Grab your festive knitwear and head to the cracking Christmas markets in Finland, where snow-topped cabins serve holiday goodies, from hot pancakes to authentic Finnish decorations.
Here, cities and lakeside towns glow with illuminations and Christmas trees glitter in grand squares as choirs sing carols. You can even meet the big man himself, as the official home town of Santa Claus is in Finland. With some glögg (mulled wine) in your hand and Finnish festive joy in your heart, you’ll find there’s nowhere more magical.
Rovaniemi Santa Claus Village
Pretty Jyväskyla comes to life at Christmas, with festivities kicking off as the great illuminations switch-on covers the town in sparkle. Expect carol concerts and singalongs, outdoor festive film viewings and a Christmas park packed with glittering light installations. Jyväskyla, just three hours by train from Helsinki, has two Unesco sites – Petäjävesi Old Church and Oravivuori Triangulation Tower – and is surrounded by 3,700 spectacular lakes, including the longest in Finland. Jyväskyla isn’t just for Christmas, but it sure is spectacular in December.
Artisan’s Christmas Market
A special mention goes to Jyväskyla Artisan’s Christmas Market, sprawled inside the Craft Museum. The weekend-long festive bonanza showcases stalls by the best of local Finnish craftspeople and designers selling jewellery, clothing, traditional wooden trinkets, decorations and more. When you’ve stuffed your stockings full of tinsel and trinkets, visit the Christmas cafe to fill up on festive treats and listen to enchanting carol singers. The museum is free for market-goers.
Helsinki Christmas Market
Chilly Helsinki turns warm and bright at the Christmas Market in historic, cathedral-topped Senate Square. Huddle around bonfires and tuck into traditional sweet treats before browsing picturesque stalls selling jewellery, home-made jams and wintry woollies. Be sure to stroll down Aleksanterinkatu, known as Christmas Street, where the homes are extravagantly decorated. Since 1949, festive lights have been hung here as a symbol of hope after the devastating war years. Travelling with kids? Catch the late November parade and ensure they ride the free-of-charge vintage carousel.
Tampere Christmas Market
Tampere, a culture-packed, 18th-century Lakeland city and the second-biggest in Finland, is the perfect home for a traditional market. Snow-capped huts scattered around the dramatic architecture of Central Square boast theatre shows, glass-blowing demonstrations, the delicious Doughnut Cafe and the warming Glühwein Restaurant. Elsewhere, at Tallipiha Stable Yard, shop craft stalls for perfect gifts, tuck into pancakes browned over open flames and ride a horse and carriage through the glittering streets. You can fly or catch a train to Tampere from major Finnish cities.
Turku Christmas Market
The oldest city in Finland, 13th-century Turku is known as Christmas City, and wears the seasonal spirit like a festive jumper. Catch the historic, late November ceremony Declaration of Christmas Peace in the Old Great Square and check out the weekend festive fairs. The Market Square fair is small, while the Old Great Square version is family-friendly with concerts, fire shows and giant elves. Don’t miss the decked-up spruce tree by Turku Cathedral, the whimsical Path of Light illuminations or Yliopistonkatu (known as Christmas Street) with its sparkling decor.
Lohja Christmas Market
Over 200 stalls sit by the medieval St Lawrence church at Lohja, 60km (37mi) from Helsinki. Huddle around roaring outdoor fires at this atmospheric medieval-style market, pancakes in one hand and mulled wine in the other. Marvel at craft demonstrations by the happily overloaded stalls and buy delectable farm products to enjoy at home. It’s the largest two-day Christmas fair in the country – held on the second weekend of December – and the sounds of choirs ring out while the smell of gingerbread fills the air.
Porvoo Christmas Market
Just when you think Porvoo can’t get more enchanting, Christmas comes around. Think fairy lights strung above cobbled streets as snow coats the rainbow of colourful wooden houses, locals ski or sledge by the riverside huts and weekend-long markets dazzle. Check out the designer-led handicraft fete at the Art Factory for perfect present ideas, and the traditional Old Town Hall Square market – where locals wearing old-style costumes sell beautiful gifts, Christmas decorations and food. This unique and charming city is just 30 minutes from Helsinki.
This is a rewrite of an article originally by Jessica Wood.
Place yourself in the ideal spot to see the northern lights by booking one of the best hotels in Oulu, or opt for a stay in Rovaniemi. Alternatively, stick to the (slightly warmer) Helsinki; use one of the best hotels for every traveller as a base for the spectacular walking tours in the Finnish capital, before warming yourself up with a delicacy from one of the best bakeries in Helsinki.
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