Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia: Museums, Pancakes & Hot Chocolate

Derek Estonia 20 Comments

Tallinn, Estonia
While Riga, Latvia, as you might have read last week, was a most pleasant city to visit, it would seem only natural that my stay in Tallinn, Estonia would be described similarly. After all, the main focus of the city center is the Old Town, yet another collection of cobblestone streets and pastel colored buildings.

However, I shall not use the word ‘pleasant’ to describe my time in Tallinn – a tiny capital city of only 450,000, located in a tiny country of only 1.5 million people – because despite its miniscule size, this city managed to not only keep me extremely busy throughout my stay, it managed to keep me intrigued and excited, and always wanting to see and do more, as well.

And even though I was only in Tallinn for three days and three nights, the fact that I was barely in my hotel room at all made my stay seem significantly longer and my visit significantly more rewarding than such a short stay usually allows.

I did have one particular advantage though. A good Estonian friend of mine, whom I met while working on board a cruise ship (she was a photographer on the ship), happens to live in Tallinn. So each day she just led me all over the city to places she felt that I, a foreign visitor, would enjoy the most and then, when she had to go to work, she gave me her personal recommendations of what I should do on my own.

No Shortage Of Things To Do In Tallinn

During my stay, I visited a variety of museums such as the Estonia History Museum, the Museum of Occupations (very informative exhibits about Estonia’s history under Soviet and German occupation) and the Kiek in de Kok Museum (located in an artillery tower), each with their own unique style but each offering such an interesting and interactive experience that I not only learned a great deal, but actually remembered what I learned once I stepped foot back outside. To put it simply, these are museums that are well worth visiting even if you don’t normally enjoy museums.

Another great activity involved climbing the spire of St. Olav’s Cathedral, up the several hundred steps to the viewing platform that naturally offered unbeatable views of the Old Town below…

Old Town, Tallinn, Estonia

Of course, all of that climbing builds an appetite, and when I mentioned to my friend that I was hungry, she immediately took me to Kompressor Pancake House, one of her favorite restaurants. Inside this simple restaurant one will find a large menu consisting of a couple dozen types of pancakes, both salty and sweet. Oh my what amazing pancakes! Not only are they huge in size and absolutely delicious in taste, they are also cheap – very cheap for Tallinn – at around 3 – 4 Euros each, making them ideal for any visitor.

Pancakes at Kompressor, Tallinn, Estonia

Once full, I went back outside and roamed the Old Town, with, as I mentioned above, it’s typical Old Town maze of cobblestone streets, pastel buildings, churches, medieval towers and city walls. However, despite initial appearances, this Old Town is not so typical. It has such a lively, positive energy that is often missing from such historical areas, and that energy even remains when the rain is falling and the wind is blowing on a cold autumn day. Whether I was walking along Vene or Pikk Streets or down random lanes and alleys or around Toompea Hill, there was an extra bounce in my step as I was constantly looking forward to what and who I would encounter around every corner.

Raekoja Square, Tallinn, Estonia

Of course, once the rain and wind and cold became too much, my friend would take me into one of Tallinn’s cafes, such as the Kerhwieder Cafe near the main Raekoja Square, with it’s homemade chai and cozy rooms to sit down and warm yourself up in.

There was also the Must Puudel (the Black Poodle) which quickly became one of my favorite cafes, not just in Tallinn, but on the planet. It might have had something to do with its superb, homemade hot chocolate and fresh pies and cakes, but the atmosphere also played a role, from the laid-back warmth of the living room area to the peacefulness of the garden out back. If you go to Tallinn, go to the Black Poodle, eat there, drink there, relax there…and don’t be shy either. It’s an ideal place to meet local Estonians who often come here to hang out in the afternoons and evenings.

After coffee and cake, my friend would usually take me around town some more, along the old city walls, down to the harbor, over to the Kadriorg neighborhood to have a look at the wooden houses, through Freedom Square and into some of Tallinn’s unique and local design shops, of which there are many.

Old Town, Tallinn

Other places we visited that I can highly recommend include St. Patrick’s Bar & Restaurant which serves creative, delicious and inexpensive cuisine (the meal I ate there was the best I had in Tallinn), and the very relaxed, friendly and cheap Levist Valjas, a local bar near St. Olav’s Cathedral, with no sign outside at all, only a red light above the door that does not entice passersby to enter (which is probably on purpose). But you should enter anyway!

Apart from that, just walk down every street in the Old Town, pop into every museum you come across, find all of the city gates, head down to the ferry port to watch the dozens of ships coming and going, get lost as usual, go to the spa for a sauna and swim and at night, you should of course party with the locals (there is no shortage of bars and clubs to choose from).

And then, before you know it, you’ll have to pull yourself away from this city in order to head off to your next destination. However, I’m quite certain that you’ll have as difficult of a time saying goodbye to Tallinn as I did just last week.

