Fresh, crisp air, twinkling lights, early sunsets and gothic buildings lining the skyline. From the moment you step off the bus, you feel as though you have stepped back in time. There is no better place to spend winter in Europe than Tallinn. Visiting Tallinn in winter needs be high on your European bucket list.
We visited Tallinn, Estonia as part of a “stop over” in the Baltic countries on the way to Lapland, Finland from Berlin. It was a bit of a whim and boy, am I glad we chose Tallinn. It is a stunning medieval city that truly gives you a look into what life would have been like back in the medieval times.
- 1 Where is Tallinn?
- 2 The weather in Tallinn in winter
- 3 Things to do in Tallinn in Winter
- 3.1 Christmas Markets
- 3.2 Visiting Tallinn’s Old Town Square
- 3.3 Walk the city walls
- 3.4 Marvel at the Kohtuotsa viewing platform
- 3.5 Check out the city from Patkuli Viewing Platform
- 3.6 Dine in an old Medieval Restaurant
- 3.7 Enjoy a nice Meade at Olde Hansa
- 3.8 Go Ice Skating
- 3.9 Warm up in a cute Café
- 3.10 Explore Toompea (the upper town)
- 3.11 Admire Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
- 3.12 Walk down St. Catherine’s Passage
- 3.13 Wander the Garden in the Kadriorg Palace
- 3.14 Find a medieval cart selling warm drinks and roasted nuts
- 3.15 Shop at Oma Asi
- 3.16 Olaf’s Church
- 3.17 St Nicholas Church
- 3.18 Check out the array of cute doors in Tallinn
- 3.19 Take a free walking tour
- 3.20 Pikk Street
- 3.21 Mundi Street
- 3.22 Viru Street
- 3.23 Visit the Danish Kings Gardens
- 3.24 Just get lost
- 3.25 Take a day trip to Helsinki
- 4 Where to stay in Tallinn
- 5 What to wear in Tallinn in winter
- 6 Share It!
- 7 My BEST Travel Resources
Where is Tallinn?
Tallinn is the Capital city of Estonia which is one of the Baltic States (or Baltic countries). It situated on the Gulf of Finland. As soon as you cross the Gulf of Finland you will arrive in Helsinki.
Tallinn is a small city of less than half a million residents. Despite the size of the city, it packs a punch. Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. Tallinn has preserved its walled Old Town filled with cobblestone streets, cafes, shops and Kiek in de Kik, which a 15th century defensive tower.
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The weather in Tallinn in winter
Winter in Tallinn is very cold and if you’re lucky, very snowy. During December Tallinn only get around six hours of daylight (but don’t let this put you off visiting in the winter!). The coldest months in Tallinn are from December until march. The average temperature in winter is -5°C but it can get as low as -18°C especially at night. So make sure you pack layers and layers, and maybe some more layers.
Don’t let the sun out the window fool you, the weather is very very cold.
Things to do in Tallinn in Winter
You cannot go to Europe in winter without visiting the Christmas markets. Many Christmas markets around Europe can be quite busy and overwhelming. However, the Christmas markets in Tallinn are a lot more quite and there is plenty of room to move around.
The Christmas markets are in the main square and have the gorgeous gothic buildings as the back drop. In 2019, the markets were voted the best Christmas Markets in Europe.
Tallinn has the oldest Christmas Tree in Europe, well the actual tree is not the oldest. But, in 1441 Tallinn put the first tree on display. Every where, a Christmas tree is still placed in the middle of the Town Square.
If you were to observe the Christmas Markets from above, it would look like a star. The Christmas tree is in the middle of the markets and the stalls branch out from the middle.
The Christmas markets are super cosy and have some very unique stalls, selling unique food, drinks and Christmas decorations.
If you visit the markets around lunch or dinner time, grab a meal and some mulled wine. Sausages and fried potatoes are some of the best you will taste, unless you want to eat a blood sausage make sure you point to the right one.
