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May Day Celebrations in Helsinki

Wondering why everyone in Helsinki is dressed up like a sea captain on May 1st?

May Day in Helsinki

If you're planning a visit to the Nordic countries in early May, make sure to mark the 1st of May on your calendar. Known as May Day, or 'Vappu' in Finnish, this day isn't just a public holiday, it's a vibrant celebration deeply rooted in Finnish culture.

Originally a day dedicated to the working class, May Day has evolved into a festive occasion celebrated enthusiastically by students and locals alike. One of the most distinctive features of Vappu is the ubiquitous presence of white graduation caps, worn proudly by everyone from recent graduates to those who graduated decades ago.

Helsinki Spring Vappu by Julia Kivela Visit Finland
Image credit: Julia Kivela | Visit Finland

Beyond its academic roots, Vappu also heralds the end of the long Finnish winter and welcomes the warmth of spring. Throughout Helsinki, the streets come alive with carnival-style festivities adorned with balloons and streamers, creating a jubilant atmosphere that's infectious.

The focal point of Vappu celebrations in Helsinki is Kaivopuisto, a scenic park by the sea. Here, you'll encounter a true festival atmosphere as locals gather for picnics, pop open bottles of champagne, sing traditional songs, and even deliver speeches. It's not uncommon to spot people in whimsical costumes, all adorned with the iconic white graduation caps. Rain or shine, families and friends converge here year after year to partake in these joyous traditions.

Vappu credit Jussi Hellstén MyHelsinki
Image credit: Jussi Hellstén | MyHelsinki

A beloved tradition during Vappu is the placing of a graduation cap on the statue of Havis Amanda, located prominently near Helsinki's bustling market square. This ceremonial event, which occurs at 6 pm on April 30th, officially kicks off the Vappu festivities.

Visiting Helsinki on the 1st of May means immersing yourself in the city's largest annual public event. Whether you're a local or a visitor, you're encouraged to join in the celebrations and embrace the spirit of springtime camaraderie.

Vappu May Day doughnuts mead Credit Vastavalo Päivi Niemi
Image credit: Vastavalo | Päivi Niemi

Don't miss the opportunity to sample traditional Vappu treats such as 'Sima', a non-alcoholic mead with a hint of lemon, and 'Munkki', delectable Finnish donuts. Finns also make "tippaleipä", a deep-fried pastry made from wheat flour batter, which is drizzled into hot oil through a funnel, creating a delicate, long, crispy texture. These culinary delights are as much a part of Vappu as the festivities themselves.

Vappu mead tippaleipä Credit Visit Finland
Image credit: Visit Finland

So, if you are visiting Helsinki on 1st of May, prepare to be swept up in the exuberance of Vappu. It's a day where tradition meets modern revelry, creating memories that capture the essence of Finnish culture.

We also recommend exploring some 50 Degrees North tours that include a visit to Helsinki as well as the following travel blog articles by our destination specialists:

What to do in Helsinki

How about spending your next Easter in Finland?

Nordic Design and Food Tours

Things to see and do in Helsinki with kids

Experience summer time in Helsinki with the locals

Countdown to Christmas: Magical Helsinki Christmas Markets

Our guide to Restaurants in Helsinki

Helsinki Highlights: Visit a local sauna

And much more regarding Finland