For many visitors to Helsinki, the prospect of a day trip across the Baltic Sea to the Estonian capital of Tallinn is very enticing. Unlike Helsinki, which is a relatively new city, Tallinn is a lively mix of the modern and the historical, with a gorgeous Medieval Old Town that rises up through ancient cobbled streets to the old castle that overlooks it all. Even a regular visitor like myself, never tires of the Old Town, and finds something new pretty much every time I visit. Of course, the fact that it is just two hours away by ferry doesn’t hurt!
I decided to use the Megastar’s business lounge as I was taking a friend from the US who I knew would appreciate the extra luxury it affords. For both of us it was perfect timing, Christmas is coming and the famous Tallinn Christmas Market in the Old Town Hall Square had just opened on the 17th of November. Of course, I knew I could rely on the excellent shopping available on the ship itself. The ship, the Tallink Shuttle Megastar, was leaving from Helsinki’s West Harbour at 10:30 and would arrive in Estonia at 12:30. The return journey would leave at 19:30, giving us over 6 hours to wander the city, which was perfect for us.
Tallink Shuttle Megastar
The Megastar was impressive even from a distance: it is Tallink´s new generation, LNG powered, fast ferry, the newest and most modern of all the Tallink Silja ships. It’s big, for a start, with a capacity of 2,800. The Megastar boasts the largest mall on the Baltic Sea, a 2,800 square Traveller Superstore where you can shop top brand cosmetics, perfumes, food delicacies, souvenirs, and of course wines, spirits, beer, and cigarettes.
There is a wide selection of restaurants and bars on the Megastar, with interiors created by the acclaimed Finnish designer Vertti Kivi. I took a look at some of them, and was particularly impressed with the offerings in the popular Delight Buffet, but as we were in the Business Lounge with free food and drinks we didn’t sample any of the delights on offer. For parents travelling with children there is an extensive kids play area, packed with games and activities guaranteed to keep them happy on the short journey.
A Taste of Luxury in the Business Lounge
Having boarded, we made our way to the Business Lounge, and were delighted to discover a spacious, stylish area with wide windows that afforded us a wonderful view over the ship’s prow. The area had been tastefully decorated for Christmas, which perfectly suited our own mood for the day.
There was a fine breakfast buffet, as good as any I’d had in a quality hotel, with the addition of free drinks. Considering the day ahead, we decided to pamper ourselves with a delicious glass of Prosecco, and then ambled over to enjoy the fine views out over the Baltic Sea. The two-hour journey flew by as we dined and chatted, and we had just enough time to take a quick look at the Travellers Superstore before we disembarked, deciding that we’d revisit it on the return journey.
Tallinn’s Christmas Market
The picturesque Old Town in Tallinn is just a short walk from the harbour, so we set off on foot, entering through the impressive Viru Gate. Before we reached the market we paused for a coffee in the charming Maiasmokk Café, then it was on to the historic Town Hall Square where Tallinn’s impressive Christmas tree stood proudly in the centre. Small huts illuminated by shimmering fairy lights were set up in rows leading out from the massive tree, like spokes in a wheel. There must have been around 30 of these huts, each of them housing four retailers, two on each side. In front of the tree was a large stage, where live performances take place in the evenings, and there were two cute merry-go-rounds at opposite corners of the square, perfect entertainment for the smaller kids.
As we wandered around the stalls we found that the whole Christmas atmosphere was helped by the sound of seasonal music playing through loudspeakers and the scent of warm gingerbread and mulled wine (glögi) was another bonus. The stalls themselves sold all manner of local handicrafts and Christmas wares, as well as traditional Estonian Christmas foods, like their black puddings and sour cabbage. We browsed all the stalls, picking up gifts for friends and family, then enjoyed a warming glass of hot glögi before we continued sightseeing in the Old Town on our way to the Kohtuotsa viewing platform. This is the city’s most famous spot for taking photos, thanks to the incredible panoramic views it offers over the medieval Old Town and all the way out over the Baltic.
Returning to Helsinki – Shopping and Dining
Our day in Tallinn had flown by, so we made our way back to the ship which was leaving at 7:30pm. Once boarded, we went to the Travellers Superstore to get some bargains and do some more shopping for Christmas. The prices there were so much lower than back in Finland, and we took advantage by getting some fine wines, as well as candies and chocolates for under the Christmas tree. In the cosmetics section all the top brands were available, again for low prices, with lots of special offers.
Then it was time to go back to the comfortable Business Lounge, where there was an excellent dinner buffet available with a wide selection of hot and cold food. Seeing as we were in the festive spirit we enjoyed a few drinks with our meal. The seating afforded wonderful views over the ship’s prow, which were particularly noticeable as we neared Helsinki and its lights came into view.
A visit to Tallinn on the Megastar is an excellent day trip from Helsinki, and the spacious and classy Business Lounge is a reasonably priced upgrade, with a great view and as much food and drink as you care to have. As the journey is just 2 hours, travellers will have plenty of time to explore Tallinn and do a little shopping, and where could be better than the delightful Christmas Market in the midst of the medieval Old Town!
Getting to the Tallink terminal in Helsinki: The 6T and 7 trams stop right at the terminal, both trams can be caught from outside Helsinki Central Railway Station, and the journey will take around 15 minutes. Tallinn Megastar operates from D-Terminal.
Megastar has four different travel classes: Star Class, upgraded Comfort Class, exclusive Business Lounge and a new area, Sitting Lounge.
Tallinn Christmas Market is open from 16th Nov 2018 to 07. Jan 2019, every day 10am – 7pm