Christmas Fever is off the scale in the Finnish Capital! Lots to do and explore. Best Christmas Markets we’ve been to with so much variety. Handmade gifts, clothing, decorations, outstanding food, a vintage Dutch Carousel for kids of all ages, Glögi by the bucket load and toasted almonds! LOADS of history if you’re into that. Cheap flights if you get them at the right time. We flew with Finnair from Heathrow which is a bit of an effort for us in Somerset but it’s Christmas; if you put the effort in, you get it back 10 fold!
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Don’t forget to leave us a comment and share this post with other Christmas lovers! Tell us about any other tips you may have for lovely Christmas Markets or for visiting Helsinki, or anything at all really!
If you didn’t know, Emily and I LOVE Christmas and since having Matilda it’s increased the magic of Christmas a thousand times! Seeing her eyes light up makes our hearts melt simultaneously. We’re not the sort to decorate the house in October and have it decked out head to toe in lights and ornaments, but let’s just say that, even with Emily’s Childminding Business being run from home, the decorations (and tree) get put up that bit earlier each year since having Matilda. Wanting to carry on the tradition of exploring new cities at Christmas I literally drew straws in an effort to choose where to go. The options: Tallinn, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Oslo or Helsinki. As you may have guessed, Helsinki was the City drawn. Don’t panic, Oslo and definitely Tallinn are still on the cards for future adventures!
Lots to see and do!
There’s numerous outdoor activities, delicious food at restaurants, Christmas lights on anything that they can hang from and traditional festive events if you get your times and dates right. It’s a wonderful winter destination. The only thing we lacked was snow and it’s usually there at that time so I guess we were just unlucky (or lucky, depending on your view of the white stuff). Everyone knows Santa lives in Finnish Lapland, so Helsinki is HIS City. It’s where he comes to max the shopping with Mrs Claus and do a bit of research on new toys (I guess) and probably meet up with the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost and the Easter Bunny for a lads night on the Helsinki tiles….so who do we bump into just cruising round the stalls at the first Christmas Market we stumbled upon? Only the big man himself!
Enough typing, more photos!
Helsinki – Day 1
After we landed we were near on instantly hit with everything Christmas. Helsinki-Vantaa Airport must get an award for one of the most nicely decorated airports somewhere (if this isn’t a thing, it should be.) We only had carry-on so there was no waiting around for luggage. We breezed through immigration and grabbed the train from the airport to the City. A painless operation by virtue that the train on both sides of the station BOTH go to Helsinki Central Station (or at least they did that day so maybe check that before taking my word for it – unless you accidentally want to end up in Russia, which is a definite possibility here). So there I was filming away casually as the train came into the station. Emily and Matilda get on and I’m still filming…forgetting how prompt most public services are in Scandinavian countries….and the door closes on the train….oops…I’ll never forget Emily’s face as I waved her and Matilda off. I grabbed the next train 5minutes later and even beat her and Matilda to the same station somehow.
Once reunited we got our bearings and walked the short distance to the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel (get the right one as there’s at least THREE Radisson’s in Helsinki). Once checked in we unpacked and by this time it had started to get dark. We wrapped up warm and headed out into the twinkling lights of The Christmas City.
Glögi is a traditional Christmas drink. You most likely know it as Mulled Wine but in Scandinavia it’s more like Mulled Wine 2.0 Xtreme. They make the spiced wine with a sprinkling of almonds and raisins and, whenever possible, a dash of vodka (KIPPIS!! Congrats you now know how to say CHEERS in Finnish!). The glögi here (and in Copenhagen) is a lot sweeter than your average, run of the mill, Sainbury’s Mulled Wine and has a decent kick to it, especially with the Vodka, but at -9c with a cutting wind a couple of these is just the ticket to warm the cockles.
Tuomaan Markkinat, Senaatintori (St. Thomas Christmas Market at Senate Square) is the oldest Christmas Market in Helsinki. The Christmas Market consists of over 120 stalls selling handicrafts, lanterns, Christmas decorations, food and hot drinks and is great for gifts which are a bit different to the generic Christmas Market produce that can flood the industry. Links at the end of the blog!
