10 Things to Do in Helsinki in December

The last month of the year does not go unnoticed in Helsinki, with Christmas magic, dreamy snowfalls and entertaining plans to keep you warm.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

10 min read

10 Things to Do in Helsinki in December

Winter in Helsinki |©sbally.

December is a cold and dark month, but that doesn't stop the Finns, who know how to have fun. During this season temperatures range between 1°and -4°, days are cloudy and you are likely to find buildings covered with snow, which adds a special touch.

During this season I recommend you to take advantage of the best things to do in Helsinki, such as taking a helicopter and enjoying the winter scenery. You can also attend the traditional Lucia Parade, to watch the coronation and procession from the iconic Lutheran cathedral Helsingin Tuomiokirkko, or enjoy the Christmas activities in Helsinki. From tasting its delicious hot glögi, to getting to know the Christmas markets. If these plans have piqued your curiosity, read on!

1. Watch a movie snowfall in Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna|©Jukka Hernetkoski
Suomenlinna|©Jukka Hernetkoski

As temperatures drop and the Baltic Sea freezes over, you'll likely be able to catch a glimpse of a Nordic snowfall without straying too far from the city. It's a phenomenon you can catch in Suomenlinna, if you plan to visit Helsinki in winter. It is a coastal fortress, located just fifteen minutes away by ferry, which leaves every hour so there is no excuse to miss this adventure.

Keep in mind that the wind is chilly during this season, so bring heaters, gloves and warm jackets. This island has centuries of history as it was initially built to defend ancient Sweden. Today, it is home to an entertaining life that includes winter events and some of Helsinki's best museums. But what is most special about this fortress are its points of interest which include:

  • Dry dock: it is the oldest dock on the island, having been built in 1750. Today you can enjoy a tour and see how ships are repaired.
  • The King's tunnel: this is a subway passage that connects the fortress from different points (such as the Kustaanmiekka bastion with the dry dock), a guided tour can be a good option if you are looking for things to do in winter, considering that it offers extra protection from the bitter cold.
  • Kustaanmiekka Bastion: is a historical landmark, which is notable for its star shape. It is walled and has a moat, several cannons and galleries that you can explore.
  • The Vesikko submarine: discover what life was like on this type of vessel during World War II. It is perfectly preserved in the Suomenlinna Museum.

Book a guided tour of Helsinki and Suomenlinna

2. Marvel at Helsinki's snowy landscapes from a helicopter

Helsinki from the Top|©Felipe Tofani
Helsinki from the Top|©Felipe Tofani

Flying in a helicopter in December can be a thrilling experience, as you will feel like you are at the North Pole at 150 meters above sea level. This is an exclusive ride of approximately twenty minutes, designed for small groups. Make the most of this time to see landmarks such as the Senate Square, Suomenlinna Fortress and Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral.

The winter scenery is the main reason I recommend this experience in this month, as the snow contrasts with the cold skies, towering skyscrapers and the powerful blue of the Baltic Sea. Besides, it is the best way to appreciate Helsinki from another perspective, not in vain is considered one of the best local tours.

Is it safe to fly in winter? It is quite safe, helicopters operating in Helsinki at this time of year usually have an ice detector and de-icing system. Of course, the key is to choose a reliable and professional company. Don't rely on suspiciously friendly offers, these types of experiences start at 467 euros.

Hire a helicopter tour

3. Delight yourself with Porvoo's Christmas atmosphere.

Christmas elements|©Chris Heathcote
Christmas elements|©Chris Heathcote

Porvoo is noted for its famous red cottages on the Porvoonjoki River, and is located about forty minutes from Helsinki. It is an idyllic place to spend the Christmas vacations, as it is the second oldest town in Finland, built in the fourteenth century.

In fact, it still preserves medieval elements that contrast very well with the decorations of the time. In the old town you can appreciate part of this architectural heritage, where the Christmas market is installed in the Old Town Hall Square. Here you will find a festive atmosphere, with vendors dressed in old costumes and mulled wine tasting.

