Crisp carpets of pristine snow, the first warming sip of spicy mulled wine, an evening walk in the peaceful glow of orange streets lamps and the Old Town at its enchanting best.
Visiting Tallinn in winter is a truly unique travel experience.
Despite what many may think, the Estonian capital does not become a frozen wind-swept wasteland between November and March every year. Instead, the city undergoes a metamorphosis as the deep greens and bright yellows of the summer morph into the clean brilliance of fresh white snow.
The beauty of Tallinn is not diminished, but re-newed under the tight grip of the winter months.
So pull on your long-johns, don your mittens and envelope yourself inside the warming hug of your favourite winter coat as we explore a side of Tallinn that few travellers ever get to see.
1) Having the Old Town all to yourself
In the off-season, few tourists venture to Tallinn. Your reward is peace, quiet and solitude. Roam the empty streets and soak up the eerie atmosphere as the Estonian capital re-gains its medieval charm. Encased in the peaceful still air it’s easy to picture families tucked up indoors, roaring taverns serving tankards of mead and tiny candle-lit lofts where friends gather to drink and laugh. Time travel is thought to be impossible but here in Tallinn, the peaceful winter ambience conjures images of a quaint medieval past.
2) Appreciating warmth: bars and cafés in Tallinn
Winter is a great time to relax indoors with a cup of coffee, tea, mulled wine (or perhaps something stronger) and enjoy the company of good friends. Bask in the warming glow of soft lighting, feel the buzz of conversation and watch the snowflakes gently patting against the window. After a day outside in the cold, it is the simple pleasures that are often the best.
In Estonian, mulled wine is called hõõgveini
Dive into the exciting world of Estonian craft beer
Snow + Hills = Fun. It’s an old formula; one that has been proven many times over. Tallinn is not know as a hilly city but if you know where to look you can find some belters. The most popular option is the Song Festival Grounds – a short bus or taxi ride from the old town but also walkable if you combine it with a pristine winter stroll through Kadriorg Park. Antother, slightly more hidden option is just on the edge of the Old Town.
The hill in Hiirve Park (right here, in this exact spot) may not be as long or as steep as the Song Festival Grounds but time it right and you’ll have your very own private space. I have come here with friends at midnight and we had a blast. The street lights provide a perfect level of illumination and in the two hours we spent there, not a single soul walked past. Great memories.
A great Baltic and Nordic tradition. It is very simple. You will need: a sauna, some naked strangers, fresh snow or a cold lake (a cold shower will suffice if this luxury is not available) and some birch branches for that extra feeling of authenticity.
Estonians look upon saunas as a great social event, a time to relax with friends and family. ‘Dress code’ is usually to be naked in single sex saunas although some mixed saunas allow for swimming costumes. Estonians like their saunas HOT, so be careful if you are a first-timer. Ten minutes at a time should be enough followed by a nice dip in a cold pool, freezing shower or roll in the snow. A truly authentic Estonian winter experience.
5) ‘Surviving’ -20*C
For someone unaccustomed to the cold, there is a special thrill to be had from experiencing a -20*C winter chill. Wrapped up warm in all of your thermal layers, it is actually very pleasant to take a walk in these temperatures. When you get home you can tell your friends and family about your heroic brush with you -20*C Baltic winds.
The novelty will wear off after an hour though so don’t stray too far from a warm place!
I love taking a walk to the top of the Linnahall steps to gaze out over the bay of Tallinn, returning to a nice Old Town café when my toes start to go numb.[They key to staying warm: dress in layers, lots of layers!]
6) Frozen Waterfalls
When temperatures drop, time stops. Seeing the beautiful waterfalls of Jägala and Keila-Joa frozen solid is a magical experience; almost other-worldly. Huge cascades of water halted by simple natural forces. Where once there was a loud crashing of liquid on rock, now there is silence. Jagged shards of ice petrude from this dormant waterfall as sunshine catches and glimmers on the myriad of faces. The water is frozen in place, eagerly awaiting the dawn of the first spring morning so it can be released from its prison and continue its journey to the Baltic sea.
Yes, you did read that correctly: cycling. Believe it or not, it is possible to cycle in Tallinn during the winter months. This is aimed at people with a particular taste for adventure and absurdity!