Now's the time to visit Tallinn (David Pursehouse)
Article Words : Wanderlust team | 19 January

Go now! Tallinn, Estonia

Forget its stag venue image – Tallinn is a cultural capital with a wild backyard. And at this time of year, there’s plenty of Christmas spirit to go with it

Why go now?

If Tallinn’s Old Town is pure chocolate box, during the Christmas period it’s a ye olde tin of Quality Street. The justly celebrated Christmas Market is one of the best in Europe: Raekoja plats (Town Hall square) fills up with stalls selling chunky-knit jumpers, hard-carved toys, gingerbread and jewellery.

Beyond its festive attractions, Tallinn is to become European Capital of Culture in 2011, a deserved accolade given that Estonians retain a deep connection to their history, folklore and music. For more, go to www.tallinn2011.ee/eng.

A long weekend

Fear not – despite what you might have heard, Tallinn is not overrun by stag parties on the weekends. What you get instead are friendly locals existing among a maze of cobbled streets, whitewashed 15th century Merchants’ Houses and atmospheric Gothic churches that make up the Old Town. Must-sees include the Town Hall, the Alexander Nevsky cathedral and the hilltop views from Toompea Castle. Estonia has a thriving arts scene, and many of its greatest works are housed in the purpose-built KUMU (www.ekm.ee) in Kadriorg Park, but check out some of the smaller galleries such as Vaal and Draakoni too.

A week or more

Outside Tallinn, Lahemaa National Park 70km to the east, is great for coastal hikes, but there’s likely to be snow during the winter, so pack sensibly. If you want to tap in to Estonia’s rich folk music tradition then head to its spiritual home, Viljandi, about 130km south of Tallinn. Here you’ll find the Traditional Music Centre, featuring performances all year round, including the Winter Folk Festival on 4-6 February. Go to www.viljandi.ee for more details.

Where to stay

For the budget-minded, Euro Hostel has a great location near Raekoja plats.

The St Petersbourg is a small boutique hotel with medieval charm.

The well-heeled should look up the Three Sisters Hotel situated next to St Olaf’s church.

Where to eat

Café culture is a big part of life in Tallinn. They like their hot chocolate, so head to Chocolats de Pierre tucked away in one of Tallinn’s oldest courtyards, where the prodigious cocoa-lover can take their hot chocolate with a side order of chocolate truffles.

If you can drag yourself away long enough to have an actual meal, step back into the Dark Ages and try a bona fide medieval feast at Olde Hansa.

Getting there

From 14 December 2010, Ryanair flies direct from Edinburgh and Dublin, and from Luton as of 10 January 2011. Flights are from £29.99 excluding taxes. EasyJet and Estonian Air also fly direct from the UK.

Five cultural icons from Estonia

1. Classical music – Arvo Pärt – composer

2. Pop music – Vanilla Ninja – girl band

3. Literature – Oskar Luts – novelist

4. Visual art – Eduard Wiiralt – painter

5. Cinema – Kaljo Kiisk – directo