Although souvenir shopping isn’t something locals tend to do, there are still ways to be smart when buying things to remind you of your trip. Souvenir shops have a reputation for being tourist traps that charge high prices for imported goods. In Tallinn, you can find anything from amber that’s imported from Latvia to Russian matryoshkas and little Norwegian trolls. This blog post is here to lead you away from these imported evils and steer you towards authentic Estonian souvenirs that even the locals love!
Estonian design jewellery
Estonian design is growing, with new boutiques popping up from time to time. Artists are often inspired by Estonian nature, which means that wood and animals are often featured. There are wooden phone covers, wooden bow ties, animal-shaped rings and butterfly ties. A lot of the jewellery is funky and colourful, but there are plenty of elegant pieces available too. The best Estonian design boutiques in Tallinn are Krunnipea Butiik, Les Petites, Nu Nordic and Tali Estonian Design.
National pattern socks
Estonians love their national patterns, and national pattern socks have been a hit ever since they first appeared on the shelves. Who wouldn’t want a pair of these cool and colourful socks? The stripes are taken from traditional woollen skirts, which have a different pattern in each district of Estonia. You can also find the national patterns on purses and handbags. Eesti Esindus sells the socks, as do the bigger supermarkets.
JOIK is an Estonian company that produces natural spa, beauty and personal care products. Their range includes candles, body creams and bath products – everything you need for an authentic spa or home sauna experience. The best thing about JOIK products is that they only contain high-quality ingredients that are mostly sourced from nature. You can find JOIK products at Les Petites and Krunnipea Butiik.
Navitrolla is an Estonian artist who adds fun and surreal elements to South-Estonian landscapes. He has an art studio in the Old Town, but seeing as not everyone can afford his original paintings, he also sells mugs, T-shirts and other items featuring his designs. Many Estonian school kids are fans of Navitrolla’s notebooks and diaries. Penguins on flying rocks, giraffes with three heads and polar bears in the middle of green fields – you don’t have to be Estonian to get the giggles from his works.
Berries, mushrooms, jams and honey
If you were to visit the outskirts of Tallinn from late July until August, you would see cars parked at random places beside the forest with no one to be seen. The missing drivers are Estonians who, with total greediness in their eyes, are in the forest trying to pick as many berries and mushrooms as they can manage. We’re very serious when it comes to this. The unspoken rules are to a) pick as much as you can find and b) to pick more than everyone else. It’s no wonder that you’ll find lots of jams, juices and dried berries at the souvenir shops. Most Estonians don’t look for such things in shops; instead we sneak into the storage rooms of our parents and grandparents. If you’re at a loss when it comes to Estonian grannies, a good pot of local jam from the souvenir store will do. You can buy different Estonian jams, juices, liqueurs and cheeses from Eesti Esindus.
Kalev candy, chocolate and marzipan
Kalev is an Estonian confectionery company that’s coveted by all of the local kids. Even though we grew up with it, it maintains its appeal thanks to its stylish packaging and high quality. There’s a wide variety of Kalev goodies available, from plain milk chocolate and dark chocolate with cherries to tasty praline candies. You simply can’t say that you don’t like Kalev without trying all of the products, especially as there’s something to suit just about every taste. After all, chocolate and marzipan are said to be good for those who are heartbroken, so make sure you have some with you when you leave Tallinn and start missing us! You can find Kalev confectionery at any grocery store, for example Solaris and Kristiine Shopping Centre. There’s also a Kalev shop in the Rotermann Quarter.
Vana Tallinn liqueur
Estonians know how to produce alcohol and we also know how to consume it. While we have companies like Saku and A le Coq that produce a wide variety of beer and cider, there’s one Estonian drink that stands out from the rest and that’s Vana Tallinn. It’s a rum-based liqueur that finds its way into shot glasses, cocktails, coffee and even ice cream. To tell you the truth, in their everyday lives Estonians usually go for beer, cider or wine, but Vana Tallinn still has some kind of honorary role. It’s always there.
Elk and wild boar meat
About 70% of Estonia is covered in forest, so if you buy something local, there’s a good chance it comes from the forest. If berries and jams aren’t your cup of tea, there are other food products you can get such as wild game. Smoked boar or elk sausages are a really special treat and can be found at Eesti Esindus.
In any good Estonian souvenir shop you’ll always find a corner where everything is made out of wood, the most famous being juniper. You might encounter a fresh smell of wood that takes you to the western islands of Estonia and makes you imagine the light summer nights, right in the middle of the shop. Small boxes, buttons, key chains, forks, knives – you name it. The most common wooden souvenirs are knives that are perfect for spreading butter.
Knitted sweaters and woollen slippers
Estonians can get fairly disappointed when tourists complain about how many Nordic sweaters we sell. It’s true that many knitted handicrafts have Nordic motifs, but the knitting tradition here is very old and is even still taught at schools. Patterns from different districts are often part of our traditional dress. Nevertheless, if an Estonian has a sweater like this, they probably made it themselves or received it as a gift from someone patient enough to knit it. It’s cold here, so woollen socks, sweaters and slippers are perfect for surviving our winters. Of course not everyone needs such extreme clothing, but if your climate allows, why not have a pair of soft and warm slippers or a nice sweater from Tallinn?
Opening photo credit: Annegret Nõgene. All other photos by Katrin Meschin.