If you’re planning a trip to Europe this winter, there’s a good chance you’ve found Tallinn to come highly recommended. Over the last several years, tourism in Estonia’s capital has spiked exponentially. Thousands of old and new visitors alike arrive almost daily during the summer, with many of them returning during the Christmas season to see the beautiful Medieval town centre at its most festive.
With the majority of its original walls, towers, buildings, and streets still intact, Tallinn has long held its title of the most well-preserved Medieval capital city in Europe. And while it is beautiful at all times of the year, it is perhaps at its most special during the cold months of winter. With snow-capped towers, pretty lights, cosy cafes, beautiful music, and of course a huge tree in the centre of the Christmas Market, Tallinn is the ideal holiday destination. Not too big, not too small; plus the Estonian Christmas tree tradition is claimed to be the very first of its kind, dating back to 1441! And if you want to hear more about the history, join our tours.
If you’ve already booked a trip or are still considering, here is a quick guide to the best winter activities to check out while you’re here:
The market is, of course, the highlight of Tallinn at Christmas time. This is partly because of its location at the heart of the medieval town but also its irresistible festive spirit, conjured up from the sound of the music, the smell of the food, and the taste of the glögg. Glögg is the Estonian’s very own hot spiced alcohol recipe, differing from other European mulled wine. It is usually made from Estonian berry juice and spices but with something a little stronger! If you’re looking for the most authentic Estonian experience (and are feeling brave), why not try it with the shockingly strong Vana Tallinn liqueur? It might just blow your winter socks off!
For the young and not-so-young alike, Harju Ice Rink is a chance to slow down and just enjoy a beautiful view. The historic St. Nicholas Church is right close by, with the rink just around the corner from the market in Town Hall Square. Open from the beginning of December until the very end of March, ice skating is available to pass the time during the long Baltic winter! Prices from €5-7.
Estonia is well known for its contributions to the world of classical music, with many famous musicians, composers, and conductors, along with a broad history of singing. Top-tier Estonian choirs and orchestras perform regularly both around the country and internationally, so it is well worth finding a concert or church service to attend during the Christmas period. This will give you some time to soak up the aural traditions of this special country and appreciate the acoustics of the many beautiful churches in the city.
Despite not being an Estonian beverage, coffee is well-loved by the Estonians. This is evidenced by the sheer number of delightfully cosy cafes dotted around all parts of the city, with many privately owned, independent places. Arriving first in 1702, coffee was introduced to these cold, northern parts of the Baltics by a Spaniard and his family who set up the first cafe in Town Hall Square. Although this building is no longer a cafe, Kehrwieder Chocolaterie is just a few feet away and is arguably the cosiest cafe in Tallinn. Maiasmokk is also worth a visit, as it is said to be the oldest running cafe in the city, as well as a marzipan museum. Estonians also love their pastries, so do be sure to check those out as well!
The Baltic Station Market (or Balti Jaama Turg in Estonian) is one of the most exciting locations on this list and is just as worth a visit in the wintertime as in summer. Renovated in 2016, this bustling marketplace is located on three floors inside the original railway buildings dating back to the late 19th century. Often overflowing with fresh, local produce from fruit and vegetables to mushrooms and berries, there is also a large number of street food takeaway kitchens. These provide all the fresh, hot food you could possibly want, from curry to sushi and pizza to vegan burgers. But that’s not all! On the top floor, you can easily get lost amongst the various sellers of Estonian arts and crafts, vintage clothes, second-hand shops, and much more. This makes BJT the perfect place to warm up and find some souvenirs to take back to friends and family.
Located along the coast on the northern side of the Kalamaja district of Tallinn, Noblessner is a former submarine shipyard that has just recently become one of the fastest-growing districts of the city. Old factory buildings are becoming homes to new apartments, new design and home furnishing stores, beauty salons, art galleries, and restaurants. But for our purposes, this is particularly worth a visit during Christmas to see the large tree, beautifully decorated and lit up throughout the night.
Lastly but not least, if you are looking for a genuinely authentic Estonian winter experience, you need look no further than the (weather-depending) frozen harbour where only the bravest or craziest locals will go to take a dip in the ice-covered water before warming back up in a steaming hot sauna. This experience is then repeated as many times as you can! Not only is this wonderfully stimulating for the mind and body, but this is also something you will definitely not forget that you can boast about to your friends and family when you get back home!