Thanks to Helsinki’s colorful Christmas market scene and magical winter wonderland appearance, Finnish capital has finally made it to the lists of the best European Christmas destinations. Choose between Helsinki’s oldest and largest Christmas market and quirky alternative Christmas markets all around the city to get Yule spirits high – and get ready to meet Santa Claus in his home country!

The Best Christmas Market in Helsinki: Helsinki Christmas Market a.k.a. ”Tuomaan Markkinat”

Conde Nast Traveler, The Guardian, and Evening Standard have all ranked Helsinki Christmas Market among the best Christmas markets in Europe. It’s hands down our favorite holiday market in Helsinki, and the oldest and biggest in the Finnish capital.

What makes Helsinki Christmas Market So Unique?

Conde Nast Traveler praises the perfect mix of old and new: from traditional Christmas delicacies and carols to trendy street eats and quirky happenings. Count in holiday outfit contest for dogs, free wood-heated sauna (naturally, you’re in Finland!), circus, karaoke, and many free events during December.

The Guardian calls Helsinki Christmas Market “the fairytale festivities”. The setting in the historic Senate Square, by Helsinki’s official Christmas street, is fabulous indeed. Wooden huts are framed by the traditional Christmas lights of Aleksanterinkatu and four stunning neoclassical buildings designed by Carl Ludwig Engel: the cathedral of Helsinki, the Government Palace, the National Library of Finland, and the main building of the University of Helsinki.

Picture light snowfall upon the wooden huts during the long blue hour of Finnish winter, steaming sauna cottage, and fairytale-lit traditional carousel in the middle of the market. This Christmas market waves its magic wand over the center of Helsinki – and behold, everything is softer and Christmassy!

White cathedral overlooking Helsinki Christmas Market
White cathedral overlooking Helsinki Christmas Market. Photo courtesy of Helsinki Christmas Market/Photographer: Jussi Hellsten

The Food, Drinks, Gifts, and Crafts of Helsinki Christmas Market

You can find almost everything for the festive season in Helsinki Christmas Market: traditional, high-quality handicrafts and Christmas ornaments, Finnish design gifts, hand-made candles, and Christmas delicacies. If you still don’t have traditional woolen mittens or socks, you’ll find them here. If you haven’t yet tasted Finnish take on mulled wine called glögi, sample through different variations while you’re browsing through more than a hundred wooden huts (last year glögi came in 10 different infusions from spruce sprout to apple).

Shop organic Christmas delicacies, wild honey and wild game products, Karelian pies, mustard, sausages, dry meat, smoked fish and gravlax, cinnamon buns, Christmas cakes, artisan chocolate, or fudge. At least, take advantage of the free samples throughout the market. Tasting tip: the fudge stands are our favorites, but I wouldn’t resist the chocolate stands either.

Many legendary Finnish restaurants and street food chains have their own stands at Helsinki Christmas Market. Food options vary from traditional Christmas food to contemporary street eats, from sausages to creative vegan dishes.

Sauna hut has its own Sauna Bar, and there’s also an atmospheric heated café bar serving Finnish Christmas beers, wine, snacks, cakes, and traditional ginger cookies. It has become our new Christmas tradition to sit down behind the glass windows to observe the Christmas Market and its old-fashioned merry-go-round. We love the fact that nowadays you can sip high-quality craft beers and wines while watching the winter wonderland of urban Helsinki.

The Traditional Carousel of Helsinki Christmas Market

Beautiful, traditional carousel in the heart of Helsinki Christmas Market steals the show. Kids love the free rides on wooden horses, and also adults are welcome to take a ride. Carousel is the perfect spot for those Christmassy Instagram images from Finland, whether you’d fancy a photogenic ride or just a stunning picture of the carousel, Christmas market huts, and the white Helsinki Cathedral in the background.

After a couple of years of rehearsal, I’m proud to say that Helsinki Christmas Market is finally the most beautiful Christmas Market in Finland. The unique setting in Senate Square, in the shadow of the white cathedral and around the statue of Emperor Alexander II, is part of its spell. People from Turku probably disagree, as Turku’s traditional Old Great Square Christmas Market is probably the most famous Christmas market in Finland – Finnish Declaration of Christmas Peace has been done at Turku since 13th century.

Helsinki Christmas Market is called Tuomaan Markkinat in Finnish (St. Thomas Market), and it’s held in Senate Square, in the center and historic area of Helsinki. Helsinki Christmas Market is open from Tuesday to Sunday 6.-22.12.2019 from 11 AM to 8 PM. Santa Claus visits Helsinki Christmas Market every day.

