If you ask me, Finland is the perfect travel destination for families. I joke that you can find a changing table and an highchair also in a snow desert there. Every place is stroller friendly, any restaurant is prepared to welcome children, and there’s plenty of nature for the whole family to enjoy. My husband and I have two small children now aged 3 and 5, and we’ve been so spoiled by living here that we now struggle to enjoy vacations abroad!
This year we made a resolution to explore Finland more and share its beauty and its hidden treasures. On this weekend we are visiting the region of Kotka-Hamina, about 130 km from the capital area where we live. If you wish to follow our trip live, head out to my Instagram account. And if you wish to see much better pics, make sure to follow the official feed of Visit Kotka-Hamina.
We started our holiday by driving to the Valkmusa National Park. Now, nature is the best aspect of Finland to enjoy. Finnish people themselves are children of the forest. Life here is tightly connected to raw and sometime rough nature. On the other hand, you don’t have to be an expert explorer to experience natural beauties, as most parks and forests have well-maintained trails, grilling stations, and picnic areas. There’s plenty of easy trails for families (2-4 km). Nature trails (luontopolku) are one of our regular family activities and we often walk the same trail in different seasons, to witness its natural cycles and spot new details.
There are few car parking spots to leave your car in Valkmusa. We walked the 2,5 km Simonsaari trail, which was suitable for both children. About half-way there’s an observation tower and a picnic area, where we had lunch and rested.
We crossed many open areas and only a minor portion of this trail went deep into the forest. We saw cloudberry plants for the first time up close. If you visit in late summer, bring a basket along as this place is mining field for blueberries (which can be freely picked in Finland).
After our family hike, we had an hour to kill before checking-in into our accommodation and wandering we discovered the hidden pearl of cafe Villa Monkholma. The owner shared her exciting story. She left a hectic and successful career in the capital area to move to Kotka, renovate and re-open the cafe 3 months ago. The building used to host a restaurant in the 90s, but was closed and stayed so for years.
We were served good coffee and ate homemade cinnamon cookies. In front of the cafe we could hear the rumbling waters of river Kymi. The area is known as the best salmon fishing spot in Southern Finland. We also found out that the town of Kotka has recently started the project of building a park there.
Kids were mesmerised by the view and the sound of water. We sat on the rocks and simply watched the river flow.
We then headed to our rental, rested, and drove to Kotka to visit Maretarium, the local aquarium hosting Baltic fish species. We could observe up close many of the fishes we usually eat (sorry, fishes). As a bilingual family, we appreciated that the lady at the ticket office handed us a list with Finnish-English-Italian translations of all fish names (I’m so gonna use that for shopping as well).
The aquarium regularly hosts children’s events and has a room with some fish-related games, toys, and activities. The most impressive part was the theatre, where one can pause, sit and watch a big tank with fishes swimming up close. The tank glass makes fishes seem at hand reach. Kids could sit close to the glass and watch carps and trouts swim by. At the very end of the place there are a couple of snakes and frogs to watch up close.
We ended our first day by visiting the local restaurant Wanha Fiskari, just behind Maretarium. We had a chance to eat local fish courses. I appreciated the restaurant offered several meal options for kids (and not only meatballs and fries or pasta bolognese).
They offer typical Finnish food (kotiruoka, “home food”) and I particularly liked my salmon soup. If you wish to taste Finnish cuisine, that’s a good place. We found it expensive, though, so be advised.
What a day! We didn’t have any energy left and we went to sleep happy and excited for the days ahead. I will share more on Kotka and Hamina in the upcoming days here on the blog and live in my Instagram feed. If you cannot wait, you can jump to the official town’s website and look up activities and places yourself. Stay tuned to find out more about this beautiful region of Finland!