There’s no better place to be at Christmastime than Finland, the home of Santa Claus and a winter wonderland. If you can’t make it all the way up to Lapland, there are just as many seasonal delights to be found in the southern capitol city of Helsinki, even if it doesn’t always snow. It will be even more exiting in 2017, when Finland’s 100th anniversary celebration will also be taking place during December. These are some of the top things to see, do, and buy in Helsinki this Christmas season:
Buy some homemade ornaments
Handmade Christmas decorations and ornaments not only have more of a personal touch than store bought ones, they go a long way to supporting independent artists. You can find some unique Scandinavian ornaments at any of the Christmas markets, flea markets, or at independent stores throughout Helsinki.
Go ice skating
It sounds like a cliché, but Helsinki is a great city for winter ice skating. Several artificial rinks are set up throughout the city during the winter, the most popular being in the central square next to the train station. To beat the lines, you can visit one of the recreational skating tracks set up in the public parks. If it is cold enough for the sea to freeze over, you can skate on that too, but this should be done with caution.
Drink some glögi
Finland’s version of mulled wine, which often includes an almond for good luck and is sometimes topped up with vodka for an extra kick, is a popular Christmas treat. Gingerbread cookies are common accompaniments with glögi. Coffee shops and stalls at Christmas markets often serve freshly brewed glögi, which is ideal for warming up in the cold.
Go shopping on the Christmas Street
Aleksanterinkatu is dubbed the official ‘Christmas street’ of Helsinki and displays some of the city’s best decorations and illuminations. It creates a wonderful atmosphere while Christmas shopping, or simply enjoying the decorations on the beautiful art-nouveau architecture. The indoor shopping malls also have some wonderful Christmas displays.
Check out the Stockmann Christmas window
The window of the central Stockmann department store outdoes itself every year with its beautiful and creative window display. It is a big draw for children and the official unveiling is a major event. While you’re out Christmas shopping, be sure to head to the store to see the 2017 theme.
Celebrate St. Lucia’s Day
A unique Scandinavian tradition, St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated by Finland’s Swedish-speaking population on December 13 and is a major event in Helsinki, especially the procession of the newly crowned St Lucia from the Lutheran Cathedral. The festival commemorates St Lucia providing food and aid to Christians in need, and celebrates light shining even during the darkest parts of winter.
Visit the Christmas markets
Helsinki’s Christmas markets are the perfect place to take in the holiday atmosphere, find the best gifts, and enjoy seasonal treats. There are several throughout Helsinki, the biggest and most popular being the Helsinki Christmas Market outside the Lutheran cathedral, which consists of over 120 stalls, a fairground, and a visiting Santa Claus. It is best to visit this fair on a weekday, as it becomes incredibly crowded during the weekends.
Have a spa day
Christmas is a time for treating yourself, and you can’t do it much better than at one of Helsinki’s luxury spas. Depending on the spa, you can get treatments, massages, facials, and of course, use the traditional Finnish sauna. If you’re daring, you can even jump into the freezing Baltic Sea to cool down from the sauna, which is surprisingly good for the skin and circulation.
Visit the Winter Circus
One of Helsinki’s most magical Christmas events, the Winter Circus runs from November 9 until January 14 at the Cable Factor in Pannuhalli. An international team of performers and artists combine circus skills, video art, and dance for a dazzling show. Book your tickets early, as they sell out every year.
Watch the zoo animals in the snow
Going to the zoo isn’t something you’d usually associate with Christmas, but it’s worth doing in Helsinki. The Korkeasaari Zoo is open all year long and while some of the animals hibernate, you can still observe the rest during the winter. If Helsinki is lucky enough to receive snow, it is incredibly charming to watch the animals frolic in the snow.
Discover gnomes at Suomenlinna
A fun activity both for children and adults looking for something different. The Suomenlinna island fortress hosts the Trail of the Fortress Gnome event from December 2 until January 7, an activity trail based upon Finnish mythology. You can pick up the map from the tourist information office and receive a prize from there when you complete the trail.
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