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Helsinki Christmas Market in Senate Square

Helsinki Christmas – Enjoying the Best of the Holiday Season in Finland

In Europe, Finland by Daryl & Mindi Hirsch31 Comments

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.

Check Helsinki Hotel Rates

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:

Christmas Market
Women’s Christmas Fair
Ornamo’s Design Christmas Market
TRE Christmas Market
Teurastamo Christmas Market

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. (See below).

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

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more meals and conversation with the 2foodtrippers.


Hungry for more? Check out our Helsinki Food Guide with some of the best spots to eat in Helsinki.


Research Helsinki Hotels

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.

Book a Tour

Have we convinced you to celebrate Christmas in Helsinki? Click here to find an awesome Helsinki tour during your visit or try one of these tours:

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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.

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Comments

  1. The food and the dessert look yum especially the pastries!! The city looks so nicely lit up in Christmas lights. Great captures and how brave of you to take a dip in the icy cold water. πŸ™‚

    A lovely write-up and a great guide. We would love to visit Helsinki someday.

    1. Author

      You should definitely visit Helsinki. It’s a wonderful city.

  2. its my dream to celebrate Christmas in Europe. i have been seeing so many posts and news how awesome is to celebrate it in Europe. This post make me believe more. Food looks delicious.

    1. Author

      Europe is magical during the holiday season. You really should plan a visit for 2017 – you won’t be sorry.

  3. This all looks so fun and delicious. That rice porridge would be fabulous for breakfast. But I’m with Mindi on the Christmas sauna tradition. Sauna yes, ice bath, no way! But I would love to experience every thing else and must put this on my list.

    1. Author

      Donna, you would love Helsinki for its style and food. Hopefully you can “swing by” the next time you’re in Europe!

  4. I’ve never heard of a rutabaga casserole, but I’d love to try it. I’d be down for the sauna, not sure about the dip in the freezing water tho. Brrrr. Sounds like Helsinki is a great place to be during the holidays!

    1. Author

      If you like comfort food, then you’ll like rutabaga casserole. Hopefully you’ll visit Helsinki one day and try it yourself!

  5. Glad it was warmer than expected. Christmas in Helsinki looks so fun and festive. Of course, you guys found some awesome food too. We’d love to visit Helsinki.

    1. Author

      It wasn’t hard to find awesome food in Helsinki. We’ll be writing more about that later. And you should definitely visit Helsinki – it’s an awesome city.

  6. Great Helsinki review! It’s been a lot of time since my last cup of glogi, and I’m not sure if I want another cup again, at least to get warm.

    1. Author

      We highly recommend the saunas in Helsinki, especially on Christmas Day.

  7. This looks so awesome! I always head for warmer weather during the winter months but this is making me reconsider it. The food looks incredible but I have to know– how was the reindeer pate? It seems interesting, to put it nicely!

    1. Author

      We’re kind of crazy to be in cold weather for winter after being in SE Asia for summer, but it feels kind of right. Then again, we’ve been lucky that the weather has been relatively mild so far. As for the reindeer pate, it tasted like regular pate – very tasty.

  8. Helsinki indeed looks like a great place to spend the holidays! Never thought of it as the closest place to Santa’s Workshop but it’s true!! Food looks amazing as well πŸ˜‰

    1. Author

      We highly recommend Helsinki for the holidays! If we do it again, maybe we’ll meet the real Santa and not just the musical Santa.

  9. I miss Xmas in Europe! The food, the snow, the hot wine.. they’re just not the same when you’re in Aus! I’ve actually been thinking about visiting Helsinki in the summer and would love to try the pastries and the casseroles – but I think I might skip the rice porridge – it’s not really my thing!

    1. Author

      No worries – the rice porridge is seasonal for the holidays. The sauna even served it on Christmas Eve day as a special treat. You will have a wonderful visit in the summer and will surely find lots of great food!

  10. I’d love to explore Europe at Christmas time! It looks like a fairytale! I never consider Helsinki for Christmas markets but I’ll have to remember!

    1. Author

      Helsinki really does Christmas right with the markets and decorations. You should check it out in the future, maybe next year.

    1. Author

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

  11. 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!

    1. Author

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

  12. 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;)

    1. Author

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

  13. 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!

  14. 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!!!

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