Tallinn is a magical place to be at any time of the year. But, there’s something about winter that makes it perfectly enchanting.
With a brisk chill in the air and snow falling all around, winter is quiet in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn. The tourists have headed out, the cruise ships have departed and a blissful serenity settles on the city. Tallinn in winter is an incredible experience – provided you pack some seriously warm clothes.
Not sure yet whether you should add this Baltic capital to your bucket list? Let me try and convince you.
Tallinn in winter
Old Town Christmas Market
No winter in Europe is complete without visiting at least one Christmas market. Fortunately, Tallinn has you covered. Every year the Old Town is filled with wooden huts selling handmade trinkets and traditional snacks.
You’re unlikely to find anything unique for sale but Christmas markets are more about the experience than the purchases. So, grab yourself some hot wine, browse the stalls and enjoy the fairytale atmosphere.
Sunrise at the Kohtu Platform
Obviously, the sun rises every day, all year round. What you might not know, however, is that in winter then sun in Tallinn doesn’t rise until 8:30am. This means you don’t have to wake up at some ridiculous hour in the morning to see it.
The views from the Kohtu Platform in Toompea are said to be the best in the city. It’s a bit of a climb, but well worth it.
Choir Concerts in the Churches
Estonians love singing. And, they aren’t half bad at it either. There are choir concerts all over the city – particularly in Tallinn’s numerous churches. Pop in and soak up their dulcet tones for an hour or two before you carry on.
During December you are likely to encounter some carol services. These will usually mix traditional Estonian songs with some Christmas tunes. It also gives you a chance to step in from the bitter cold for a bit. Win-win.
Eat Lots of Gingerbread
Gingerbread is considered the most festive of treats by Estonians. The Bonaparte Restaurant in the Old Town is renowned for selling the finest gingerbread creations in town. But, there are a bunch of other places where you can sample the goods. You can even try making it yourself at one of KallasteTalu’s workshops.
Visit the Creepy Abandoned Prison
The Patarei Sea Fortress is the stuff of nightmares. A remnant of the KGB regime, the prison has been left in the exact state in which it was found after the liberation. The inside of the prison is now closed to visitors but you can still walk around the prison’s exterior.
Covered in snow and illuminated only by the feeble winter sunshine, there is something seriously eery about this building. It currently acts as a monument to the victims who suffered at the hands of communism and Nazism.
Do You Christmas Shopping
As I said, you’re unlikely to find any real gems in Tallinn’s Christmas market. However, there are plenty of quaint boutiques lining Tallinn’s cobbled streets that are ripe for exploring.
From high-end designers to quirky shops selling gorgeous handicrafts, there’s plenty of variety to be found in this eclectic capital’s shopping district.
Learn About Estonian Culture
Ok, so it’s too cold to do a walking tour. But, there are other ways to learn about this city. Tallinn has plenty of museums to visit as well as churches and galleries. Of particular interest to anyone with a sweet tooth is the Marzipan Museum.
With all the tourists out of the way, winter in Tallinn is the best time to immerse yourself in Estonian culture. If you want to go a step further, try and find a homestay or guesthouse and spend some quality time with an Estonian family.
Climb to the Top of the Town Hall Tower
This is best done when the entire city is blanketed in snow. From the top of the tower you can get some pretty incredible, panoramic views of the city. Take your camera and get climbing. There are a fair few stairs but you will thank yourself when you get to the top. And, you get a glute workout to boot.
Wander Around the St. Alexander Nesky Cathedral
Estonia is very cold during winter. It can get down to around 20°F during its coldest months. This means you should take any excuse you can to warm up. And, what better excuse than having a wander through a spectacular Russian church?
Slightly at odds with the rest of the architecture in the city, the St. Alexander Nesky Cathedral is utterly sublime. Yet, its exterior façade is only a taster of what’s to come. The pride and joy of this cathedral is its stunning interior.
Eat a Huge Pancake in Kompressor
When hunger strikes, there is only one name in Tallinn you need to know: Kompressor. This restaurant came highly recommended to me while I was in Tallinn and I ended up eating there three times. For just a few euros you can get the biggest pancake you’ve ever seen. I’m a hearty eater but even I couldn’t finish the whole pancake.
The pancakes here are divided into two categories: sweet and savoury. I recommend going with a friend and sharing one of each. That way you get to try both but you won’t feel ashamed of yourself afterwards.
Visit the Balti Jaam Market
If you get tired of the Old Town and want to branch out a bit then this market is perfect. Just outside of the medieval centre, Balti Jaam is a newly revamped market that sells just about everything.
It also has a brewery in case you need a mid-shop beverage. Just sayin’.
Bio: Jeremy Scott Foster is a travel writer, photographer, and professional adventurer. He has been traveling the world for 7 years, asking the hard questions, and learning about both the world and himself in the process.
His adventure travel blog, travelFREAK, has taken him to 35+ countries on six continents—he’s hiked glaciers in New Zealand, partied until sunrise on the beaches of Montenegro, taught English in China, conquered the highest bungee jump in the world, traversed Europe by train, and climbed inside the great Pyramids of Giza.