Two Days in Tallinn – Estonia
Of the three Baltic capital cities, Tallinn – surrounded by its medieval defensive walls – stands out as having the most diversity: From the Old Town to the ‘indie’ neighborhood of Telliskivi; the market at Balti Jaama Turg; the Depot; the Rotterdam neighborhood, and Kadriorg Park, one never runs out of places to explore.
We checked into the Rêvelton Suites, an apartment hotel on a quiet residential street in the heart of Tallinn and a ten-minute walk to Old Town.
Our ground floor suite was flooded with natural light; had an open plan bedroom, living room and kitchen; a state-of-the-art bathroom equipped with washer and dryer; and ample parking at the back of the facility. A staff member was there to greet us, show us the unit, review the map of Tallinn, the tram system, the restaurants, and city highlights.
Tallinn’s Old Town is lifted straight out of a medieval fairytale. Unfortunately, it’s overwhelmed by a tsunami of tourists that floods its narrow lanes. Cruise ships, bus thousands of passengers into Old Town daily. They arrive midmorning and leave by around 4:00 p.m., so plan on visiting in the early morning and late afternoon, and you’ll enjoy Old Town with the locals and a smattering of fellow tourists.
Early one morning, we happened upon the Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral at the Toompea Hill entrance to Old Town when the morning prayer service was in full swing. The priests were cloaked in long golden robes; the most senior priest, who appeared regal in his fine robes and gold turban-like headdress, dispensed holy water to the worshippers; a choir of locals sang sweetly interspersed with the priests chanting; and the church bells rang out, their chimes carrying across and beyond the Old Town.
In the tangled cobbled stone walkways of Old Town, tucked in between medieval churches, touristy trinket stores, and galleries, you’ll discover an eclectic mix of cafés, restaurants, and teashops. In a little square, minutes from The Danish King’s Garden, we found a cozy, atmospheric café, located below ground in an excavated historic building. We stopped in to enjoy a late breakfast of hot, freshly baked, flaky croissants with strawberry jam and steaming mugs of cappuccino, while soaking up our unique surroundings.
3 Draakon, housed in the old courtroom of Tallinn’s 12th Century Town Hall building on the main square, is a medieval tavern. The staff wears old fashioned, traditional peasant clothing, and the menu mimics medieval Estonian fare. Dishes like elk meat soup, ox meat sausage, and pastries filled with game meat, spinach, and apple – populate the menu. Visitors line up as much for the experience and the ambiance as for the traditional food.
Town Hall Square, where markets have been held since the 11th Century, is ringed by colored merchant houses occupied by locals, and restaurants that spill into the square. It’s a favorite location for visitors to idle over a meal while watching the endless parade of people pass by.
In the lanes surrounding the square, we found some intimate, indoor/outdoor restaurants. Our favorite was SPOT on Vene Street. The presentation of their food is artful and it tastes every bit as good as it looks.
When meandering along the streets of Tallinn, one should keep an eye open for information boards that indicate points of special interest and lead one through archways and narrow entrances to medieval courtyards, historic streets, and hidden treasures.
Keep a lookout for Börsi Passage, where you’ll read the history of Estonia on the paving tiles beneath your feet as you make your way along the passage.
Then there’s the utterly charming Master’s Courtyard at 6 Vene street. The entrance is so small and unremarkable that it’s easy to walk right past it. In this quaint courtyard, you’ll discover a slice of the original Tallinn, in the days when craftsman made everything by hand. Browse the ceramic store, the textile, wool, and jewelry stores where you’ll see today’s artisans at work.
If you are a chocolate lover, save the French chocolate shop in the Master’s Courtyard, for last. This quirky, bohemian café serves sensational creative chocolate drinks, chocolates, and pastries, in a marvelously kitsch 1920s setting. The best place to be on the soggy, grey, rainy afternoon that we visited.
With map in hand and Google maps to lead you there, take a walk from Old Town to the Balti Jaam Train Station, cross the train tracks and visit the market housed in a modern hangar-like structure where you’ll find vendors selling the freshest Estonian farm produce and local handicrafts. (You can also take a tram from Old Town).
A short walk from the market, you’ll come across Depoo (Depot), a shipping container, which is now home to street food stalls and shops.
From Depoo continue on the Telliskivi, an old factory complex that is reinventing itself. Here you’ll find the stores of young up and coming creative designers, photographers, artists, and great food and craft beer in the assortment of funky bars and cafés that populate the neighborhood.
In the late afternoon, explore the Rotterdam neighborhood where old abandoned industrial buildings have been given new life and reimagined. Their wonderful, aged, old brick and stone facades blend artfully and skillfully with hip, modern, architectural structures to create a unique marriage.
Trendy, high-end boutiques, apartments, art, sculpture, gourmet delis, and creative cuisine, are now the trademark of this formerly bedraggled and abandoned area. So, pick a restaurant and stay for dinner.
For a complete change of pace, visit Kadriorg Park, where 173 acres (70 hectares) are lovingly tended by an army of gardeners. Take a stroll along the paths that wind past flower beds ablaze in color, ponds, canals, fountains, statues, and a children’s playground. The centerpiece of Kadriorg is the palace, commissioned by Russian Tsar, Peter the Great, in 1718 as a gift to his wife, Catherine I. The rooms are grand, filled with light, and airy, but unfurnished. Kadriorg Park is also home to the Presidential Palace.
A short walk from the Presidential Palace is the new, ultra-modern, and exquisitely designed Kumu Art Museum. The museum displays both classic and contemporary Estonian art. Even if you don’t visit the museum’s galleries, don’t miss seeing both the interior and exterior of this impressive architectural structure that borders Kadriorg Park.
**Disclosure: The following photos were not taken by me:
The photo of the Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral was purchased on istock
**The Photo of Borsi Passage. Credit goes to: Like A Local Guide. www.likealocalguide.com/tallinn