12 Wonderful Ways to Enjoy Winter in Tallinn

View of Tallinn's Old Town from viewing platform

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I have visited Tallinn in winter twice (January and November, respectively). In fact, all of my experiences in the Baltics have been during winter time. Following this trip to Tallinn, we then headed south to Riga and onwards to Vilnius. The entire Baltic region stole our hearts. But this isn’t about the Baltics as a whole. This about the obsession that initially sent me into the Baltics: Estonia.

Update: We have now spent a lot of time in the Baltics outside of winter and we still love it. But we have yet to see Tallinn outside of the winter months, so I can’t vouch for it as it is the busiest of the three capital cities.

WHY TALLINN IN WINTER IS THE BEST

I truly believe being able to see Tallinn in winter is ideal. Tallinn may be impossibly picturesque year round, but it becomes the perfect alternative travel destination in the winter. Technically any offseason time is great, but winter in Tallinn feels almost magical. The winter mist surrounds the buildings and makes the old town look ethereal.

So, visit in the winter. Or at least, definitely not in summer time.

Why does this make such a difference? Because it is off-peak season for tourists. I have heard from others that during the summer, the shores and the old town of Tallinn are descended upon by cruise ship tourists. In winter, however, this is definitely not the case. It was not uncommon for us to be the only people in a museum or restaurant, or walking through a street.

My advice? Skip the summer rush and try to go between late September and early May. It’s worth it!

Birds eye view of Tallinn in Winter

Know Before You Go: The Weather During Winter in Tallinn

Tallinn has actually warmed significantly over the last few decades due to climate change, more than the global average, in fact. Nevertheless, Tallinn in winter is still quite literally freezing.

From November to March the average temperature is between 0 and –10 °C (32 and 14 °F). However, temperatures can get as high as 15 °C (59 °F) in March and as low as –30 °C (-22 °F) in January and February. The lowest recorded temperatures was –34.4 °C (-29.29 °F) in February.

It rains year round in Tallinn, so while it might not rain during your stay, it’s best to plan for rain. The winter winds can also be quite fierce.

Keep in mind: Like most of Europe, winter days in Tallinn are short (more so as it’s quite northern). If you only have one day in Tallinn, many people prefer the summers because museums and shops open late (10 or 11), and most close around 5 or 6 PM. This means any of the outside wandering around in the old town or Telliskivi that you should DEFINITELY be doing could eat into precious museum time (of which there are MANY, as discussed further below).

Packing Recommendations for Tallinn in Winter

I rarely recommend what people should pack, but Tallinn gets pretty freaking cold in the winter and I want to make sure our readers are toasty and warm on their holidays! Here’s what we normally make sure to bring with us. We do our best to only buy and recommend products from companies with good sustainability practices! As we also care about animal welfare, we do our best to find vegan-friendly products or brands that source their materials ethically.

Fun-coloured Beanie – One of my superpowers (apparently) is that I look good in pretty much any hat. It’s something that my friends’ whose heads are less hat friendly often bemoan. So it’s easy for me to recommend them. Still… Tallinn is cold, so bring along your favourite warm and cozy hat, even if you think you look a bit silly! I recommend bright colors cause they’re fun, but also so it’s easy to find each other if you get separated (I’m short, so this is a genuine struggle for me). If you don’t own one, I’m currently obsessed with this chunky yellow one and this playful blue one!

Sturdy Walking Shoes – I worked in a shoe store that specialised in walking shoes for a year, so when it comes to shoes, I’m a bit of a snob. I could honestly just talk about shoes for an entire post – and maybe someday I will. But for now, I won’t subject you to that. I’ll just recommend a few of my favourites (I also generally love these brands if the specific shoe isn’t working for you). I’ll admit these are mostly women’s shoes, cause I’ve only recently introduced Jeremy to nice shoes. His feet used to be a bit wet all winter (PS: Buy waterproof!). If you’re staying in Tallinn, you can definitely get by without boots, even in the snow (just make sure the shoes have good traction). If you plan on venturing out of the city a bit to go bog walking or visit the Jägala Waterfalls, I would recommend getting some boots!
=> Buy my ultra warm Jambo boots
=>
Buy my favourite Keen Boots
=>
Buy Jeremy’s stylish Merrell’s

