Why you should visit Tallinn
At the juncture between Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, Estonia is a geographic and cultural meeting place – and nowhere is this more evident than in its capital.
Tallinn is a city of dualities, embracing both the old and the new. Its mediaeval character is “impossibly lovely”, said Forbes, but it’s “home to more start-ups per person than America’s Silicon Valley”, said EuroNews, earning Estonia the title of the world’s most digitally advanced society at one time.
The vibe is “lively yet peaceful”, said Lonely Planet. It is “absurdly photogenic” and “bursting with wonderful sights” – step into “ancient churches, mediaeval streetscapes and noble merchants’ houses” to get a feel of the city’s rich history.
Tallinn is also an affordable European destination that has dodged the stag and hen-do “bullet”, unlike less fortunate Prague or Budapest, said Suitcase magazine. And if you’re looking to travel further into Estonia, there’s no better place to start your trip.
While many visitors stop only briefly in Tallinn while on a cruise through Scandinavia, there’s plenty on offer for a longer sojourn.
Tallin’s top attractions and things to do
Get lost in Tallinn’s Old Town, exploring the winding streets and monuments; history buffs will enjoy visiting the Town Hall or Guild Hall museums. In the centre, Toompea Hill gives visitors “a potted architectural history of Estonia in a single winding walk”, said The Times. Climb up above the government buildings, castle and churches for views across the city. “Come early or late to avoid crowds from the cruise ships.”
Tallinn is home to “a vibrant and evolving art scene”, said ARTnews. Stop by the Contemporary Art Museum or Kumu, the city’s largest gallery housed in a “futuristic” seven-storey building, said Lonely Planet. Or there’s Fotografiska – if the excellent photography exhibitions don’t tempt you, then its Michelin green starred restaurant just might…
There are plenty of green spaces to wander through, too. Toompark is tucked just below the castle, or cast your net a little further with a visit to Vabaõhumuuseum, an “immersive, open-air museum”, said The Guardian. At Kadriorg Park, you’ll find the Kadriorg Palace in its grounds, a baroque building which hosts a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia.
A short walk from the Old Town, Telliskivi is “one of the liveliest areas” of the city. Popular among locals, there’s “a sense of creative rebelliousness” in this former factory hub, which has a bustling array of cafes, restaurants, shops and galleries to enjoy, said The Times. The Balti Jaama Turg market offers opportunities for vintage and antique shopping, and tempting “street eats”.
Saunas are “deeply embedded in Estonian culture”, and you won’t struggle to find somewhere to experience one for yourself. From hotels to breweries, they crop up all over the city.
Where to stay in Tallinn
Schlössle Hotel Tallinn is a “magnificent 13th-century merchant’s house” that has seen its “fair share of royal visitors over the years”, said The Luxury Editor. With “tasteful and sumptuous interiors”, guests can unwind from a day’s sightseeing in the “spacious” spa and sauna facilities, or “in the basement cigar lounge next to the huge open-fire hearth”.
For “five-star romance, elegance and charm” and an “impressive swimming pool and spa”, stay at Hotel Telegraaf. It has 84 rooms set across two wings, the travel site continued, with one side “representing the new and the other the historical”. Guest rooms are filled with “luxurious touches”, and its Old Town location makes exploring a doddle. Book into the hotel’s Restaurant Tchaikovsky to sample “French tastes, Russian traditions and Estonian ingredients”.
The Igluhuts at Iglupark are “self-contained cabins” looking across the bay at Port Noblessner, said The Times. With “uninterrupted views, a private sauna and outdoor hot tub”, this is a perfect pick for “summer nights when it never gets fully dark”. Hektor Container Hotel is another unique option – each room is a shipping container that has been “around the world at least once”. They have been kitted out with comfortable amenities and “soundproofing will guarantee an excellent night’s sleep”.
Tallinn’s top restaurants and bars
If you only have time for one meal out in Tallinn, book Restaurant Rataskaevu 16. This top-rated eatery “truly deserves the recognition it’s getting”, said Culture Trip. Enjoy Estonian staples served in a fresh, modern setting – and there’s “plenty of options for vegetarians”. Round off the feast with a glass of the restaurant’s own schnapps.
The Danish have “hygge” and the Estonians have “lee”, said Condé Nast Traveller, “an archaic word which means to gather around a fireplace, exchange stories and share food”. Experience it in the “fine-dining setting” of Lee Restoran, where the regularly changing menu showcases “local, seasonal ingredients”. Go for the “surprise” set menu “to discover the full extent of the talent in the kitchen”. For a “more easy-going” option, try the sister bistro Lore, restaurateur Kristjan Peäske recommends on The Local Tongue.
Among Peäske’s other recommendations are Salt, “a busy, underground, 30-seat bistro” with “no-borders thinking”, fusing “influences from South America all the way to Africa”. 180° and Noa Chef’s Hall “should always be mentioned” when talking about fine-dining in Tallinn. The former is “the place to go” for a “perfectly executed” fish dish – and the latter offers food that’s “more than just the best ingredients and the most complex techniques” in its “unexpected” creations.
For beer fans, the “state-of-the-art” Pohjala Beer brewery carries 24 different beers, said The Times. Sample some in the taproom, take a tour of the brewery or you can even book into its sauna. Telliskivi’s Sveta Baar is where the “trendiest crowd channel their rebellious spirit”.
Whisper Sister is “one of the coolest bars in Tallinn”, said The Guardian. An “underground speakeasy”, it’s “not easy to find” – but your efforts will be rewarded with “excellent” cocktails.
Transport: how to get to Tallinn
There are direct flights to Tallinn from London airports Stansted, Gatwick and Luton several times a week. Alternatively, catch a short ferry from Finland’s capital Helsinki, or travel by car or take a train from Latvia’s capital Riga to reach Tallinn in less than five hours.
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Read More: A weekend in Tallinn | The Week UK