(Christmas) trip to Helsinki & Tallinn

Last December we chose to go North for our little family vacation before the end of the year. And we were not disappointed. We visited the Finnish capital Helsinki and the Estonian capital Tallinn. Two very different cities, both amazing Christmas destinations, with no crowds, great sightseeing options, picturesque Christmas markets, and very family-friendly. We were also lucky with the weather. We had a little bit of fresh snow, but the temperatures were hardly below 0 degrees Celsius. In this blog post, I am sharing all the details of the trip.

Tallinn Estonia Europe
Helsinki Finland Europe

Arriving at Tallinn

Our eight-day long trip started with a flight from Treviso in Italy to Tallinn in Estonia. We spent the first night in the city in a hotel near the port. We visited the old town briefly in the evening to get some food. The beautiful streets of Tallinn had us intrigued. On the second day, we got up bright and early to catch our ferry.

Plane view Estonia
Tallinn Estonia Europe

Ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki (& back)

Getting from Tallinn to Helsinki (or the other way around) is so easy. It takes only two hours on a modern and comfortable ferry with a good food selection (and a great children’s play area) to cross the Gulf of Finland. Three ferry companies are running the route, we chose Tallink, because their departure hours best suited us. Our voyage to Helsinki was on Monday morning, so the ferry was fairly empty and the sea was calm. On our midday ride back there were more people and we had a bit of rough waters. Nonetheless, a great choice for travelling between the cities.

Ferry Tallinn Helsinki
Ferry Tallinn Helsinki

2 days in Helsinki

What to see and do?

Take a walk from Senate Square, where you admire the Helsinki Cathedral, towards the waterfront. Stop at the Old Market Hall (Vanha Kauppahalli) and browse the stalls at Market Square. Also admire the brave sauna visitors who jump in the Allas Sea Pool. For a bird’s view of the area go on SkyWheel Helsinki. Visit also the beautiful Uspenski Cathedral and an interesting church in a rock – Temppeliaukion Church. Walk towards the majestic Helsinki Central Railway Station and the Parliament House and admire the architecture of the city. 

Helsinki Finlad Europe railway station
Helsinki view Finland Europe Allas pool cathedral

For me, two of my favourite places to visit in the city were the Helsinki Central Library Oodi (such an interesting building outside and inside) and the Helsinki Winter Garden. This palm house has been accepting visitors since 1896 and is a great place to get away from the cold in the winter. Do take your coffee or other favourite drink with you and you can sit down inside and drink it. Helsinki is also full of great museums – we visited the Helsinki City Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. On our next visit, we want to go to Amos Rex and the Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden. There garden was closed due to renovations when we visited. My daughter Gaja also loved the aquarium at the Sea Life Helsinki.

Helsinki Central Library Oodi Finland Europe
Helsinki Winter Garden Finland Europe

How is Christmas in Helsinki?

It’s very nice! As it gets dark early, it’s great that the streets have nice Christmas lights. The main Christmas market in the city is below the famous Helsinki Cathedral, so the views are really nice. Beside a big Christmas tree, you have stalls with traditional produce and handmade products. There is a separate area for food and drinks, as otherwise, you can buy alcohol only in designated shops in Finland. They have a special way of drinking mulled wine. They put almonds and raisins inside and after drinking the wine you eat them. There is a good selection of food also, interesting choices are rice porridge and reindeer meat. There is a carousel with horses for children, and it’s free of charge.

Helsinki Christmas Market Finland Europe
Helsinki Christmas Market Finland Europe

Where and what to eat in Helsinki?