Durable (but Quirky) Socks – When it comes to warm, winter socks, I have been in love with and grossly loyal to Smartwool Socks for years. And honestly that’s all there is to say about it. I am devastated that I’m now down to my last few remaining pairs – which I have had for nearly 10 years, by the way! That having been said, wool isn’t vegan, so if you’re interested in vegan-friendly brands that I also love (which can be just as warming if paired with a warm shoe), I also recommend: Thought, they have bamboo and organic cotton socks, in addition to woolen ones; and Conscious Step, who donate $1 of every purchase to a good cause.

Smartwool Socks on dashboard
Smartwool socks will keep you warm during a cold Tallinn winter!

Warm Winter Coat – I’ll be honest, the last time we were in Tallinn during the winter we were, shall we say, underdressed. Weirdly, thermals and a cardigan wasn’t warm enough (Jeremy didn’t even have a thermal initially, just a hoodie). This is because we intended to be in Morocco by the height of the winter. And we kind of were, but mostly that didn’t work out. We learned from our mistake, though, and won’t be returning without our winter coats. Jeremy’s only real requirement for a jacket (outside of warmth and comfort) is pockets. So when he found this one, it was basically love at first site. I, on the other hand, prefer to layer; I’m all about thermal undershirts paired with a waterproof windbreaker (Don’t forget your thermal bottoms)! Admittedly, that isn’t the warmest combo, so if you need something a little cozier, I also love this jacket made from recycled materials.

Don’t forget to buy travel insurance! Tallinn is often covered in snow during winter, making it icy and slippery. The last thing you want is to slip and wind up in the hospital in a foreign country with no insurance! We recommend World Nomads.
=> Get a general travel insurance quote
=> Get a quote for snow sports

Buy a Tallinn Card

One of the first things you might want to do in Tallinn is to buy a Tallinn Card. The Tallinn card is available online, as well as at numerous Tallinn hotels and the Tallinn Tourist Information Centre in the centre of the Old Town on Niguliste.

The card covers free entry into over 40 of Tallinn’s museums and main attractions, as well as free use of the public transport.

As of 2019, the card costs are as follows (check for up to date prices here):

24 Hours – Adult: €26; Child: €15
48 Hours – Adult: €39; Child: €20
72 Hours – Adult: €47; Child: €24
*Child covers 0-17 years old, however with an adult card you can bring along two children under 7 for free.
** There are additional costs if you want to include the hop-on hop-off buses with your card.

To give you an idea of whether a Tallinn card is right for you, I have marked the museums (listed further below) with a TC if free entry is included with the card. I have also provided what the sites cost for adults without the card as of October 2019. But again, please check the websites for up-to-date prices and for child and family ticket costs.

And if all that doesn’t convince you, then read this wonderfully comprehensive review of the Tallinn Card!

Things to do during the winter in Tallinn

Keep in mind, most of what you’ll do in Tallinn during winter is the same as any other time of year. The difference is that it will be significantly less busy and you’ll wind up having a lot of places to yourself. For us, that is a definite win.

(I also don’t have many photos because I either visited these places pre-blog or pre-realising I should take photos of everything just in case…)

Winter Specific Activities in Tallinn

Explore the Christmas Market

Know Your History: In 1441, Tallinn became the first city in the world to have a public Christmas tree. Riga, Latvia also claimed to have the first public Christmas tree. It became such a controversy between the two cities that their respective government officials had to sit down to discuss a compromise. It was agreed that Tallinn had the first Christmas tree and Riga the first decorated one.

Preparing for the Christmas Season in the town square
Sadly all I have is a photo of the Christmas tree being set up!

One of the few things to do during winter in Tallinn that is not available year round is the Christmas Market.

