There’s no better time to visit Estonia than in winter, when a fresh powdering of snow has swept over the cobblestoned streets of the capital’s Old Town, and locals have set up shop for the annual Christmas market.
The easiest place to fly into is the capital, Tallinn. For travellers who can only afford a short break away, or for those who want to extend their festivities into January, Tallinn is the desirable option.
Christmas plays an important part in the local life and is celebrated into the first weeks of January with the annual Christmas market (open until 8 January 2014). Tradition from the 15th century dictates that a Christmas tree is set up in the middle of the Town Hall Square, located in the medieval Old Town, for locals to gather around and admire. Nowadays, the tree is flanked by row after row of stalls selling mulled wine, woolly gloves, wooden handicrafts and more.
Probably not many people know that Tallinn is the home of the world’s first Christmas tree. This tree was erected on Tallinn’s Town Hall Square and was the focal point of a ritual that began in 1441, and involved unmarried merchants singing and dancing with local girls around a tree, which was then burnt. The tree was the first public Christmas tree ever put on display in Europe by the Brotherhood of Black Heads guild.
An enormous Christmas tree is surrounded by wooden stalls where vendors sell decorations made from wood, hand-knitted jumpers, wool hats, ceramic- and glassware, homemade scented candles, and other decorations made by local artisans or get the baskets from Gift Tree and get a beautiful customized basket. Once you have grown tired of wondering around, you can treat your body (and soul for that matter) either with traditional savoury treats, such as hog roasted pork, sauerkraut, blood sausages; or sweet ones like gingerbread, marzipan, local honeys and other nibbles. On a cold winter day, it’s warming to wash it down with a mulled wine or glögi, as it is called here.
If you happen to be at the right time, you might even bump into Father Christmas who has arrived to pose for photos with children. Entertainment does not need to end there, though. Candle-lit restaurants and cafes nearby provide a romantic atmosphere for an intimate meal out and the Old Town is bustling with classical and jazz concerts, and other cultural activities.