Estonia and its capital Tallinn is where Sloth resides when not exploring the world. Since we haven’t done much globetrotting as Vibrant Sloth yet, we found it appropriate to write about our hometown. Since it’s snowy and wintery here at the moment, we decided to give some recommendations to all of you who happen to visit our home country during the snowy period of December to early March.
So, without too much talking let’s get to exploring the wonderland of Tallinn in winter. Let’s look even further, into nature! Here are our picks:
1. Take a walk on the old side – medieval Tallinn is waiting
The first must-do thing is to take a walk in a winter fairy tale. How else would you call this wonderful medieval setting spiced with gothic architecture, cobblestone streets and snow-covered terracotta rooftops?
When in old town be sure to climb up the Toompea Hill, visit the Christmas market at the Town Hall Square. The latter is also a place for the most prominent Christmas tree in Tallinn (and historically first in the world).
2. Food. We need food!
All that walking and exploring in this medieval theme park called the old town of Tallinn makes you hungry, that much we can guarantee. Luckily, there are cafés and restaurants for almost every taste.
If Sloth has to recommend some good places to eat, it would go something like that:
- Café Maiasmokk – Sweet interior and even sweeter choice of cakes and pastries. Maiasmokk started in its modern form in 1864, making it the oldest operational café in Estonia.
- Hell Hunt – Our favorite pub in Tallinn. Affordable menu and a wide selection of exceptional beers.
- Uulits– A little bit out of the old town, but your best bet when in need of a great burger.
- Vegan Restoran V – if meat or dairy is a no-go for you, be sure to stop by at V for
VendettaVegan. NB! Since this place is incredibly popular, be sure to book a table just in case (or be ready to get lucky with the free table).
- Leib Resto ja Aed – hearty food which balances perfectly between Estonian and European cuisine as well as between fine dining and something you Estonian grandmother would make on Saturday afternoon.
- Kuldse Notsu Kõrts – When in Tallinn, don’t forget to give some traditional Estonian cuisine a try. What will there be on the menu at Golden Piglet’s Inn? Sloth would recommend you some blood sausage, roast potatoes, and sauerkraut. Wash it down with some local beer or mulled wine.
Just like every town center of a bigger settlement, in Tallinn, there are some expensive and tedious tourist-trap types of restaurants as well. Fortunately, they’re quite easy to avoid when taking some advice from Tripadvisor, for example.
3. Tourist-mode on again – museum time!
For now, we have already walked and eaten. What next, Tallinn? Show your guests what you got! Why not visit a museum? Yes, its super touristy, but in our defense, there are some pretty awesome museums in Tallinn. First, take a look at the Ajalomuuseum – Estonian History Museum. Next up on our list of favorite museums is sea and maritime-themed Lennusadam – Seaplane Harbour. Lennusadam is in a walking distance from old town but worth that extra mile of strolling.
For art lovers, a visit to KUMU is strongly recommended. Before you arrive at KUMU be sure to enjoy the Kadriorg with its cute wooden houses and incredible park. By the way, have a stop at the Kadriorg Art Museum also to get your dose of more classical art. Here you’ll find foreign masterpieces, mainly 16th to 19th century art from western Europe and Russia.
The most authentic Estonian museum experience waits for you a 20-minute drive away from the center, at Rocca al Mare. Here is where the gates of Estonian Open Air Museum will take you to the past. Let’s hop into a time machine and rock it out just as the old Estonians did.
4. Stock up on souvenirs!
If you didn’t blow your souvenir budget at the gift shops of different museums, it’s time to get something to take home with you. There are probably hundreds of souvenir shops scattered all around old Tallinn. Some of them are better than the others. How to tell the difference? Here’s a rule of thumb: when you spot Russian nesting dolls or huge amber ships, walk away since those “Estonian souvenirs” probably originate from Chinese sweatshops. Wool, linen, and junipers on the shelves of souvenir shops are usually good signs :).
When shopping, don’t forget to pick up the world famous Vana Tallinn liquor. Don’t try to drink it with sparkling wine. That is unless you want to experience your worst hangover next day.
5. Double axel followed by three flawless pirouettes
How are your ice skating skills? The best way to find out is in the old town where Harju Street ice rink is waiting for you from December until March.
There’s another option which requires the know-how of a local ice skating enthusiast. We are talking about skating on a frozen bog lake or an abandoned quarry. Sloth has tried it once and can guarantee it was truly an experience from another world. Unfortunately global warming has taken its toll on the ice skating scene in Estonia, and lately the lakes and rivers fail to get their ice lid on.
6. Skis are your new winter boots
Even more popular than ice skating is the art of skiing. So it’s not a too strange sight to see some skiing enthusiast scratching their skis on dirt while the first snowflakes of the year gently drop in front of them.
Since Estonia is a country of no mountains and just a few hills, the cross-country skiing seems to be the popular style of skiing. There is a possibility to try out the slopes at Otepää or Kiviõli, but in comparison to other skiing resorts of Europe, they’re almost like a sleigh hill for the kids.
So, cross-country skiing. How and where? Even though there are nice skiing trails in Tallinn where the artificial snow is made, the best skiing experience will be guaranteed in the pure, clean and crisp Nordic nature. Snowy fields with the footprints of wild animals, trees wearing fluffy snow hats and fresh air in your lungs – that’s how it should be done.
Don’t forget to pack a hot drink or blueberry soup to make your experience complete.
7. Today we feast in the woods!
No outdoor experience is complete without a lunch break. This time your meal is going to be a bit chilly and a bit snowy. Fear not, the cold in your bones will be obsolete after a cup of hot soup and some grilled sausages.
Why not make it even more extreme and turn your wintertime picnic into dinner in the middle of the forest. Meat over a campfire, let’s go! This can be followed by sitting around the campfire with some Jägermeister and an overnight stay in the woods. You don’t even have to pack a tent – sleeping bags can be rolled out in one of the many camping shelters provided by Estonian State Forest Managing Centre.
8. Get hot and wet in a sauna
Sauna, the cornerstone of Estonian bathing rituals. It’s almost like a church to Estonians, where we gather once a week to sit in silence and sweat away our sins. Sauna is especially memorable experience in the wintertime. “Why is that?” you might ask. Well, there is no other time when you can dive into a pile of snow or ice-cold water straight from the embrace of a hundred degrees Celsius.
Be sure to try out making naked snow angels next time Estonians invite you to attend their wintertime sauna rituals.
Tere tulemast (welcome) to Estonia and have a great (winter)time here, friends!