Now, I am not a Christmas person. I’m not really a holiday person, to be honest. I have been called a Scrooge and a Grinch. And that’s cool. I don’t love Christmas markets, it’s true. But everything about Tallinn in winter is so fairytalesque it’s almost easy to get caught up in the magic of the season, even for me.

If you like Christmas markets, though, don’t let me discourage you! Tallinn’s Christmas market has a lot going for it. For one, it is quieter than many of the markets that pop up throughout Europe. And being nestled right in the heart of Tallinn’s ridiculously picturesque old town makes it seem all the more magical.

Each year, the Tallinn Christmas market runs from the last week in November until the first week of January the following year.

Tip: It gets pretty damn cold during the winter in Tallinn, so warm up with a hot cup of glögg (mulled wine) – or Vana Tallinn glögi (mulled wine and spiced rum) if you can find it! Make sure to try out piparkook (pepper cookies), as well. Mmm…

Go Ice Skating at the Uisuplats Ice Rink

Another activity that is winter specific in Tallinn is ice skating.

The Uisuplats pop-up rink on Harju Street is typically open from December until end of March/beginning of April, weather depending. It is located next to St Nicholas Church (and around the corner from the Knight Hostel, which we recommend below).

Admittedly I have the grace of a bull in a china shop, so ice skating doesn’t appeal to me. If this does sounds like your kind of thing, then check out their website.

There are more winter activities available in Estonia. Most of them are quite outdoorsy. However, despite the fact that we have climbed the Tiger’s Nest, I assure you, we are not outdoorsy people. But if this is your cup of tea, then you can find most of these activities here.

Warm up in a Cafe

Warm up with a hot beverage during a cold Tallinn winter
Baby it’s cold outside, why not warm up with a hot beverage.

Okay, okay, so you can do this anytime of year. But I feel like it’s a particularly wonderful activity for Tallinn in the winter. Mostly because nothing puts me in the mood for a hot cocoa more than the winter chill. I don’t drink coffee, and Jeremy prefers to drink a sugary mess that happens to have coffee in it, so I can’t comment on the quality of the actual coffee anywhere. Nope, this is all about the tea, hot chocolate and ambiance.

A few places I recommend:

Chocolats de Pierre: I mean the name says it all, really. This is a cosy little cafe with immense hot chocolate. I’ve also heard fantastic things about the cheesecake (I’m not partial to cheesecake, so can’t comment). It can get busy, especially around lunchtime as they also serve food. The best part is that if it’s not too wet, an adorable teddy bear will be outside to greet you!

Maiasmokk Cafe: This one is a bit touristy, but I feel it should be added due to its age. Plus, again, in the middle of the winter, you may find it isn’t all that busy! Maiasmokk dates back to 1864, and is believed to be the oldest cafe in Tallinn. Make sure to check out the Marzipan Museum inside (no joke!)

Surf Cafe: Located just outside of Balti Jaam Market (more below), this cafe serves coffee (and kakao) and ice cream. I mean, what more could you possibly want?

T35: A wonderful cafe that serves breakfast all day! I haven’t had the breakfast, but enjoyed stopping in for a warm hot chocolate on a particularly chilly winter afternoon! I’ve heard the coffee is subpar if you’re a coffee connoisseur, but the baked goods are awfully tasty!

Looking for some tours to take while visiting Tallinn in winter? Why not try out one of these:

=> Christmas Dinner Cruise with Music and Wine
=>
Old Town Tour with Bog Walk
=>
Estonian Food, Drinks and History Tour
=>
Jägala Waterfall and Harju County

Year Round Tallinn Activities That Still Rock During Winter

Take a Walking Tour

Cold or not, we love walking tours. It’s an easy way to fall in love with a city. Plus you get so much valuable information directly from a local.

We opted to go with Traveller Tours, which is free, but runs on tips. Our tour guide, Miriam, was an absolute delight! She had a lot of great stories and factoids to share, and even helped me better understand my affinity for Estonia.

Visit Some of Tallinn’s Many Museums

There are over 40 museums in Tallinn, and while I have not been to all of them, I thoroughly enjoyed all the ones I did manage to visit. If you’re visiting Tallinn in winter, popping into a museum for a bit can be a great way to warm up!

