Tallinn travel guide
The ancient coastal capital of Talinn exudes a sense of romantic history, being one of the most completely preserved medieval cities in Europe, a gem on the UNESCO World Heritage List that is slowly being discovered by delighted visitors of all ages. A spirit of mystery still pervades the cobbled courtyards of the picturesque Old Town, the winding alleys overhung with original 12th- and 13th-century merchant's houses and a perfectly preserved medieval church.
While preserving its past, Tallinn is as progressive as any other modern European capital. This is probably best reflected in the interactive exhibits at the Tallinn Science and Technology Centre, the city's showcase for the arts and sciences. Public transport is modern and efficient. The nightlife is pumping with cigar bars, pool halls and nightclubs. Dining out promises tasty choices ranging from take-away pizza and Chinese to formal French and traditional Estonian cuisine.
The Old Town
Tallinn's historic centre is the focus for most visitors to the
city and the hub of major tourist attractions. The walled Old Town
is divided into two parts: Toompea Hill, the residential area of
the aristocracy and gentry in days of yore, while the Lower Town
operated independently. Much of it dating from the 11th century,
the Old Town is extremely well preserved, its powerful stone
buildings having ensured that it was not destroyed despite frequent
invasions over the centuries.
Visitors revel in Town Hall Square, ringed by the beautiful Town Hall and its adjacent pharmacy, which is still operating on the site it has occupied since 1422. The Old Town is also full of churches, like St Olav's, which was perhaps the tallest church in Medieval Europe, dating from the early 13th century. The old town walls and its many fortresses made up one of the strongest defence systems in northern Europe by the 16th century. The dominating landmark on Toompea is the magnificent Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The medieval atmosphere is particularly evident in St Catherine's passage, between Vene and Muurivahe Streets, where visitors can stroll past the open studios of artists and craftsmen who have laboured here for centuries.
Address: Tourist Information Centre, Niguliste 2/Kullassepa 4, in the centre of the Old Town
Tallinn's popular family attraction is an enchanting space
filled with close on 6,000 animals from Polar bears to Siberian
Tigers, as well as species from warmer climates, like crocodiles
and chimpanzees frolicking in the Tropical House. Visitors can
really make a day of this attraction, as there is more than enough
variety to suit all tastes and when you tire of walking between
exhibits, the zoo has some comfortable restaurants for its patrons
to relax and refresh.
To entertain the children, there is also a delightful petting zoo, and to get better acquainted with the Zoo there are guided tours that discuss either general topics or a more specific theme.
Address: Paldiski Maantee 145
Transport: By bus (stops Zoo, Karikakra or Nurmenuku) or by car.
Opening time: Open daily 9am-5pm (November to February), 9am-7pm (March to April and September to October) and 9am-8pm (May to August).
Tallinn Botanical Gardens
A beautifully designed layout makes Tallinn's magnificent
Botanical Garden a wonderful attraction and it shouldn't be missed
on a sunny day out in the capital. Containing more than 8,000 plant
species, the botanical gardens is a great place to visit,
especially when sightseeing with a family. The flora comes from all
around the world, displayed in arboretums, glasshouses, open fields
and thematic gardens.
Specialised exhibits change every month, and thematic tours are offered all year round, the most popular being the summer night aroma tours, and the rose days. A nature trail traverses the different habitats.
Address: Kloostrimetsa Tee 52
Transport: By bus (Kloostrimetsa stop) and by car.
Opening time: Open daily 10am-8pm
Kadriorg Palace and Park
The beautiful pink baroque Kadriorg Palace was the summer
residence of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great. It stands proudly in
the centre of its namesake seaside resort suburb of Tallinn, where
the streets are lined with noble villas and summer estates. The
Palace today houses the Estonian Art Museum's foreign collection,
featuring thousands of western European and Russian works from the
16th to 20th centuries ranging from prints and paintings to
sculpture and furniture.
The palace is also the venue for concerts, theatrical performances, lectures and receptions. The park surrounding the palace is a popular recreational spot for visitors and locals alike, consisting of formal gardens and the symmetrical Swan Lake, as well as meadows and forest groves traversed by paths.
Address: Weizenbergi Street 37
Transport: By tram (line 1 or 3) or by car.
Opening time: Tuesday and Thursday to Sunday 10am–6pm, Wednesday 10am–8pm (May to September), and Wednesday 10am–8pm, Thursday to Sunday 10am–5pm (October to April).
