A small Christmas market set in the heart of Tallinn, Estonia is lightly dusted in fresh snow. Warm lights from wooden stalls illuminate the cobblestone streets and the rosy faces of visitors sipping mulled wine. Christmas traditions date back to 1441, making Tallinn the perfect place to capture the magic of Christmas and experience a traditional and historical Christmas Market.
This guide will show you the best way to experience Tallinn's Christmas market as well it's well preserved medieval town.
Some of the world’s best attractions are in the most unlikely destinations, and that rings true in the small Northern European country of Estonia — especially at Christmas time. Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn, is home to what European Best Destinations recently named the No. 1 Christmas market in Europe!
Thousands of voters have agreed this market out glitters all of the rest in Europe, and that’s reason alone to see what all the holiday buzz is about. Here, you’ll find everything you need to know about visiting the award-winning Tallinn Christmas Market.
While the usual Christmas market tourist trail may lead you to Germany, Switzerland, and France, you’ll truly be missing out if you don’t journey farther northeast to the culturally overflowing country of Estonia.
On a trip to Helsinki, Finland, we decided last minute to hop on a boat and experience the lovely Tallinn Christmas market. After looking at a few photos online and learning it won the Best Christmas Market for 2019, we knew we had to see it for ourselves.
Tallinn Christmas Markets Quick Guide:
The Christmas market in Tallinn, Estonia runs from November 15th 2019 to January 7th, 2020. This is quite a long time so you'll have ample time before or after Christmas!
One day is really all you will need in order to experience the city and see the Christmas market. No need to spend the night. I suggest getting there by boat, buy tickets here.
I also recommend taking a walking tour of the city, we had a fabulous guided tour from Tales of Reval that was such a different kind of tour! They wore costumes and spoke about the history and legends of Tallinn and Estonia. This is a free tour that takes place in front of the tourist information center at 10:30am and 13:00 (1pm) daily.
Getting to Tallinn, Estonia
Getting there is very easy and honestly, part of the fun. The ship sails regularly from Helsinki to Estonia's port and is connected by 3 ferry companies. Tallink Silja offers 6 times per day, Viking Line 3 times per day, and the Eckerö is 3 times as well. It takes about 2 hours to cross and prices range from £30 – £100 euros round trip. We purchased tickets the day before right here.
The boat ride itself was fantastic with a restaurant, places to lounge, and even a shop. The reason why so many ferries are offered is because so many people in Finland do their shopping, espeically for alcohol, in Estonia.
Now, many people use the boat to head over for the beautiful Christmas market. Estonia’s Christmas spirit has been recognized throughout Europe and around the world since 1441, when the world’s first publicly displayed Christmas tree was erected in Tallinn’s Town Hall Square.
Since then, a towering, shimmering tree has been placed and decorated in the center of the square every November, standing tall well into January. And at the base of the tree is one of Europe’s longest-running holiday traditions, the famous Christmas market, which bustles with craftsmen, cooks, entertainers, shoppers, and more every year.
Tallinn in Winter
Most travelers would suggest you travel to this part of the world, Northern Europe and the coast of the Baltic Sea, during the warmer summer months when you don’t have to don three layers of clothing to go outdoors. And to be honest, you don't get too much light during the day.
Although, those who have been to the fairytale capital city of Tallinn in the winter season know there’s arguably no better time to visit. The famed medieval architecture and ancient churches are dusted with snowflakes, the UNESCO-listed Old Town sparkles with twinkling holiday lights and decorations, and of course, the Town Hall Square bustles with the holiday market that Forbes named one of the top 10 in Europe.
Lonely Planet also named Estonia as one of the best places to go on a budget, and I'd have to agree!
In addition to the holiday market and festivities, you can explore Northern Europe’s only remaining Gothic Town Hall, snap postcard-worthy winter photos from the Toompea hilltop citadel, or ice skate under the twinkling lights. Tallinn is a city rich in history, natural scenery, ancient architecture, delicious eats and welcoming people, and the holiday season tends to brighten the city’s beauty even more.
What to Expect
Whatever your expectations may be, the Tallinn Christmas Market is guaranteed to surprise you. Here, you’ll find age-old traditions, friends and family gathering to drink and dine, and an abundance of handmade items to gift to the ones you love.
However, Estonia is a country that’s culturally unique, and you’ll find that the Tallinn Christmas Market is different than all other holiday markets in Europe and around the world, too. The warm drinks, hearty winter foods, handmade crafts and festivities are unique to Estonia, and that’s what makes this market so unforgettable.
