Wooden stalls trimmed in evergreen boughs and white lights form a patchwork in Old Town Square. Shoppers bundled against the -12C temperature clutch steaming cups of Nordic glogg while perusing the colorful ornaments and winter accessories on display. Reindeer rustle quietly in their pens while awed children shove handfuls of hay between the slats. A dusting of snow covers the surrounding medieval rooftops. Welcome to the Tallinn Christmas market.
I first visited Tallinn, Estonia at the end of summer and thought that it was among the most charming European capitals I’d ever had the pleasure to explore. My second visit was in December and the city was overflowing with yuletide cheer. A Christmas market complete with twinkle lights and a soaring tree had been set up in the shadow of the 15th century Town Hall, with vendors selling everything from reindeer jerky and gingerbread to knitted hats and hand-carved wooden ornaments. Strangely, for such a heart-warming place, there were few other people there.
The same story was repeated throughout Tallinn’s Old Town. Swarming with tourists just a few months before, the cobbled streets now were practically deserted. We could hear our boots click against the slick stones, the sound dampened by snow. Previously crowded shops and passageways were empty and we had the city’s many churches and museums practically to ourselves. I guess travelers are put off by the cold, dark northern European winter, but it is a truly picturesque time to visit!
This was my first Christmas market in Europe and my high expectations were definitely met. We originally planned to travel to Munich, but were thrown off by exorbitant hotel rates. As it turned out, four nights at a boutique hotel in Tallinn cost less than one night in Munich! Germany may be the capital of all things Christmas, but if you want the quaint European Christmas experience minus the hordes and high prices, then head to Estonia. Just be sure to bundle up.
The Tallinn Christmas Market, or Tallinna Jouluturg, is open daily from the end of November through the beginning of January.
Which European Christmas markets would you most like to visit?