Reasons to plan a Christmas trip to Helsinki

Christmas Markets

No Christmas travel feels quite complete without a visit to a Christmas market. In Helsinki, they start in November and go on until Christmas Eve. If anyone knows how to make socks and hats a Christmas-worthy gift, it’s surely the textile-king Finns. 

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Christmas Markets

Of course at every turn there are design-oriented objects and handicrafts too. Check out the seasonal produce. And who could resist artisanal wooden toys and decorations from Finland? 

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Christmas Markets

When you need sustenance, the food yard at the oldest market is the place to head. You can sip mulled wine around bonfires and admire the old-fashioned carousel.

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The opening of Christmas Street

The festive season is declared officially in swing in Helsinki on the day Christmas Street is ‘opened’ – this year it will be 19 November. Santa Claus himself puts in an appearance (by the way, he comes right through the front door and not down the chimney in Finland). 

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The opening of Christmas Street

The lights go on along Aleksanterinkatu – a custom going back to 1949 – then a parade takes place through city centre neighbourhoods.

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The opening of Christmas Street

It’s a chance to appreciate how Helsinkians soften winter’s darkness. Growing out of the tradition of candles, these days residents spread joy with carefully placed lights, sometimes coordinating designs across whole buildings. 

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The opening of Christmas Street

And don’t miss Stockmann’s, a department store with charming and impressive displays, particularly on Aleksanterinkatu and Mikonkatu streets.

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Saunas

Finns need no excuse to hop in a sauna but just in case, they’ve ensured there’s an age-old pre-Christmas sauna ritual to soothe you and get you all buffed up for the celebrations. Don’t forget to leave offerings of a bucket of water, a birch switch and beer for the Christmas elves.

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Saunas

Public saunas can be found throughout the city. Kallio district’s Kotiharju Sauna offers a retro vibe and allows your own snacks. Dive into a hole cut in sea ice in Löyly design sauna, looking out onto the Gulf of Finland. Or if you’re really feeling the Christmas spirit, you might want to try skinny-dipping at Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall.

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Independence Day

If your trip coincides with Finland’s Independence Day on 6 December, you’re in for a treat. Special events and concerts happen throughout the city, including a torchlight parade and the live broadcast Independence Day Ball at the Presidential Palace.

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Lucia Day

At Helsinki Cathedral on 13 December, the Lucia Maiden brings light to the darkness with her candles. A new Lucia Maiden is crowned there on the steps annually. In her white dress, red sash and crown she parades through the city, with a train of Christmas elves, horses and vintage cars.

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Christmas concerts

Christmas music is a big deal in Finland. In fact, Helsinki’s churches and concert halls host atmospheric choral and rock events across the Christmas season. The Most Beautiful Christmas Carols (Kauneimmat joululaulut) is a series of concerts held in churches throughout the city and country. 

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Christmas food

The Finnish food scene is exciting. From the autumn run-up to Christmas itself, restaurants will be combining modern Finnish cuisine with seasonal favourites, including cured ham, comforting casseroles, and of course herring and rosolli root vegetable salads.

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Porridge parties

You may even be invited to a ‘porridge party’ during the festive months. Building on the Finnish schoolteacher-led craze for Christmas tree parties in the late 1800s, University students began organising porridge parties – essentially a pre-Christmas get-together (‘pikkujoulut’ in Finnish, which literally translates as ‘Little Christmas’).

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A virtual Narnia

Finland is already 75% forest and now there’s even a little bit more. At Yle Kuusijuhla – a magical advanced reality experience –you can stay warmer than in the wilds and you may even come face to face with forest creatures in a Christmassy wonderland. Taking place at Mall of Tripla, Tapahtuma-aukio Square on 11 and 12 December, from 10am to 6pm. Entry is free.

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Boxing Day dances

Most Finns spend Christmas Day peacefully with their families, but on Boxing Day Helsinki bursts back to life. Restaurants and clubs hold dances, people gad about on sleigh rides and sledding, and the cinema is a popular option for cosy entertainment.

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