If you ask me where I spent last Christmas, the Christmas before that and something in between, there is only one answer: Tallinn, Tallinn, Tallinn. Well, no wonder, Tallinn is only a 2-hour ferry ride from Helsinki so that must be the reason, right? I won’t deny that this fact definitely fuels my Tallinn obsession, but it’s not the whole story. There is something special about Tallinn, too…something that extends beyond mere convenience and proximity. Tallinn is like a good, old friend to me.
Ready to know why?
Let’s start with the obvious – it is super easy to visit from Helsinki (if only Chicago, Nice, or my native country Cyprus, were as close!) and the ferry ride is mostly a pleasant experience because of the abundance of food and other shopping-related entertainment onboard. The latter two is the reason I have no pictures from any ferry trip I have ever made – too busy eating or visiting the ship’s duty free shops!
But, the ferry fun is nothing compared to what awaits at the destination. As if from entirely another world, the Tallinn Old Town works its charm on the visitor already when disembarking the ferry. I still can’t hide my admiration every time I look at it from afar. It is as colossal as it is mystifying: a stunning labyrinth of castles, churches and fortresses.
What has always captivated me about Tallinn was undoubtedly, the way it transpires history. It is one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe, dating back from the 13th century, and a unique sample of Hanseatic architecture. Strolling around it and visiting places like Toompea Hill, St. Nicholas’ Church and Museum and the Tallinn Town Hall is like taking a giant leap across the centuries. It gives me a sense of peace to know that those buildings, those cobbled streets have existed for thousand of years and they have seen lives and fates far beyond my imagination. This kind of historical setting is for me, form of meditation, a way to both salute the passage of time and appreciate my own existence in the here and now.
Another thing that contributed to my addiction to Tallinn is its indulgence. Every corner is a coffee shop, inviting the visitor in for a warm cup of coffee and treat in a medieval spirit after a long stroll in the Old Town. This is the kind of temptation I can’t resist! My favorite coffee shops are Josephine in Vene street and Kehrwieder Chocolaterie in the Town Hall square.
The restaurant scene is just as impressive and diverse: Estonians really know good food, and place the emphasis on local ingredients. Although Helsinki also has a very good restaurant selection, I would say I enjoy the restaurant culture in Tallinn a bit more firstly because it is significantly more affordable but also because I find it more imaginative, more characteristic – more youthful, somehow. The creativity and adventurous spirit of Estonian chefs really shine through every dish and the flavors reflect the passion and love that inspired their creation. Absolute favorites in Tallinn is the renowned Restaurant Tchaikovsky (Michelin star quality for approachable prices), Peppersack, Fabrik and Kaks Kokka.
Oh but I almost forgot! The Christmas market in Tallinn, the oldest of its kind in Europe. In my opinion it does not have the “wow” factor in terms of lighting found in other Christmas markets around Europe. And, one thing I could not overlook last Christmas was the lack of Christmas carols at the market – at least when I was visiting it a band was performing some generic pop songs and that took away from the whole Christmassy atmosphere…These things aside, the first Christmas market ever it is a cozy and enchanting place. Go there to taste local Christmas delicacies, such as hot mulled wine glög, buy hand-made Estonian products and soak up some Christmas spirit.
As you may have noticed, I prefer visiting Tallinn in the wintertime, where I have an excuse to cosy up in Hotel Telegraaf’s spa area after a stroll in the Old Town. If Tallinn is an old friend, then Hotel Telegraaf is like a friend’s house: a hotel that combines uncompromising luxury with a warm, friendly atmosphere. It caught my eye the first time I was looking for accommodation in Tallinn, and since then, it has become my first – and only – choice. Warm recommendation! (Important note: if you ever find yourself there don’t forget to ask for eggs Benedict at breakfast – another temptation for me!)
I must admit, I have adopted a very touristy attitude while in Tallinn and stayed within the familiar atmosphere of the Old Town or the shopping paradise of Viru Center (which by the way, features shops such as Aldo, River Island and even my personal favorite Pepe Jeans London – Finland, you seriously have some catching up to do!). My goal for a next visit is to explore Tallinn on a broader scale. Oh but actually, I did try to visit the hip Rotermanni district which was more like an abandoned wind tunnel in December… It is not easy to guess that summer brings a whole new life to every corner of Tallinn (or so someone keeps telling me 😉 ). For me, however, Tallinn will always live in an eternal, white winter…