  • Old Market Hall – Choose a delicious traditional salmon soup with rye bread. I loved the one at Story restaurant. The meatballs were also delicious. Or pick some other delicious Finnish dishes from stalls in this beautiful old market. They have been serving customers here since 1889.
  • Deliberi Keskuskatu – A Finnish deli restaurant that offers pizzas, bowls, salads, burgers, and more, with a very interesting interior design. We especially loved the salmon with cauliflower puree.
  • La Torrefazione Lasipalatsi – Amazing coffee, nice atmosphere, lovely selection of sweets.
  • Kanniston Leipomo – Small but very cute cafe with great coffee and even better sweets. 
  • Karjalanpiirakka – This is not the name of the place but of a dish. The most typical Karelian pies are made of thin rye crust with a filling of rice and sold everywhere. Even the ones from Lidl are very good.
salmon soup Story Old Market Hall Helsinki Finland Europe
Deliberi Keskuskatu Helsinki Finland Europe
Kanniston Leipomo sweets Helsinki Finland Europe

4 days in Tallinn

What to see and do?

Tallinn’s old town (Vanalinn) is a true fairy tale-like place (and included in the UNESCO World Heritage List). Colorful old houses with pointed red roofs, narrow streets (like St. Catherine’s Passage), hidden courtyards, and majestic churches are located within nicely preserved city walls. You can enter the city from one of the gates. The most famous being the Viru Gate. And then enjoy the views walking towards the center and the beautiful Town Hall Square. Here you can visit Tallinn Town Hall Pharmacy,  the oldest pharmacy in Europe that has continually operated on the same premises. It dates back to 1422. On Toompea Hill above the city, you can’t miss the Kohtuotsa (or Patkuli) viewing platform and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. 

Tallinn Estonia Europe
Tallinn Estonia Europe

Other city neighbourhoods are full of an interesting mix-up of new and traditional architecture. It is worth visiting Balti Jaama Turgt market and Telliskivi Creative City. The latter has small shops, museums, offices of start-ups, and cute cafes. There are numerous museums in the city. We loved visiting both locations of the Estonian Maritime Museum: Fat Margaret and Seaplane Harbour. Next to the latter you can also take a nice walk along the sea. And stop at the PROTO invention factory for some exploring VR and prototypes of technology.

Tallinn Estonia Europe
Estonian Maritime Museum Seaplane Harbour Tallinn Estonia Europe

How is Christmas in Tallinn?

Christmas in Tallinn is just wau! The houses in the Old Town have small Christmas trees with lights in front of the entrances. The Town Hall Square hosts the most picturesque Christmas market, with a big Christmas tree. Tallinn was actually the first place in Europe to have a public Christmas tree already in 1441. At the market, you can buy some delicious Christmas food. For example, a big plate of meat (different kinds, there is also reindeer), baked potatoes and sauerkraut with cranberries or a soup in bread. There are also Christmas gifts, tree decorations, and souvenirs. Of course, there is also a delicious mulled wine. If you are brave you can try it with typical Estonian liquor Vana Tallinn. I haven’t tried it but they say it is really strong. There is also a special little house for Santa Claus. Children can visit him, tell him their wishes, and get some chocolate. Children also love the vintage carousel with horses. If you are lucky, as we were, the square is covered in fresh snow. Snow makes everything even more Christmasy and perfect.

Tallinn Estonia Europe Christmas Market
Tallinn Estonia Europe Christmas Market

Where and what to eat in Tallinn?

  • Rataskaevu 16 – Beautiful ambiance, amazing food, and nice staff. We tried the breaded chicken fillet and pan-fried flounder’s fillet for mains and it was extremely delicious. However, the bread pudding for dessert was even better. We were lucky to get a table without reservation, but we stood in line before the opening. So do make a reservation in advance. 
  • Alle Restoran – Their pumpkin soup was amazing. As was their burger. I also liked the modern look of the place.
  • VLND Burger – Just delicious. Do try their beer also.
  • Cafe Maiasmokk – The oldest cafe in Estonia, dating back to 1864. Gorgeous insides and a delicious selection of sweets.
  • La Boulangerie – Mouthwatering French pastry. The bakery was just outside our apartment. So we hopped in in the morning for some takeaway croissants (and a delicious croissant sandwich with salmon) for a perfect breakfast in the flat.
Rataskaevu 16 Tallinn Estonia Europe
VLND Burger Tallinn Estonia Europe
Cafe Maiasmokk Tallinn Estonia Europe

Visited: December 2023

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