Let me proviso this by saying we did leave on Xmas eve to go to Tromso, and add that we returned on the 29th to go through the city to Tallin. So we were not exactly there on Christmas day! I will add how that can be done from the airport in a separate heading. We spent 3 days in Helsinki which was enough for us as we managed to fit in quite a lot.
Many people come to Helsinki at this time of year for the Christmas Markets, its why we turned up for three days as well. We have been to Stockholm a few years ago and truthfully preferred that one. However this may be a personal taste thing, and the fact in Stockholm we had snow which makes everything more pretty and it Helsinki we didn’t, Stockholm was also based in its old town which frames it better.
Also we had just got off a 12 hour flight and the hotel wasn’t ready, so all these things may make a difference. We did feel better about it the second day after some rest. We will be going to Tallinn which is said to have the best Christmas Market in Europe to see the markets there as well, so will either update here or mention it in another post.
It is located below the cathedral and it is a good idea to go up the stairs to get a picture of the market and the city from there. there are about 60 or so stalls selling everything from Reindeer Sausage to reindeer hats, Rudolph doesn’t do well in Helsinki it seems.
They also have a blacksmith making metal trinkets, Gloggi Stalls, candles galore and fish and salmon stalls. In the middle they have some seats and some fires to warm up if the weather gets to you and you can be serenaded by the largest Karaoke screen i have ever seen. Where people sing up with the app and then go up to sing Christmas songs, it was nice to watch while sitting round the fire. It closes, or at least this year on the 23rd of December which was a little surprising but it does seem to be a mix of Tourist and local stalls so not purely for those people from overseas.
There is a Russian cafe in the market which serves soup and sandwiches, but there are two other food stalls close to it which serve ________ a potato or rice pie from Finland brushed with copious amounts of melted butter for about 1.2 Euros a go, they were great! pipping hot and tasty and i would suggest that rather than a sit down meal. Just opposite the market is the restaurant we got caught at for ‘fine dining’ size portions.
There is another Christmas market in Helsinki just down the street from the main one, those streets have some higher end tourist shops as well which sell special reindeer hides ( ouch) and knives for multiple purposes but most look like skinning knives and it is a craft to make them up here, they are really well made and priced to match.
This market seems to be more aimed at tourists and has a few more food options as well. Here selling fridge magnets and other Finnish souvenirs as less formal food like hot dogs ( reindeer again!) , fried fish and chips and pies etc. there is also gloggi all around. It is very close to the Boat restaurant we recommend as well . It is a better place if you need to pick up some stuff for back home as the prices are lower, some prices are lower…
Helsinki Natural History Museum
It was cold and wet when we stumbled on the Museum not far from the concert hall and the train station. I had looked before but having been to the London Natural History Museum numerous times ( its fantastic by the way) i was in two minds, London is bigger, better, and free. We were not in London though and two of our group had never been to a Natural History Museum so we stumped up the 15 euros and went in.
I wasn’t overly hopeful but thought a bit of warm and to kill a couple of hours couldn’t hurt. It turns out is was really good, of course it can’t compare to larger cities museums but it holds its own. There are four floors in total, and they focus on Wildlife around the world but with a emphasis on Scandinavian Wildlife as well, including three life-size and very large Woolly Mammoths, on the first floor, which houses information on climate change and the flora and fauna of the region, the ground floor has places to hang up those think winter coats ( do so) and a small cafe and shop. the rest of the ground floor is taken up with a collection of bones, including a whale and a huge sea cow. You can get close to all these exhibits for those selfie opportunities.
The next floor is wildlife of Finland and the surrounding countries and some examples of the rock formations they have. Going up the rather grand staircase will lead you to a really well laid out walk through the worlds eco systems, and although small it is very well done, better laid out that London in my opinion, less of it but better planned. you can experience the African night, look in the eye of a Mandrill which is the stuff of nightmares, and even spot cave lions having a good go at eating Rudolph, i had no idea Europe had lions back in the day! this floor takes a while, and maybe why i liked the place so much was the display with a snow-leopard, my first time see one in the flesh ( well kinda). yes i much prefer to see animals walking about in their environments, and we try to as much as possible. However, the foothills of the Himalayas might be beyond my meager fitness levels.
The third floor is smaller but houses the museums fossil collection which is also small but they have a full skeleton of a Giganotosaurus and a life-size model of either a insanely large great white shark, or a medium sized Megalodon ( link on the word in case you don’t know what that is, and a link to get hold of one of their teeth in case you fancy holding a massive shark tooth – yes i did buy one) It also has a fossil bird which is basically an Ostrich from the bowels of hell. Make sure you search around as they have hidden a room near the Megalodon which is a recreation of a Victorian museum office and was like a scene from Indiana Jones, they should consider hanging up a hat like his in it!
The last floor, and your feet may hurt a little at this point as museums have a tendency to do that to you, but apart from giving you a better view of the dinosaur floor as its a mezzanine floor, but it also has a very random two headed cow there. The description was all in Finnish so to this day i have no idea why or what it is doing there, but its worth a look ( or to be honest a photo 😉 )
Christmas Street and Stockman window
Both of these are loosely in the same place, but Stockman Department Store is at the top end of the street. It is lovely though, we didn’t actually go into the shop so their window displays didn’t achieve that aim, but it is good to see that there are still shops around that put efforts into window displays and the windows surrounding this department star are worth a visit in their own right. They even put raised walkways in front of them so you can get a better photograph. If you walk up early it is probably worth going then as they was quite a queue forming around them later in the day as the crowds came out.
