TALLINN IN 3 WORDS
Tallinn is: creative, hipster, charming
MY TIME IN TALLINN
Tallinn is an intoxicating blend of the old and the new. Through the Viru gates and within the medieval walls of the Tallinn Old Town, cobblestoned passages, quaint plazas and impressive church spires can be found alongside modern eateries and themed bars such as the Depeche Mode bar, which unsurprisingly only plays DM all night long. There is a distinct youthful and creative vibe that is immediately apparent, no doubt in part due to Tallin’s status as a haven for entrepreneurs and tech-heads. It is also, of course, the home of Skype – not bad for the smallest of the Baltic countries.
Tallinn is a hipster’s paradise and it was here that I found myself joining in on an impromptu conga line in the middle of the Old Town, drinking out of test tubes and getting my daily caffeine fix at charming hidden cafes every morning.
Tallinn seems to operate on either side of every spectrum: the historic and modern; the traditional and progressive; the perfection and the grittiness. It won’t take you long to become enamoured by this Baltic city.
THINGS TO DO IN TALLINN
Tallinn Old Town The Old Town is cosy and compact and it won’t take you long to explore all corners of this picturesque town.
St. Catherine’s passage This passage in the Old Town is a small medieval walkway with artisan workshops and ancient tombstones on the walls – it’s exactly the kind of place where you can imagine an episode of Game of Thrones being filmed.
Oleviste Church (St. Olav’s Church and tower) Climb the stairs of St Olaf’s Church up to the tower viewing platform for views of the city,
Toompea Hill Climb Toompea Hill, where you’ll be rewarded with amazing panoramic views. Here, you’ll also find Toompea Castle and the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and a maze of streets to explore. Be warned: you may come across a knight during your journey.
Kiek in de Kök and Bastion tunnels Admire the famous Kiek in de Kök, a fortification tower that now houses a museum, and visit the Bastion tunnels, the old military tunnels that run beneath Toompea.
Telliskivi Creative City By this stage, after travelling through Vilnius and Riga, all of the Old Towns were starting to merge into one and the same, so I was quite happy to venture outside of the Tallinn Old Town medieval bubble in search of Telliskivi Creative City, an industrial complex that is a hub for creative enterprises with cafes and art spaces. The Telliskivi creative city is located behind the Balti Jaam train station in the Kalamaja district and is about a 30-minute walk from Tallinn Old Town. The space is large and it was fun to wander around the complex, checking out the graffiti and art work, and to sit down and enjoy a well-brewed coffee while locals played ping-pong in the sunshine.
Balti Jaama Turg (Russian market) Stop and peruse the authentic Russian market Balti Jaama Turg across from the Balti Jaam train station, which has the feel of a very run-down flea market with more trash than treasure. Your non–Russian/Latvian speaking abilities may cause some barriers, but it’s still an experience.
Culture Kilometre (Linnahall, Patarei Prison, Seaplane Harbour) For an alternative way to spend your day, walk the Culture Kilometre (Kultuurikilomeeter) along Tallinn’s harbour, which begins by the Linnahall, an abandoned concert and sports venue passed on from the Soviet era. Linnahall isn’t exactly what you would call ‘pretty’, but the endless sight of grey concrete covered in graffiti acts as a reminder of the country’s complex past. It is now a popular place for youths to hang out, perhaps, subconsciously, as an act of defiance. Along the walking path, you’ll also pass the abandoned Soviet Patarei Prison which was operating up until as recently as 2004. Walking in you are immediately stuck by how run-down the prison is and there was an eeriness that, honestly, left me a little nervous. There are overgrown weeds and crumbling, chipped walls and it’s quiet enough that you can begin to imagine the atrocities that were committed here in the past. Of course, being Tallinn, there’s also a Beach Bar in the prison which has to be the epitome of Baltic hipster. Once you’re sufficiently creeped out, continue on to the Seaplane Harbour which is a maritime museum where you can explore inside a submarine – definitely one for the families.
The Culture Kilometre may not be everyone’s cup of tea and the dilapidated buildings and old industrial factories that you’ll pass is as far removed from the fairytale-like Tallinn Old Town as you can get. However, I enjoyed exploring further afield (although it isn’t actually that far away) and it was almost an adventure discovering the grit and rawness behind the picture-perfect facade of the Old Town.
Day trip to Helsinki Alternatively, get out of Tallinn for the day and take a 2-hour ferry ride to Helsinki.
During my time in Tallinn, I stayed at the Red Emperor Hostel as I was traveling solo, and I found the hostel a bit too rowdy for my taste. It was a great hostel in terms of facilities, staff and location, and this is the hostel to stay at if you’re wanting to party it up in Tallinn. It’s a large hostel and you’ll find that there are bigger groups staying here. However, I did feel my age here, and I came to the realisation that I preferred more intimate hostels where you don’t have to deal with drunk people mistakenly stumbling into your room at 5 am in the morning. All this being said, I’m sure my twenty-one year old self would have loved it.
I arrived in Tallinn from Riga via bus, which took 4.5 hours. I would recommend Lux Express as the coaches are extremely comfortable and clean, and also offer free wi-fi and a power supply by every seat, or pair of seats, to charge portable items. The Tallinn Coach Station (Lastekodu 46, 10144, Tallinn) is about a 15-minute tram ride to the Old Town. Take a number 2 or 4 tram to the Viru shopping centre and walk from there to the Old Town.
In Tallinn, the public transport system includes a trolleybus, tram and bus network. However, apart from the tram ride from the bus station to the Old Town (and the ferry across to Helsinki for the day), I found it easy to walk everywhere even when heading out of the Old Town.
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