Tallinn is one of the finest preserved medieval cities in Europe. But as well as being a magnet for foreign tourists, the exquisite Estonian capital has become a truly international city with many foreign residents from all over the globe now moving here to start a new life.
Life in Tallinn is exciting, eclectic, and always being reinvented. This is the place where the Nordic world and Eastern Europe collide and something unique and intoxicating is created. From food to sports, and nature to nightlife, here are our tips on where you should visit in Tallinn.
Tallinn for foodies
A few years ago, dining options in Tallinn were, we might say, rather ‘limited’. But with the diverse culinary demands from millions of annual tourists as well as the permanent foreign residents from every conceivable corner of the globe, who now call this gorgeous Hanseatic city home, the dining options have flourished beyond all recognition and in 2020 are breathtaking. Indeed, such is the competition for your tummy that restaurants close down and new establishments open up on an almost daily basis.
Once the major submarine shipyard of Imperial Russia, Noblessner district has now turned into a seafront quarter that is open to the people and to the sea. Here you will find some wonderful dining options while the interiors of many restaurants here are simply stunning and wouldn’t be out of place in central Stockholm or Oslo.
Rotermann Quarter is another district packed with excellent eating options and attractive terraces.
One of the handful of restaurants that have ‘stayed the course’ and always offers one of Tallinn’s best experiences is the medieval Olde Hansa in the Old Town. Local Italians meanwhile recommend Amalfi and Kaja Pizza. If you are looking for Asian fusion then you can’t go wrong with Lendav Taldrik. Odeon, Boheem, Must Puudel, and Peatus all also regularly receive glowing reviews. Those interested in traditional Estonian cuisine might want to try the Golden Piglet Inn, while quirky local offerings are available at Balti Jaama Turg’s fresh food markets and food stalls.
Going out in Tallinn
Nighttime Tallinn is a choice of traditional hits such as Hollywood (young crowd), Venus (crowded parties), Privé (very good DJ sets) and Studio mostly centred on the Old Town, or the hip and happening Telliskivi Creative Hub, which is full of partying locals. Here, a cornucopia of bars, concerts, clubs, street entertainment, street food kiosks, and even family events are to be enjoyed in Tallinn’s current favourite nightlife spot. The newly opened Fotografiska (sister to the one in Sweden) and the indie Sveta Baar are two establishments well worth your consideration. Meanwhile, St. Vitus, Pööbel, and Põhjala Brewery & Tap Room are all recommended by the city’s beer connoisseurs.
Opera, classical music, theatre (von Krahl, the Russian Theatre, and the Estonian National opera), and art-house cinema (Artis and Sõprus) are among the many other nighttime pleasures that can be enjoyed in Tallinn.
Sports in Tallinn
Sports enthusiasts will likely not be disappointed with the options available to them in Tallinn. From March until November there is always a football game to be found in the Estonian capital. Some of the big matches to look out for in the Premium Liiga are Flora-Levadia, Levadia-Kalju, Kalju-Flora. The good news is that these games often take place in the fantastic national stadium, the A. Le Coq Arena. The Snelli Stadium, under the shadow of the medieval Old Town upper city walls, is the city’s most scenically located football pitch.
During the cold winter months, those wishing to stay indoors can enjoy basketball at the Saku Suurhall and ice hockey at Tondiraba Jäähall. As well as domestic games, there is plenty of international competition on offer in these sports.
Other popular sporting pastimes in Estonia include floorball, cross country skiing, cycling, rally driving, and fishing. Estonia’s stunning outdoor nature ensures locals are always out playing sport twelve months a year and in all weathers.
The newly improved promenade Reidi road, linking the city centre to Pirita, is popular with runners (and electric scooters), while Pirita itself has an attractive beach, river, and walking trails with watersports and biking popular here.
Nature in Tallinn
Nature is never far away in Tallinn as the city is surrounded by thick forests (50% of the country is covered by them) and gorgeous beaches. A stroll to Kadriorg is a must, with its handsome gardens, nineteenth-century villas, and forested park. This can also be comfortably reached by tram.
A bit further but still within the city boundaries, is Rocca Al Mare Open Air Museum. This lovely ethnographic museum features many original buildings moved here from the countryside and its 72 hectares are surrounded by beaches and forests. Driving east out of town, you should definitely consider a visit to the stunning Lahemaa National Park. While closer to the city, Pääsküla bog and Pirita beach are also lovely places to hang out.
Art in Tallinn
Art is something that makes you breathe with a different kind of happiness, Anni Albers famously said, and Kadriorg Park certainly exemplifies this sentiment with Kumu and the Kadriorg Art Museum, wonderfully combining art exhibitions with one of the most beautiful urban settings in the Baltic states. Kumu showcases art from the 18th century to the modern-day and is surrounded by cafes and gardens.
The Kalamaja district is popular with artists and the more Bohemian minded. This has helped lead to something of a rebirth for the district and now it has become one of the most popular Tallinn haunts to call home and to hang out in. The district is a piece of living art thanks to its wooden architecture but also boasts boutiques, eccentric handicraft shops, and old industrial and wood buildings covered in incredible graffiti.
Fotografiska in Telliskivi a must-visit place for anyone interested in the art of photography.
History in Tallinn
History buffs should make a beeline to the wonderfully charming Kalamaja district, full of old wooden houses, before spending a number of hours exploring Tallinn Old Town and Kadriorg.
There is history on offer at every turn in this remarkable city, from medieval churches to reminders of the Soviet past. The Tallinn City Museum is a good starting point for understanding the rich history of this city. The Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom, Estonian Maritime Museum and the Seaplane Harbour are also usually on most visitor’s wish lists.
Patarei Sea Fortress and former prison housed prisoners from 1919 until the turn of the twenty-first century and has remained pretty much as it was during the Soviet occupation. It is a fascinating place to discover some sense of how Soviet prison life once was.
Science in Tallinn
Estonia has gained a reputation around the world in recent years for innovation in science and particularly in technology. For the country that invented Skype, has more startups per person than Silicon Valley, and is now almost universally recognised as the world’s most advanced digital society, it’s not surprising there are some very engaging offerings around town for those with a penchant for science and technology. The top pulls in Tallinn are Lennusadam (seaplane harbour), the Energy Discovery Centre, and the new Proto invention factory in Noblessner district. Proto is superb if you enjoy interactive installations, as is the Energy Discovery Centre, located in the former 100-year-old Tallinn Power Plant. The new GENE-IUS exhibition in the TV Tower, running until March 2021, is also well worth your time.
Professionally-minded science and technology fans might want to consider TalTech and Tallinn University, both of which have excellent tech faculties and regularly put on talks. Startup scene also offers quirky events including Latitude59 in late August.
Text: Justin Walley