Christmas Market, Tallinn
Let's face it, Christmas is a time to suspend your inhibitions and your good taste and seasonally embrace your 'inner kitsch'. And there are few places better to do this than the Christmas Market in Tallinn's main square!
It's hard to go wrong in such a picture-perfect setting, especially if it is dusted with snow and frosted with icicles. The short days mean that by 16:00 (the market closes at 19:00), it is dark, and you can appreciate the Christmas tree lights and stalls in their full twinkly glory. And if that isn't enough for you, there are even a couple of reindeer who mope around in a paddock, looking bored and taking perverse pleasure in making themselves as difficult to photograph as possible.
The wooden stalls are pretty, and offer the standard Christmas market fare - think Christmas ornaments, lots of stained glass, candles and other crafts and New Age paraphernalia - as well as lovely ethnic knitwear (which you may well be tempted to invest in, as chances are that it's freezing!). There are also food stalls, selling gluhwein, waffles and other warming vittals, and if it all gets too cold for you, you are absolutely spoiled for choice as there are a whole host of excellent restaurants and bars within a short walk of the Town Square.
We visited the Tallinn Christmas market on the same trip that we made a pilgrimage to the Nuernberg Christkindlmarkt (arguably the best of the European Christmas markets). If I had to compare the two, Nuernberg probably wins by a short head - mainly on account of the quality of crafts and the fact that the market is frequented by local people as well as tourists - but there's not an enormous amount to choose between the two, and both are hugely enjoyable, especially for a Christmas junkie such as myself.
Provided that you have good mobility (see my travel tip on appropriate footwear) and don't mind the cold, I would say that Christmas is a wonderful time to visit Tallinn, and the Christmas market is an integral part of a very special experience.
The Christmas market is the perfect place to buy crafts and beautiful embroidery at a very cheap price. I got some handmade candle holders last December. The stands have even their card machines so you can actually pay with credit card, but it's best to pay in cash of course.
The Christmas market is held in Raekoja plats (Tallinn's town hall square). It is a wonderful medieval setting and in the middle is a large Christmas tree.
Father Christmas has a hut with his sheep out back - still rather bemused as to why Santa, in Estonia, has sheep, but there you go. Children can go and see him (for free) and they will come away with a sweet each. The Santa we saw was very very nice.
Don't expect a Christmas market anywhere near the scale of some of the other European ones, such as Vienna. This is a tiny affair and the most you are going to get is some honey (it's got a very flowery taste to it), something knitted, a small paiting/drawing of Tallinn,a wooden bowl or something made by an iron monger. The market has quite a "local" feel to it and a lovely atmosphere and is by no means packed with tourists but I must say I was a little disappointed at the lack of anything to buy. I got a knitted hat for my friend's new baby, a tiny picture of Aleksander Nevski Katedraal and a couple of pots of honey.
There was at least one food vendor in the market. I think the term my husband used was "peasant food". He had a blood sausage whilst the kids had bacon (although it was all fat and no meat really) which they swallowed down with some cabbage. Being a vegetarian there was nothing on offer for me - but I am used to that whislt being abroad!
There was mulled wine on offer and they certainly did not scrimp on the alcohol - not a bad thing when it is as cold as it was!
My opinion would be- if you are heading to Tallinn in the winter you may as well aim to go when the market is on - it's another to do and the atmosphere is nice. The Christmas market alone is not a reason to go to Tallinn.
We went in December and the Christmas market was in full swing. Wend & I turned the corner and just melted. It was picture perfect. A bit commercial I think, but these markets can only do good for the town's local businesses who will benefit from the added trade they bring.
We stood in the middle of it all with a heated gluwine to sup on (20 EEK each) surrounded by the stalls and a giant christmas tree with lights on. Like us, there were other couples and families with children just enjoying the market and it really was a great place to be to just stand and savour the moment.
The Christmas market is well worth a visit for many reasons, but especially because of the fairytale atmosphere created by the combination of ingredients that form this unique type of market.
It's held in the town square of Tallinn, which is in the already quaint looking old town.
The quaintness is further anhanced by the addition of temporary wooden huts, each of which is a seperate sales pitch. Each hut is bedecked with glittering white fairy lights that look entirely magical as it gets dark.
There's a gigantic Christmas tree, again decorated and glistening with white lights. Christmas carols play as you wander from stall to stall. I noted a huge stage set up at one end of the square and I imagine it's used for groups for entertainment.
The stalls sell mostly handcrafts. I saw many sheepskin rugs, Pippy-Longstocking-type hats with long points, wooden toys, woollen knits, stalls selling hot mulled wine.......
I bought nothing - I was too busy admiriing everything and suddenly it was time to move on. however, I am aware that prices were very very cheap.
The only pity is that there was no snow. Next time.....I want snow!