Visiting Tallinn’s Old Town Square
Tallinn has one of the most beautiful old towns. From the moment you enter the old city gate and view the medieval buildings that are still very much intact. To the gorgeous Gothic Town Hall which was built in the 13th century with its 64m tall tower, still remains in Tallinn historic town square.
The town square is filled with restaurants eclectic shops and of course, the Christmas markets in the winter.
Back in medieval times the square was the heart of Tallinn. It was established to serve as the market for the Hanseatic merchants. The merchants built their houses and warehouses around the market.
Today, houses and warehouses are gorgeous pastel shades of pink, blue, yellow and white. No matter what you decide to do in Tallinn, you will come across the market square more than once and you will spend countless hours looking at the buildings.
Walk the city walls
There are not many cities in Europe that still have their city walls in tact, however, Tallinn’s old city walls are still perfectly in tact and allow you to see city from a different perspective.
The oldest sections of the walls were built in the 13th centaury and become some of the biggest and strongest defenses in Europe.
Today, you can view from the wall from many points around the city but the best vantage point is from Patkuli viewing platform.
If you would like to walk part of the wall you can walk the section the connect the Nunne, Sauna and Kuldjala towers. From the wall you can get beautiful views of Toompea and the Old Town.
During the winter months the walls are open to the public on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and the cost starts from 3 € per adult.
Marvel at the Kohtuotsa viewing platform
One of the most famous views of Tallinn is Kohtuotsa viewing platform, also known as the times we had platform.
The viewing platform sits within the old city walls and is open to the public 24 hours a day. It is a great place to watch the sunrise and sunset or if you want to take in the city lights at night.
Kohtuotsa can get quite busy but people usually come up here for a quick snap before moving on, so if you have a little time you can wait for other people to move on before getting the perfect shot.
The view point is free to visit and is relatively easy to find. It is located on the northern side of Toompea hill. If you are near the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and find Kohtu. Put the address – Kohtu 12, 10130 Tallinn – into Google Maps you will be there in no time.
Check out the city from Patkuli Viewing Platform
Another beautiful view in Tallinn is from Patkuli Viewing Platform. The views from Patkuli are breathtaking, you can see castles, towers, the ocean and beautiful coloured buildings.
Patkuli is located on top of a lime stone cliff of Toompea Hill in the Old Town. This part of the city is the most ancient area and has plenty to explore.
From the Old Town there are a few ways to access Patkuli, In Snelli Park you will find the Toompea staircase. The 157 step staircase will take you straight to the view point. This is the quickest way to Patkuli but requires a moderate level of fitness.
For an easier and more scenic route, you can head to the view point from the Danish Kings Garden and the Alexander Nevksy Cathedral.
The view point is open 24 hours a day like the Kohtuotsa viewing platform and is also free to visit.
Dine in an old Medieval Restaurant
Tallinn is filled with old medieval restaurants serving the most amazing local food. Our favourite was the Peppersack which located just off the main square right in the middle of the old town.
Even in the winter, there was bit of a wait to get a table but it was so worth it. The peppersack is in a historic building with over 600 years of history. The spacious hall is lit with dim lighting and has an atmosphere similar to that of the Late Renaissance period.
The waiters are all dressed in period dress and in the middle of dinner you are treated to a battle reenactment.
The food is beautiful and very well presented. For a decent price you will definitely not leave hungry. There is also a bakery located inside the pepper sack which allows you to take away a selection of buns and desserts.
The cafes history is even longer than that of the restaurant. Not only is this a fantastic option for tourists but it is also loved by locals.
Enjoy a nice Meade at Olde Hansa
Like the Peppersack, Olde Hansa is a beautiful medieval tavern. The tavern is light by candlelight and they serve their own mead.
The waiter all dress in medieval clothing and the only music played is from the medieval times, the Mead is serviced in ceramics and is a perfect way to warm up when it is crisp outside.
At Old Hansa the mead is made the way the Vikings used it to drink it, as an ale. You can choose from a dark ale with honey or a light ale with cinnamon. Unlike a lot of other things in Tallinn, the Mead is not overly cheap at 6€ but it well worth the 6€.
