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…
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.
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.
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.
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?