The tip of Tallinn Town Hall’s tallest spire rises above the red-tiled roofs as the Christmas Market, Jouluturg for those in the know, unfolds below on Raekoja (Town Hall Square) with its cheerful, brightly-lit huts, gigantic fir tree and enticing aroma of glöggi (mulled wine). Indeed, every year since 1441 a Christmas tree is culled in a neighbouring forest to honour Christmas and the Nativity on Raekoja.
Santa Claus regularly makes the rounds at Jouluturg, accompanied by two Estonian beauties with flaming red hair. Of course, his home at the North Pole is only a fifteen-minute flight by reindeer-powered sleigh - all he has to do is cross the Baltic Sea, fly over Helsinki and head north to arrive in Rovaniemi, where his elves are busily preparing their parcels. To the sound of brass bands, Father Christmas greets the children who watch, wide-eyed, as he loads his sack with all sorts of marvels - you can’t miss him! And here at Jouluturg he has plenty of gifts to choose from: the requisite mittens, scarves and assorted caps; fancy hand-knitted jumpers; embroidered cardigans; reindeer skins; local handicrafts and wooden toys; scented candles; and plenty of tempting treats to eat and drink...
Unlike many European markets further south, Christmas markets in the north tend to be authentic and traditional. In winter, there aren’t many tourists in Tallinn; the crowd in Jouluturg is mainly made up of Estonians who buy their gifts here and then have a meal with friends or family - a delicious sausage or ham hocks and cabbage with soup and ale. Tallinn’s Christmas Market is made for them, but if travellers want to come and discover the city while taking advantage of the festivities, they can expect a warm welcome. During their visit, they’ll also be able to enjoy the excellent restaurants which have taken over the discreet little streets of the Old City.
Hot chocolate, garden peas & Toompea
Tallinn is a large city whose medieval centre is protected by an imposing 13C defensive wall with guard towers and crenellated ramparts. Above it sits Toompea Hill, the Upper Town, even lovelier than the centre but much quieter. The European modern city, with its trams and parking lots, shopping malls and department stores, begins on the far side of the Viru Gates. But it’s really the Old Town which is worth visiting, and you can easily spend all your time wandering about discovering it.
Perhaps you’ll want to leave your hotel early in the morning and head for Toompea: admiring the roofs of the Lower Town as the day begins below is an endlessly satisfying spectacle. You could stroll around, stop in a few shops and visit a museum - the Kadriorg Art Museum, for example, housed in Peter the Great’s summer palace. The city also boasts twelve magnificent churches where concerts are regularly held, often free of charge.
You can replenish body and soul at the Dominican Monastery cloister - it is said to have magical powers. And of course, frequent hot chocolate stops are highly recommended, accompanied now and again by a little something sweet. The temperature generally hovers around freezing, but rarely dips lower.
Estonians fancy cabbage and garden peas, chicken, anchovies and sprats, pork and sauerkraut, blood pudding, beetroot and potatoes which are prepared in countless ways: when it is this cold out, you need your calories! Evening meals generally consist of lighter fare such as canapés or fish, served at around 6 pm.
Vana & Viru go to the sauna
Around 3-4 pm, the sun sets and the sky grows dim - it’s time to end the constitutional walk and go back to your hotel to freshen up before heading out anew.
The Meriton Grand Hotel, ex-palace of the Soviet nomenklatura, is not Tallinn’s finest hotel, but it does have private sauna-jacuzzis you can book for two hours at a stretch: who said that cold weather isn’t romantic? You won’t leave until it’s time for cocktails, preferably at the Stereo Lounge (where you can also have snacks and even dinner).
Tallinn is a city you’ll want to visit on foot, so take advantage of the fact that you needn’t drive home! The local aperitifs are Vana Tallinn (40°), a delicious liqueur flavoured with herbs and spices, and Viru Valge (40°), Estonian vodka which, along with Finnish Koskenkorva (40°), is one of the world’s best, excellent with fish, salmon and prawns. You’ll drink a toast to Father Christmas; to Old Thomas, iconic figure of the Old City; to Toompea; to Pikk and Viru, the two main streets you’ve strolled up and down; to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and to St. Olaf’s Church; to the sauna and to this fabulous winter weekend which so warmly heralds in holiday festivities…
Tallinn Tourist Office
Estonia Tourist Office