Christmas street is the long street in Helsinki called Keskuskatu that is nice to take a photo of to get the full length of the decorations and to walk up and down to see the not quite as impressive but still nice shop front displays, especially at this time of year. There is a Burger King that made zero effort when we were there right in the middle of it. It also closed at 8pm which almost makes it worthless being there!
We couldn’t find Mulled wine, or not by name, so we went for this, well three of us did, I’m not a fan of hot sweet drinks as a rule. So i have been assured it was very very tasty and really good on a cold day, and i cant really argue, but must be true as two bottles of it appeared from the duty free as we flew out of Finland a few days later!
It is somewhat of a Christmas must to try it and the markets are a good as place as any there, though of course they charge more than they need to. You can pick up the non alcoholic version fairly cheaply in any super market and heat it up if you are in an AirBnB or not if you are in a hotel room ( unless there is a mighty powerful radiator in your room)
Katrina Restaurant – Eat on this boat!
By chance we found this lovely little restaurant, probably as it is movable and is only there on Friday Saturdays and Sunday, the rest of the time it is a working charter boat from Helsinki running trip for tourists. It holds a small menu but everything, well the three things we tried on there, was really REALLY good. It is priced about average for Finland but the food, ambiance, surroundings are not. The boat is called Katrina, and the crew are more than happy to discuss the history of the boat with you, if its busy its printed on the back of the Menu so you can see for yourself what has happened to the boat during its lifetime, now it has another purpose. A floating restaurant for at least 3 days a week anyway. We tried the Pepper Steak, the lamb neck and the Lamb Rack, all were priced at around 26 Euros ( in 2019 anyway) and all were portions that filled you up. ( we were very sensitive to this after accidentally eating at a fine dining restaurant and being served 1 slice of salmon on an edible plate for 20 euros the night before! – that required a trip to Burger King after!
The boat is located In Helsinki at Eteläranta 18-22, 00130 Helsinki. Next to presidential palace, Kauppatori, Kolera-allas. This just about 80 metres up from the cute little food market i mentioned earlier. I will link their website in the title so you can check it out yourself as well. you cross the gangplank and then go down into the cabin, it looked deserted when we first went on but once into the cabin you are hit by a wall of warmth from their stove, be warned on that, it may be -5 outside but inside that little wooden boat you are going to be toasty. Once you settle in you wont be in a hurry to leave.
Some patience may be required when waiting for your food if they are busy as it is important to remember it is a boat with a small kitchen, we arrived 10 minutes after a group of 15 and had to wait about an hour, but that wont be a regular occurrence. Their drinks are reasonably priced for Finland so that should tide you over until dinner arrives. we found it by chance, but if it does appeal to you then i would recommend booking as it is small, and it is popular. Let me know what you think if you tried it in the comments below.
Just off the coast of Helsinki, and view able by boat if you travel in the short daylight hours this is a 200 years old fortress that has been maintained and renovated. Now its fighting day are over it serves as an escape from the city. It has waterside restaurants, parks walking trails and plenty of reminders of its previous life. building started in 1849, when Finland was then part of Sweden. If its snowing it looks lovely!
Have a spa day
Finland, Sweden. Norway all have a love of hot steamy rooms it seems.in Finland it is said more work gets done in the sauna that the boardroom. So consider it a right of passage, and get in there! of you are staying in a hotel look for one with a spa and sauna. Just for info a Finnish sauna you may see people hitting themselves with sprigs of Birch, don’t worry you haven’t walked into one of those saunas, it smooths the skin really well.
Here are some Finnish sauna tips to make sure you manage alright.
Get gingerbread cookies or even a house
It everywhere, so you wont escape without trying it. Gingerbread seems to be one of the national dishes here! it comes with coffee, tea, hot chocolate and you will see tubs of it just hanging around in cafes and coffee shops all over Scandinavia. It comes is many shapes and sizes from little heart shapes in the tubs to gingerbread houses with icing all over them, all that’s needed is Hansel and Gretel. There are kits in a shop called Flying tiger in the center point shopping mall opposite the train station, if you wanted to try to make one at home.
Grab your skates
Located next to the railway station is an Outdoor Ice Rink. i can imagine it isn’t there all year round, but it is nice touch at this time of year and stays open till about 10 pm if you fancy a quick stake after dinner! It didn’t seem to busy the three days we saw it, and if you are an absolute beginner it has what only be described as ice Zimmer frames! to help you stay upright!
If you have time go to Tallinn, and if not make time!!
I mean that, its 23 euros to hop over the 100 or so kilometers to a picture perfect medieval town. I wont go on too much here as i will write a proper post when I’m on the plane flying back ( cant sleep and i have 10 hours!) but it is a country that isn’t that well traveled yet and it has a great many things to offer. For the moment just check out the pictures! we went on a wet and cold day and it was still lovely. Half the price of its richer Northern neighbour is an added bonus! Take a look at the Olde Hansa restaurant for a semi authentic medieval experience and menu! Check out the coming link for Tallinn at Christmas!
About the Author
Hi I’m Marc. A teacher of over 15 years, mostly English but dabbled in outdoor pursuits and media. Thought is was about time to sharing both what I have learnt during that time and the resources I have put together. On this site we aim to teach the theory and share our thoughts, but also go that one step further and give you access to the hard resources you need for your class or for you children. Feel free to take a look at our resources, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org, or jump on the Facebook group to ask questions. Happy learning, teaching or playing!
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