The Tavern also sells are wide range of foods made with recipes from the 15th century. If you visit the tavern in the evening you can enjoy the live medieval music.
Go Ice Skating
During winter in Tallinn you have the ability to go ice skating right in the middle of Old town. This unique ice skating rink is open from the beginning of December and closes at the end of March. The ice rink is on Harju Street right next to St Nicholas Church.
If, like me, ice skates are not something you generally pack when you go travelling, you are able to hire every thing you need to have the perfect ice skating experience.
Warm up in a cute Café
Travelling around Europe in winter can be very cold work. Luckily, there are plenty of cute cafes in Tallinn where you can get a hot drink and take some time to warm up.
Some of the best cafes in Tallinn are Cafe August, Chocolats de Pierre, Kehrwieder Saiakang Chocolaterie and Maiasmokk Cafe. However, no matter which café you walk passed if you pop in you are bound to find some where warm to defrost your fingers and nose!
Explore Toompea (the upper town)
Toompea is a limestone hill that the upper half of Tallinn’s old town was built on. Today when you visit the area you will see Estonian government and parliament building. It is also home to a beautiful view point – Patkuli viewing platform.
Toompea dates back as far at the 13th century and is filled with winding, cobblestoned streets that take you past courtyards, churches, old merchant houses and of course, gorgeous half-hidden lanes.
For centuries Tallinn’s old town (as we know it today) has been divided into two distinct parts, Toompea hill which was countryside and the Lower Town which was a separate political entity.
Today, if you climb up Toompea hill you will find Castle Square in the middle of the government buildings and of course, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Castle square is where the Knights of the Sword built a fortress in 1229.
Admire Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Russian Othodox Church in Tallinn and can be seen for miles. Teh beautiful domes and bright colours really brighten up a cold dreary day in Tallinn in winter.
The Cathedral was established in 1900 when Estonia was still part of the Russian Empire. It was dedicated to the Prince of Novgorod to demonstrate power over the.
The Cathedral is home to Tallinn’s largest church bell and is absolutely stunning on the inside. Make sure you head in out of the cold explore what this stunning cathedral has to offer.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is open from 8am until 6pm every day of the week and is free to visit. However, please mindful and respectful as services are conducted here. When there are services in progress the cathedral will most likely be closed to tourists.
Walk down St. Catherine’s Passage
Monk’s Alley, or as it is known today, St Catherine’s passage (or Katariina käik) is a picturesque laneway that winds behind St Catherine’s Church.
It is a well preserved medieval laneway filled with ancient tombstones on the walls. Walking down St Catherine’s passage you will truly feel as though you have stepped back in time.
St Catherine’s passage is also home to the Guild which are craft workshops selling an array of things from clothes and jewelry to ceramics and glassware. It the perfect place to buy some Estonian souvenirs.
Like many of the sites in Tallinn, St Catherine’s passage is open 24 hours a day and is free to visit. St Catherine’s Guild is open every day (except for Sunday’s) from 11am until 6pm.
Wander the Garden in the Kadriorg Palace
Founded in 1718 by Russian Tsar Peter I, the palace was named Kadriorg Palacen. The palace displays a beautiful main hall is one example of Baroque architecture in Estonia. The palace is surrounded by beautiful gardens filled with fountains, hedges and flowerbeds. The gardens were modelled off the gardens at Versailles palace.
Today, the palace (which is also known as the Presidential Palace) is home to the Kadriorg Art museum which features Estonia’s collect of foreign art from the 16th to the 20th centaury.
Even in the chilly air when the flowers aren’t in full bloom it is beautiful to walk around the gardens that surround the palace. The fountains are lovely and there is a nice view over the walls of the gardens.