Tallinn has an interesting history, even claiming the largest building in Europe with St. Olaf's Church. We don't know much about this building since it was burned down 3 times and was struck by lightning at least 17. But we do know that many people often died from walking across a tightrope from the building's tower.
Good to Know
You really can’t go wrong when browsing the Tallinn Christmas Market, but it does help to come prepared. Bring plenty of cash for purchasing snacks, wintery drinks, and of course, plenty of holiday gifts. While some stalls will accept payment by credit card, most prefer or only allow cash. Fortunately, the prices at the Tallinn Christmas Market are not nearly as inflated as those at other, often more touristy, holiday markets across Europe.
You probably already expect the weather to be cool in Estonia, but it’s especially important to bundle up for exploring the Tallinn Christmas Market. It’s likely you’ll want to spend plenty of time wandering, dining, and shopping, so be sure to come prepared with a cozy jacket, warm gloves, a hat and comfortable boots or shoes for walking.
The Christmas Market runs from mid-November to early January, but those who want to see the most action should venture to the Town Hall Square on weekends or during the Advent period, when more vendors are present and live performances take place.
What to Eat
Whatever you do, do not eat a hearty meal before heading to the Tallinn Town Hall Square. The Christmas Market is known as one of the best places in the city to dine during the holiday season and sampling the warm Estonian foods adds to the fun of the festivities. You won’t be able to miss the smells of warm piparkoogid (gingerbread), smoked meats and traditional Christmas roasts. Holiday cookie stalls await the little ones, while adults can warm cold hands and bodies with glögi (spiced mulled wine).
Trying the traditional holiday blood sausages is a must when experiencing the culture of Estonia during Christmas time. The mixture of barley, pork, spices and animal blood creates a sausage so mouthwatering and memorable that it has become the country’s national dish. From pork chops, potatoes and sauerkraut to warm gingerbread and hot cocoa, there are so many delightful holiday treats to try at the Tallinn Christmas Market, I suggest coming with an empty stomach and snacking from stall to stall.
You might also like to read: what to eat a Christmas market.
What to Buy
You can find something for everyone on your list at the Tallinn Christmas Market, and you’ll know they won’t receive the same gift from anyone else. The handicrafts for sale here are handmade and of the highest-quality, ranging from toys and nick-knacks for the little ones to intricately knit socks, sumptuous furs, and carefully-carved wooden holiday decorations.
Warm your hands and toes with handmade goats’ wool mittens and felt booties, or stuff stockings with wooden dolls and ornaments. It’s nearly impossible to leave the Christmas Market empty handed.
I bought myself a wool sweater (jumper) and it is the warmest item I own!
What to See
Much of what makes the Tallinn Christmas Market so unique is the number of cultural programs that take place on weekends and throughout the Advent period. Every Sunday, an advent candle is lit, and town leaders and church officials gather to greet visitors from Tallinn, across Estonia and around the world. On other weekend nights, visitors can enjoy live cultural performances from groups across Estonia and abroad. Roughly 3,000 performers appear on stage at the Tallinn Christmas Market every year.
And no visit to the Talinn holiday market is complete without visiting the star of the season — Santa Claus. The jolly old man who greets all of the good boys and girls and distributes candy from his adorably festive house. Merry-go-rounds and an abundance of holiday activities makes this market especially magical for little ones. The festivities also span into January, and the New Year’s Eve celebration rivals all of the pre-Christmas fun in terms of excitement, entertainment, food and more.
Before you head back to your hotel with bags full of holiday gifts and sweet treats, make sure you’ve checked a few Tallinn Christmas Market essentials.
- Snap a photo with the famous Christmas tree against the fantastical backdrop of the snow-dusted, pastel-colored houses.
- Take a selfie with Santa Claus before he and the reindeer take off and distribute gifts to children around the globe on Christmas Eve.
- Sing along with the choirs as they share holiday songs from Estonia and around the world on stage.
- Dip fresh ginger bread cookies in hot mulled cider (or hot cocoa for the little ones).
- Follow the holiday festivities by ringing in a brand new year with Tallinn’s spectacular New Year’s Eve celebration.
Christmas is the most magical time of year for many, and there’s no winter wonderland similar to the ancient, snow-dusted town of Tallinn. Visit the award-winning Tallinn Christmas Market this year, and make this the most memorable holiday season yet.
I’m already anticipating my next holiday visit back to Estonia!
Want more Christmas Markets? I got you!