Stone cold Estonia – what to expect in ‘out of season Tallinn’

In January of last year my travel buddy and I were sitting at my kitchen table trudging through pages of notes, re-reading books and frantically highlighting anything and everything that seemed important… we were in the middle of exam and revision hell.

We needed something to look forward to, a light at the end of the tunnel, a reward for all this hard work… so what did we do? Plancrastinated. First stop: Ryanair’s infamously difficult-to-negotiate website. We initially looked for flights to warmer climes (Morocco would do nicely I thought to myself) but these destinations turned out to be a little out of our price range at the time. So, further north we climbed until we had crossed the entirety of Europe and finally landed upon Tallinn. ‘We’ve never been to the Baltics’ we said, rapidly growing excited at the prospect of exploring uncharted territory. We booked our flight half an hour later. We would set off in two weeks’ time.

So what can you expect from Tallinn in February? Sub-zero temperatures and a very warm welcome. We knew it would be cold but we were not prepared for exactly how cold it would be at that time of year. -26 degrees, to be precise.

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‘How much can you really do when it’s that cold outside?’ I hear you asking. Not too much, as it turns out. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go! We saw a very different side to Tallinn – one that most visitors don’t get to experience. As a relatively small capital city it’s easy to imagine the inner walls of the old town bursting at the seams during the busy summer months, but during the colder months Tallinn turns into a winter wonderland. Snow-capped turrets tower over the town and people wrapped up in furs hurry across the deserted main square to find respite from the cold in one of the many coffee shops inside the city walls.

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(Please excuse the overly saturated image – I was working with a very dodgy iPhone app at the time!)

And we followed suit. Thanks to Estonia’s technologically advanced culture (the birthplace of Skype!), Wi-Fi was everywhere, even on city buses, so it was easy to while away a couple of hours sipping coffee, hanging out on the world wide web, and delving into a book or two. We became locals at a couple of cafés and bars and, due to the fact there weren’t many tourists around, the waiters started to remember us and gave us an even warmer welcome!

It’s got to be said, however, that there were definite drawbacks to visiting Estonia at this time of year. The main one being travel around the country. We were in Estonia for 4 days and had planned to visit the second largest city, Tartu, on one of those days. Tartu is about 2.5 hours away from Tallinn by bus – a nice little day trip, we thought. Things don’t always go to plan, though. We tried, we honestly tried. But it was so damn cold that after 15 minutes of being outside we couldn’t feel our feet and my hair had frozen… time to give up. We never made it to Tartu.

We gained another day in Tallinn and left feeling that we had gotten to know the city intimately. So, although you might miss out on the summer attractions, like the Open Air Museum or the Baltic beaches surrounding the city, winter in Tallinn can be just as fun! From hanging out in cafés to learning about the country’s past in its beautiful history museum there is still plenty to do in ‘out of season Tallinn’ and it’s definitely worth a visit! Just remember to pack lots of socks!

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