After visiting Tallinn Old Town when it was covered in snow I can honestly say it was one of the most surreal but gorgeous cities I’ve ever experienced, and at this time of year seeing all the photos of it with it’s Christmas market, I imagine it to be even more like a fairytale. Aside from people flocking to the famous Christmas market, a visit to Tallinn in the winter months is off season, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things you can do. Here’s your checklist for things to do to really experience a fairytale winter in Tallinn.
See the giant Christmas tree, and learn why it is so special
The Tallinn Christmas tree was said to be the first tree in Europe ever to be placed in a town square, back in the 1400s and kick starting a tradition all over the continent. The Estonians take their tree very seriously, and every year a contest is held to find the prettiest tree for the honour.
Visit the Christmas market on Town Hall Square
The tiny wooden huts that make up the Christmas market fill the town hall square, and all branch off from the giant Christmas tree centre point. Wander the rows of stalls under fairy lights, and find a mix of everything you would expect from a European market, but with an Estonian twist to the food, drinks and crafts on offer. The market is there right up until 7th January 2019, from the last week in November.
Go ice skating on Harju Street
What better setting for an outdoor ice rink than when it’s surrounded by snow? The old town outdoor ice rink can be found near St Nicholas’ church on Harju Street. It’s pretty cheap, at 7 euros for adults, and a skate rental of 8 euros for an hour. Of course a lot of the locals have their own, but tourists are welcome and can enjoy an hours skate followed by a hot chocolate at the cafe afterwards.
Enjoy a hot chocolate at Pierre Chocolaterie
If you want to skip the skating but want one of the most incredible hot chocolates you can imagine, in the quaintest of cafes then head to Pierre Chocolaterie. The entire menu is based around chocolate, so everything you can order has it in some form, from drinks, to cakes, to truffles and biscuits. The cafe itself is like a treasure chest of fabrics, velvet, fringe, lace and frills. It’s cute, and the most chocolatey hot chocolate you will ever taste.
Try the seasonal menu at Olde Hansa
At Olde Hansa, or ‘The Rich Merchants house’, everyone is in character and every detail is considered to give you the most medieval experience possible. Walking into it is like stepping into a pub from the 16th century, and during the winter months expect a lot of meat dishes, beetroot salad and herring specialities on the seasonal menu, a dark porter beer that goes very well with roast meat, and try the local Kringle sweet bread with whipped cream.
Buy some local Estonian gifts or souvenirs
Of course the Christmas market has some of the most traditional crafts and hand made trinkets, but the boutiques and little stores that are dotted about the old town offer plenty themselves too. You’ll find some of the warmest winter wear, hats gloves, scarves and knitwear, as well as Russian dolls, wooden toys, and a lot of amber jewellery.
Take a day trip to the countryside for winter sports
Not far from Tallinn you can venture into the Estonian countryside to take part in winter sports or have some fun in the snow. Go sledging in one of the parks, take a husky sled ride or even go cross country skiing.
Sample the gingerbread
It can’t be Christmas without a gingerbread something, and every December Tallinn hosts a gingerbread design exhibition where people can submit gingerbread creations. If taking part isn’t your thing and you prefer to eat it instead, then the best in the city can be found at The Bonaparte restaurant.
Experience the twilight views over the city
Tallinn has a number of viewing platforms that on a crisp clear winter night give some of the most incredible views over the old town. The red rooftops covered in a layer of snow and the glowing lights coming from the windows make the city look like a fairytale. For a full list of the best views in Tallinn take a look at this post, but the two best are Kohtuotsa and Patkuli.
Buy some roasted nuts from a street stall
As you wander round both upper and lower Tallinn you’ll notice the little stalls, usually orange and white stripy with medieval looking women behind them. They sell winter warmers such as hot drinks and roast nuts to snack on, so you can often find them near the popular tourist spots and views.
Go to a carol service in one of Tallinn’s many churches
For such a small place Tallinn is full of churches, none more grand and extravagant than the Alexander Nevsky cathedral. Visit to hear the bells ring and the choirs sing Christmas carols.
Visit Maiasmokk cafe, famous for marzipan
Whether you love it or hate it marzipan is one of those Christmassy sweet treats that appear every year, and it’s thought that it originated from Tallinn in the Middle Ages. Maiasmokk cafe is located in the old town and is the oldest cafe in Tallinn. Inside you can learn all about the history of marzipan in the museum, which is an entire room dedicated to the marzipan story, but you can visit to just enjoy the cafe for a coffee or cake too.
Take a photo of the colourful Catherine’s Passage in the snow
Found opposite the Telegraph hotel is a narrow passageway that might appear a bit daunting at first, but once you emerge into the little courtyard you’ll find the most colourful buildings surround you. It looks even prettier in the snow.
Take a ride on the Old Town train
Tallinn old town is pretty small, but still the cobbled streets and steep banks up the hill can make it difficult to wander around in the snow. Hop on the cute little Tallinn train for a short ride around the city. Take your camera too because you’ll really appreciate all the gorgeous coloured little buildings everywhere.
Tallinn is a truly unique city, and one that I really enjoyed visiting in winter. I’m not sure it would have the same charm in the summer, so if you’re looking for a winter city break to somewhere unusual where you can do all sorts of activities, and really embrace the season then Tallinn should be pretty high up on your list.
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