I am a firm believer of no talking about Christmas until after bonfire night at the very least. I am currently resolutely ignoring the mince pies that have gone on sale in the supermarkets, and hiding facebook posts from friends who are letting me know that there’s only 70 ‘sleeps’ until Christmas Eve. Despite this miserable opening, I promise I’m not a scrooge. I love the time spent with family and friends during the festive season. I just think it’s a bit much to be talking about it before Halloween has even happened. There is of course one important exception to this: if you are planning a Christmas trip then early planning can often be essential.
I love the Queensland weather, but celebrating in 30+ degree heat feels bizarre. Apart from the obvious Christmas things you miss when you live 10,000 miles away from your family, December is the only time of year I catch myself yearning for the British weather. Putting on your winter coat, wrapping a scarf around your neck, pulling a woolly hat over your ears and venturing out into a cold, crisp day to find a market selling mince pies and mulled wine feels so Christmassy. Laying in the sun and jumping into the pool now and then to cool off does not.
It’s that (temporary) yearning for Northern European weather that made me want to share details of a Christmas trip I took to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. If you’re in Europe already, it’s a super affordable way to have a quintessential Christmas long weekend, complete with markets and a huge tree in the medieval square. If you are further afield and planning a longer visit to Europe, then make sure the well-known destinations like Paris and Munich don’t push the hidden treasures of Tallinn off your list. Its beautiful architecture, fascinating history, charming character and outstanding value all deserve your attention and time.
What to do in Tallinn
Like most European cities, Tallinn has a stunning main square. At Christmas time it really comes into its own, and can make even the most non Christmassy of people feel the magic of the season. The market stalls sell freshly made mulled wine and hand crafted gifts, the stage provides a spot for carollers and dancers to show off their talents, and you can even meet jolly old St Nick himself.
The whole scene takes place around a stunning huge Christmas tree and beneath enchanting twinkling lights. It is not to be missed.
Free walking tour
It’s perfectly possible to just do some googling or grab a guide book and set off exploring on your own, but the free two hour walking tour will ensure not only that you don’t miss the best sites, but that you benefit from some local knowledge and entertaining stories along the way. Do it as early as possible in your trip, as you’ll almost certainly come across things you want to come back and explore further. It will also give you a chance to clock where all the best pastry and chocolate shops are – you’ll be spoilt for choice, I promise.
The tour departs daily at 12pm from the front of the Tallinn Tourist Information at Niguliste 2. No need to book, but show up by 11.45am to secure your spot. The tour is free, but as always contributions are encouraged at the end if you’ve had a good time. The groups can be large, so book a private tour if you want a more intimate experience.
Find out more about the free tour and other paid options here.
The Tallinn TV Tower
Officially known as the Tallinna Teletorn, this 314m building is the tallest in Estonia. As well as 360 degree views of Tallinn, there are a number of other attractions, a nice restaurant, and a fascinating history which make it more than just a nice look out spot.
Both the ground floor and the viewing platform provide photos and exhibitions which give insight into Estonia’s Soviet past, including the dramatic failed attempt of the USSR to seize the tower after Estonia declared independence in 1991. It’s worth spending some time finding out more about this, and see if you can find out how a box of matches helped save the day.
The Estonian Hall of Fame on the 22nd floor outlines some of the country’s major achievements through an interactive tech led exhibition. You’ll learn plenty – for example did you know Estonia was the first country to allow citizens to cast their votes digitally or that Tallinn has some of the best WiFi coverage in the world? You can even find out if you’re cut out to be an astronaut, but be prepared for some brutal responses…
For those who are not afraid of heights, it’s possible to walk on the edge – literally. Once you’re strapped to the building with a safety harness, you can step over the barriers and walk along the very edge of the building’s roof. Unlike other attractions like this, everything is included – even the photo of you having a great time/being absolutely terrified (delete as appropriate).
Quite rightly they don’t let you up there if you’re drunk or if you suffer from ‘poor hand-eye-mouth coordination’ (?!), but other than that as long as you’re over 13, have €25 to spend, and enjoy putting yourself in scary and potentially traumatic situations for no apparent reason then you’re good to go.
For those who are more sensible, you can stand directly on some (seriously reinforced) glass and look straight down.
Buy your tickets for the tower online in advance to avoid queuing up. Catch the 34A, 38, or the 288 bus from Viru keskus 5 and you’ll get there in less than 15 minutes.
There’s nothing like strapping on some ice skates to really it make it feel like winter, and in Tallinn you can do this at the rink on Harju street next to St. Nicholas’ Church. It’s really quite a special experience to glide (or slide, depending on your skill level) between these stunning medieval buildings. If you’re lucky, there will be a light sprinkling of snow across the rooftops, and you’ll feel like you’re on the front of a Christmas card. Once you’ve finished, head to one of the many nearby cafes to sample one of Tallinn’s deliciously rich hot chocolates.
It’s €7 entry, but skate hire is an additional €3 an hour. It opens at the end of November and closes in March.
Head here for all the details.
The Tallinn Card
While you are planning what to do in Tallinn, it’s a good idea to work out if you could save money with the Tallinn Card. It gives you free access to lots of the museums and attractions, free travel on public transport, and a range of discounts on activities and at restaurants. You can also get something called the Tallinn Card PLUS, which gives you all of the above plus free rides on the hop on hop off bus tours.
Whether or not it’s worth it depends entirely what you’d like to do. If you’re going to mainly walk and stay around the Old Town, going into the churches and museums that charge a couple of euro each, then probably not. If you want to explore further afield and go to some places which have higher admission fees, then you’ll end up saving money.
You can buy different cards for different periods of time. Under 18s get the child price, and you can bring two kids under 7 for free with each adult card purchased. Buy it online and have it straight on your phone, or pick one up from the airport, harbour, bus station, or the tourist information centre.
For all the information, head to the official Visit Tallinn site.
Where to stay in Tallinn
Unfortunately the Airbnb we stayed in is no longer on the site, but the location was great. Try and stay near the Town Hall Square if you can.
Where to eat and drink in Tallinn
I made the trip to Tallinn before I started this blog so didn’t make a list of the places we went 😫
However I have found this great instagram account which will give you lots of up to date ideas on the best food and drink around. They also post about the various restaurant weeks and food festivals, so definitely worth checking out both before you go and while you’re there.
Getting there and getting around
You can get some super cheap tickets from EasyJet and RyanAir, and British Airways has started flying there too. (I mean super cheap – I found direct EasyJet flights departing London Stansted on Wed 12th December and returning Monday 17th for £45).
We got a taxi from the airport to the Old Town which wasn’t too expensive.
Once you’re there most of the Old Town can be explored on foot. If you want to go further, you can use use the hop on hop off tourist service but the main public transport is pretty decent – someone at the information centre will be more than happy to help you plan your journey.
To find out more about spending Christmas (and indeed any time of the year) in Tallinn, head to the Visit Tallinn website.
If you have any questions, want help planning a trip to Tallinn, or have an idea for a guest blog please email firstname.lastname@example.org.