Tucked away from view, the most northerly of the Baltic States – Estonia – gets by day by day, receiving little of the limelight of its surrounding neighbours. Although recently joining the EU, the country has been thriving as a result, experiencing rapid growth as a result of joining the Eurozone in 2011.
The nation’s pride and joy, Tallinn, lies draped along the Baltic Sea. This glittering historical city along with the rest of the country, only found independence after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The UNESCO World Heritage Listed Old Town, with its quaint red tiled roof, cobbled stone walkways and historical fortifications are every bit as stunning as the most well-known European cities, so why this country remains relatively undiscovered as a holiday spot is beyond me.
To help amend this, take a look at some of the best things to do in Tallinn, and be inspired to visit this incredible city yourself.
Get High and Low at Kiek in de Kök
Yes, you read that name correctly. Hilarity aside, Kiek in de Kök is a Swedish built fortification that dates back to 1475. Named for its great height, Kiek in de Kök literally translates as ‘Peep in the kitchen’ due to the way the guards could see into the houses below the tower.
Climb to the top of the tower and you are treated en-route to a full history lesson (complete with snazzy military costumes) and a sterling view of the Old Town. Pay a little extra and you can delve into the spooky Bastian Tunnels which are steeped in local folklore. These 17th century underground passageways were originally built as a defence mechanism, but have since falling into disuse they were repurposed as a prison, a bomb shelters in World War II, and a home for runaway punks during the ‘80s.
Stroll the Walls of Tallinn
A great way to orientate yourself when you arrive in the city is to head toward its Medieval fortified walls. Once running across the entire Old Town, these imposing walls are cited as a major reason that the town was awarded World Heritage status.
There are over two kilometres of wall still standing, making the fortifications one of the best preserved in the whole of Europe, reason alone to visit. Stand on the walls and imagine what it was like to man the defenses hundreds of years ago. This is also a perfect place to take pictures of the city skyline, in all its red-brick glory.
Elk Soup at III Draakon
I never expected to walk into a medieval themed restaurant and enjoy it. But that didn’t happen. I walked into a medieval restaurant, and loved it! Now before you discredit me as a sell-out, let me describe to you the scene upon entering III Draakon. Walking in from the blistering cold, you are presented with a dark, warm room lit only by candles. Patrons sit huddled around bowls of hot soup conversing in low tones. You are given the option of a ‘Decent Bowl of Elk Soup,’ ox meat sausages, flaky filled savoury pastries, enormous crunchy gherkins and rich dark beer to accompany. How does that sound to you on a chilly day?
Located right in the beautiful Town Hall Square, this was the place Kasha and I broke our cardinal rule of never visiting a restaurant more than once. I still dream of elk soup to this day…
The Old Town is relatively small, so it’s the perfect place to get lost down back passages and explore all the wonderful viewpoints you can so inadvertently stumble upon. Much of the architecture in the city is striking, with every new street as gorgeous as the one the preceded it.
Grab a Beer at Hell Hunt
After a hard day of exploring, there is nowhere better to kick back and treat yourself to a drink than Hell Hunt. Conveniently located about 300 metres from the Old Town Square (it’s the one with the logo of a naked girl straddling a wild dog), this pub/bar/restaurant is always busy with locals and tourists alike. Try one of their locally brewed Hell Hunt beers (they are all delicious) or tuck into the food which, while not particularly locally inspired, does offer a bloody good feed.
Get on a Submarine at the Seaplane Harbour
I wasn’t particularly aware of Estonia’s military past before I arrived, but that all changed when I visited the Seaplane Harbour Museum. Located in a GINORMOUS seaplane hanger, the space functions as the Estonian Maritime Museum.
Inside the display boasts an English-built Soviet-used submarine, canons, tanks, planes and countless other pieces of military paraphernalia. For me, and Kasha, the highlight was the 1930s Lembit submarine, which you could traverse the entirety of, while playing with the periscope and shouting orders for more torpedoes to the chutes…
Get Nutty at the Marzipan Museum
There are plenty of strange museums you can visit in every city, but Tallinn’s crowning glory was the Marzipan Museum. We got lost trying to find this one and asked a local for help, the lady looked at me like I had slapped her child in the face. It was only until some friendlier locals piped up that we received the right directions, but were told it ‘wasn’t really a museum’. In this respect, they were correct. The Kalev Marzipan Museum occupies a space at the bottom of the Maiasmokk Café House, and is entirely free to enter. The ‘artwork’ and I use that term loosely in some cases, is rather good in some places, and a little lacklustre in others. Come for a laugh, a free sample, and some great marzipan treats, not to see the work of a Renaissance master.
Be Confused at the Estonian History Museum
To its credit, the Estonian History Museum does a great job of packing in a great deal in one building, housing a vast collection of currencies that span the ages, an arsenal of guns, period clothing and explains much of Estonian history to the present day. This history is unfortunately not a happy one, with much of the time the Estonian people little more than slaves or serfs to the ruling power of the day. What did confuse me about the museum however, was the inclusion of a mummified hand, a seemingly pointless laptop from the USA and a bizarre dolphin man narrating a confusing tale in an audio-visual display…
From marzipan museums to marine warfare, there are so many incredible things to do in Tallinn. Even those on a weekend trip like us will be able to plan a full itinerary of fun. You can catch a flight to Tallinn through a number of airlines, including Easyjet, making this is one of the most affordable city breaks in Europe, but also one of the most tantalisingly undiscovered.
Has this inspired an eastern European adventure? Why not peruse my guide to the Polish cities of Sopot and Gdańsk.