The city of Tallinn is so picturesque it wouldn't be out of place in a Disney film. Here are all the best things to do in the lesser-known Russian region
Located at a cultural intersection of Finland, Russia and Sweden, Tallinn, Estonia is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its stunning provincial architecture looks particularly striking in winter—blankets of snow falling upon the towers for a storybook characterisation quite unlike anywhere else in the world.
Cold weather is no match for the city’s residents, who love to indulge in social eating and drinking while zig-zagging their way around the multitude of exciting engagements on offer. Plan your own great adventure with our top tips below.
Where to stay
Estonians pride themselves on their futureproofing, and it doesn’t come much more modern than a stay in the KODA Park movable housing.
Offering “minimalist luxury”, these flat-pack modular complexes are becoming all the rage in Estonia’s urban residential spaces, putting you right in the thick of the action with the autonomy of a local. Perfect for the solo traveller or cosy couple, the Koda Park Hotel is just half a mile from the old town, with wi-fi and smart TV to ease you into your day. Should you be looking to extend your trip, long-term rental options are available.
If tradition is more your bag, The Three Sisters Boutique Hotel lets you sleep in a traditional narrow house with plenty of suite options, or go all out and allow the Swissotel Tallinn to look after you in abundant luxury, with three restaurants, two bars and a state-of-the-art spa and fitness club all at your disposal. Who wouldn’t want a hot stone massage at the end of a long days exploring?
What to see
Not to be confused with its Bulgarian namesake, Estonia’s version of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is quite the sight to behold, quintessentially Russian in it’s ornate, curvaceous dome and colourful accents. Set upon the hill of Toompea, it’s the perfect setting for quiet contemplation if you can find it—visit early in the morning to avoid the tourist crush.
For souvenir shopping or self-catering, head back to the railway station area for the Balti Jaam Market, a bric-a-brac dream of food stalls, local fashion and quirky homewares. Grab a bite and stroll the old town, or use this area as your central starting point to travel out to the suburbs.
Some of us are lucky enough to travel for work, and Tallinn has its fair share of industry-leading events and conferences, particularly for those with careers in arts and technology. Visit in November for the comedy festival or Androbotex conference, February for the Tallinn Winter Festival or March for Tallinn Music Week—a must-see for anybody working in media marketing or events.
Where to eat
Favouring a seasonal approach to food, the top eats in Estonia are highly changeable depending on the weather, but often maintain a certain reverence for rye bread, pork and of course, a good beer.
Rataskaevu16 delivers all that and more in a rustic, family-friendly environment, with plate prices that are highly agreeable to the budget traveller. Dairy fans can rejoice in their unique experimentations—the blue cheese cheesecake is said to be one of the finest desserts in the city.
On the topic of sweet stuff, Levier Cakery is a picture-perfect spot in which to indulge in all things macarons, while F Hoone serves excellent cocktails alongside innovative bar snacks and comfort-food entrees, with plenty of interesting options for vegans and vegetarians.
Where to shop
In keeping with its colourful history, Estonia has plenty to share by way of street art. Head to Telliskivi Creative City (and surrounding areas) to see the best pieces, integrated around a network of more than 200 independent businesses, boutiques and coffee shops.
Walking tours are available, but it’s just as easy to get chatting with the locals or follow your own nose—the whole Kalamaja district is best experienced by the happenchance of your own curiosity.
For household names in fashion, beauty and electricals, head to the Rocca Al Mare Shopping Centre, the biggest of it’s kind in Estonia. It’s only a 20-minute bus ride from the old town, and makes for a good back-up day trip option should the weather let you down.
Lose yourself in 70 acres of stunning palatial grounds at Kadriorg Park, home to the palace built for Catherine I of Russia. Once again, the colours are something straight off a postcard, best experienced on a clear day where the light can bounce off the rich terracotta and forest green hues. Open all year round, the place houses the Kadriorg Art Museum, and a combined entry ticket will allow you access to a huge array of Estonian 16th-to-20th century works, as well as the grounds themselves.
For long waterside walks, the suburb of Pirita has a sandy beach and yacht harbour, with opportunities to rent rowboats, canoes and water bicycles in the space which hosted the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980.
The sporting atmosphere is still very much in evidence in the Pirita Adventure Park with forest trails for cycling and treetop activities, as well as nearby basketball and tennis courts. All ages are welcome, providing a great opportunity to tire out the little ones for the trip back home.
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