We wanted to squeeze in a little holiday before Christmas; somewhere cold and wintry to get us into the festive spirit and so we chose Tallinn in Estonia. We both thought it was such a beautiful and magical place, and really made you forget about everything else and just enjoy your time there. We’d definitely recommend visiting sooner rather than later though, before heavy tourism hits it and spoils the tranquillity!
Estonia is one of the colder European countries – situated next to both Scandinavia and Russia – and so the weather tends to average at around 20°C in summer, and -10°C in winter (although it can get as low as -25°C!). When we went in mid December, we definitely needed hats, scarves and lots of layers to keep us warm, so don’t underestimate the weather!
We’ve written a guide for What to Pack for a Winter Weekend in Tallinn if you need tips on what to expect!
Because Estonia is further away from the equator, their hours of daylight are quite a lot less than the UK. When we went, it didn’t get properly light until around 10am, and dusk began around 2:30pm – something my body clock struggled to adjust to.
The flight to Tallinn from London Gatwick took around two and a half hours, and was relatively cheap as we found a good deal a few months before. We landed in Estonia just after midnight after a couple of delays, and luckily managed to JUST catch the last tram from the airport into the city centre (which leaves the airport at 12:45am). The trams around the city are quite efficient and cover the large area, however in our opinion, the area around Old Town is the best place to stay and is where you’ll spend most of your time, so you should be fine to get most places on foot.
What to do
Visit Old Town – The Old Town in Tallinn is like something out of a fairy tale; beautiful pastel buildings lining the clean cobbled streets, with boutique shops and amazing discoveries down every alleyway. When we first walked through the archway, we felt like we’d stepped onto a film set! There are loads of great places to eat and drink here, and lovely souvenir and gift shops (not the usual tacky kind either, although they did sell shot glasses).
Christmas markets – Tallinn Old Town is home to a lovely little Christmas market between November and January. Before we went, we read a lot of articles claiming that it was ‘the best Christmas market in Europe’. It isn’t huge, and there isn’t LOADS of variety in what the stalls are offering, but it’s quaint and relaxed, and perfect for getting you into the festive mood! Tallinn is still quite a hidden gem, and tourism hasn’t really hit it yet, which is what makes it so peaceful! You can enjoy some Glögg (mulled wine), and a plate of local street food whilst listening to the local children singing Estonian carols on the stage in the evenings!
Husky Sledding/Hiking – When we stepped out of the minibus at The Paasiku Dog’s Manor, we heard the howling of excitement from the 26 Siberian Huskies, all eager to be fussed. When the snow falls in Estonia, the huskies love taking people out on sleigh rides, but unfortunately when we went there wasn’t any snow yet, so instead we went on a 5km trek with a husky attached to a lead around our waists (to help pull you along a bit!). This was still really nice as you got a little bit more personal with your dog and could enjoy the Estonian countryside. After our walk, we were shown around the rest of the fields with Alpacas, and given some tea and cake in the rustic barn. We booked through Prangli Travel, and it cost us €87 euro each – this is the cheapest it can be, as it does depend on how many other people sign up for the same day, and whether you get to go sledding or hiking. We did think it was quite expensive for what it was, but puppy therapy is puppy therapy!
Ice fishing – In the winter months, the lakes freeze over and you get the chance to drill your own hole and do some ice fishing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t cold enough when we went and the lake was still completely liquid, but something we’d really love to experience at some point!
Estonian Maritime Museum – On the way to our excursion at the husky park, two lovely ladies from Scotland were telling us about their visit to the Seaplane Harbour the previous day. It looked like there was loads of things to see, including a real submarine which you could get in and have a look around! Sadly we ran out of time, but we would’ve liked to visit.
Day trip to Helsinki – The ferry boat across to Helsinki takes around 2 hours and would make a great day out (and ticks off another country from your bucket list!). We didn’t do this, purely because we wanted to spend longer than a day in Finland and thought we’d save it for another trip instead.
