5 things to do in enchanting Tallinn

If you only have a day to explore Estonia’s capital then be sure not to miss these five sites.

With a unique fairy-tale old town, Tallinn is one of my favourite cities to explore in Europe. If you are staying for a few days, I’d also recommend venturing out to the lesser known parts of Estonia on alternative day trip or visiting the eastern city of Tartu. If you only have a day or two, then be sure not to miss these five sites in the capital.

1. Explore abandoned Linnahall

This huge Soviet style building was completed in 1980 as a venue for the sailing events of the Moscow Olympics. The hall then became an entertainment complex and was finally closed in 2010. Despite recent plans for renovations, the area remains derelict, with grass growing through the concrete steps, graffiti on the walls and an a somewhat eerie feel- although these days it’s quite a popular tourist attraction.

Linnahall graffitiLinnahall entrance 2Linnahall steps with shrubs

2. View the old city from above

The old town of Tallinn (Vana Tallinn) has a magical fairy-tale feel to it, in part due to the well preserved town wall and castle on Toompea hill. To get the best view of the old town (and to get your bearings for further exploring) head up the tower of St. Olav’s Church or the town hall in Raekoja Plats. Both are 3€ entry and require climbing of over 100 narrow stone steps!

Tallinn from aboveTallinn above detailTallinn roofs

3. Visit the markets in Raekoja Plats

At the center of the old town you’ll find Raekoja Plats– the Town Square. As with many towns, the main square is the heart of the city. Here you’ll find regular weekend markets, plenty of restaurants, cafes and interesting museums.

Since 1441 the old Raekoja Plats has been home to a magical Christmas Market. It’s even been said that the Brotherhood of the Blackheads erected the world’s first Christmas Tree here, although others claim that neighboring Riga holds this title.

dsc07451.jpg
Horse in old town

Raekoja Plats.jpg

Raekoja Plats Markets

4. Wander through Toompea Hill

Positioned above the rest of the old town, Toompea (Cathedral) Hill boasts impressive views of the city, the old castle- which is now the Estonian Parliament building and the stunning Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

Toompea streetAlexander Nevsky Cathedral

 

5. Head to Telliskivi

If you want to see a different side of Tallinn then head out of the Old Town time-warp to Telliskivi, an inspiring “creative city for everything new”. Here you’ll find second-hand shops, homeware and arts stores, food and thrift markets and plenty of trendy cafes and bars. My favourite is F-Hoone.

dav

Three very different European Christmas Market experiences 🎄

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a land of summer Christmases spent at the beach, with endless seafood and fresh cherries, or maybe it’s because I watched too many romanticized American movies as a kid. But for as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of a snowy, white winter Christmas with all the Northern Hemisphere traditions. So as Helsinki experiences it’s first snow of the season and the temperatures plummet into negative degrees, I decided to get excited about winter by putting together some photos from two Christmas markets I visited last year and two I’m excited to visit this year. I hope you enjoy and get some ideas about where you could go for some European Christmas cheer!

15540708_10158021858365145_5225408649564340012_o

black and white xmas

Helsinki: Senate Square and surrounds

The annual Helsinki Christmas Markets, often referred to as the St. Thomas Market, is held at the famous Senate Square from the first weekend in December up to the Friday before Christmas. With the majestic all white Helsinki Cathedral standing tall above the square and a beautiful old carousel in the middle of the market, this is one elegant affair, with 100 well-organised stalls and many places to sit and drink. As well as delicious sweet and savoury food there are also many Finnish craft and design stores. A little further down Aleksanterinkatu, outside the famous department building Stockmann, there’s also a small cluster of Christmas stalls during the festive season, with many cheery lights, spruce trees, roasted chestnuts and hot Glögi on offer.

15418531_10158021872765145_6632202395556329505_o

 

 

 

Dates and Opening Hours:  1-22 December, Mon-Fri 11am – 8pm, Sat-Sun 10am – 7pm

Location: Map link here

Vibe: Elegant, majestic.

Must try: Smoked reindeer meat and hot Glögi- the Finnish version of mulled wine, served with raisins and slithered almonds in the cup.

Prices: On the expensive end, as Helsinki is in general. A hot mug of Glögi is around 5€.

Further Details:  For the Helsinki market and here for more information about Christmas markets and other festive events around Finland

Tallinn: Raekoja Plats

Tallinn is one of my favorite cities in Europe, and around Christmas time the enchantment of the old town is at it’s highest. Since 1441 the old Town Hall Square has been home to a magical Christmas Market and it’s said that the Brotherhood of the Blackheads erected the world’s first Christmas Tree here, although others claim that neighboring Riga holds this title. Either way, the Tallinn market is full of old world charm.

dsc07451.jpg

 

Dates and Opening Hours:  16th November – 7th January: Open every day 10am – 8pm with hot Christmas drinks till 11pm. There’s also a Christmas program every Friday from 5pm – 7pm and on Sundays from 12 noon – 2pm. 

Location: Map link here

Vibe: Like stepping into a Medieval Fairy Tale

Must try: There’s plenty of delicious smoked and spiced nuts and very strong mulled wine! I found the food in Tallinn to be slightly heavier and heartier than that of Helsinki, with many hot pastries on offer. The handicrafts include a lot of amber and wood carvings as well as many hand knitted goods.

Prices: much cheaper than Finland but still more expensive than normal Estonian non-touristy prices. You can get strongly alcoholic mulled wine for around 3€.

Further Details:  see here.

