Tallinn is the capital of Estonia and sits just south of Finland. Not everyone’s top holiday destination but a city with a lot of historical influences. Part of a country that has major changes over the course of history, with occupation from the Swedish, Russian, Soviets and Nazi Germans. The country has huge mix of influences which can be seen while walking around the capital. Since its independence in 1991 and joining the EU in 2004, the country has become more and more focused on technology. It is one of the only countries that has embraced doing things online, with voting, paying taxes and medical records all readily available. Their e-residency program has also been hugely popular, allowing anyone in the world to apply and start businesses in Estonia easily. Along with creating startups such as Skype and Transferwise, the country is making large steps in the technology direction. Aside from all this, Tallinn is a beautiful city, the old town offering cobbled streets and old historical buildings. A perfect little picturesque city full of photo opportunities that should be on everyone’s travel list, even if it is for a short weekend trip.
The Old Town
You can spend hours wandering around the cobbled streets and getting lost in this UNESCO Heritage site. To get more of an understanding of the importance of the buildings and sites around town, along with some interesting historical facts about Tallinn and Estonia in general, go along to the Tallinn Free Walking Tours that starts at 12pm everyday. Tours last around 2 hours and the knowledgeable guide will whisk you around the Old Town and give you some intriguing facts about the history, culture and the people. History plays a big part of this city and the tour really gives you a sense of the factors that helped form its identity.
One of the best part of the tour was seeing the city from the viewing points. The view from the Toompea area has a great height advantage and offers a sight of the rooftops in the rest of the Old Town. The area also includes an Orthodox church built in a Russian revival style and Kiek in de Kok, an old artillery tower built in 1475.
On the southern side of the Old Town is the Freedom Square, with a large war of independence victory column. The large structure was erected in 2009 as a memorial for all those who fell during the Estonian War of Independence, a war that was fought against the Soviets in 1918.
The rest of the Old Town also includes Raekoja Plats, a cobbled and medieval square with cafes to relax and a town hall tower to climb. On the other end of the Old Town is St Olaf’s Church, built in the 12th century. This church sits at 123.7m meters tall and has been hit by lighting at least 10 times and burnt down 3 times during to this. It is worth a climb to the top of the spire, as it offers magnificent views of the rest of the Old Town.
For those lucky enough to be in town on a weekend, pop into St. Nicholas Church at 4pm for an organ concert, with fantastic acoustics. If not, head to Maiasmokk cafe, one of the oldest cafes in Estonia. Enjoy a nice coffee and check out their marzipan selection, perfect for gifts to take home.
The East of the City
What most visitors don’t tend to do when in Tallinn is to visit the area of Kadriorg. Around 2km east of the Old Town, Kadriorg park is a very peaceful and tranquil patch of greenery. It houses the Kadriorg Palace, which has a unique architectural style of Petrine Baroque, something favoured by Peter the Great and often found in Saint Petersburg in Russia. The autumn cold during my visit meant near to no other visitors around, making the palace quite a remarkable sight. The park also includes several other attractions such as the Kadriorg Art Museum, Mikkel Museum, and Kumu, a Finnish designed building made of limestone, glass and copper. Enjoy a nice morning stroll around the grounds and make your way to a little sandy beach and try spot Helsinki from the distant waters.
For those looking for a bit of spy action, book a tour to the 23rd floor of Hotel Viru, on the edge of the Old town. During the Soviet era, this floor was used as a KGB radio centre, where hotel guests were spied upon. Espionage devices and microphones were found in 60 of the hotel rooms and in the restaurant. The devices were found in 1994, threes years after the KGB had vacated the floor! It is now a museum and still filled with old KGB equipment.
On the other side of the Old Town in Telliskivi,where 10 old factory buildings have now been turned into the ‘hipster’ area of Tallinn. With cool cafes, bike shops and bars now residing in these factories, you can enjoy good food and coffee and buy some locally created crafts and gifts.
Black Bread and Food
In every Estonian meal, you are served with slices of black bread with your meal. It literally is a very dense looking black slice of bread made with mainly rye. This was surprisingly delicious even on its own and very easy to grow a liking for.
The bread went especially well with Grandma’s Sunday Roast at Vanaema Juures. Half expecting it to be a full roast of meat, the texture of the meat was closer to a bourguignon than a proper roast. However, the flavours of the meat was simply delicious, the braised beef tenderloin slices were soft and the mustard like sauce was really enjoyable. I just could not stop eating and wished there was more to go with the dark bread!
Leib Resto Ja Aed is regarded as one of the best restaurants in Tallinn. Entering through a small garden, you will instantly feel at easy in the cosy restaurant. Run by a team of passionate chefs, the restaurant focuses on fresh local food, from organic farms, butchers and fisherman. They have extensive beer and wine pairings with all their dishes which makes the experience more enjoyable. With a constantly changing menu, try and order their Estonian Beef Fillet, one of the best steaks I have every had. The steak came with a celeriac and tarragon-bone marrow sauce which was juicy and delicious with the perfectly cooked beef. Finish the meal off with their version of creme brulee with black bread. An interesting combination with a local dish!
For those who wake up early enough for a proper breakfast, head to NOP, Neighborhood Organic Place. As the abbreviated name shows, the cafe offers only organic dishes, sourced locally. Enjoy their organic oatmeal and their unique chocolate hummus (made from chickpeas, peanut butter and coconut milk) on rice cakes, topped with fruits. The portions are generous and filling and will set you up for a long day of exploring!
Moonshine or Koht is a popular local drinking den, well hidden on the side streets of the Old Town. Once you find it, it is a cosy little bar where locals enjoy the best selection (60+) of local Estonian beer. Sit by the fire place or head to the Art Cafe for some live music with a cup of hot wine! Both options offering an enjoyable and fun evening.
A hidden gem sitting in the corner of Europe, Tallinn is a beautiful little city. Definitely worth a visit for the views, medieval streets and amazing food.
Flights: From Gatwick and Stansted (3hours)
Where to stay: Nelli’s Airbnb – Cannot stress how amazing this apartment is, great and extremely comfortable apartment, decent location and a fantastic host. Feels just like home.
Also published on Medium.