10 Things to Do in Helsinki in November

The Christmas preamble is very famous in Helsinki, it takes place in November and offers parades, typical festivities, advent events, magical tours and activities for the whole family.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

10 min read

10 Things to Do in Helsinki in November

Tranvía en la calle |©Pekka Vanhanen

November is the transition from autumn to winter, with temperatures ranging from 0° to 4°. The days are short, especially at the end of the month when the hours of sunlight begin to decrease considerably. Of course, it is important to wear warm clothes for a good vacation. On the other hand, the low season favors tours of the city, which is filled with amazing decorations that are worth a look.

You can take advantage of Helsinki's best activities, see an aurora borealis without straying far from the central core or attend the Christmas lighting at the Christmas Lights Parade. If you've never been to a Pikkujoulu party, then you've got to visit the Finnish capital during this special season. Want to discover more things to do? Read on!

1. Helsinki streetcar tour of the city

green tram|©David Vilaplana
green tram|©David Vilaplana

The Helsinki streetcar tour is one of the most special things to do in November, for many reasons. First of all, the city changes to a winter landscape worthy of admiring from the comfort of this service. You'll get panoramic views of its picturesque buildings, which, by the way, begin to show off their gala lights installed for the winter light festivals. Christmas decorations also come to life at this time of year, creating a magical atmosphere.

Gradually, the streets are transformed with the arrival of the snow and at the end of the month you can witness how the Christmas markets are assembled. In fact, one of the stops is Senate Square, where the famous Tuomaan Markkinat Christmas market is set up. During the approximately three-hour tour you will also pass by the elegant Esplanade boulevard, the Lutheran Cathedral, Sibelius Park and other locations in the capital.

Another reason why I recommend this activity is due to the low tourist influx at this time, perfect to enjoy a smooth and quieter ride. Overall, it is quite special as it is one of the oldest streetcars in the world. The city also offers a self-guided tour on the tourist bus, whose free stops give more freedom. Unfortunately, it only operates from May to October, so it might be a good option if you want to visit Helsinki in summer.

Book a sightseeing bus tour

2. Enjoy a natural spectacle of the Northern Lights

Northern Lights|©Pixabay
Northern Lights|©Pixabay

November has Nordic nights that are dark enough to see the Northern Lights. It is difficult to determine the exact time when they form, so it is advisable to check local alerts. One alternative is Aurora Alert Realtime, where you can sign up and receive instant notifications, it even tells you the best times, locations and offers warnings before they are visible.

If you are excited to live this experience, you should know that the ideal locations to appreciate this phenomenon in Helsinki are:

  • Suomenlinna: it is a fortress only fifteen minutes away by ferry, where you can better appreciate the auroras, because the light is usually lower.
  • Nuuksio National Park: it is located forty minutes from the city center, has little light pollution so you can see beautiful aurora borealis during this season. To get there you can take the Finnish Railways train.
  • Kaivopuisto and Eira Piers: is the closest location to see auroras, just six minutes on board the Helsingin Seudun Liikenne public transport. Here they can be even more special, as they reflect on the water and the landscape contrasts with the ships and the views of the horizon.

Auroras are caused when particles from the sun collide with gases in the earth's magnetic shield. Some cultures attribute it to the presence of divine forces, and even see it as a portal to the afterlife. From May to August there is less chance of appreciating this phenomenon, as there are still too many hours of daylight. Additionally, if you decide to take the ferry to Tallinn from Helsinki or visit Lapland, you can increase your chances of seeing them during your trip to Finland.

Book a guided tour of Helsinki and Suomenlinna

3. Join the Helsinki architecture tour and enjoy the events at the Helsinki Cathedral

architecture in Helsinki|©Cesar Zeppini
architecture in Helsinki|©Cesar Zeppini

A November classic is the Helsinki architecture tour, which takes you on a learning journey through Finnish culture and history. It's the perfect excuse to take one of the best tours of the city and appreciate the buildings included in the tour that sparkle with the premature Christmas lights and special events.

