vast public transit system of buses, trams, and ferries as well as excellent biking and walking paths. And, if you get lost, you can always find a Helsinki Tourist Guide (wearing green vests) walking around and ready to help with a clipboard full of facts and maps.
Helsinki Family Travel Ecotourism Activities
- Helsinki and its outskirts have a decent network of trails that run through the downtown area as well as through parks, forests, and fields. Pick up a free sporting map (called Ulkoilukartta) which provides details about the trails. You can try the traditional Finnish activity of Nordic Walking or even rent a bike or use a free, city-provided bike (with fluorescent wheels), which can be dropped off at any of the 26 sites around the city.
- The Helsinki Zoo (called Korkeasaari Elaintarha) is a treat as well for the kids because the zoo is entirely housed on a small island. You can either take the metro and walk for 20 minutes to the zoo or take a short, 15-minute, ferry ride from Kauppatori (Market Square) directly to the island. Your round-trip ferry ticket also counts as the zoo entrance and children under 6 years ride to and enter the zoo for free. As it is the northernmost zoo in the world, the Helsinki Zoo houses snow leopards and reindeer as well as other atypical zoo animals, among very natural surroundings. There is an emphasis on conservation education as well as plenty of space for picnicking and lookouts. When the kids have had enough, the zoo also has ice cream stops and the Pukki Restaurant, which is a Nordic Swan Eco-Labeled self-service restaurant to rest.