Germany

As most of my trip will be after Christmas and the German markets tend to finish a little earlier than most, I will only have time to squeeze in two markets- but as one of them in Nuremberg I am confident that I’ll get my fair dose of German festive flare!

Image result for german christmas market
http://www.departful.com

Berlin

Initially I didn’t realise this… but there are many, many Christmas Markets in Berlin. This website lists four of the most popular ones. As I only have a few days in Berlin I’ll likely only check out the one in Schlossplatz in the old town Köpenick area of Berlin. Located amidst cobbled streets, a Baroque palace and the town hall, with traditional food, drink and gifts, the atmosphere is sure to be just what I’m after.

Dates and Opening Hours:  14 – 16 December, Friday 2pm – 9pm, Saturday 12pm – 9pm, Sunday 12pm – 8pm.

Location: Map Link here

Nuremberg

This is meant to be the mother-load of all Christmas Markets and I just can’t wait!!!

Dates and Opening Hours:  30th November – 24th December. Daily 10am  – 9pm, except Christmas Eve when the market closes early at 2pm.

Location: Map Link Here

Further Details: Here

If you want to hear more about the German markets then keep an eye out in late December when I post photos and info about my Nuremberg and Berlin visits 🙂

Five Abandoned Places You Can Explore in Estonia

Five Forgotten Places in Estonia to explore

There’s something about forgotten, abandoned places that intrigues me. Whether it’s the exciting feeling of rebelliously being somewhere you maybe shouldn’t go, or the chance to explore unique forgotten places and discover lost secrets, I have a strong desire to seek out these places when I travel.

If you feel the same, then Estonia offers many interesting opportunities! Here are five abandoned places to explore in Estonia.

1. Linnahall

This large concrete sports and entertainment complex was completed in 1980 as a venue for the sailing events of the Moscow Olympics. The hall was closed in 2010 and despite plans for renovations the area remains derelict.

Abandoned Linnahall

Abandoned Linnahall

Abandoned Linnahall

2. Tartu Cathedral

When I was in Tartu for a work trip I stumbled on the beautiful ruins of the Tartu Cathedral during an early morning run. Perched atop Toomemägi (Cathedral Hill) amidst thick trees, I was stunned and awed to see the huge stone ruins emerging in a clearing.

While part of the cathedral is a museum run by the University of Tartu, most of it is open to the sun and trees. It really reminded me of the ruins in the film Ever After.

Tartu CathedralTartu Cathedral

3. Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu Quarry is a submerged limestone quarry next to two now-closed prisons; Murru and Rummu. Formed in the late 1930s, prisoners from both sites were used in the excavation of limestone until the 1990s.

While groundwater was pumped out of the quarry during operation, after it’s closure the water built up to form a lake, submerging part of the utility buildings and machinery. Now closed to the public, you can still visit the prison on a tour like this. 

Rummu Sunken PrisonAbandoned buildings at Rummu Sunken PrisonRummu Sunken PrisonHave submerged building at Rummu Sunken PrisonRummu Sunken Prison

4. Padise Abbey

This Cistercian Monastery was founded in the 14th century by monks who had been dispossessed from their Latvian Dünamünde Abbey.

Over the years it became a fortress and then a country house in the 18th century. Now all that remains are abandoned ruins. Like most places in Estonia, you have free reign to explore the site, including the dirt-floor cellars and high tower.

Padise AbbeyPadise Abbey

5. Soviet Town of Paldiski

This Baltic sea port town does not so much have a specific abandoned building, rather a feeling abandonment emanates throughout the whole town.

Originally the Swedish settlement of Rågervik, it became a Russian naval base in the 1900s. Near the town you can also visit the limestone Pakri cliffs, complete with abandoned lighthouses.

Paldiski

 

For more alternative sights to explore in Estonia, have a look at this post.

An Alternative Day Trip From Tallinn: three interesting sights

While Tallinn’s old town provides an enchanting time-warp, if you’re visiting Estonia and want to get out of the city to see an alternative side of the area then here are a few lesser-known options. As each place is quite far from the next, you will either need to hire a car for the day or join an organised day tour. I decided to do a day trip with Traveller Tours and had a wonderful experience.

1. Keila-Joa Manor House and Waterfall

Built by a German aristocratic family on banks of the Keila river in 1833, the neo-gothic manor house and surrounding walking paths provide a beautiful place to relax on a sunny day.

Just up stream you’ll find a wide waterfall- touted as Estonia’s most romantic. In winter the waterfall often freezes over, creating a beautiful icy curtain.

 

Keila Waterfall
Keila Waterfall

2. Padise Abbey and Manor house

In the 14th century, monks who had been dispossessed from their Latvian Dünamünde Abbey founded this Cistercian Monastery. Over the years it became a fortress and then a country house in the 18th century. Now, abandoned ruins are all that remain.

Like most places in Estonia, you have free reign to explore the site, including the musty dirt-floor cellars and high tower, reached by old wooden and stone steps.

Padise Abbey

Padise Abbey

 

3. Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu quarry was formed in the late 1930s, with prisoners from nearby prisons used in the excavation of limestone until the 1990s. To stop flooding, groundwater was pumped out during the quarry’s operation. However, after it’s closure the water built up to form a lake, submerging part of the utility buildings and machinery.

The quarry is not accessible to the public as it is now private property. However, tour companies do offer diving and kayaking in the lake during summer, and day tour options in colder months. By far my favourite alternative site!

Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu Sunken Prison