Old Town Walking Tour – We love to do walking tours as we find them to be the best way of learning about the history, as well as being shown parts of the city we wouldn’t necessarily venture to on our own. We opted for the ‘Ghosts and Legends walking tour’ because we saw it in the information centre and it looked different – and it was only €15 per person. It wasn’t particularly scary, but it was a great way of learning about the different areas of the town, and some of the stories about the local myths. One of the interesting things that we learnt was about the Danish flag, and how it originated in Estonia. Quite a few people know the story about it falling from the sky and being the first ever flag, but not many people know that it all happened during a battle within the old town of Tallinn. There is even a danish flag made from tiles on the ground at the location it happened, and a section of the city dedicated to Denmark.
Visit Jagala waterfall – One place that we didn’t visit, but would have loved to. There are excursions on Get Your Guide for around £40, where they take you out from the city, to see the falls. In the winter, they can completely freeze up and offer a different kind of visit, with stunning views.
Warm up in Kahrwieder Chocolaterie – This is a really cool ‘underground bunker’ style cafe, right off the main square, filled with sofas, lamps and cushions to make it cosy, and they serve a great choice of hot drinks, cakes, and light bites. You can definitely see the Scandinavian influence of hygge here.
Go Bear Watching – Estonia has the highest brown bear density in Europe, a majority living in the Alutaguse Forest in the northeast of the country. There are different tours you can book in the summer months for the best chance of seeing the bears, as well as other wildlife such as elks, foxes and deer.
Enjoy local Estonian food – We absolutely loved Estonian food (things like sauerkraut, rye bread, pork and blood sausages) and there are loads of nice places to sample the local dishes.
Where to eat
The food in Estonia was amazing and we didn’t have one bad experience with food here. Even the burger we got from Mad Murphy’s Irish pub, at the end of a long alcohol-fuelled night, tasted amazing (although this might have been the beer talking). Our first meal in Tallinn was at Olde Hansaa, an authentic medieval dining experience. The waiters are all in costume and remain in character for the whole evening, calling you ‘my honourables’ and referring to cutlery as ‘weapons’. The whole place was lit with just candlelight, which makes choosing your food from the menu a bit of a challenge, and even the toilets are designed to fit in (below). Scott had bear (brown bear from Estonia) and I had wild boar neck – the food was lovely but you go for the experience!
Another place that we ate which had proper Estonian food was The Golden Piglet, where we ate pigs ears, beetroot and beef soup, moose, and Scott had the Golden Piglet crispy pork shank which was the biggest bit of pork, covered in crackling, that we’ve ever seen! One of the best places that we ate at was a restaurant called Farm. The place was beautiful and peaceful, and the food was like fine dining – but for a fraction of the cost! We had rabbit liver mousse, lamb tartar, duck breast and a really unusual rye bread pudding, which is a traditional dish in Estonia! The waitresses there were beautiful (why Scott enjoyed it so much), and were all so lovely and polite, which made the experience even better. Restaurant Lusikas is just outside of the Old Town, and we spent one of our afternoon/evenings here drinking and eating for about 6 hours. We ate oysters, moose, warm goats cheese and beetroot salad (about the only semi-healthy thing I had the whole 5 days), Lamb and a pudding of some kind but we genuinely can’t remember what we ate because of the alcohol! Four bottles of wine and four very stretched out courses of food later, I hugged the waitress (who personally came over and thanked us for being so polite and making her shift more enjoyable, which makes me now wonder what we actually ended up tipping her…), and stumbled home. The only complaint that we had was the the oysters there weren’t very nice at all. If you’re looking for amazing oysters and lovely seafood, then visit Nautilus which is a restaurant inside the Old Town. It serves some great seafood like eel, muscles and lobster, as well as meat dishes too, and the prices are very reasonable!
Estonia is a great place for a long weekend break, or maybe even a week if you’re looking to properly chill out! Apparently, there’s not a lot to do in other areas of the country, so Tallinn would be your go-to stay, but it might be nice to do an excursion to get you out of the capital for a day and see some countryside!
Shot glass number 11, done.