Where I spend four days in Tallinn at the beginning of December and we debate the benefits of wearing a hat.
I took a trip to Tallinn this week. For anyone who can’t quite place where that is, it’s the capital city of Estonia. It’s a small, low-key city with a well-preserved medieval old town (now a UNESCO World Heritage site) surrounded by some Brutalist Soviet era buildings and also some modern Scandinavian style.
You can fly to Tallinn easily from many European cities. Wizz Air have some very economical flights from London; the bad news is that they leave from Luton airport, quite a trek for me from my Hovel in Hove and meaning I had to get the midnight train to the airport and then hang out overnight waiting for my 6AM flight. All because I’m far too tight to pay the £120 they were asking for a nearby hotel.
When Estonia first became independent from the Soviet Union, it was a popular destination for Stag weekends. The prominence of ‘Gentleman’s clubs’ and the availability of vodka for around £1 a litre attracted a certain type of tourist. This is all largely in the past now, however Estonia is still an inexpensive destination by European standards; it’s probably on a par with Poland or Bulgaria.
I spent around £400 on a 4 day/3 night trip, including the flights, hotel, getting to and from the airport, all my food and snacks and a little purple fairy (my weakness: buying fairies).
Accommodation options vary from €10 for a dorm bed in a hostel up to several hundred for a luxury spa hotel. I paid €50 a night for a small modern room just outside the city walls. It felt a bit like sleeping in an Ikea showroom (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned).
The Old Town
I started my trip with a walking tour. I got off my flight at 11AM (3 hour flight, 2 hours time difference) and just made it to the tourist information office for the midday start.
These tours are very popular in the summer months, often attracting 50 or more people, but in winter there are far fewer tourists and so only 5 of us turned up for this one.
The old city consists of an upper and lower section, but it can all be easily explored in a day on foot.
One big advantage to travelling in late November or December is the addition of the Christmas market. This was very small, just taking up the small square next to the town hall. Best thing in the market was the many different styles of mulled wine, all costing €5 a cup.
Outside of the Old Town
I walked to Kadriorg park (there are buses and trams going that way too but I fancied a walk). Inside the park is the city’s art museum, but I forgot it was a Monday and the museum was closed. However it was a great walk anyway and if you go out through the other side you will get to the beach and the ubiquitous city sign.
I managed to locate some street art at Telliskivi, just on the other side of the rail station.
This complex of warehouses converted into bars, venues and boutiques is a good place to see Tallinn’s creative side.
Estonia has one of the highest number of digital start-ups in the EU (relative to its size). Entrepreneur-friendly tax policy, a highly educated workforce and an E-residency programme (trust me, I seriously looked at this as a way to buy myself back into the EU) all help here.
How long do you need in Tallinn?
I did all this quite comfortably in three days, but I do think that is a minimum time you need. If I’d had longer I could’ve gone out into the countryside, plus Helsinki is easily reached on a day trip by ferry. If you enjoy saunas and spas there are plenty of them to chose from too.
However right at the moment I am limited to juggling time off from work (yes you read that right; I have an actual job with a NI number and everything. I only now realise how little time most people actually have to travel). So three nights is all I (realistically) had to spend.
Some notes on winter weather
Estonia is cold. At the beginning of December it was hitting minus 7 and January/February is likely to be colder (for comparison, London when I left was plus 5). This is not so much of a problem as long as you dress for the weather. Waterproof boots, double socks and double scarves all help. The best advice I can give: wear a hat. People have been telling me this for years and I never wanted to believe them, because I don’t like hats. However it turns out these people were right all along and it makes such a difference. I wasn’t actually too cold there but I did get tired of having to put on so many layers every day.
Also bear in mind that daylight hours are very limited in December. When I went on the first weekend of December it didn’t get light until 9AM and was dark again by 3.20.
This would be quite a different trip if you took it in summer, but it would also be a lot more crowded and more expensive. Doing this in winter offers an experience all of its own.
Footnote: What have the Estonians ever given us?
Skype. Does anybody still use Skype? Well if you do, remember to thank an Estonian today because they invented it.