Helsinki’s Seurasaari Christmas Trail

The Seurasaari Island is a museum-island full of nature near Helsinki’s center. It’s a very popular sight, and checking it out is without a doubt one of the top things to do in Helsinki. But during the Christmas season there is an extra incentive to pay a visit: the Seurasaari Christmas Trail.

The tradition of the Seurasaari Christmas Trail

Bus 24 from the center of Helsinki takes you to Seurasaari all year round, but the next 15th of December it takes you to an event that only happens one Saturday per year: its traditional Christmas Trail.

Seurasaari Christmas Trail
Saying hello to Santa. This and the rest of the images of the post are courtesy of connectirmeli

And I say traditional because 2013 will be its 18th edition, according to their official website. For whoever wants to join, it will take place on the 15th of December (UPDATE 2014: this year it will be on Sunday 14th of December, from 12 to 17h), and is a free entry event for everyone (as it always has been), although it is of course especially oriented towards kids and their families. The people who make this possible are volunteers, and the event has hosted up to 15,000 guests in the past.

What can you do and what can you see on the Seurasaari Christmas Trail

The Finnish name of the Christmas Trail is Joulupolku. The idea is to plunge into a Christmas fantasy world, bringing back an idea of Christmas from a time when consumerism wasn’t a part of it, but the messages of love, peace, and togetherness with the family were.

Christmas Trail
The Christmas Trail is guided by candles.

There are plenty of different things to do along the Trail. Everywhere there are volunteers dressed as elfs (in Finnish, Tonttu) to greet you and your family, and to bring out everyone’s true Christmas spirit. Some Joulupukkis (the Finnish name of Santa Claus) will be there too. Also, the setting for this event couldn’t be better: the buildings of this museum-island will be decorated with classic Christmas motifs. The boys and girls that so please can bring their own ornaments and place them on the trees.

A house in Seurasaari
A little building, decorated.

There will be a straw-labyrinth and a one-horse-open sleigh (as the reindeer is more a Lapp animal), an “adventure trail”, a tent where someone will be reading Christmas tales, a Nativity scene, sleighs, places to sing songs and free Christmas pudding for the kids equipped with their own bowl and spoon.

More information about this year’s trail and program is already available on the event’s website. Not bad, right?

Families on the Helsinki Island
The Christmas Trail is a family event.

To summarize: I like it

Why do I like this Helsinki initiative? Because it is, as they say, an alternative to the consumerist fest. The Christmas attractions of the Finnish Lapland (the Santa Park or the Santa Claus Village, for instance) are great, but its location might make it challenging for many travellers to reach. This Christmas Trail, on the other hand, with all of its Christmas spirit and great location, the family theme, and its free nature make it – for me – an awesome option.

Elfs, volunteering
Some volunteer elfs.

Have you been to the Seurasaari Christmas Trail? Would you like to go this time around? Don’t forget your mittens!


The “Lapland Express”: a Helsinki-Rovaniemi High Speed Train

Traveling by train has its charm. In the era between traveling by horse and by plane, trains dominated the transport of people and goods (they still do, of course, but mainly for short routes).

There are some trains that stick in the collective imagination. For instance the Orient Express, that makes the link between Paris and Istanbul; The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, whose fictionalized version is presented in Wes Anderson’s movie “The Darjeeling Limited”; and the Polar Express (from the movie of the same title) that takes kids to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus.

A train just like the latter, but definitely much more real, is the one that we’ll talk about today: the Lapland Express.

A train in Finland
A train in Finland. This one would take you to Kotka. Source (CC:by)

The connections between Helsinki and Rovaniemi

Traveling in a straight line, there are 704 kilometers between Helsinki and Rovaniemi. The shortest road route between these two cities is 827 kilometers. It is definitely a long distance to reach the capital of the Finnish Lapland from the capital of Finland, and we also have to take into account that there is a lot more Lapland north of Rovaniemi.

But in the north of Finland and Lapland is where the best places to see the Northern Lights are. Plus, each winter Rovaniemi turns into the World Capital of Christmas, since Santa Claus lives there.

So, when planning our trip to Lapland, besides the option of taking a flight, starting this November we can head there on take a high speed train between Rovaniemi and Helsinki.

The Lapland Express train: High Speed between Helsinki and Rovaniemi

Even though the VR – the state-owned railway company of Finland – didn’t give this train line this name, in my opinion they should have… because it sounds awesome.

The Lapland Express
A train like the Lapland Express. Source (CC:by)

This train doesn’t take you to the North Pole like the Polar Express, the one that we mentioned at the beginning, does. This one goes right to the Arctic Circle (in this YLE article they called it the “Arctic Express“), and is one of the fastest trains in Finland. This, though, might not be saying a lot: it will cover the route between Rovaniemi and the capital of Finland in 8 hours, which is definitely an improvement over the 14 hours that the normal train takes.

These trains – Pendolino models – of the Lapland Express will reach 220 km/hour and at first there will only be one per week per route. The Helsinki-Rovaniemi train leaves on Saturday at 09:30 and arrives at 17:45. The train back, Rovaniemi-Helsinki, leaves on Sunday around 15:00 and reaches the capital at around midnight. In any case, and to be sure of the timetables and be aware of the possible changes, check out the VR trains website.

