It’s time to add Tallinn, Estonia to your travel bucket list! Check out our video guide and a few key reasons why everyone should visit the most charming Christmas city of Tallinn during Christmas.
What a privilege to travel to Estonia during the notable Tallinn Christmas markets, experience their unique culture and history, and bask in the beauty of shared appreciation for Christmas goodness. Come for the market and renaissance vibes; stay for the snow, glögi, sausages, sweets, and Christmas shopping.
FIVE RAPID-FIRE FAQ’S
- Should I use card or cash? Mostly cash. Find an ATM to take out euros in cash in advance. (Read more about this later in the blog.)
- What are the hours of the Christmas Markets? Colmar’s markets are open 11 am-8 pm daily during the Christmas season. Smaller nearby cities are typically only open on weekends. (More on this later in the blog.)
- Can you walk from one Christmas Market to the next? Yes! It’s easy and highly encouraged.
- Do I need to eat before I come? No! Christmas markets are basically a food crawl.
- What should I wear? Check the weather before, but typically a sweater, pants, a good jacket, and comfy shoes will do just fine. There’s very little places to sit, so you’ll be on your feet a lot.
HOW TO EASILY GET TO TALLINN
- Either fly to Tallinn with typical layovers in JFK, London, Paris, and Helsinki or fly directly into Helsinki, Finland first and take an easy ferry across the Baltic Sea.
- Here are a few of our favorite things to get us through those long overnight flights!
HOW TO GET AROUND TALLINN
Get your walking shoes on! The only ideal way to navigate the city is by foot. Stroll around town and visit the sites! Much of the city is blocked off to cars during Christmas to ensure the markets are safe for pedestrians. If you’d like to rent a car, keep in mind that you will only use it a little while in the city.
NAVIGATING THE LANGUAGE
Estonian is the national language, a Finnic language with Latin script. To the untrained ear, it sounds similar to Finnish with a hint of Russian influence. We found most younger people and those who worked in hospitality spoke enough English to communicate clearly. The only times where there was a lack of communication were among older Estonians.
However, using Google Translate can always quickly remedy any language barrier. While you definitely don’t need to know Estonian to enjoy Tallinn, here are a few words that are helpful to know while exploring during Christmas:
- Tere – pronounced teh-rah – means hello
- Aitäh – pronounced eye-dah – means thanks/thank you
- Palun – pronounce – pah-loon – means please
- Glögi – pronounced gluh-gee – means mulled wine
THE BEST OF TALLINN FOR CHRISTMAS
- When we arrived at the Christmas market, Bing Crosby’s rendition of White Christmas played in the square. At this moment, the snow shifted from a sprinkle to heavy snowfall as if on queue. Simultaneously, the overpowering yet delicious smells of cider and gingerbread spread throughout the market. You simply cannot plan for a moment as quintessentially magical as that.
- The market is centrally located in the center of Old Town, so it’s incredibly accessible if you’re staying in the area.
- The sweet older gentleman inside the city walls (scroll down to read more) who spoke little English but was so kind and made us the best glögi (mulled wine) we had in Estonia.
WOAH, THAT’S DIFFERENT!
- Walking through defense towers. Not every city has 13th-century city walls to walk atop for new views of the winter wonderland! We’d recommend starting here for excellent views and a unique city experience!
- Dining at a renaissance-style restaurant, Olde Hansa. With no modern updates or electricity, we enjoyed old-school entrees and drinks for dinner lit exclusively by candlelight as we were serenaded by classical instruments. And yes – the bathroom is also very, erm, retro.
- Eating bear for dinner at the renaissance-style restaurant. Hands down one of the most unique things we’ve ever eaten in our lives. Give it a shot – why not
TALLIN’S CHRISTMAS MARKETS
The markets are typically open from 11 am – 8 pm daily from around the last Friday in November until a day or two before New Year. Visiting on a weekday will have far less crowded than on the weekends. You can go on the weekend, but as the paths are often crowded. The crowd levels were better on a Sunday evening than a Saturday afternoon.
In Estonia, you’ll need euros when you visit. If you’re wondering if you should bring cash or card to the Christmas markets, the answer is yes – both! Some vendors take cards, but you’ll almost always need cash for smaller purchases (less than $20).
Before you go, you need to know how “deposits” work at Tallinn’s Christmas Markets. When you want to buy mulled wine, you’ll approach a stall that says the drink is 3 euros (for example). However, it will typically cost an additional 3 or 4 euros when it’s time to pay. This essentially covers the cost of the mug. If you’d like to take the mug home as a souvenir, congrats! It’s yours. If you’d like to return it to the stall, hand it back to them and say you’re returning it, then they’ll give you a 3-4 euro deposit back!
How much cash do you need?
It’s best to assume about $8-$15 per meal for the market in Tallinn. Hot drinks typically cost between 3-7 euros with an additional average 3 euro deposit for mugs. Sweet treats and desserts, on average, range between 3 and 12 euros.
If you’re looking to buy a more precious and pricier souvenir, you’ll be glad to have your card on hand, so you’re not limited by your small bills. Always make sure to ask the vendor before ordering or deciding to purchase anything which payment method they will take. (Even if your german language skills are poor and your English is limited, this question can be easily communicated by holding up your credit card and asking, “do you take card?” They will quickly answer with either hand gestures or a verbal yes or no.) If you can, use your traveling expenses to rack up those travel credit card reward points when you can, y’all!
A helpful note about taking out foreign currency in cash:
The best practice (and cheapest) for having cash on hand in a new country is to go to your bank 5-10 business days before your trip and ask them for the new currency. Depending on your bank, this transaction will either be free or just a few dollars.
If you’re like us and realize the airplane tires hit foreign soil that we forgot to do this, then find an ATM to take out euros in cash! Yes, you can do this even with an international debit card and even some credit cards. There will typically be a small transaction fee along with the exchange rate. It’s still cheaper to take out cash this way than to go to a money exchange or Western Union.
- 5-star luxury at affordable Estonian prices – only around $150 per night for a luxury property!
- The hotel room had large windows that opened towards the street for quaint views and fresh winter breezes.
- The hotel room’s bathroom had a wonderfully large bathtub (especially for European standards) that even offered a bubble bath elixir! I rarely take baths in hotels. However, after a very chilly day of walking in the snowy markets, I filled the tub with the heavenly scent and foamy bubbles. I thawed my frozen feet and fingers until I nearly fell asleep in the water.