Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city, is the kind of place that will have your jaw dragging along the floor as you explore its quaint cobbled streets and blend of medieval and modern architecture. Prepare to be greeted by street vendors dressed in medieval garb, selling spiced almonds while the stone walls that fringe the edges of the inner city tower over you. Everywhere you look, remnants of the past stand as glorious symbols of the city’s fascinating history. 48 hours might not be much time to see and do everything in this highly underrated city but here are my recommendations to squeeze in as much as you can during your trip.
What to Eat
I don’t know about you but when it comes to visiting a new city, the first thing I do is check out its culinary scene. While Estonia isn’t known for its gastronomy – in fact, it doesn’t even really have a national cuisine – there are a few eateries here you are going to want to check out. Kompressor is the king of the food outlets when it comes to value for money. For little more than 5 euros, diners can get the biggest crepe they will have ever seen (this is not hyperbole, I swear), filled with anything from goat’s cheese to raspberry coulis. My advice would be to tackle this place with a friend and order one savoury crepe and one sweet crepe to share between the two of you. If you manage to eat a savoury and sweet one all by yourself then I take my hat off to you. And then I will hand it back to you for you to be sick into.
Things to Learn
Tallinn doesn’t crop up much in history text books but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an interesting past. There are walking tours that take visitors through the city, explaining Tallinn’s history as they go, from the first settlers through to the soviet era and right up until the modern day. I could not recommend this more. Not only is it a fantastic way to get to grips with the city, it also gives you some background knowledge before you go to explore independently. These tours are usually free but if you’ve enjoyed it then don’t be shy about leaving a generous tip for your guide.
Where to Explore
A little ways outside the walled inner city is the Patarei Sea Fortress, the creepiest and most intriguing building I have ever laid eyes on. The fortress was originally built as a defence barrack but was never actually used as one. Instead it was taken over by various regimes and used as a prison. Blood is still splattered on the walls from when the KGB had this strategic building under their control. Chilling and devastating in equal measures, this is an important piece of history that most people have never even heard of and that has been opened up to the public. I would not advise exploring this place alone, especially if you’re prone to nightmares.
What to See
In Tallinn’s main square sits its Town Hall, a magnificent building with a tall tower. For a nominal fee you can climb to the top of this tower to enjoy spectacular panoramic views. Snap a couple of shots before making your way back down the spiral staircase. If nothing else your body will appreciate the exercise. When you get to the bottom stick your head into the medieval-themed eatery where you can buy an elk meat pie for less than 2 euros from a woman dressed head to toe in traditional, medieval costume. Want a pickle on the side? Of course you do. Head over to the barrel of pickles, pick up the spear and fish one out for yourself. It’s about as close to hunting as I’ve ever been.
Where to Shop
Do you love weird stuff from the Soviet era? Yes? Well, you’re in luck because that’s exactly what’s on offer at the Balti Jaam Market. Filled with everything from hip flasks to helmets and comics to cutlery, you aren’t likely to pick up a knock off Gucci bag here but you will certainly find some original tat worth taking home with you. Part of the fun of visiting this market is sifting through the piles upon piles of bric-a-brac until you find the perfect trinket that you never knew you needed. For example, I never realised how much I wanted a giant key with the word Tallinn engraved along the top of it until I saw one hidden under a copper dish with the face of Jesus on it.
This should keep you occupied for at least 48 hours but if you find yourself at a loss of things to do, simply take to the streets and go for a wander! Sometimes beauty can be found in the most unexpected places.
If you fancy exploring Tallinn, have a look at our range of tours to Estonia that combine the best of Eastern Europe. Share your recommendations of what to see and do in Tallinn via the comments section below.