Estonian Open Air Museum
On a picturesque expanse of forest parkland on Kopli Bay is
preserved a collection of historic Estonian buildings, transplanted
from around the country to represent rural life through the
centuries. Exhibits consist of various farm buildings, windmills,
watermills and other country clutter offering a pleasant and
informative escape from the hubbub of the nearby city. Handcrafts
are on sale, horseback rides on offer, and a village inn caters for
visitors keen to sample local fare.
Folk music and dancing displays are scheduled regularly, and most national holidays are celebrated here in grand style.
Address: Vabaõhumuuseumi tee 12
Transport: By bus (Rocca al Mare stop) or by car.
Opening time: Open daily from 10am to 8pm during summer, and 10am to 5pm during winter.
The twisting streets of the Old Town hold many culinary delights, from fashionable fringe restaurants to traditional Estonian experiences and world cuisines. Even if you are looking for a quick and simple fix you will be glad to know Tallinn offers excellent and infinitely healthier alternatives to McDonald's, often at a lower cost.
Visitors commonly converge on the Town Hall Square after finishing their activities and fan out to the surrounding restaurants. As a popular tourist area with beautiful surroundings and a few great eateries, it is not cheap. Instead, if you are feeling a little more adventurous, dig a little deeper to get to the real gems. Luckily, you will not need to go far. Tallinn is a small city and easily traversed by foot, so don't be afraid to go beyond the old walls in search of that perfect meal.
Some local favourites in Tallin include a traditional and exquisite beef stroganoff, zavarka (Russian black tea), ikra krasnaya (red caviar) and eye-watering vodka.
This cosy little restaurant serves some of Tallinn's finest local fare and it does it in style. Featuring some of the city's finest Italian pizzas, other favourites on the menu include the Norwegian salmon with potato puree and tomato sauce, pepper steak with cheesy potato bake and vegetables and the baked apple with ice cream and vanilla sauce. Buffets are also available. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Bookings recommended.
Address: Raekoja Plats 8; Website: www.turg.ee/eng
Decked out in dark wooden panels and brown leather booths, the Goodwin Steak House has got the ambience of a classic steak house and the meat to match. This popular and very cosy eatery is known as one of the best, and only, steak houses in Tallinn. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended.
Address: Viru 22; Website: www.steak.ee
This enchanting French eatery is decked out in some seriously elaborate décor. The candle-lit dining room with heavy wooden furniture evokes a feeling of dining in the 17th century among French nobility. The menu has an equally good reputation, with mouth-watering French delicacies served Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended.
Address: Lai 19; Website: www.chateau.ee
Serving some of the finest Asian cuisine in Tallinn, Chedi is a favourite with locals and tourists alike. The minimalist black and red stylish décor sets the perfect mood for an Asian experience. The roast duck with szechuan pepper sauce is delightful, while the stir-fry Mongolian style venison is an interesting and delicious choice. Open Monday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended.
Address: Sulevimägi 1; Website: www.chedi.ee
This stylish Italian eatery is somewhere one might expect to bump into a local celebrity - and you just might! With clean lines, minimalist décor and a fresh and trendy feel, Bocca delivers when it comes to ambience and food. The merlot-grilled fillet of tuna with cherry tomatoes marinated in merlot wine vinegar is to-die-for, while the decadent foie gras with apple and melon in cranberry sauce is not to be missed. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations essential.
Address: Olevimägi 9; Website: www.bocca.ee
Tallinn's nightlife has a big reputation that belies its diminutive size as one of Europe's smallest capital cities - albeit one of its most attractive. The biggest influx of visitors come from Britain where cheap flights draw stag parties and people on salacious weekend breaks, and Finland, where booze cruisers dock to take advantage of inexpensive alcohol. Tallinn's nightlife is conveniently clustered around the compact Old Town, and the streets are generally safe to walk around at night.
The city has some world-class nightclubs, long-standing mega-venues that accommodate over 1,000 patrons and attract top DJs, many centred on the scenic town square. When these get too crowded, seek out the many chic lounge bars and trendy wine bars that attract more locals than visitors. Tallinn artists and intellectuals tend to gather in these smaller venues, while the stag party visitors can enjoy some of Tallinn's many revue bars which offer an up-market striptease experience.
For a more cultured experience, there are some excellent classical music concerts at the Estonia Concert Hall and the imposing Linnahall. See the schedule of performances in the free Tallinn In Your Pocket guide available throughout the old town.
There are also large cinema venues for movie buffs, mostly centrally located, and all showing films in their original language with Estonian subtitles. There are also a few casinos, such as the glitzy Olympic Casino and old-town based Casino Grand Prix.
