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Helsinki Christmas | Celebrating the Holiday in Finland

The holiday season in Finland’s capital city is spectacular. Find out why celebrating a Helsinki Christmas is a special experience that we highly recommend.

Helsinki Christmas Market in Senate Square

We were scared to go to Helsinki at Christmas. Don’t get us wrong.

We added Finland to our wish list way back in April after we ate our first korvapuusti in Portland during the breakneck US road trip that kicked off our adventure to taste the world. It’s not that we didn’t want to go to Helsinki.

Our issue, or to be specific Mindi’s issue, was the December timing. Would we be able to handle the frigid weather and short winter days?

Dressed for Helsinki Christmas Weather
We came to Helsinki ready for the cold. Luckily, we weren’t that cold during the Helsinki holidays after all.

The potential intensity of the Helsinki winter weather was the concern that loomed in our minds as we flew from Barcelona’s warm Mediterranean climate to the cold Baltic climate of Helsinki. Finland is famous for its northern location. Plus, it’s the home city for Santa Claus.

Our concern, or dare we say fear, regarding the weather was completely justified.

We wondered if we would even want to leave the warm hotel room to explore Finland’s winter wonderland capital city. Plus, we knew that the days would be short, unlike the endless Finnish summer days.

Long story short, we loved being in Helsinki for the holiday season. And it wasn’t that cold after all.

What’s So Great About a Helsinki Christmas?

Street Performer for Helsinki Christmas
Helsinki is the closest we’ve ever been to Lapland, Santa’s home. Perhaps this was him. Either way, we enjoyed the sweet tunes of Hotel California as we walked by the Helsinki Central Railway Station.

Maybe it’s the proximity to Santa Claus’ Lapland home close to the North Pole in northern Finland, but there’s something magical about the Helsinki Christmas. The city is decked out with festive decorations that light up around 3:00 pm when the sun starts its daily decline.

Yes, Christmas Day in Helsinki is one of the shortest days of the year.

Kamppi Center Decorated for a Helsinki Christmas
The Kamppi Center gets all dressed up for Christmas. Luckily we saw the inside before it closed for the holiday.

Christmas markets dot the city, offering loads of shopping options, and the seasonal food is scrumptious. But the best part of the Helsinki Christmas may be the Christmas sauna, or at least it was for us.

Christmas Eve Day Sauna in Helsinki Finland
The Christmas sauna is a Helsinki Christmas tradition that gets our full support.

Pro Tip

Visiting Helsinki during Christmas can present some challenges due to businesses being closed for the holiday. Be sure to check restaurant and museum websites for the latest information so that you don’t miss out on your top destinations.

Even with the closure challenges, cold weather and shorter days, you should absolutely travel to Helsinki for Christmas. Here are the things you can’t miss during your Helsinki Christmas visit.

Christmas Markets

Helsinki has multiple Christmas markets, both indoors and outdoors. We checked out a few, but our favorite was the big Helsinki Christmas Market at Senate Square.

We loved the dozens of vendors selling folksy handcrafts, stylish pottery and warm winter gear. We could have easily bought gifts for our entire extended family at this Helsinki market, but we abstained since we’re not going home any time soon.

Artisan Crafts for a Helsinki Christmas
This adorable trinket caught our eyes at the Helsinki Christmas Market.

Instead, we bought glögi, the traditional Finnish holiday drink with mulled wine, almonds, raisins and sometimes vodka. (Sorry folks! This version did not contain liquor due to legal restrictions.)

We had wanted to try glögi, and the Christmas Market provided the perfect opportunity for our first taste of the warm elixir.

Glogi at the Helsinki Christmas Market
Hot glogi on a cold winter’s day? This is clearly a rhetorical question.

Perhaps it was our glögi-induced glow that attracted the reporters to interview us about market security, or maybe it was our American accents. Either way, we were featured in Finland’s leading newspaper, the morning Helsingin Sanomat.

Photo of 2foodtrippers at the Helsinki Christmas Market Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat
Photo Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Here are some Helsinki Christmas markets to check out:

Sparkly Lights

Helsinki Sparkles during a Helsinki Christmas
The streets of Helsinki are like an explosion of lights during the holiday season. The interiors of shops like Stockmann are equally impressive.

Helsinki is a pretty city with a well-maintained waterfront and interesting art deco architecture, but it’s hard to imagine the city looking any prettier than it does at Christmas time. Lights adorn every street, especially Alekanterinkatu which is dubbed Christmas Street during December.

Helsinki Reindeer and Christmas Tree for a Helsinki Christmas
Reindeer and Christmas trees make Esplanade Park festive for the holidays.

We especially loved the sparkly reindeer in Esplanade Park. We nicknamed them Randy and Rocky. Shh, don’t tell them that we ate their cousins during our Christmas Eve dinner.

Christmas Food

Christmas Eve Dinner at Hotel Katajanokka in Helsinki Finland
Our plate runneth over at the Hotel Katajanokka Christmas Eve dinner.

One of the best parts of a Helsinki Christmas celebration is the food. Helsinki residents enjoy special treats in December, culminating in a big Christmas dinner on the 24th.

After eating many of these foods all week, we celebrated the actual holiday with a bang at Hotel Katajanokka, a hip hotel located in a former prison right in the heart of Helsinki.

We partook in the hotel’s traditional Christmas buffet filled with a wide variety of Finnish specialties like pickled herring, roast beef, reindeer pâté and salmon as well as traditional Finland Christmas food delicacies including rutabaga casserole and baked ham.

Hotel Katajanokka is located at Merikasarminkatu 1, 00160 Helsinki, Soome.

Pastries

Helsinki Pastries for a Helsinki Christmas
We wonder how Helsinki locals stay so slim with so many Christmas pastries throughout the city.

