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Finnish Lapland is quickly becoming one of the top travel destinations for families with children, especially for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit Santa’s village and ride in a reindeer sleigh. As amazing as these opportunities are, there are many more things to do throughout Finland at any time of year that parents and children can enjoy together. Here are some of the best places to take children in Finland for fun and educational adventures.
The Moomin’s theme park on the Turku archipelago is a must-visit for children and a nostalgic guilty pleasure for adults. It’s considered by some to be one of the best children’s theme parks in the world. You can visit the Moomin’s house, the Hattifatner’s cave and Snufkin’s campsite, and meet costumed Moomin characters. Various stage shows and workshops are held in multiple languages. You can also pick up some Moomin merchandise and food and then spend some time relaxing on the beach.
The Särkänniemi complex in Tampere contains an amusement park, observation tower, aquarium, art museum, planetarium and arcade, so there is literally something for everyone. Children especially love the Angry Birds land (another Finnish franchise popular with children), and there are plenty of thrill rides for older children, too.
A great way to get kids excited about science, Heureka in Vantaa has exhibits on practically every area of science and technology with interactive activities for children. This includes seeing rats playing basketball, watching planetarium shows and minting coins.
It isn’t only reindeer that children love to see in Finland. Their larger cousins, the moose, are well worth a visit, too. The Moose Manor Hirvikartano is situated in the backwoods of Finland and allows children to get up close to tame moose, reindeer and fallow deer.
It’s not often you get to see a European brown bear up close, either. The Predator Centre in Kuusamo, run by Finland’s famous ‘bear man’ Sulo Karjalainen, raises orphaned bears, as well as foxes and lynx, and allows visitors to observe them and learn more about them. Watching the bears at feeding time is especially fun, as the giant predators suddenly turn into cuddly critters demanding food.
For something a little different from a reindeer sleigh ride, try a husky safari through Lapland. Husky safaris can last anywhere from an afternoon to several days, and offer a ride on a sledge through a winter wonderland. Some centres will also allow children to try out mushing and visit with the huskies and their puppies.
This is one of Tampere’s most unusual museums and also the most fun for kids. Interactive exhibits allow both adults and children to feel like James Bond, with exhibits about lie detector tests, making fake IDs, ciphers and eavesdropping. You can also learn some of the fascinating stories behind real-life spies and KGB agents.
For both kids and adults who love dressing up, the Viking market held in Åland every July is perfect. The village of Saltvik is taken back in time for a weekend with costumes, trade stands, workshops, live entertainment, feasts and historical enactments. It is especially ideal for children who are learning about the Vikings at school, as they can feel as if they are in a real Viking village.
The soaring towers of Olavinlinna Castle are probably the closest that Finland has to a real-life fairy tale castle, even if its gory and violent history is far from romantic (yet still appealing to children’s morbid sense of humour). As well as a tour of the castle, there are historical costumes to try on, children’s workshops and family shows at the world famous Savonlinna Opera Festival.
You may not have imagined that you could go gold panning in Finland, but you can at Tankavaara in Lapland, the centre of the Finnish gold rush. Any gold and gemstones that visitors uncover are theirs to keep, making for a highly unique and personal souvenir. The site also has a gold museum, husky sledging, reindeer, snowmobiles, a Lappish restaurant and regular events.