For example, at the Helsinki Cathedral you can revel in its impressive neoclassical architecture, as well as appreciate the crypt exhibitions and choir concerts. On November 1, Saints' Day takes place and in this sacred place it is common to find religious manifestations, such as candle lightings to commemorate loved ones who have departed from this plane.

Ready to take advantage of this architectural tour? Without a doubt, it is one of the best activities in Helsinki, as it is very complete and allows you to get to know points of architectural interest.

Book an architecture tour

4. Marvel at the Advent Events

Advent lights|©ast2009
Advent lights|©ast2009

Finns love Christmas, which is probably why they start the festivities early, with the Advent events. Starting in November you can expect all kinds of surprises that have become real traditions, such as gospel choirs, winter dishes, the first visits from Santa Claus and more. Also, after the first Sunday of Advent the cemeteries are filled with candles and Advent wreaths, following the old belief that during the holidays the spirits visit the city.

Advent calendars are also a tradition, so you can find them in different stores and supermarkets in Helsinki. The most popular and delicious are the ones with chocolates, which delight children and adults alike. In addition, on Aleksanterinkatu shopping street there are concerts, parades and lighting that are a preamble to the Christmas activities.

These events are complemented by Thanksgiving celebrations, although not officially celebrated in Finland, the American community offers festivities around typical food, good wine and a warm spirit.

5. Attend the Christmas Light Parade in Helsinki

Lux Helsinki|©Mika Laitinen
Lux Helsinki|©Mika Laitinen

A very special tradition not to be missed is the Helsinki Christmas Light Parade. It takes place every year in November on Aleksanterinkatu Street, usually at the end of the month. The procession includes endearing people such as elves, reindeer and all of Santa's equipment. As the days are darker, some people carry candles or lights to illuminate the way.

At the end of the route you can enjoy the lighting of the lights that starts the Christmas activities in the city. The atmosphere is magical and cozy, full of twinkling lights and shop windows that will make you sin. In the Plaza del Senado the big Christmas tree is installed, of course with live entertainment, flea markets and shows for children such as craft workshops and storytelling with Santa Claus.

Be careful because it is often confused with the Lucia Parade, one of the December activities in Helsinki, with a completely different program.

6. Don't miss the Pikkujoulu festivities, a preamble to Christmas

people around the table|©Esko Kurvinen
people around the table|©Esko Kurvinen

The Pikkujoulu festivities are a very important celebration in November, as it means "Little Christmas" and is the companion of Advent. It is a Finnish tradition that takes place in November and brings together the best of Helsinki's cuisine, culture, music and entertainment. In general, you can get different options in the city. There are informal parties in the homes of locals, as well as formal events in restaurants, hotels and tourist areas.

Regardless, these types of parties have one thing in common, and that is that fun is guaranteed. They can include visits from Santa, traditional dances, children's games, plays, musicals in local theaters and caroling. Pikkujoulu's roots go back to World War II, when they began to be held clandestinely to maintain the Christmas spirit. Hence, the best is the typical food of this holiday, which includes:

  • Joulutorttu is a puff pastry cake, filled with plum jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
  • Rice pudding or Riisipuuro: quite thick, flavored with sugar and cinnamon.
  • Glögi: a mulled wine, considered a traditional drink that you have to try if you plan to visit Helsinki in winter.
  • Joulukinkku: a board of Finnish hams is a must during the holidays.
  • Rosolli: a particular beet and potato salad, flavored with traditional sauces.

7. Take advantage of Helsinki's skating rinks

Skate park|©Michael Holler
Skate park|©Michael Holler

Of course, with the arrival of cold days, the skating rinks get ready to welcome tourists. There are plenty of options where you can have a good time, depending on what you are looking for. There are outdoor rinks as well as indoor options. The best thing is that some of them offer your favorite price for your pocket: zero euros.