The most famous, and possibly best, Finnish pastry is the danish-like, soft, buttery korvapuusti, which can be found year round though in more abundance at Christmas time. Star-shaped and filled with plum jam, the Joulutorttu is more unique to Christmas time, so this is the pastry to eat in Helsinki in December.

Who are we kidding – we didn’t meet a pastry in Helsinki that we didn’t love from fruity raspberry layer cake to paper-thin gingerbread cookies flavored with a hint of lemon. Do not miss the pastries in Helsinki!

Rice Porridge

Riisipuuro for a Helsinki Christmas
Riisipuuro, also known as rice pudding, is a breakfast favorite for Christmas in Finland.

Known as riisipuuro in Finland, rice porridge is a special breakfast item during the holiday season in Helsinki. Hot and hearty, milky rice porridge is highly satisfying, especially when topped with sugar and cinnamon. We liked adding stewed fruit to our rice porridge for extra flavor.

Rumor has it that one blanched almond is hidden in each pot of rice porridge, bringing good luck to the person who finds it. We never found an almond in our rice pudding, but we still felt lucky to be in Helsinki for Christmas.

Baked Ham

Baked Ham at a Helsinki Christmas Dinner
It wouldn’t be Christmas in Helsinki without baked ham, or so we were told.

After we finished the savory part of our Christmas buffet, a server confided in us that ham is the most traditional Christmas protein in Finland. Luckily we had eaten some ham along with salmon, herring, beef and reindeer.

Don’t worry, we ate some veggies too – we promise.

Casseroles

Christmas Casserole in Helsinki Finland
Christmas Casserole

We were surprised to see three different casseroles at the Christmas buffet. One smelled the most enticing, and that was the rutabaga casserole. We later learned that this particular casserole is a Christmas staple in Helsinki.

Glogi

Glogi Mug at the Helsinki Christmas Market
Glogi at the Helsinki Christmas Market

Glogi is the traditional Christmas beverage in Helsinki that we drank at the Christmas Market. It’s like a mulled wine but with almonds and raisins. For extra zing, some people add vodka. With or without the additional spirit, glögi is a warming way to toast the holiday.

Christmas Sauna

Baltic Sea Dip on Christmas Day in Helsinki Finland
Daryl took a dip in the frigid Baltic Sea during his Helsinki Christmas sauna experience.

It’s a tradition in Helsinki for locals to start Christmas Eve day with a soak in a blistering hot sauna and an ice-cold dip in the Baltic Sea. After doing some research, we chose Kulttuurisauna for our Christmas sauna experience.

We had wondered if this Helsinki sauna would be open on the holiday. As it turns out, Christmas Eve day is the sauna’s busiest day of the year.

Mindi chose to forgo the Finnish ice bath since she hates being cold. Daryl, in his desire to experience Helsinki like a local, jumped into the freezing water, letting the icy liquid reach his neck for about 10 seconds.

Daryl could feel the tingling of tiny pins against the skin of his legs as he thawed out in the warm confines of the social sauna clubhouse. He felt like an honorary local if only for the Helsinki Christmas.

Kulttuurisauna is located at Hakaniemenranta 17, 00530 Helsinki, Soome.

Helsinki Christmas Ferry to Tallinn Video

Watch our YouTube video for more of our thoughts on spending Christmas in Helsinki. We filmed this video en route to continue our holiday in Tallinn.

Plan Your Helsinki Stay

We stayed at two awesome hotels during our week in Helsinki and loved both of them.

The Aallonkoti Hotel Apartments, an apartment-style hotel with an on-site sauna, is just a short walk from the central train station. Solo Hotel Albert is a stylish hotel located just a hop, skip and jump from Kaffa Roastery.

Click here to find the best rates for these two 2foodtrippers approved hotels in Helsinki. Or, if you want access to a kitchen, click here to find an Airbnb apartment.

Hungry for More Finnish Food?

Check out ou Helsinki Food Guide with some of the best spots to eat in Helsinki.

Pin It for Later

Pinterest image: two images of Helsinki with caption reading 'Christmas in Helsinki'
Red Beach Selfie in Santorini

About the Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

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Disclosures

Sponsorship
We thank Visit Helsinki for sponsoring our stay to facilitate this and future articles. We also thank Hotel Katajanokka for hosting our Christmas Eve dinner.

Article Updates
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

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Michelle

Sunday 5th of November 2017

Wow! The city looks so beautiful all decorated but I don’t know if I could withstand the cold. Maybe if I drank enough of that Glogi I wouldn't care. Lol. I would love to visit the Christmas markets!!!

Piia

Saturday 4th of November 2017

Looks like you had a lovely Christmas in Helsinki, my home town. I am happy that you enjoyed your stay, hope you did not find our Christmas food too strange. I cannot believe it is only a few weeks until Helsinki Christmas lights are up again!

Anna

Monday 16th of January 2017

Nicely written Daryl & Mindi. Reminds me of my visit to Helsinki back in summer 2015 but missed some of the food you have mentioned. Owell next time (fingers crossed;)

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Saturday 21st of January 2017

We hope to return to Helsinki too. It's a wonderful city!

Jackie Taylor

Sunday 1st of January 2017

I am glad you had a lovely holiday! Helsinki looks like a beautiful place to spend time at during Christmas. Thank you for sharing, and I love all of your photos!

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Monday 2nd of January 2017

Thanks! Helsinki is a lovely city during the holiday season - hopefully you will experience it yourself one year.

Francesca

Thursday 29th of December 2016

So jealous. But I'm glad you enjoyed yourselves!

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Sunday 1st of January 2017

Thanks Francesca! We definitely enjoyed ourselves and hope you did the same wherever you celebrated the holidays this year.

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