Tallinn: Between its heritage and modernity
When my father told me for the first time, hat he wants to go to Tallinn with me on vacay, I didn’t know what to expect from the capital of Estonia. I read a lot about the Oldtown but Tallinn is much more than its old centre. It’ s a growing, cosmopolitan city with urban, European life, a taste worthy food scene and great nature, which is not as far away as you might believe.
What to do
Tallinn of course has much more to offer than its Old Town, but the historic centre of the capital of Estonia anyway is beautiful and not less beautiful than the ones in Prague or Krakow. The Old Town consists out of the Upper Town and the Lower Town. In the Upper Town you find the Alexander Nevski cathedral, which is the biggest orthodox cathedral in Estonia. Next to the church is the parliament of Estonia (btw it’s called Riigikogu), which takes place in a palace, built in the baroque style. Behind the house of parliament, there is still an old part of the castle with a tower. One minute away from the Nevski cathedral is the dome of Tallinn, which is not as expressive as you might expect it. From the Upper Town you also have good view onto the Lower Town and the city of Tallinn. There are two viewing points, one in the north and one in the east of the Upper Town. During walking through this part of Tallinn you also find out soon, that a lot of embassies have their offices there, mostly in beautiful old houses or small palaces.
The Lower Town is perfect for just trolling through the small alleys and looking at the houses. In this area there is the City Hall and a lot of churches. A part of the Lower Town is circled by the city wall, which you can visit easily by going up to its Towers.
The Kadriorg Palace, which is in the east of Tallinn in the same named borough, was built for Catharine the first of Russia by Peter the great and it’s one of the most famous places in Tallinn. We went there in the morning at around half past seven and getting up early was definitely worth it. In the morning the garden around the palace is pretty empty and you don’t have to make your way through a big crowd of tourists. You can also go there easily by tram (tram number 1 and 3 at the station J. Polska)
In Tallinn you don’t find a lot of relicts of the Soviet time, compared to other post-Soviet cities in Europe, anymore, but there are still someone: At the sea there is a building called Linnahall, it was built for the summer Olympics Moscow, when the sailing competition took place Tallinn. You can visit the huge complex from the outside, but sadly not from the inside. Next to the sea, there is also an old Soviet prison, which you can visit from the outside The Patarei prison has a very dark history and it was one the most notorious prison in Estonia.
The, at the moment, place to be in Tallinn is Kalamaja. This growing neighbourhood between the Old Town and the sea has become very modern in the past few years. At the Balti jam Food market, you can buy souvenirs, for example Estonian chocolate or eat something. Around the market are a lot of new, colourful houses. Some coffee shops and some great design shops. Also, the culture centre Telliskivi Creative City offers some great spots for eating or drinking something.
Where to eat
Compared to Riga, Tallinn has a much more interesting restaurant scene. Especially if you leave the Old Town you will find a lot of modern restaurants, which are much better than the pseudo Estonian restaurants you have around every corner in the Lower Town.
For breakfast I recommend a Reval Café. In Tallinn you often find a branch of this Estonian coffeeshop chan. For breakfast they offer a mix of Estonian breakfast dishes, like different kinds of porridge with various toppings, but also filled croissants or eggs, prepared on diverse ways.
A good place for breakfast in the Old Town was the Maiasmokk Café. If you arrive there before eleven (like we did), they’ll just offer some pastries and at eleven they start with the real breakfast dishes like eggs or porridge. But the best thing on this Café is definitely the interior of the bakery. It’s not a big place but they still have all the old furniture and the ceiling and the floor look like they would be 100 years old (on a good way).
Our first lunch in Tallinn was at the Balti Jaam Turg food market at the stall of Baojaam. They have a very short menu and just sell Bao buns. A bao buns is a steamed bread filled with meat or vegetables, from the Chinese province Fujian. It’s also very popular in Taiwan. We ordered two different versions of the bao bun, two were filled with pork and two with beef. They have a grill there so the meat tastes smoky. I preferred the ones with beef and cabbage, which were moreover flavoured with chili, peanuts and coriander. For drinking they offer a great lemonade with mango, mint and ginger.
Near Linnahall and the culture kilometre, there is a Vietnamese restaurant, called Vietnami Salv. The interior of the restaurant is very modern and colourful and it feels very charming. The food is a mix of modern and Vietnamese cuisine and tastes very good. They also have desks outside the restaurant which are next to a small bay.
After 4 days in Tallinn, my favourite restaurant is definitely F Hoone. The restaurant is in Kalamaja, in the Telliskivi Creative City. The interior of the restaurant is super modern, in an old factory with a high ceiling. At the bar the three kinds of free bread and taped water you can take during your stay. As my starter I chose a spicy coconut-curry soup with mushrooms, which was highly recommended on a blog I had read, before I went to Tallinn. I also tried the mixed bruschettas, which are definitely a starter for two persons. As my main course I chose the black spaghetti with shrimps and white cheese. The waiters there are super relaxed and so they making the atmosphere very relaxed. If you are in Tallinn and you want to try this place out, reserve a table, because especially in the evening all the tables are taken and we were really lucky to find a place inside the restaurant.
Where to go on an excursion
Tallinn is just two hours away from Helsinki by boat, so if you have enough time go to the port and take a ferry to the capital of Finland. There is one ferry at 7:30 and one at 10:30. In Helsinki you can take the tram to the city. The main monument of Helsinki is definitely its dome. From there you can go down to the sea, where a market takes place, bur this part of Helsinki is not really worth a visit, because it’s just a spot for tourists, where you can buy expensive food. If you are interested in art, the Ateneum, is advisable: The museum focus art from Finland, but also shows paintings of Van Gogh and Gauguin. Moreover, the Café inside the museum is very charming. The have water and filtered coffee for free, so buy a piece of cake and take a break of the busy life as a Tourist. My restaurant recommendation for Helsinki is Momotoko, which is a small chain of restaurants in Finland. They offer ramen, in different ways in a modern surrounding.
We also wanted to explore the nature in Tallinn and found a moor in Tallinn, where you can go easily by bus. The moor is near to the bus station Hiiu and going there by bus is super easy. We chose a hiking trail which is 4 kilometres long and ended up at the bus station again. We mostly walked on boardwalks through the moor. We also came by a look out, from where you have a nice view onto the whole forest.
Some (hopefully) helpful recommendations
The public transport works very well in Tallinn and the trams and buses drive from 6 to 23. You find all over the centre small shops, called R Kiosk, where you can buy the tickets. The prices, are compared to other cities super cheap (for a five-day ticket you pay 6 euros). You can also buy tickets inside the tram, but they are more expensive. We stayed at an Airbnb in Tatari, which is south of the Old Town. Not living in the historical centre isn’t a bad idea, because you are firstly during 10 minutes in the Old Town, secondly the flats there are cheaper and the surrounding is quieter and not that touristic.
If you are not sure, where to go on your next city trip, Tallinn definitely is a good choice and shows you a modern, city with a great historical heritage.