Tallinn

The quaint and quirky Estonian capital attracts increasing numbers of tourists each year who delight in exploring the winding, ancient cobbled streets and the stunning Eastern European architecture. The city is expanding in popularity, economy and status and another boost to the city came when this year the Ministry of Culture decided to name Tallinn the European Capital of Culture 2011. Clearly, now is the moment to visit Tallinn.

Attractions

Estonia gained independence from Soviet rule a little over 15 years ago and is a fledging state that still buzzes with the excitement of rapid expansion and political liberation.

There is no better place to start exploring than the picturesque old town. It is one of the best preserved old towns in Europe and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to continued rehabilitation by the town’s authorities. The old town can be divided into two parts; the upper and lower town. Perched on the summit of the upper town is Toompea castle and is a great vantage point to view the gothic spires of the old town. Within the same grounds, the brightly coloured 1920's building Riigikogu can be found (the site of the original [http://www.riigikogu.ee/?lang=en Estonian Parliament]).

When you tire of sightseeing, the perfect place to stop with a coffee or beer is the town square. A cultural focal point, the square offers various outdoor cafés and is usually bustling with activity. The symbolic centre-piece is the town hall, a pristine gothic architectural treasure that is well worth exploring.

Another “must” on the tourist trail is Kadriorg Palace and ornamental garden. Located 2 kilometres east of the centre, it is served by buses and trams. Built by Tsar Peter I in the 18th Century for his empress Catherine, the stately house is a fine example of baroque splendour, with stuccoed ceilings and landscaped gardens all round. On the same site is the [http://www.ekm.ee/eng Art Museum of Estonia] which displays a great collection of paintings, graphics, sculptures and applied art from Russia and West Europe.

For a stark contrast to the picturesque gothic and medieval old town, visit some of the fascinating relics of the Soviet occupation, the most impressionable of which is the huge Tallinn TV tower. Situated in the monotonous and sprawling Soviet-era residential district Lasnamäe, the 314m tower is an impressive feat of Soviet engineering. A trip to the top of the tower can afford you views of the shores of Finland on a clear day. Other haunting reminders of the occupation are the KGB Headquarters in the centre of the city and Maarjamäe War Memorial that is located on the highway that leads out to Pirita beach.

Shopping

These days Tallinn is a consumer-friendly city. Most shops in the Old Town and department stores throughout the city are open seven days a week and there are all manner of traditional markets to peruse for more speciality goods.

Along the Old Town’s Viru and Müürivahe streets are situated the majority of the fashion boutiques and large department stores and malls. The outdoor knit market is also found on Müürivahe street, where craftswomen sell their knitted products in the shadow of the town wall. Even more intriguing for the adventurous shopper is the Katariina Passage. Onlookers watch as glasswork, ceramics, leather goods, quilts and other items are created right before their eyes in medieval-style workshops run by the Katariina Guild’s artists.

Popular souvenirs to take back from Tallin as well as handi-craft items and woollen sweaters are Soviet-era memorabilia and dark, bittersweet Estonian chocolates or even hand-painted marzipan!

Nightlife and Eating Out

One is spoilt for choice in terms of restaurants in Tallinn, the city offers everything from Mexican to medieval. For the more adventurous among you however, some traditional Estonian cuisine must be sampled. Notably, Kuldse Notsu Korts serves up fine Estonian dishes such as pork knuckle and smoked Baltic herring for meat-lovers or Farm girl's stew for the vegetarians among us. For a whiff of Russian colonial times past Nevskij is well worth the visit; with a menu including salted salmon, pickled lampreys, sturgeon and wild boar.

Tallinn has a thriving nightlife, attracting an increasingly cosmopolitan crowd; not just the Finns that rush to the Baltic shores and the omni-present British stag-doers. For a hip clubbing style night filled with commercial dance tunes your best bet is Moskva that plays host to a mix of young Estonians and travellers.

The Stereo Lounge looks a little like the “milk bar” from “A Clockwork Orange” but is perfect for a pre-club cocktail in an ultra-trendy ambience. Alternately, if you want to escape the yuppie Tallinn dance scene, you have the perfect antidote in Von Krahli Baar that frequently hosts quality International live acts in its brick cellar venue, drinks are reasonably priced too.

Attached to Von Krahl Baar is an excellent theatre venue that has a mixed programme of cabaret, opera and avant-garde multimedia and experimental treats. Equally, [http://www.no99.ee/en/ Theatre NO99] has a bohemian atmosphere and an large cult following in the city.

Tallinn has four cinemas; for Hollywood blockbusters the Coca Cola Plaza is an 11 screen complex, or for the more weird and wonderful, try Kinomaja or Soprus that show independent films.

Tourist Information

The Tallinn Tourist Information Centre is located in the centre of the Old Town:

  • Niguliste 2 / Kullassepa 4, EE-10146 Tallinn
  • Telephone: + 372 645 7777
  • Fax: + 372 645 7778
  • E-mail: turismiinfo@tallinnlv.ee
  • Website: [http://www.tallinn.ee/eng www.tallinn.ee]
The local tourist office sells the "Tallinn Card" which gives the holder free local public transport and entry to most attractions.

Airport

A number of major airlines (easyJet, Estonian Air, Finnair, KLM, LOT and Lufthansa) now operate between Tallin and the major European cities, the airport is served by local bus connections.

Another viable option to reach the Scandinavian mainland is by ferry, the most popular of which is Tallin to Helsinki. The hydrofoil takes little over an hour and a half and fares are very reasonably priced. Other destinations include Stockholm, St. Petersburg and Rostock. For the novelty, there is an hourly helicopter service to Helsinki operated by Copterline, advertised as the fastest capital-to-capital link in the world.

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