Find a medieval cart selling warm drinks and roasted nuts
Dotted around Tallinn are medieval style carts. The sellers are dressed in medieval dress and sell hot drinks such as apple ginger tea or warm roasted chestnuts. If you don’t want to interrupt your site seeing by stopping in at a café, stop at one of the medieval carts and purchase a warm drink to keep you warm on your journey.
If nothing else, they do add to the medieval atmosphere in Tallinn and they are super cute to spot as you walk around the city.
Shop at Oma Asi
Oma Asi is a gorgeous design store in Tallinn. The products they sell are extremely unique but can be slightly pricey.
The shop is hidden away in a gorgeous courtyard to the side of one of Tallinn’s photogenic laneways. Even if you are not shopping during your trip it is a beautiful wee courtyard to check out.
The bright orange colour of the shop brightens up any grey winters day. We ended up down this lane way a few times during our trip and each time we were blown away but how cute the courtyard is.
You are bound to stumble across the shop during your stay but the address is: Viru tänav 21, 10148. The shop is open to the public every day from 11am – 7pm.
Name after King Olaf II of the Norway who ruled from 1015 to 1028, St Olaf’s Church was established in the 12 century and was once the home of the Scandinavian community in Tallinn.
The Scandinavian community were present in Tallinn as the Vikings used to visit the shores before the Danes conquered Tallinn in 1219.
Back in the 16th century when the church we see today was built, it was the tallest building in the world. It was used to act as a light house, guiding the merchant ships into the shore.
The light in the tower, unfortunately, was hit by lightening and caused the tower to set on fire. This happened several times and as such, the towers height was reduced.
However, you can still see the tower when you arrive into the port by boat.
Sadly, during winter you cannot explore the interior of the church as the church is closed. However, it is still worth walking to the church to have a look at the exterior.
St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas’ Church was built between 1230 and 1275 by the merchant who came to Tallinn from Gotland.
The church is one of the best preserved medieval buildings in Tallinn. At present, the church is used to display equipment that was used during war in the hall of medieval art.
The church has brilliant accustics which means it often used for organ or Sunday morning concerts.
St Nicholas Church is open every day (except for Monday) from 10am until 6pm.
Check out the array of cute doors in Tallinn
Throughout the Old Town of Tallinn there several cute doors. As you walk around the Old Town see how many door ways you can sport. Each of them are unique to the building they are on.
If you are looking for a cute Instagram shot, the doors are you opportunity to step away from the crowd and get your perfect insta photo.
Take a free walking tour
Free walking tours are a great way of discovering a new city. Hosted by a local, you will discover the highlights of the city as well as the history. Doing a walking tour with a local allows you to ask them where they would eat and drink and what they recommend you do for the remained of your trip.
I love strawberry tours as they offer a range of free walking tours including communist Tallinn and Modern Tallinn. They also offer a variety of paid tours too.
Pikk street, also known as long street, is a beautiful street filled with coloured houses and buildings. There are many of shops and bars to explore along the street. Pikk street is perfect for exploring in the winter because you can stop to warm up every few stops. To get the best photo of the street, stand at the bottom and look up the hill and then take your photo.
Is the street that will allow you to a photo through street down to the town square where the Christmas market is framed perfectly. I recommend going at night time so you get the lights of the Christmas market and the Christmas tree.
Viru street is a pedestrian street which leads to the Viru Gates. These gates are officially the entrance to the Old Town of Tallinn.
Viru Gate is one of the two main tower gates that were once part of the fortification of Tallinn. Viru street leads into the Old Town Square.
It is a beautiful streets with lots of shopping and places to eat.
Visit the Danish Kings Gardens
The Danish King’s Garden are located on the slopes of Toompea Hill and is actually where the Danish flag was “born”.
As the story goes, Valdemar’s forces were losing the battle again the Estonians when a red flag sporting a white cross floated down from the skies. It was this Holy sign, that encourage the Danes to go on and win the battle.
If you visit the Garden today you will see an iron sword and shield with a Danish cross to honor the role Denmark played in Estonia’s history.
In the garden you can also find the medieval carts that are selling hot roasted nuts to keep you warm as your explore the Toompea Hill.