Address: Senate Square, Aleksanterinkatu (in the center of Helsinki)
Official website: tuomaanmarkkinat.fi

OTHER EUROPEAN CHRISTMAS MARKETS
Tallinn is just a short ferry trip away from Helsinki and Tallinn’s Christmas Market is among our eternal favorites. Check out our complete article about Tallinn Christmas Market! Here’s a full guide about Christmas time in Copenhagen with a list of the best Christmas markets.
Helsinki Christmas Market is the biggest outdoors Christmas Market in Helsinki, Finland. Photo courtesy of Helsinki Christmas Market/Photographer: Jussi Hellsten
Helsinki Christmas Market is the biggest outdoors Christmas Market in Helsinki. Photographer: Jussi Hellsten

Vanhan Joulutori Christmas Market

Vanhan Joulutori is a cozy Christmas market held at Old Student House (Vanha Ylioppilastalo). It’s the best market in town for buying Christmas ornaments and artisan gifts. Café serves Finnish mulled wine (glögi), snacks, and even lunch.

In 2019, Vanhan Joulutori Chistmas Market is open 15.-22.12. from Monday to Friday 11 AM-8 PM and on weekends 11 AM-6PM.

Address: Mannerheimintie 3 (in the center of Helsinki) 

Ornamo Design Joulu: Design Christmas Market at Helsinki Cable Factory

Three-day design Christmas Market at Helsinki Cable Factory showcases Finnish design, fashion, and ceramic art in 6.–8.12.2019.

Address: Kaapelitehdas, Tallberginkatu 1 

Korjaamon Joulumarkkinat (Korjaamo Xmas Market)

The official Christmas Market season kick-off, Korjaamo’s Xmas market, is held in the old tram hall of Korjaamo Culture Factory 30.11.-1.12.2019 from 11 AM to 5 PM.

Address: Töölönkatu 51

Suomenlinna Christmas Market

Our favorite from the smaller-scale Christmas events, Suomenlinna Christmas Market is held on the fortress island Suomenlinna just a short ferry ride away from Helsinki’s South Harbor. We’ll update dates for 2019 as soon as they are decided.

International Christmas Market

Helsinki’s traditional take on Central European Christmas Markets is called International Christmas Market. Unfortunately, we just heard from the organizer that there won’t be International Christmas Market this year, although the happening is still marketed on the internet.

Christmas time in Helsinki: Where to Go & What to Do

For foreigners, it’s not that easy to navigate in Helsinki during the Christmas time. As a Finn who’s originally from Helsinki, I share with you both the traditional things to do in Helsinki at Christmas and some of the best winter activities that fit perfectly for Christmastime.

Good news: most shops stay open during Christmas time, excluding Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. I’ll list the usual opening hours and other practicalities of Christmas time at the end of this article.

TRADIONAL CHRISTMAS THINGS TO DO IN HELSINKI

1. Drink Glögi, Finnish Mulled Wine

If you survived visiting Helsinki’s Christmas markets without tasting glögi, you still must do it! The original Finnish glögi is made with alcohol-free, spiced juice with vodka. 

Nowadays, we have also the “real mulled wine”, made from wine – and to keep things simple, it’s called glögi, as well!  

Finnish glögi is garnished with almonds for good luck and raisins.

2. Eat ”Pipari”, Finnish Christmas Gingerbread Cookies

Finnish gingerbread is the best in the world (I might be biased) – taste traditionally spiced up Finnish gingerbread called “pipari” and judge yourself.

3. Sample Finnish Craft Beers – Yes, We Do Have Christmas Brews!

Craft beer culture is getting bigger each year in Helsinki. Head to some of the best craft beer pubs in Helsinki to sample Finnish Christmas brews. Here are our favorites:

  •  Kaisla: craft beer pub in Kaisaniemi, pretty near the main railway station. They have one of the best craft beer selections in town – both Finnish and foreign beers.
  •  Pien Shop & Bar: a pleasant newcomer in Ateneuminkuja (behind Ateneum museum). Originally a craft beer bottle shop, this little pub has both amazing Finnish craft beer selection and atmosphere.
  •  Bier-Bier: Slightly off the center, but near Esplanadi. Lovely setting in an old bank hall and a great, although changing selection. 
  •  Teerenpeli: Finnish brewery pub in Kamppi, opposite the big Kamppi shopping center.

4. Celebrate St Lucia’s Day (13th of December)

If you happen to be in Helsinki on the 13th of December, go to see St Lucia’s Day celebrations in Helsinki Cathedral and Helsinki Christmas Market (Senate Square). 

St Lucia’s Day is a Scandinavian tradition, celebrated especially among Swedish speaking Finns. It’s a celebration of light during the darkest period of the year (a.k.a “kaamos” when sun doesn’t rise at all in Finnish Lapland). St Lucia (St Lucy) was a young Christian martyr who was killed in 304 by Romans. She was among the earliest Christian martyrs.

St Lucia’s Day is traditionally celebrated in schools and churches. The biggest celebration in Finland takes place in Helsinki Cathedral, from where a procession of white-clad girls with candles in their hands and heads descent down to the Senate Square. 

Similar St Lucia processions are done all over Finland. When we were kids, our schools had Lucia processions each year. Nowadays the majority of the celebrations are in the churches and town squares.

5. Go to Sauna: Christmas Sauna is an Old Finnish Tradition

If you haven’t been in sauna yet, now you can’t avoid it anymore! Christmas sauna is ancient Finnish tradition, which meant been both spiritual and physical purification.  