We also wrote a whole post about dark tourism sites and museums in Tallinn, which includes some of these and goes more in-depth into their history. These are only the ones I can personally recommend, but there are so many more about a whole myriad of topics!

Estonian History Museum: The Guild Hall (TC or €8): If you’re at all interested in the history of Estonia – not just the occupations, but dating back to ancient settlements in the region, this is the museum for you. After all, Estonian history dates back more than 11,000 years! There’s a lot packed into the Estonian History Museum, but what I mostly remember is the coins because, well, I like coins. There’s also an excellent permanent exhibit on the creation of the modern day independent nation of Estonia. Please note: There are four branches of this museum; I have only been to the one located in the Guild Hall, but have heard excellent things about all four, especially the one located in Maarjamäe Palace.

Prison Cell at the KGB Headquarters, Pagari 1, Tallinn, Estonia
Prison Cell at the KGB Headquarters, Pagari 1

Former KGB Headquarters (TC or €5): Today Pagari 1 is an apartment building. But not so long ago, it was synonymous throughout Estonia with torture. This was the former KGB Headquarters in Tallinn, and where the KGB sent anyone they felt was threatening Soviet ideals. Today you can visit and see the old prison cells, learn the history of the building and even more about the KGB.

KGB Hotel Viru Museum (not included with the TC, €11 for adults – I think in peak season it’s €12): This museum was our favourite in all of Tallinn. We loved learning about the history of the hotel and the role it played for the KGB. Plus our tour guide, Pawel, was absolutely hilarious. Although you need to book online in advance if you’re visiting Tallinn in winter, you can probably get away with booking the day before – or even morning of, sometimes.

Kiek in de Kök Fortifications Museum (TC or €14): This one is a bit confusing as there are several different parts to the museum and different sections cost different amounts (they’re all free with the Tallinn Card). Kiek in de Kök is the former artillery, so much of the museum is dedicated to the city’s fortifications and military history. However, it also covers everyday life in Tallinn from past to present, including an interesting section on crime and punishment. The Bastion Tunnels are comprised of several rooms in underground tunnels that also tell the history of Tallinn through important movements and events. We particularly liked the rooms about punk and the Cold War. The Carved Stone Museum is dedicated to important stone carvings from the region. Some of them are quite beautiful.

Outside of the Kiek in de Kök
Outside of the Kiek in de Kök

Kumu – Estonian Art Museum (TC or €8): I absolutely loved the Kumu museum when I visited in 2014. I’m all about discovering local artists, and let’s be honest, how many of us can actually name an Estonian painter off the top of our head? Not many, to be sure. The painter I wound up falling in love with after visiting the Kumu was Jüri Arrak. I can’t remember if his art was part of a permanent or temporary exhibit, but either way, art is subjective so visit anyway and hopefully you’ll also find a new artist or piece of art you love!

Lennusadam (Sea Plane Harbour) Maritime Museum (TC or €15): What I remember about this place is that it was huge and it was amazing. Located in an old seaplane hangar, this museum is dedicated to Estonia’s maritime history. Even if you’re not really into maritime history, this museum is worth the visit. Unless you really hate it, then yeah, maybe stay away.

NUKU Museum of Puppet Arts (TC or €8): What can I say, I like puppets. And if you like puppets, then you’ll also love this quirky (and, for some, creepy) interactive museum. The NUKU also puts on productions for people of all ages.

Vabamu – The Museum of Occupations and Freedom (TC or €11): First occupied by the Germans and then the Soviets, Estonia – and the Baltics in general – have had it rough. The newly renovated Vabamu museum is incredibly thorough and a little bit heartbreaking. You could easily spend hours in here.

Visit Patkuli viewing platform & Meet Stephen Seagull

Stephen the Seagull, looking unamused
Stephen the Seagull

You know that photo everyone – including us – has overlooking Tallinn’s old town? Well this is where that photo comes from. This view is presumably beautiful anytime of the year, but in the winter, with the picturesque old town shrouded in fog or covered in snow, it is truly spectacular.