You can go on your own or sign up for the best tours from Helsinki. During your December visit you can take advantage of iconic locations such as:

  • Art Factory Christmas Market: here you will find stalls decked out with handicrafts, made by local artists. If you plan to visit Helsinki in November, you can appreciate how the market is set up. While in December, it is filled with colorful events and celebrations.
  • Porvoon Kaupunginteatteri: is a theater located in the central area, where you can see a performance of The Nutcracker. It is usually available from the first days of December until Christmas Day.

Book an excursion to Porvoo

4. Attend the Lucia Parade

Lucia Parade|©alperensavaskan
Lucia Parade|©alperensavaskan

Every December 13, the Lucia Parade is held to commemorate the Italian martyr who symbolizes light and warmth. For this reason, it is believed that in winter she is the guide during the processions through the dark Nordic streets. In the procession you will see children dressed in white and before starting a young girl is crowned as Saint Lucia of Finland in the Helsinki Cathedral, who wears a crown of candles on her head and leads the parade.

Although it is a religious celebration, it also has cultural activities such as visits from Santa Claus at the last station of the parade, carol choirs and more. The chosen young lady is also usually given a tour in a horse-drawn carriage, while the locals follow her through the main streets of the city.

If you want to see the coronation at the cathedral, I advise you to arrive early, it takes place around 17:00 but the queues are huge and it is advisable to secure a seat. Outside you can find screens with live broadcasts, but the winter cold is not very pleasant for such a long time.

You can combine this experience with a customizable tour of Helsinki, so you can explore the sights. I recommend you to choose those sites that caught your attention during the parade or get a closer look at the cathedral. The main advantage of this type of activity is that you have the option to have a conversation with the guide beforehand in order to finalize the itinerary.

Hire a private tour

5. Taste the typical dishes of the season in Helsinki

Joulukinkku|©Arto Katajamaa
Joulukinkku|©Arto Katajamaa

Finnish gastronomy revolves around fresh seasonal produce harvested from the local sea and forests. Expect palate-pleasing surprises and sophisticated cooking techniques. In December there are dishes so varied and fun to prepare that I recommend you even sign up for a cooking class. These types of activities are often included among the attractions of the Helsinki Card, which by the way, also offers discounts for restaurants.

You can also sign up for the best local tours and take a gastronomic tour to try:

  • Joulukinkku: the typical Christmas roast ham, which is covered with a sauce of mustard, breadcrumbs, sugar and egg. It is usually served at Christmas Eve dinners.
  • Piparkakut: the classic Finnish-style Christmas gingerbread cookies.
  • Salmon soup: one of the best dishes to keep you warm during your visit to Helsinki in winter.
  • Meatballs: a delicacy dressed with sour cream sauce, pickles and cranberry jam.

Buy the Helsinki Card

6. Celebrate Christmas Eve in Helsinki

Órgão da Helsinki Cathedral|©Job Henrique
Órgão da Helsinki Cathedral|©Job Henrique

Helsinki is a magical destination to celebrate Christmas, starting with its snow-covered streets that will not leave you indifferent. The festive atmosphere is unparalleled, since its traditions are very different. The Finns opt for a quiet Christmas Eve, but worth remembering. You can start the day by warming up with a typical glögi, a spiced mulled wine flavored with almonds, grapes and a little vodka.

Later, you can enjoy a typical meal at a local restaurant, visit the Christmas markets or enjoy the Tiernapojat shows. These performances usually take place in the streets and are mostly children singing Christmas carols or telling biblical stories (such as that of the Three Wise Men). If you are looking for another type of entertainment during these dates you can also:

  • Appreciate Christmas concerts, a magical experience with different options in the main squares, churches and in the Helsinki Cathedral.
  • Attend the Christmas Eve mass, one of the most awaited religious activities. The most special are organized in the Orthodox Cathedral of Uspenski for its imposing structure that positions it as one of the most beautiful temples of the city; and in the Church of Temppeliaukio preferred for its excellent acoustics, glazed dome and construction erected on a rock excavated.
  • Visit the cemetery of Hietaniemi, many locals come to leave offerings to their loved ones who are no longer in this plane, so the place is filled with candles that contrast with the low illumination of winter. It is important to maintain a respectful attitude and not to take pictures, more than a tourist visit, it is the opportunity to see local traditions up close.
  • Relaxing in a local sauna is a typical tradition of the winter months. There are public and private options, as well as open-air baths or in cabins.

