TALLINN, HEART OF ESTONIA
Updated: Sep 21
If you like “medieval”, cheap prices and friendly people then Tallinn is the destination for you. It’s on the edge of the Soviet Union but only 2 hrs by plane from most places in Europe. The top Baltic, it has a rich medieval history going back centuries, and is truly the heart of Estonia. If you go between March to September for a mild climate, or December for the winter market in the snow.
Constantly raided by the Vikings, the Russians and the Germanic tribes, it now sits peacefully with the other two former soviet satellites of Latvia and Lithuania. Only 2 hours by ferry from Finland and close to St.Petersburg, Russia, it can also be a base for the entire area.
Like most European cities the airport is small and there are either buses, trams or taxis to take you downtown. The closest tram is to the right out of arrivals, then down the slope. Get on the number 4 and within 15 minutes you will be in downtown Tallinn.
Tallinn has every imaginable type of accommodation so it depends on your budget. I tried two different types when there - Tallinn Backpackers Hostel is a very cheap alternative to a hotel with friendly staff and soft bunk beds. Don’t expect too much though for 8 Euros per night.
The City Hotel Tallinn was a basic, friendly, comfortable mid-range hotel for 25 Euros per night. A room, double bed, clean sheets, a desk and a TV. I liked the City Hotel because it was close to transport, the station and the market Balti Jaam. If you would like to go more upscale, then their sister hotel the Von Stackleberg Hotel is an excellent choice at around 80 Euros per night.
MUST DO/DON’T MISS.....
TOWN HALL SQUARE
The heartbeat of the city with a huge square, restaurants wall to wall, a giant Medieval Town hall building, a stone sausage dog, pancake sellers and that olde worlde feel. It would have been cooler if there had been jugglers and jesters, but hey!
BALTI JAAM MARKET
The giant indoor food market where everyone goes. Chocolate shops, pop up food stalls, clothes (fashion), A Russian caviar hall, Moose and Elk sausage shops, Ice cream stalls, Coffee bars, restaurants, fresh fish, fresh meats, beer bars, a pharmacy and supermarkets.
Balti Jaam Turg is Estonian for Baltic station market. It’s right next to the main train station in Tallinn. It also had a flea market outside in the parking lot where people were selling everything imaginable. From car parts to old Russian and German World War memorabilia.
Next to the flea market was another area with hip restaurants where the young crowd hung out. There were live bands and piped music for anyone to listen to. Food was more burgers and shakes American style rather than traditional. One cool restaurant was an American style diner.
What was sad for me outside the train station was that there were many old people, pensioners, who were trying to sell old clothes, used dishes, anything to make money for themselves. I understand that pensioners there get about $175 per month from the State and that’s it. So if you see some of them, then buy something even if you throw it away before you go home.
OLDE HANSA - OLD TOWN
Every old medieval city has an old town and Olde Hansa is it for Tallinn. What a wonderful area it is though. Totally medieval with torture chambers, castle walls, a restaurant where you can eat an original medieval lunch or dinner, cobbled streets and original red roofs everywhere.
There are gift shops too and ice cream sellers, but it’s that getting into the spirit of it. Clinking beer glasses with a friendly neighbour while a peasant in 14th century costume serves you more beer. And a stone sausage dog. Who doesn’t love that!
Not far from Balti Jaam market is a small area that is very significant to the history of Tallinn. Built in the 9th century Toompea castle was then destroyed by the Danes in the 12th century and taken over by the Swedes and then the Russians in the 18th.
Reconstructed by Russians and taken back by Estonia, it became a fortress and a palace. It has since become home to the Estonian parliament. A magnificent symbol of old Estonia it overlooks the port on one side and the city on the other.
As you would expect, churches and cathedrals are all over the place, but there are three in particular that really stand out for me as a must see in this small city. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, St.Olaff’s Church and Holy Spirit Church.
I am not religious but these three are magnificent examples of spiritual buildings. What do you think? There are plenty of denominations too so no one religion. Catholic, Baptist, Russian Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran.
Wander everywhere you can. If you can’t walk too far then take the bus or tram. Each vehicle can take a personal credit card so no need for special tickets or coupons to get from sellers before boarding like some other cities. The driver will take cash too but this is pretty much a cashless society nowadays.
The buildings are wonderful, the colours are amazing and the people are so nice. Most of them speak English, even the older ones. And given they don’t, then just ask the next passing youngster who speaks fluently. Talk to people they love to practise their English too.
Don’t forget the coffee shops either. They even have coffee trucks selling to people on their way to work. Wander around, you’ll see cafes all over the place. A great place to stop and watch the people go by. Oh and don’t forget to have a slice of cake either.
When you wander you will see old buildings, churches, alleys and sidestreets that are all medieval. All historical buildings that have endured for centuries. Some have been restored but the majority are original.
If you only take a three day trip to this Baltic kingdom it won’t be enough. I suggest a week in Tallinn at least. You can’t get lost here in Tallinn, it’s too small. Even if you walked from one side to the other it would only take a day.
I didn’t even mention favourite restaurants. That’s because there’s too many. Try local Estonian food first and let me know what you think. The beer is good too.
Tallinn Backpackers - go through Hostelworld.com, you’ll find them.
City Hotel Tallinn - https://www.uniquecityhotel.com/
Von Stackleberg Hotel - https://www.vonstackelberghotel.com/