Helsinki has a wide range of public saunas if you can handle being naked with others. Some of the best traditional, wood-fired public saunas are Kotiharjun Sauna and Sauna Arla, which both date back to the 1920s. Although I must admit that both of them are a bit spartan for most of the tourists, but still Anthony Bourdain visited Arla and took a cupping session there! 

More tourist-friendly and spa-like saunas include Löyly and Allas Sea Pool: you can dip into the chilly Baltic Sea in both! 

If you want more privacy, rent an Airbnb apartment with a sauna! It’s said that Finland has 3,2 million saunas (fact by Finnish sauna society) – and we only have under 6 million people! We used to have a sauna in our apartment in Helsinki and used it many times a week. 

Also, many hotel rooms come with a private sauna – or you can book a private sauna per hour in hotels or spas.

WINTERY THINGS TO DO IN HELSINKI FOR COUPLES

6. Ice Skating in Rautatientori (Central Square by the main railway station) 

Ice skating is both relatively new and ancient winter thing to do in Helsinki. In the past, people went skating on the Baltic Sea. Nowadays, we have a beautiful ice skating ring in the middle of the city center, which has made ice skating the favorite winter activity among tourists. Even locals love it!  

CHRISTMAS THINGS TO DO IN HELSINKI FOR FAMILIES

7. Meet Santa Claus – He’s From Finland!

You can meet and greet the real Finnish Santa Claus at Helsinki Christmas Market and many of the shopping centers during December. Did you know that Santa Claus is originally from Finland, and lives in Lapland? His ancient home is at Korvatunturi fell, although he can now be met all year round in Santa Claus Village in Arctic Circle (nearby Rovaniemi).

8. Marvel the Christmas Window of Stockmann

For decades, seeing the “Christmas Window” of Stockmann Department store has been among the winter highlights for kids. I still remember the excitement of seeing it the first time each December when I was a kid. The old-school Christmas display changes every year, but it usually includes Santa with his sleigh and many moving characters.

9. Share the Christmas time with the Animals of Korkeasaari Zoo

Whereas many sights in Helsinki are closed on Christmas Day, Korkeasaari Zoo stays open – although not even many Finns know that! In Christmas 2019, Korkeasaari Zoo stays open on every day during the Christmas time, also on Christmas Eve ­– for the first time ever!

For example, European bison stay outside in the snow in winter, among many other animals (brown bears are still hibernating in December). Check out the daily feeding times on Korkeasaari Zoo’s website. 

We don’t usually recommend visiting zoos, but visiting Korkeasaari is a pleasant and educational experience, and they do valuable conservation work.

10. Christmas Shopping in Helsinki: Best Shopping Centers, Department Stores, Boutiques, and Shops

Firstly, check out the boutiques and quirky shops in Torikorttelit nearby Senate Square and Helsinki Christmas Market. In Torikorttelit you can find everything from Finnish fashion and design to Lapland-style knives, old-time toys, traditional linen home textiles, and rare vinyls. 

Then, move on to the shops on Aleksanterinkatu, the official Christmas Street in Helsinki- and one of the best streets for shopping. Pop in Kluuvi Shopping Centre and Kämp Galleria Mall. The brand shops on Aleksanterinkatu include the famous Minna Parikka flagship store and Marimekko brand store.  

End your Aleksanterinkatu shopping spree in Stockmann, the largest department store in Scandinavia. If you love books, visit the adjacent Akateeminen Kirjakauppa (Academic Bookstore) for the biggest book selection in Helsinki.  

Walk through nearby Esplanadi Street for Finnish design shopping, there you can find, for example, Kalevala Koru jewelry, Aarikka, and Artek brand stores.

The best department stores in Helsinki include above mentioned Stockmann and Sokos in Mannerheiminkatu: add the latter to your Helsinki itinerary, as well. The best shopping centers are nowadays Kamppi (the biggest and newest one) and its nearby Forum, along with above mentioned Kluuvi and Kämp Galleria.

Christmas in Finland: Checklist for Opening Times and Practicalities Christmas in Helsinki FAQ

Is there snow in Helsinki at Christmas?

Yes, usually, we have white Christmas in Helsinki. The first snow arrives in Southern Finland usually during November or December the latest, wrapping the capital city in a white fairytale gown.

What are the Christmas Opening Hours in Helsinki?

Nowadays, Finnish shops and grocery stores are allowed to decide their opening hours independently. Unlike before, many grocery stores stay open all holidays.  

Traditionally, shops have been open on Christmas Eve until 12 PM and closed on Christmas Day. Most shops have reopened their doors on Boxing Day. We will publish the opening hours for Christmas 2019 as soon as they are official. 

Be prepared for the fact that most shops and restaurants in Helsinki are closed on Christmas Day. 

We’ll add more Christmas markets and Christmassy things to do for Christmas 2019 as soon as the events are announced. Please let us know if you’re favorite Christmas market or event is missing in the comments below. We’d love to extend this article into the ultimate guide of spending Christmas in Helsinki with all the Christmas market and Christmassy things to do around the city.

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