7. Welcome the New Year in Helsinki

New Year's Eve fireworks in Helsinki|©Niklas Sjöblom
New Year's Eve fireworks in Helsinki|©Niklas Sjöblom

New Year's Eve is a lot more entertaining than Christmas Eve itself, as the Finns put more energy into its preparation. Some people take a ferry to Tallinn or nearby cities, but every year New Year's Eve looks great in Helsinki. Since 1932 they gather at the Senate Square to chant the countdown in a completely free event.

Usually, the first fireworks show takes place at 18:00. Later, around 22:00 you can expect live entertainment and craft beer tastings. Around the time of the chimes there are usually more fireworks and afterwards people move on to private parties. Some bars offer New Year's packages, such as Ateljee Bar whose terrace is ideal for watching the fireworks shows without the crowds.

It's not all about parties and celebrations until dawn, you also have to get close to local traditions. The best known one takes place at 12:00 o'clock sharp, when you can participate in the pewter function to guess what your future will be like.

Basically, the local blacksmiths will help you melt a horseshoe, to pour it into a container with water. Depending on the shape the metal takes, you can expect good or bad omens. Without a doubt, this is the most authentic way to say Happy New Year! or Hyvää uutta vuotta!

8. Take advantage of Helsinki's Christmas markets

Helsinki Christmas Market|©Vicky Brock
Helsinki Christmas Market|©Vicky Brock

Of course, Christmas markets are a classic not to be missed. They bring together a contrast of tastes, smells, traditions and sounds that show you the most authentic side of Helsinki. And they are undoubtedly one of the best things to do in winter in the city. Here you can find everything to soak up the energies of Northern Europe: from the bubbles of the classic glögi to the smells of Finnish cuisine.

Its cold climate is a far cry from the warm welcome that awaits you at the best local markets, including:

  • Helsinki Christmas Market: it is the oldest in the city and is located in the middle of Senate Square, with everything you might need. It has about 100 stalls and here the visit of Santa who heads the Christmas activities in the city. Additionally, it has an old merry-go-round, ideal if you go with children.
  • Turku Christmas Market: this is a market located in Turku, the oldest city in Finland, one hour from Helsinki. It has two venues, the Old Great Square stands out for its family atmosphere, endearing Christmas characters and the joyful bustle that will keep you entertained. The Market Square venue, on the other hand, has more adult events and craft stalls.

9. Have fun with winter sports in Helsinki

man in the snow|©Bruce Marsland
man in the snow|©Bruce Marsland

Winter sports are a healthy and fun activity, ideal for taking advantage of the best things to do in Helsinki. During your vacation you will find various options, suitable for all ages and physical abilities, including:

  • Cross-country skiing: this is a fun activity, ideal if you are looking for things to do in Helsinki in winter. With your skis and poles you can experience an intense quest, following the tracks reflected in the snow. The best place for this is Paloheinä located thirty minutes from the city.
  • Sleigh ride: feel like you are at the North Pole, on a winter adventure where you can push the sleigh on your own, or hire husky or reindeer rides. Keep in mind that it is important to opt for animal-friendly rides, preferably on ethical farms, where they are not overtaxed beyond the recommended daily activity load.

10. Snowmobiling in Helsinki

person in oto in the snow|©Elena Paschinger
person in oto in the snow|©Elena Paschinger

Usually, the Baltic Sea is explored aboard ferry or sightseeing cruises. However, in winter such seasonal tours are usually not offered for safety reasons. Instead, with the water frozen you can go on a snowmobile safari to warm your blood with adrenaline, explore the wildlife and take advantage of the wooded trails. In the distance you will be able to see people concentrating on ice fishing, a traditional activity in the area during this season.

For this type of experience it is essential to wear a neoprene bathing suit, boots, gloves, balaclava and helmet. Although, if you decide to join the best tours in Helsinki, to forget about planning details. Generally, at the end of this activity you can warm up at a campfire and cook marshmallows, as if you were in a Christmas movie.