One of the most exciting cities for shopping in the Baltics, Tallinn will appeal to all shopaholics' senses. With a wonderful variety of shops, boutiques and speciality stores hidden away in pokey side streets, there's plenty of time and money to spend in this historic city.
The main shopping streets in the Old Town are Viru, Müürivahe, Suur-Karja, Väike-Karja and Kullassepa. For those who prefer a shopping centre, the Viru Centre is the place to find a selection of fashion, homeware and music stores.
The Old Town is the place to head for souvenir and antique shopping, while the Katariina Passage is a magical place to observe where medieval-style workshops create glasswork, ceramics, leather goods and quilts right before your very eyes. The Central market is worth strolling around, even if only to mingle with the locals.
The most popular souvenirs from Tallinn are amber jewellery and accessories, Vana Tallinn liqueur, handicraft items like carved wooden beer mugs, felt hats, ceramics and glassware. Kalev-brand bittersweet Estonian chocolate and hand-painted marzipan are also popular souvenirs.
Most shops are open Monday to Friday from 10am to 6pm and from 10am to 5pm on Saturdays. The sales tax, which is levied on most goods and services in Estonia, is 20 percent and non-European travellers can apply for a tax refund on goods bought at a minimum of EUR 320. A form needs to be filled out at the point of purchase in order to claim tax back and these forms can be obtained from most retailers and Customs Offices.
Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport
Location: The airport is two miles (4km) southeast of Tallinn city centre.
Time: GMT +2 (GMT +3 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October).
Contacts: Tel: +372 605 8888.
Getting to the city: Bus Route 2 connects the airport to the city centre from Bus Stop 1, located in front of the departure hall; tickets can be bought from the bus driver for EUR 2. Bus Stop 2 is a stopping point for intercity buses to other destinations in Estonia. There is a tram line that connects the airport to the city centre as well.
Car rental: Car rental agencies operating at the airport include Avis, Budget, Hertz, Sixt, NU and Europcar.
Airport Taxis: Taxis are available at the airport. It is recommended to use an official airport taxi from the following companies: Tulika Takso, Tallink Takso and Tallinna Takso.
Facilities: The airport is small, but ultra-modern. Three banks operate at the airport providing ATMs, currency exchange, and cashing of travellers cheques. There is a post office in the departure hall, a large duty-free shop, a bar and snack bar, library, post office, luggage wrapping and storage, travel agencies, and two well-equipped business lounges.
Parking: Three parking areas are available at the airport. Lot A3 in front of the passenger terminal is a kiss-and-fly zone and is free for the first 15 minutes. Short-term parking in Lot A is about EUR 3 for the first hour, and about EUR 1 per 30 minutes thereafter, up to EUR 15 for 24 hours. Lot A2 has long-term rates of about EUR 10 for the first day and about EUR 4 per day thereafter.
There are a number of ways to get around Tallinn and the city has a fairly extensive public transport network, made up of buses, trams, trains and a ferry. The bus network is the backbone of Tallinn's transport network and buses can be used to get virtually anywhere in the city. Generally, bus services run between 5.30am and midnight. The tram network only covers the central area of the city. Trolley buses connect western areas of Tallinn to the city centre. Those who want to travel in comfort can use taxis which are readily available in the city centre. However, it is best to ask at one's hotel for a recommended taxi operator as scams on unsuspecting foreigners are common in the city.
Those with an international driving licence have the option of hiring a car in Tallinn. A number of car hire companies have offices at the airport or in the city centre. However, the city does experience a high volume of traffic and foreigners will find road rules and the local driving style quite confusing. Signposts are not always clear, so it is best to use a satellite navigation system to navigate one's way around Tallinn. There are plenty of parking lots in downtown Tallinn, and streetside parking is provided but must be paid for in advance on curbside machines.
Like the rest of coastal Estonia, Tallinn has a humid continental climate with warm, mild summers and cold, snowy winters. Winters, from December to February, tend to be very cold, with temperatures hovering close to the freezing ma
rk but with occasional mild spells of weather pushing temperatures above 32°F (0°C). Snowfall is common during the winter in Tallinn. Summers, from June to August, are mild, with temperatures ranging between 66°F (19°C) and 70°F (21°C). Tallinn receives around 24 inches (610mm) of precipitation annually, but there is no distinct wet season and rainfall is quite evenly distributed throughout the year. Summertime brings unexpected rain showers, so an umbrella and light raincoat are recommended.
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