Perfect for a weekend visit to Joulupukki (the Finnish name for Father Christmas) and to head back to Helsinki, this new train link is definitely one of the many things to see on a trip to Finland.

What is your recommended way to travel to Lapland? Have you paid a visit to Joulupukki yet?


Snow Drifting: my experience drifting with cars in Finland

The time has come, yet another year. The first snowflakes have already fallen and there are less hours of light during the daytime, so every car in Finland now has to sport winter tires. It is time to enhance security… and maybe do some snow drifting.

Some winters ago I took a car trip with my Finnish friends. If I remember correctly, we went to practice some cross-country skiing in the outskirts of Joensuu, on a cold and sunny day. After some hours of skiing, and having fallen over many times in the snow – skiing doesn’t come naturally to me – it was time to head back to the city. But a surprise awaited me on the way back.

A car with winter tires, ready for some snow drifting.
Ready for some snow drifting. Fuente.

Snow drifting with a car in Finland: pure fun

What we did on the way back from our trip was one of the things I did in Finland that made me the happiest: getting behind the wheel of a Volvo on a clearing and starting to drift in the snow. It felt as if I was a driver in the Rally of Finland.

I have rented a car a couple of times in Finland – for instance to visit Koli, one of the national parks of Karelia, during the Ruska time – but never when the roads were covered with snow. Also, snow drifting with a rented car might not be the best of ideas.

And this is another reason I was really surprised: going snow drifting wasn’t my idea nor was it expected. We were on our way back to Joensuu when my Finnish friends decided take a detour, stop the car on a clearing, and ask me “Have you ever done snow drifting”? Having never ever driven a car in snow before, I of course said no.

They started the car and started to carve up the snow with the car’s thick winter tires. “Your turn”, they said a few minutes later.

That day I decided to put the camera aside and just focus on the experience, but now I miss having a video of it. Nonetheless, I can tell you that it was more or less like this.

And it was very fun. 15 minutes of speeding up, turning the wheel, use the hand break, and start again in every possible way I could come up with, all over virgin snow while hearing the engine roar. And the seats in the car were classic Nordic car seats: they were heated! Altogether it was an amazing experience that I can definitely recommend.

Learn to snow drift with a Finnish champion: Juha Kankkunen

This kind of activity is also on the rise in Finland: Rally champion Juha Kankkunen has started his own snow rally experience company, where he and his team can teach you to drive powerful cars and go snow drifting like a pro. This and other snow driving activities are listed here, and you can see Juha Kankkunen driving on snow in the video below. What an experience it must be!

Have you gone snow drifting? If you are in Finland this winter, I do recommend it. A lot.


Gay Helsinki: a gay guide to Finland’s capital

The other day I was looking over a travel guide from Germany and found a special section: a list of recommended places that are gay friendly. Since it really is an important aspect for many travellers – for instance, gay tourism from Russia into Finland has increased since Russia’s anti-gay laws were passed – and we haven’t yet talked about that here on Big in Finland, here you have it: a guide for a Gay Helsinki.

A Gay-friendly Helsinki

Helsinki is a member of the IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association) because its streets and services radiate a tolerant vibe and attitude.

A gay tour in  Helsinki
In Helsinki there are many places, services and guides that are Gay friendly. Source.

The list of places for a great Gay Helsinki experience comes from the city’s official tourism website, Visit Helsinki, since they are definitely much better connoisseurs of the gay scene in the capital. All the recommendations we put in this article (and many more) you can also check out on its website here.

The following list of places for a great Gay Helsinki experience is divided on four categories: hotels, bars, shopping and restaurants. We also add some locations and names so you can easily check them out on Google Maps.

Bars, cafés and night clubs

  • Café Cavalier, at Malminrinne 2-4
  • Hugo’s Room, café, bar and terrace, at the street Iso Roobertinkatu 3
  • Nalle Pub, at Kaarlenkatu 3-5
  • Kulmakahvio – Bear Park Kulma, a little café at Agricolankatu 13
  • Hercules Gay Night Club, right in the center of Helsinki. Concretely at Lönnrotinkatu 4.

A gay guide of Helsinki
A gay Helsinki. Source.

Shopping and hotels

  • EDEL City, where you can find ecologically made objects at Fredrikinkatu 33.
  • The prison-themed hotel Katajanokka.
  • Hotel Albert, at Albertinkatu 30.
  • Klaus K Hotel, hotel which concept and decoration was inspired by the Finnish national epic: the Kalevala. It is located at Bulevardi 2-4

Highlight: the biggest gay club of the nordic countries

We want to highlight the DTM, one of the big gay clubs in Helsinki, open at a new location since February 2013. It is the biggest bar and gay club Finland and the Nordic Countries, and also attracts lots of tourists from Russia.

The DTM won an award last year from the Finnish newspaper City as the best dance floor in town. Therefore, one can pretty safely say that good music is guaranteed. It is located right in the center of Helsinki, at the street Mannerheimintie, 6B.

A Gay Helsinki experience also includes great clubs
A club in Helsinki. Source.

The Gay Parade of Helsinki

On the website Helsinki Pride, they list all the events related to the Gay week of Helsinki. It has already passed this year (it was from the 24th to the 30th of June) but happens every year around those dates. Bookmark their website if you want to be kept up-to-date on Helsinki’s gay scene during that party-filled week.

Have you been to some of these places? Do you have any further gay Helsinki recommendations? Let us know in the comments.