As already mentioned in my last blog entry, I spent a semester abroad in Tallinn. Today I would like to share my experiences and my enthusiasm with you and tell you a little more about Estonia’s beautiful capital. Learn more about the city in my article and profit from true insider tips….
First a few facts: Tallinn is the capital of Estonia and lies in the north of the country by the Gulf of Finland. Around 430,000 people live in Tallinn. This rather small number mirrors the population density of the whole country. By way of comparison: Estonia has around 45,000km², quite similar to the Netherlands. However around 14 times as many people live there compared to Estonia. This became noticeable very quickly, as I always saw familiar faces everywhere. A trip into town therefore often ended in a spontaneous get-together in the evening.
In the last few years Estonia has received a lot of attention, as it is one of the most advanced countries when it comes to digitalisation. Every Estonian can vote online, submit a tax declaration online and found a new company in 15 minutes online. This is one of the reasons why there is the young and up-and-coming quarter “Telleskivi” in Tallinn, nicknamed “The Creative City”. There are numerous start-ups and many hip restaurants and cafés in Telleskivi. If you want to see a very young, aspirational and crazy quarter, you should definitely pay it a visit. What most people don’t know: the world-wide known company “Skype” was founded here. Another highlight – especially for the younger generation – is free WiFi at nearly every corner and in all the restaurants and cafés. This enables you to send pictures you took to friends and family you left behind.
In contrast to what is mentioned above, stands the old town of Tallinn, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and has lots to offer. The beautiful old town is split in to two parts: the lower part with the town hall square and the oldest pharmacy in Europe and the upper part on the Toompea (Cathedral Hill). From here you have an amazing view of the (lower) old town all the way to the modern new town. To me, the town hall square is especially symbolic of the charm of the city: the houses have colourful fronts, there is always something going on and you can enjoy it all from one of the many little restaurants and cafés. I would, however, recommend only having a drink here, as it is quite a bit more expensive than other parts of town.
Fancy a climb up the tower of St. Olaf’s Church? When standing up there you notice how small the town actually is, but this is one of the best things about Tallinn for me. It is nearly impossible to get lost in Tallinn’s old town, as you will certainly end up at a corner you’ve been to before. Nearly everything can be reached on foot. You also have a fantastic view of the remaining 2km of the old town wall that once enclosed the city. It is one of the best preserved town walls in Europe and for 2€ it is definitely worth a stroll on top.
The Estonians are an incredibly friendly nation, even if they don’t always seem very outgoing to start with. Some Estonians I met told me they are like Coconuts: they have a very hard shell, but once that is broken they are extremely friendly, helpful and loyal people. I couldn’t agree more. When you meet them on the streets you often get the impression that they are in a bad mood or don’t feel like talking to you. However, if you get to know them better you can have a lot of fun with them.
Tallinn was awarded the Green Capital Award, which means that the town is one of the greenest and environmentally friendliest in Europe. For one thing, this is achieved through public transport being completely free for Tallinn’s inhabitants. For another, Tallinn has an unbelievable number of parks and greens. One of the prettiest parks is the Kadriorg Park and it is fantastic in all seasons. In summer you can sit on the lusciously green lawn and enjoy a picnic, in autumn the park transforms into a colour spectacle (thanks to the many different sorts trees) and in winter everything is covered in a layer of white snow. Do you like going for a walk? Either way it’s certainly worth strolling through the park, no matter what season. When you’re here you will forget everything else.
In summer, the many beaches, some of which are located quite close to town, invite you to go for a walk or a quick swim. Be careful though, as the water is still not particularly warm in summer. However on a hot day, it makes a pleasant refreshment.
If you would like to pick up some more information about Tallinn’s naval history, you should stop by the “Seaplane Harbour”. There you can learn everything there is to know about boats, war ships and icebreakers and the best thing is that it’s a very hands-on experience – you’re allowed to touch and try out everything. In the centre of the enormous hall is a huge submarine, which was used in times of war and in front of the hall is an icebreaker waiting to be explored. Even if you’re not a massive fan of all things nautical, the museum is definitely still worth a visit. You can see, touch and learn so many interesting things.