Helsingin Joulumaailma is a much smaller market but still lots of character, lovely stalls, great food and a friendly, warm atmosphere (helped along with glögi). We met Santa and had toasted Almonds and more glögi and hot chocolate (it was really cold ok? Don’t judge). Location: Opposite the Stockmann Department Store (worth checking out too).
Not wanting to push the limits with a tired Matilda – she didn’t want to eat Rudolph’s cousin (reindeer steak) or trying fermented fish (sounds delish!) – so we opted for a safe bet and hit a good looking and busy (a packed restaurant is a good sign generally) Mexican Restaurant, Pancho Villa, for dinner and then headed back to the hotel.
Helsinki – Day 2
A day of more exploring. Helsinki is one of the most beautiful cities in Scandinavia with a lot of history. We started out by heading towards the Senate building and then down to the South Harbour area to have a look around. We spied a cool sailing ship, the Kathrina, investigated and had a fantastic Finnish lunch on board. Dishes included Lohikeitto, a Salmon, Leek and Potato Soup and Lapskoussi (or Labskaus) which is a popular dish in Germany and Scandinavia. According to the couple we were seated near it’s originally from Northern Germany and was made for the sailors in the freezing Baltic temperatures to keep them warm on the trips across the sea. It consists of boiled or cooked beef, sheep (or reindeer), potatoes, onions and spices and is cooked together to make a solid stew. It certainly warmed us up! I also had to try the local IPA too, Polar Monkey (a cultural experiment if you will). Give it a try if you’re in the area and like your IPA’s. It wasn’t really pale as it was a reddish colour but meh, it tasted good! After lunch we strolled around the harbour. we found a bridge with lots of padlocks locked to it and Uspenski, the Finnish Orthodox Cathedral, looks stunning with architecture I’ve not seen in person before (makes me want to go to Moscow even more!). Unfortunately it was closed so we couldn’t look inside. There’s so much more to see in Helsinki than we did and this is definitely one of many reasons to go back.
The City has a great number of museums, galleries, historic buildings, and other places of interest and is also a known industrial centre considered to be one of the best European cities for investors. There is definitely a lot happening there. We visited the Helsinki City Museum, or Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo, which explores Helsinki’s history & culture, with art & photography. It also has changing exhibitions, one of which especially had been recommended to us by the reception at the hotel as they knew we had Matilda with us – a children’s exhibition showing toys of Finnish children and how they played and lived in days gone past. Matilda LOVED this. As soon as she was in the door she was invited to dress up….. You didn’t have to tell her twice! No prizes for what she chose. A Finnish Princess of course. So Matilda and I were off exploring the museum, playing and reading everything. I knew Emily could do a Museum pretty quickly. She once did the National Museum in London in half an hour which I’m still not sure if it’s impressive or an insult. Either way I assumed she had gone to investigate another part of the museum or got a coffee or something. But no, she only went and got herself locked in a bathroom! It’s still possibly one of the funniest texts I’d ever had. Quite humorous trying to explain to a staff member that a fully grown adult had locked herself in a loo. Upon being rescued to say Emily was suitably embarrassed is an understatement. All I can say is; good job the museum had wifi and I had connected to it…
After revisiting the St. Thomas Market we headed into the BIG Mall to warm up and have a look around. We looked at some of the restaurants there for dinner but opted to risk it (living on the edge!) and hoped we could get a seat back to the hotel restaurant as it looked good! Drawing in hotel clientele and locals alike due to the it’s Scandinavian-style barbecue, Restaurant Grill it! serves grilled delicacies prepared in a Josper charcoal oven. You had me a Scandinavian BBQ!
Helsinki – Day 3
We had just about enough time to get up, have a hearty breakfast, pack our bags and get a spot of Ice Skating in before having to catch the plane home! Like most big hotels we were able to store our bags in a secure room in the hotel for the few hours.
I have a load of video clips to edit together too so keep an eye on the Facebook page for when that get’s uploaded!
Until next time!
PS ….Genuinely, if anyone does go to Helsinki, grab me a badge from the Hard Rock Cafe and I’ll pay you back! Ta
Flights booked with: https://www.gotogate.co.uk
Hotel Booked with: https://Expedia.com