Tallinn, one of Europe’s newest capitals, boasts a rich mix of architecture and culture in a small geographic area. Its Old Town was almost untouched by war and remains perfectly preserved. And outside the city walls there are beguiling districts of brightly painted wooden houses, parks, redeveloped docks, beaches and forests. There are still stag dos and plenty of bars where Finns fresh off the Helsinki ferry chug bargain beers, but Tallinn is also a cultured place that attracts visitors who wants more than just a cheap drink: Baltic, Nordic, Teutonic and Russian cultures meld in food, art, design and music.
The city has a surprisingly modern, sophisticated air: trams and buses (free for the locals) make everything easily accessible and old warehouses are being converted into new spaces for business and culture. Free wifi and a nascent tech scene (Skype was developed here) show this is a city looking forward as well as to its traditional, folkloric roots.
Song Festival Grounds
Every five years (the next one is in July 2019) Tallinn has its Last Night of the Proms moment as 30,000-odd singers from 1,000 choirs belt out traditional anthems to the white, blue and black flag-waving masses who gather for the Song Festival, which began in 1869 and has developed into one of Estonia’s key cultural get-togethers.
Estonian Architecture Museum
This is the perfect place to start exploring the Rotermann Quarter – a former industrial district that’s being turned into shops, offices and flats. This chunky old salt warehouse at the heart of the neighbourhood houses the museum and is chocka with models of the most interesting buildings in town, such as 23 Roosikrantsi Street by Robert Natuse – an expressionist gem built of dark bricks and with a pointed prow that recalls the Chilehaus in Hamburg, plus a model of a huge planned seaside sanatorium in Estonia’s coastal city, Parnu, which was never built.
A handsome traditional stone pub and theatre in Tallinn’s Old Town, where buildings jostle against the hillside, Von Krahl is all steep steps and characterful wooden beams on a street (Rataskaevu) that dates back to the 1700s. The team behind it took over the place in 1992 as Communism ended and free expression widened in Tallinn.
With its mid-century furniture and local artists’ paintings on the wall, Umami is cool – yet far removed from the showiness those places often suffer from. This is the second restaurant from Janno Lepik and Kristjan Peäske; the first is Leib, in the old town.
Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour
If visiting a seaplane hangar sounds boring, stick with us – this 100-year-old concrete behemoth is cavernous, and miraculously has no supports inside. It was put up to house seaplanes for the Tsar’s navy in 1916 and has survived a century’s tumult in Tallinn.
One of the best things about a trip to the Teletorn (TV Tower) is the bus ride out through the bottle green pine forests that fringe Tallinn. The tower is a classic of Soviet design – raw concrete reaching for the sky and screaming about how technologically advanced the socialist society was in the 1970s (despite some indicators to the contrary).
The fascinating district of Kalamaja is worth a walk. Just get off the tram at the Balti Jaam stop and head north, away from the Old Town, where you’ll find streets that look as if they’ve been airlifted in from Reykjavik – homes made from corrugated iron and wooden slats painted yellow, cream and blue.
For an easy day out, take the 34 bus from Viru Square to the pleasant coastal suburb of Pirita, to the east of Tallinn. There are sweeping views of the city’s harbour and skyline from its pretty promenade and long, sandy beach. Men fish in the Pirita river where it enters the Baltic, and this is the site of the Olympic Village, accommodation for sailing teams during the Moscow 1980 Olympics (the complex is now a spa hotel).
This attractive old theatre has a wonderful art deco cafe with dark colours and a classy vibe reflecting Estonia’s golden age in the 1920s and 30s, when it was an independent nation expressing itself artistically with the new styles of the age.
Telliskivi Loomelinnak or just “Telliskivi” as locals say (the other bit means “creative city”) is a fascinating collection of old railway buildings (though those same locals posit that there was actually secret military manufacture going on here, too) near Tallinn’s main station.
Way to go
The 1930s-built Hotel Palace, which has paintings by Estonian expressionist Konrad Mägi on headboards in the handsome bedrooms, has doubles from €90 room only.
Source by The Guardian