Tip For Tallinn: Visitors can purchase a “Tallinn Card” which basically gives you free admission to museums and other sights while also entitling you to discounts at cafes, restaurants and some shops. A 24 hour card costs 24 Euros and if you visit four or five places in one day, this card is an excellent value.

Have you been to Tallinn? Any interest in visiting this small city and country?


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Comments 20

  1. Yeah! Kompressor! We loved that place when we were in Tallinn. It has a nice blend of cool/hip cafes, down to earth restaurants, and traditional/cheesey themed places. We couldn’t resist a bit of medievalness but didn’t want to do the full dinner show thing, so Ill Drakon was a nice option – a theme pub serving snacks. Beautiful city and beautiful countrysides.

  2. Nice to see you writing about Tallinn as it’s rarely discussed on the blogs I frequent. I’ve made it as far as Helsinki but opted left instead of right should you be looking at the north pole. I’d like to return and explore that part of the world, thanks for giving us a glimpse.

    1. Hey Rob – Left isn’t so bad either…I’m a big fan of Sweden/Norway myself and would spend more time there if a muffin didn’t cost $32!

  3. I’ve never heard of Tallinn! But being a HUGE pancake fan (of both the savoury and sweet variety), I will now have to put in on my list! We’re currently in Playa del Carmen thanks to you, and we love it!!!

    1. Hey Sarah – I could have eaten many more times at Kompressor…the pancakes are some of the best I’ve had anywhere! Glad you’re enjoying Playa del Carmen…if you like food, head to “Dona Mary”, a local tostada restaurant (order the tostadas!) on Avenida 30, a few blocks away from the intersection with Avenida Constituyentes. They are closed on Mondays but every other day open after 6pm…incredible place! As is El Cuevo del Chango…just ask anyone where it is and go there for breakfast 🙂

    1. Hey Maria – Oops…but if you ever taste one of these pancakes you’ll realize that it’s impossible to stop eating it until it’s completely finished, so saving bites is just not realistic 🙂

  4. Tallinn! I’ve heard that it’s quite different from Vilnius and Riga, and it’s a place that I’d love to go to. Did you visit anywhere else in Estonia, or stick with Tallinn? Either way, those pancakes alone sound like they’re worth justifying staying solely in the Estonian capital.

    1. Hey Tom – I only had time to visit Tallinn but for such a small city, I could have easily stayed there for a long time. It has its own unique vibe that is very appealing!

  5. Earl, I have long enjoyed your blog, but to be honest it seems you give glowing reviews of every place you visit. It’s difficult to know what is really good if you think everything is really good. I have traveled to around 70 countries and generally had good experiences but there are a few places I’ve been that were not enjoyable and which I would not return to. Have you no experiences like this??

    1. Hey Eddie – Thanks for commenting. The thing is, I don’t consider these to be reviews of the places I visit. I am simply talking about my experiences and in general, I do believe that our attitude when we travel determines whether or not we enjoy a particular destination. Rarely do I have any expectations of a country and I always try to find the positive in every experience, so I genuinely every country I travel to. The other thing to consider is that I’ve now learned that while seeing the ‘sights’ is always nice, it is the human interactions, meeting new people, that really makes travel truly rewarding. And luckily, you can meet new people everywhere 🙂

  6. Oh man, I absolutely love the architecture and pancake culture in that part of the world. I’m curious. How was it washing down a bite of a pancake with a swig of beer? I’ve never considered a combo such as that.

    1. @EarthDrifter – Well, that wasn’t the best combination. As soon as I ordered the beer and pancake I realized that they didn’t exactly go together, especially when my friend ordered a glass of milk with her pancake. Not recommended at all!

  7. Another “Day in the Life” post. Love it / them! Another country that’s certainly on my list by your description.

    As two people can look at the same scene and come up with entirely different interpretations, I’m waiting for your next post to take one aspect of your wanderings and do it in detail. It might include either a local or another traveler. This post of Tallinn was a panorama shot. Not that I don’t enjoy these types of posts, because I do. It’s just a suggestion (outside the box) for an idea when you sit down to paint that next picture. Like a zoom-in shot.

    Changing the subject; is it possible or easy to drive to Estonia from say Germany? My not too distant future plans are to buy a VW (Combi) van and tour around Europe again. The trouble is the 180 day rule of the Schengen countries. Have you met any other travelers that have found a way to accommodate the rule and stay in Europe for a year?

    1. Hey Steve – I think it should be quite easy to drive here from Germany. It’s not a short trip but there shouldn’t be any issues along the way. As for the Schengen visa, you can try to apply for a one year visa. What you need to do is go to the Embassy or Consulate (or do it online/by mail) of the first country you will visit in the Schengen area. And this is where you can apply for a one year visa which will be valid in the entire Schengen zone. However, you absolutely must enter the Schenge zone in the country you received the visa from or else it’s not valid.

      1. Thanks Earl! For all the research I’ve done on this subject, I’ve never run across this solution. Now I can put that hurtle behind me.

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