Tallinn is one of those places that few people know about, but the ones that do are totally in love. It’s said to be the ‘start-up capital of Europe’ and is in fact where Skype was created. Obama just made a visit, so now you may have heard of it. I was drawn to Tallinn because my friend is living there at the moment and I figured, why not?
Tallinn is in Estonia, an eastern European country that sits on the western edge of Russia, above Latvia, facing the Gulf of Finland to the north and the Baltic sea to the east. Referred to in ancient Scandinavian as Eistland, early Latin as Estia, and referenced as Estland by its nordic neighbors. It’s a curious place where classic countryside, historic castles and futuristic e-government somehow settle well with each other. It includes a diverse ethnic makeup of (mostly) Estonians, Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Finns. They speak Estonian, a language with roots in the 13th-century that’s developed over time to sound like a Finnish-German-Russian-blended cocktail. I like the word for ice cream (jäätis).
The land has been ruled, attacked and controlled by a variety of groups including Oeselian pirates, Danish vikings, Estonian vikings, Danish kings, Swedish crowns, Russian Tsars, German lords….their history reads like a complicated fairy tale. In 1248 Reval (now Tallinn) gained Lübeck rights binding them with German merchant towns--a detail so important it is one of the few things I remember from the city tour (everyday at noon in Tallinn starting at their tourism center). After joining the Hanseatic League the city really started to boom, benefiting from their position along the trade route between Europe and Russia.
More wars. More castle fortress usage. More transfer of authority between their fighting neighbors. On February 24th, 1918 in Tallinn, Estonia proclaimed independence from the Russian Empire for exactly one day before being occupied by German troops. In 1920 the Peace Treaty of Tartu was signed by the Republic of Estonia and Russia ending the Estonian War of Independence. They stayed independent for about twenty-two years, up until the Soviets and Nazi Germany started invading in 1939-1940. Somehow Old Town was preserved despite warfare from both fronts and WWII destruction. In 1944 Soviets occupied the area, notably declaring seaside areas ‘border zones’, increasing immigration from Russia and militarization throughout. We have the Soviets to thank for the vestiges of spies, submarines and nuclear reactors. It wasn’t until 1991 that Estonia regained independence.
The history is important because it frames a lot of what you will see in Tallinn. Sea Fortress? KGB museum? Toompea Castle? They all make more sense with a little bit of background. You really can’t go wrong sightseeing in Tallinn because there really is something for everyone and it all has a unique story. Even the two towers on either side of Old Town have a lot to say.
Estonia’s Maritime Museum on Tallinn Bay. It is massive so plan to spend a good chunk of time here. It’s near Patarei, a must see, so you can plan a whole day in the area. You will see a seaplane.
Vesilennuki 6, 10415 Tallinn
Art museum in Kadriorg Park. I ran here from my friend’s apartment near Old Town (2.5 km). They had some amazing exhibitions up at the time so I’m sure they’ll have something of interest when you visit!
Weizenbergi 34 / Valge 1, 10127 Tallinn
Tallinn’s ‘creative city’ filled with local designer shops, restaurants and cafes in the Kalamaja district. It’s worth it.
Telliskivi 60a, 10412 Tallinn, Estonia
An eclectic cafe with mismatched furniture, espresso and dishes you’ll want to photograph.
Müürivahe 20, 10140 Tallinn
An warm warehouse with foodie plates with hipster prices. You will love it and want to go back.
Telliskivi 60a, 10412 Tallinn
This restaurant is shaped like an upside-down boat and located about 20 minute bus/cab ride away in Viimsi. We ended up walking about halfway here from Old Town because we got lost on the bus (#Sundays), but it was kind of awesome to walk along the sea. Definitely worth the trip.
Rohuneeme tee 53, Viimsi, Harjumaa 74011
Have you been to Tallinn? Where are your favorite places?