If you’re in Tallinn for a little longer you should definitely think about going on a day trip to the Lahemaa national park. It’s about 70 kilometres to the east of Tallinn and is around 72,500 hectares large. Here you can go hiking, for a bike ride or just for a leisurely walk and enjoy the view from the observation deck. Large areas of the park are moorland and you can stroll down narrow wood walkways through the moor – a glorious view. It is incredibly fascinating how the park changes throughout the seasons. During my first visit in August everything was green and lively and you could hear the birds singing. In December everything was bare and the moor was frozen over, so that you could walk or skate on it. It is very quiet and seems almost asleep creating an amazing atmosphere.
It is incredibly fascinating how the park changes throughout the seasons. During my first visit in August everything was green and lively and you could hear the birds singing. In December everything was bare and the moor was frozen over, so that you could walk or skate on it. It is very quiet and seems almost asleep creating an amazing atmosphere.
Another highlight outside of Tallinn is the small town of Rummu. So far I have never seen anything about it in guide books or similar. In Rummu you can also find an old soviet prison closed in 1991 called “Muru”. The prisoners had to slave away in the attached opencast mining field and some parts of it are now flooded by groundwater. The whole area is surrounded by a stone wall, but you can enter through several gaps. In summer it is a very popular place for swimming, as you can jump off the surrounding buildings. Due to the crystal clear water, it’s great for diving as well. With a little luck, as I had it that year, the lake is frozen over in winter. You can then walk over the lake to the building or even ice skate on it. It’s simply breath-taking.
On a culinary level Tallinn also has a lot to offer. The food is similar to German food and it is very hearty. When in Tallinn, you should definitely stop by the restaurant “Kompressor”. Here you can find the best pancakes I have ever tasted. You can choose between savoury and sweet, with the savoury ones being filled with salmon or ham. There’s only one word to describe it: heavenly.
If you like Indian food, you should try the “Chakra”. It has an inviting atmosphere and the lamb curry is sublime!
If you enjoy all things medieval I recommend the “Draakon”. It’s located in the town hall and if you’re standing on the square in front you can’t miss it. Here you drink out of clay jugs and can enjoy a delicious elk soup. It’s especially worth a visit on cold days, as the atmosphere is great. It is quite dark and is nearly solely lit by candlelight.
I found the best burgers in town in “Uulits”. As it’s very small and usually always packed, you should reserve a table in advance.
A word on the distances: as already mentioned you can get nearly everywhere on foot. If you do need to go towards the outskirts, you can simply take the public transport that runs daily and very frequently. Furthermore, Uber is very common in Tallinn and is quite a bit cheaper than the official taxis.
The winter days are very short with sunset starting around 4pm, as Tallinn is quite far north. Therefore, it is useful to know that Tallinn has a “reflector law”. As soon as it’s dark you must always carry a reflector on your coat, bag or rucksack. The police can charge you with a fine of around 30€ if you don’t comply. However, I have heard that they are very kind towards tourists, explain the situation and often give you a free reflector for future use.
Tallinn in winter is also fantastic, this year it was covered in snow in October already. It can be very windy as it’s by the sea and you definitely need to pack a hat, gloves and a scarf. But with those on, you are ready to explore the city. Most tourists come in spring or summer time. From October onwards you will practically have Tallinn to yourself, as the usually busy ferry traffic is immensely reduced. The townscape also changes with the number of tourists; everything seems a lot calmer and more relaxed.
The Christmas market usually starts in the middle of November and goes on until the middle of January. It is located on the town hall square. Similar to Germany, you can buy lots of homemade crafts and lots of food and mulled wine here. The Christmas market is lovely and invites you to linger. A giant Christmas tree is located in the middle of the square and especially at the weekends in advent, there are a lot of musical events going on on stage.
Tallinn is an incredibly versatile and unique town. It perfectly combines the traditional with the modern age and its digital being. It has something to offer for everyone, no matter the age. If you want to experience a truly special town, go and visit Tallinn.