It is also a great vantage point to see the old walls and towers.
Just get lost
Tallinn has some beautiful streets and while there are some note worthy streets that have been mentioned above, there are plenty of other hidden laneways and courtyards to be explored.
One of the best things to do is to just wander and explore what Tallinn has to offer. In winter, being a little more spontaneous and flexible may make your trip a lot easier.
A little aimless wandering is a great option because if you’re feeling a little cold, you can pop into a café, if you want to see things you can climb up the city walls. If you just feel like rugging up and taking some gorgeous photos around Tallinn you can do that too.
We spent hours getting lost in the streets of Tallinn and it was one of the best things we did.
Take a day trip to Helsinki
If you like checking off countries or you want to do a day trip to another country then travelling across the Baltic sea to Helsinki, Finland is something you must do during your trip to Talllinn.
This is a fantastic activity all year round but if you are in Tallinn in winter it is especially beautiful because Finland is super cosy in the winter.
The crossing of the Baltic sea takes about 2 and a half hours, in a day this would leave you with 5 or 6 hours to explore Helsinki.
There are a few options to cross the Baltic sea but we went with Tallink Shuttle Star. If you are prone to sea sickness I recommend taking a few seasickness tablets before you board the boat.
On board the boat, there are plenty of shops to visit, there is a restaurant to eat at and there are arcade games to keep you entertained.
Despite the freshness of the air, it is quite nice to head out on to the out decks as you sail away from Tallinn and as you are approaching Helsinki.
If you are travelling with luggage there is luggage storage available on the ferry.
Where to stay in Tallinn
We stayed just outside of the old town at Hotel St Barbara and it was a lovely hotel. Despite being outside of the old town it only a 7 minute walk through the old city gate into to the middle of the old town. The location is perfect to avoid paying premium prices right in the middle of town. It is also close enough to that you won’t get too chilly walking back to the hotel at the end of the night.
The rooms are super comfortable and cozy, even though they have high ceilings and large windows. Guests can enjoy a buffet breakfast in the stone restaurant.
What to wear in Tallinn in winter
Layers in winter in Tallinn will be your best friend. Inside the museums, cafes, hotels etc. is very warm but the minute you step outside it is very very cold. Make sure you pack some of these items:
Warm Socks – keep your feet warm and comfortable with proper socks. Merino wool is amazing, it comes from the merino sheep in New Zealand. They will keep your feet warm but are also breathable. Sometimes, we wear two pair of socks at time. I recommend packing a few pair of socks but remember you can wash as you go.
Merino Wool Thermals –Thermals are not something you will necessarily wear every day but if its really cold, you will be really glad to have that extra layer.
Warm Boots – do not skimp on you boots. It gets super super cold in Tallinn in winter well really, all of Europe! Not only is the air cold but the ground also gets very cold. There is nothing worse than walking around with super cold feet. Make sure your boots are at least semi water proof to protect your feet from the rain and snow.
We love Timberland boots because they’re sturdy and waterproof but also super cute! Which is a win win!
Warm Jacket – I was worried about spending so much money on a jacket but I am so glad that we did. We wore them nearly every day and were super warm. Down jackets are perfect because they are easy to “stuff” into a bag but the feathers inside the jacket make them extremely warm.
Scarf –Like most other items I have mentioned, you will want to pack a scarf. Scarves are fantastic because they have a few uses. They obviously keep your neck warm, but you can use it to cover your face and also if you get a big scarf you can use it as a blanket or a shawl.
Beanie – for cold weather, I prefer to wear beanie over a hat. Beanies will stay on even if the wind picks up and they also keep your ears warm. You want to get a double layered beanie as this well keep the wind out and keep your head warmer for longer.
Gloves – you will want to make sure you have gloves when you’re in Tallinn in winter. I recommend buying some gloves before you go but if you don’t have any gloves you pick up some cute gloves at the Christmas markets.
Would you visit Tallinn in winter? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below
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