One of the great pleasures of visiting many European cities in winter is the captivating effect that snow has on their classic architecture, creating a virtual winter wonderland. Estonia's capital Tallinn may not be as world famous as Vienna or Prague, but it's probably one of the best places on the whole continent to experience Europe as it was in medieval times.
Old Town Tallinn is so well preserved that it has UNESCO World Heritage Site status - picture a close-knit network of winding cobbled streets with iron street lamps, Gothic spires of grandiose churches and half-hidden courtyards sheltering beautiful gabled houses. Look out for Tallinn's Town Hall, the only one in northern Europe dating from the Gothic era that still remains standing, dating back to 1248. The historic district has also got three medieval churches, each remarkable for their well-preserved status centuries after they were built.
Another remarkable feature of Old Town Tallinn is its medieval defense system. Originally consisting of a 16-meter high wall spanning 4km around Tallinn and 46 towers, today about 2km of the wall and 26 towers are still standing. Visitors can go inside three of the towers and get an unrivaled view of the pretty red roofs of the historical district.
In the upper part of the Old Town Tallinn, there's also Toompea Castle, an imposing 14th Century building on a hill that today houses the Estonian Parliament. Apart from great architecture, Tallinn is also a cultural center, and has been designated European City of Culture for 2011. The city hosts classical and medieval music festivals through out the year, and is home to a number of great museums.
Tallinn also boasts a very active nightlife scene with plenty of great bars and clubs to sample amid the pretty atmosphere. The city has a winning combination of locals that are as party hard as their Scandinavian counterparts without the high prices often found in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. An average local draft beer in Tallinn will only set you back around US$3-4. It's another great surprise in an off-the-beaten track city that's nonetheless much more worth visiting than you might think.
It won't be warm, but nonetheless the best time to visit Tallinn is winter because the city will look as magical as a living Christmas card. Pack for very cold weather and skip the ho-hum sporting and outdoor adventure activities that are readily available elsewhere.
While there's no direct flights from North America to Tallinn, many major airlines will get you there from a number of other major European cities. Air Baltic offers the cheapest fares to Tallinn from neighboring cities.
Odds n' Ends
A lesser known attraction of Estonia is its many health spas, offering health and beauty treatments like hot stone massages, chocolate body wraps and facials. There are at least a dozen such spas in the capital alone, so Tallinn can be a great place to pamper yourself on a winter break.
If you're planning to do a lot of Tallinn sightseeing, consider getting a Tallinn Card. This tourist card gets you a wider range of discounts than some of its equivalents elsewhere in Europe - included are free public transport and bicycle rental, free Tallinn tours and cheap deals on everything from restaurants to health spas. A one-day card is US$32.
This combination 150-minute bus and walking tour offers you the best chance to see all the highlights of the city in one go, including the Kadriorg park, the Song Festival grounds, the ruins of Pirita convent and of course the Old Town. Departs three times daily in summer, tickets US$26.
This hop-on hop-off service boasts three different lines encompassing all the sights of the city and surrounding suburbs as well. US$21 gets you 24 hours' access to the three routes, with two-day and three-day options also available.
Not every city can boast a medieval category on its restaurant listings, but Tallinn's Olde Hansa promises to veritably take you back to the golden age of the city - it even offers two-hour feasts for groups of six or more. Dishes like the grand beef of the Mighty Knight will set you back around US$25.
Established in 1937, this classy Estonian restaurant has been the home of Tallinn's high society ever since. Why not try a prime piece of Estonian wellness pig with sauerkraut and roasting jus for US$24?
If you fancy living it up during your stay in Tallinn, this centrally-located 19th Century hotel is the place to go. It's chock full of history and boasts the city's most famous dance hall. A double room for up to three people is US$215 per night in off season.
If you're in the mood for some pampering, head to this hotel-cum-health spa located between the city and the shoreline. It's got a sauna, mud bath, salt chamber and beauty parlor. Doubles are US$100 per night.
Making instant ramen noodles at home isn't overly exciting, but visit the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka, Japan and making them will take on a whole different experience. Here, you get to become a part of the instant ramen noodle-making process, right from scratch. Sound interesting? Well here you are your own cook, designing your new favourite noodle and experimenting with various flavors. The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum houses a wide collection of the instant ramen sold over the ages. From the packaging materials to the types of instant ramen noodles, everything is on display. Though the ...4323 miles away.
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