As an added bonus, this is where Tallinn’s semi-famous resident seagull, Steven Seagull, tends to hang out.

Enjoy Street Art in Telliskivi

I’m a bit bummed writing this one. When I first visited Tallinn in the winter of 2014, there was very little street art in Telliskivi. Plus, at the time, I was refusing to take photos while on holiday, so even the little I did see, I sadly didn’t capture on camera. 

When Jeremy and I returned in 2018, we didn’t manage to see much of the area. This is mostly my fault. Rather than do any research, we relied purely on the advice of locals. So we asked where the best spots were for street art in Tallinn and we got a lot of shrugged shoulders.

It turns out all the locals we asked either deliberately lied to us so we wouldn’t see how amazing Telliskivi is (this feels unlikely, but still kinda possible), or really didn’t know there was so much street art in the area. To be fair, one did flat out admit she wasn’t a fan, so couldn’t help us.

So it is frustrating, but also lovely, to hear that the street art scene in Tallinn is thriving. As we hope to return to Tallinn in the near future, hopefully we can update this section!

Pop into a Bookshop

Estonians love to read and they have a rich literary culture. Sadly it’s difficult to find aboard. If you want to read an Estonian book, you’ll actually have more luck finding a translated copy in Estonia than you will elsewhere.

Since they’re fond of literature, it makes sense that Estonians would take pride in their bookshops. And there’s no denying that some of the bookshops in Tallinn are incredibly lovely. In fact, Rahva Raamat, a nationwide chain, has a location in Tallinn that was awarded as one of the four Bookstores of the Year by the London Book Fair in 2016.

I’m also a big fan of REaD, a used bookshop with set prices (1 for €3 or 4 for €10). There aren’t a ton of English books, but you can normally find a few tucked away.

Check Out All the Amazing Doors

Here are just a few to whet your appetite!

Shop at Balti Jaam

Whoa, has this place changed in a few years! But not necessarily in a bad way. It went from feeling largely like an old soviet flea market to rather upscale. It still has aspects of the old, which is nice – and a good way to pick up some used jackets, possibly straight out of the soviet era, if that’s your thing.

But these days, most of the market is housed in a rather dynamic looking building and is overflowing with little stalls selling everything from local produce and treats to clothes and mobile phone cases.

Walk Around the Old Town

No trip to Tallinn is complete without a walk around the old town. And while I’ve heard it can be PACKED in the summers, we mostly had it to ourselves in the winter.

Despite several attempts at destruction, Tallinn’s old town (Vanalinn in Estonian) is one of the most well preserved old towns in Europe. 

A Few Places of interest include:

Toompea: the hill that the upper half of Tallinn’s old town was build upon, today it houses the Estonian government and Riigikogu (parliament). You can arrange to visit, including free guided tours of the castle.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn is beautiful in the winter
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral: a beautiful Russian Orthodox church on Toompea Hill. Worth popping in for a look, both for the beautiful interior and for a view over the city.

St Olaf’s Church: believed to have been the tallest building in the world between 1549 to 1625. The church has been hit by lightning 10 times and burnt down three times. 

St. Catherine’s Passage: One of the oldest remaining medieval passageways in the city.

Take a Day Trip

Jeremy and I are all about slow travel and just hanging out. However, we recognise that a) we have the privilege to travel full time (and before that we lived in Europe, so repeat trips were easy) and b) some people just don’t travel that way. In fact, even though I rarely try to wrestle in as many cities as possible into a few days trip, I found myself travelling to Helsinki for a day the first time I visited Tallinn.

And you know what, Helsinki in the winter was also pretty damn magical. But, like, really freaking expensive, though!

