For a lot of people, travel has become a game of seeing how many boxes you can check… This is not for me. Slow travel, on the other hand, the conscious opposition of this busy body travel, is right up my alley. It’s about mindfully traveling in a way that lets you tap into the local culture. I didn’t know there was a word for this kind of travel until I perused the Tartan Blanket Co. blog! So, when planning the ultimate slow travel trip to Tallinn, with its medieval old town and colourful cobbled streets, I got in touch with my fav people at TBCo. Slow travel and the colsie TBCo. ethos go hand in hand. We partnered up to bring you the best tips for slow travel. Plus, their products look amazing against the pastel Tallinn cityscape! You’ll see a lot of fabulous woolly products in these photos, these were borrowed from TBCo.
Here are my top tips for slow travel in Tallinn (and most places!). If you’ve been looking for ways to slow down and really enjoy your holiday in a new way, this is for you.
Before we get into it, let me explain why I picked Tallinn, because you could slow travel anywhere! I started my slow travel journey by staying in a cosy hostel in the Irish countryside, hiking up the Cliffs of Moher instead of ticking off them off with a day trip from Dublin. Lauren and I spent a weekend eating pastries in Gothenburg. I solo travelled in Bulgaria and spent most days just cosying up in my Airbnb. Then, I came across Tallinn – bingo. Here, I could eat pastries, wander aimlessly, and, oh yes, I could have a sauna. I might even get my hands on some pierogies, what more could I want?! That being said, (most of) these top tips for slow travel work anywhere.
Mornings are for me time
Instead of hitting the ground running every morning, figure out what you’d really like to be doing. For me, it’s a slow wander to a quirky coffee shop. It doesn’t have to be near, but it needs to have good coffee (a reward for when I finally get there). I prefer it being a little off the beaten trail a bit as it gives me the opportunity to see the authentic city on a quiet morning when the streets aren’t busy yet. For Angus, his morning ‘me time’ was for sleeping. And so was some of his afternoon time.
Focus on the big idea
There is nothing that gives me travel anxiety like having a comprehensive itinerary or list of things to do. I completely understand wanting to get the biggest return on investment on your holiday if you will, especially if you’re travelling far or to somewhere with a lot of famous spots. But, instead of trying to tick everything off (and inevitably feeling blue when you miss out on one or two) pick one or two big things you want to discover. For us, it was Helsinki and Tallinn’s Old Town.
It felt like too much of a missed opportunity to go to Tallinn and not go on a day trip to Helsinki. But instead of planning down to the minute to ‘make the most’ of our time, we instead planned to sleep in before getting the ferry. When we were on the ferry we did a quick ‘things to do in Helsinki’ search and then we just wandered around Helsinki in the direction of said places, instead of trying to ‘tick’ them off. We still saw the Market Square, the cathedral (by accident) and Juttutupa, a cafe once frequented by Vladmir Lenin (this is where we got sucked in to traditional travel). On our way home we took the long way back to the Airbnb, just enjoying the Old Town. We saw Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral, Freedom Square and a lot of the other things in Tallinn, but it came more naturally.
But the best memory we made? While walking slowly back to our Airbnb, tummies full after a big dinner, we saw a zamboni on an ice rink. My Canadian heart raced. I dragged Angus to the rink and begged and pleaded until he conceded. We made it around the rink twice, his hands firmly in mine lest he wobble, and it. was. fabulous.
Look where you’re walking
Sometimes, when you’re walking on a mission to your next destination, you miss out on the views. I’m so guilty of this. Once I have a place to get to, I just want to be there. One of my tricks to stop myself from not enjoying the journey is to pick a neighbourhood and wander around there. When the destination is an area and not a specific location, it’s easier to keep your head up and appreciate what you see. Plus, you spot cafes, shops and restaurants you never would have noticed otherwise! Happening upon these places is the eureka moment I want on every holiday. Tallinn’s Old Town is full of seriously stunning architecture, there are so many cute corners and spots we would have missed if we were on a mission. One of Angus’s favourites was the Tallinn Old Town Records shop. My favourite was the giant Pull & Bear.
Shop slow in quirky antique shops
One thing I love most about foreign countries is the thrift shops. Foreign places have some foreign trends and foreign quirks and they all accumulate in antique shops! Thrifting is one of the best ways to find a sentimental souvenir of your trip that’s truly one of a kind, and a bit more meaningful than the usual tat. And, even if you don’t end up buying anything, looking through the shops is an exploration in itself! There are usually weird things to point out, funny hats to try on (gross?) and at least one fringed leather jacket that I have to talk myself out of buying.
Make your own scavenger hunt
Maybe there’s a few less conventional things on your list. In Gothenburg, it was the Merker building (which we dubbed the ‘pink Wes Anderson building’ and the Feskekorka (fish market). In Tallinn, it was shops that specialised in wool (can confirm, this city is a sheep lover’s DREAM), the city walls and the most colourful corners. Instead of focusing on things you *have* to see, pick things that resonate personally to you. That way, even if you’re trekking up Toompea to see the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral, you’ll still be spotting the most gorgeous mixture of colours and architecture, and you’ll be loving every step!
Take a friend’s recommendation
Bold of me to say while I’m recommending things to you, but I’m reluctant to trust internet recommendations. Of my top tips for slow travel, this might be number one. Generally, the number one recommended places on TripAdviser are more expensive and generic than you’d like. This is especially true for eating and drinking out. On the other hand, a friend can tell whether or not the place will be your cup of tea – figuratively and literally.
I was recommended Pierre’s Chocolaterie and Must Puudel in Tallinn. The first I never would have found as it’s down a little alley and it’s jaw droopingly quirky and adorable, and more French than anything I’ve ever seen in France. The second I went to every morning because the decor was so vibrant and the coffee went down a little too well!
Stay warm (aka near a sauna)
Ok, guilty, this one’s just for the Northern countries! Keeping warm is essential. Layer and layer and then wrap another scarf on top of it all. There’s nothing worse than wanting to wander, but being too cold to manage it! And then there is nothing, I repeat, nothing better than hopping in a sauna after a long day of walking. Our Airbnb had a sauna built into the bathroom and it was a dream come true. Soothed my muscles, sweated out the pollution and toxins and just relaxed me to my heart’s content!
Where have you gone for your best slow travel experience? I’ve got a few more places on my list! They include: any second biggest city in a Scandi country, the south of France, Slovenia, Seville, Gdansk, Rural Ireland, Crete and Shetland.
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