As a general recommendation for skating in Helsinki, I suggest you use safety pads and choose rinks with instructors if it's your first time skating. With this clear, I let you know that among the most outstanding ones you will find:

  • Oulunkylän jäähalli: it is a comfortable skating rink, located inside a sports complex. It is ideal if you are looking for things to do in Helsinki in winter. It offers courses for beginners and advice at all times.
  • Töölönlahden luistelurata: it is a natural ice rink, which is formed from the end of November in the Töölönlahti lake. At night the lighting is spectacular, which makes the experience more enjoyable. In addition, it is completely free.
  • Micropolis Skate Park: is a free skate park that is usually conditioned during the winter months with typical decorations of the season and some artificial ice, if you prefer summer activities in Helsinki you can also find it, but with completely dry pavement.

8. Venture on a reindeer safari

Moose Safari on Horseback|©faun070
Moose Safari on Horseback|©faun070

Reindeer are one of the icons of the North Pole and it is believed that in Finland you can only see them if you travel to Santa's Village in Lapland. Good news! Helsinki has very similar experiences that you can enjoy during your trip. The closest place is Korkeasaari Zoo, Helsinki's famous zoo, where you can see reindeer and enjoy an educational tour.

There are also other animals here that children can look forward to, in case you go with your family. In addition, there are skating and field hockey rinks, with courses for beginners. By taking the 280 bus or combining cab and train, you can reach the magical Nuuksio National Park. If you travel early you can take advantage of all the activities the park has to offer.

Why do I recommend this park? Here are my reasons why this visit cannot be missed in November:

  • Reindeer Safari: of course, it is the main attraction, as they have a reindeer farm where they are kept. You can feed them under supervision, learn their history and take a sleigh ride in the nearby walnut forests.
  • Santa visits: this park is visited by the iconic Santa Claus every weekend between November and December, so you can take advantage of a visit if you plan to be in Helsinki for at least 3 days.
  • Nature and wildlife richness: in this park you can also delight in more than 150 lakes, as well as admire the habitat of moose, deer, foxes and flying squirrels.
  • Journey through Sami culture: here you can learn about the indigenous people of Lapland, with interactive exhibits.
  • Halti Nature Center: where you can learn about Finland's national nature parks or visit an amethyst mining shelter for a lucky stone.

9. Meet the Seurasaari Christmas Road

Seurasaari island|©hugovk
Seurasaari island|©hugovk

Between November and December, the tradition of the Seurasaari Christmas Trail, one of Helsinki's best activities, is faithfully observed. It is an annual event that escapes from the typical holidays, surpassing anything you can imagine. You can rub shoulders with the locals, enjoying ancient traditions.

It takes place on Seurasaari Island, which you can reach by bus on the local bus line 24. Here you can expect art competitions, food markets, nativity displays and dramatizations of the birth of Jesus. It's like a Finnish Wonderland with horse-drawn sleighs, characters all over the island (usually elves), candle lighting, caroling and a costumed parade.

This island is also well known for its museum, which reviews how life was in Finland in other times of history. Additionally, in recent years this celebration has been adopted in nearby towns like Korso, where you can expect bonfires, decorations made from recycled material, nativity scene and Christmas tree contests, among others. To get there you can take the train or bus line 731.

10. Hiking in Helsinki's forests

hiking in Helsinki|©Elena Paschinger
hiking in Helsinki|©Elena Paschinger

There is no doubt that Helsinki is surrounded by magical experiences, for example in November the weather conditions are ideal to take advantage of the forests and lakes. To do so, you can take a hiking route and get to know the surroundings of the Finnish capital.

One of the best-rated destinations for this type of activity is Sipoonkorpi National Park, which winds through green forests. Here you can have a picnic, take advantage of a hot bath in a sauna, camp out and have a campfire or just enjoy the views. It is quite accessible by train, cab or bus route 739.

A short distance away you will also find Uutela, a bit more remote but worthy of your time. In any case, I recommend you leave early to complete the eight-shaped stretch. It has two trails, you can take just one or combine them to enjoy swamps, picturesque cabins, winter scenery and more. If you plan to stay at least 3 days in Helsinki you can spend the night here.