If you’re looking for some day trip suggestions, I can thoroughly recommend Helsinki. We took the Tallink first thing in the morning (around 7am at the time) and came back in the evening. It was affordable and painless – aside from the 5:30am start!
=> Book your trip here

Although we haven’t been (yet), we’ve heard great things about Parnu. If you need some inspiration, here are 11 amazing things to do in Parnu from Christine at The Uncorked Librarian! If the street art scene in Tallinn whets your appetite, head to Tartu for even more. Both Parnu and Tartu can easily (and affordably) be reached via bus. We can’t recommend Lux Express enough; hands down our most pleasant bussing experience so far.

If buses aren’t for you, or you plan on doing a full Baltics road trip, you can easily rent a car with rentalcars.com.

If you really want to, you can also take a day trip to Riga. This is easier with your own car, but possible by bus. We absolutely love Riga, so we’re definitely not saying don’t do it.

Where to Stay

Our room at the Knight House Hostel
Our private room at the Knight House

The Knight House Hostel: We’ve been burned by hostels before, but Jeremy and I quite enjoyed the Knight House. They ingratiated themselves to us straightaway when they offered to stay up a little late for us since our flight was delayed (typically if you arrive past midnight you need to pop by their ‘sister hostel’ to get the keys). So – wonderful staff, the bed was comfy enough and it’s right in the old town. During peak season that might be a downside (if you hate crowds), but in the winter it’s a big plus. As an added bonus, they serve pancakes (crepes) every morning! If you don’t like pancakes, there are plenty of other options for breakfast, too. 
=> Book The Knight House

Hotel Viru: We only walked through the Hotel Viru for our KGB tour, and had a drink in the lounge, so I can’t comment on the actual room itself. Nevertheless, I always advocate staying in a piece of history, especially if it comes with a bit of luxury!
=> Book Hotel Viru

16eur Fat Margaret: My friend and I picked this place based on the name – and the RAVE reviews on Booking,com. However, to be totally honest, it wasn’t my favorite hostel ever. Don’t get me wrong, the staff were lovely and the location is fantastic. But the beds were exceptionally hard! Still, for location and price, it’s worth considering. Plus who needs sleep on holiday, amirite?
=> Book 16eur Fat Margaret

What to Eat

I don’t eat meat, so I’m often no help recommending local food in many places as 95% of it, I can’t eat. Estonian cuisine is definitely meat heavy. So sadly none of these are particularly local fair – but hopefully we’ll add some of that in the future. Still, the food in Tallinn is pretty good!

Kompressor: Let’s start with breakfast. Well, kind of, they’re open from 11:00 to 23:00, so it’s not really breakfast (except that everything in Tallinn opens quite late, which honestly makes me love it more). Do you fancy a rather large pile of yummy pancakes for a fairly inexpensive price to get you going in the morning – or for any meal? Then this is the place for you. Kompressor is pretty well known, so can get busy. It should also be noted for the Americans reading this, these are European pancakes (i.e. crepes).

Vegan Restoran V: There are actually a ton of vegan and vegan friendly spots in Tallinn, but this is the only one I’ve been to. It came highly recommended and I feel the praise is warranted ‘cause it was damn good. I mean, Beetroot ravioli with cashew cheese? Yes, please! I’ve also heard that Vegan Inspiration is equally delicious, but have yet to visit!

Maharaja: Maharaja is right in Tallinn’s Old Town Square, so if you sit by the window you get a great view of the square and the Town Hall. In the winter, this means you can look out over the Christmas markets, as well. As lovers of Indian food, Maharaja is one of our top Indian restaurants around the world. Although it’s on the expensive side due to it’s location, it’s just so tasty!

Elli’s Place: Located in the old town, this little wrap and sandwich shop was a great accidental find! The wraps were great, but also HUGE for the cost. I can wholeheartedly recommend the falafel wrap and the nachos with beetroot hummus!

LOOKING FOR MORE THINGS TO DO IN TALLINN?
– Dark Tourism in Tallinn
– Why I Fell in Love with Tallinn

WANT MORE BALTICS?
– Exploring the Hill of Witches in Lithuania
– Beating Hearts: Visiting the Salaspuils Memorial Park

Have you visited Tallinn in winter? Did we miss any of the best things to do? What are you excited about doing during winter in Tallinn?

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