Estonia typically doesn’t make it on most European trip itineraries because of its location. Being in the farthest northeast section of the continent, just next to Russia, the climate can be a bit on the cold side for a large part of the year as well. Yet, those who do decide to venture to this side of Europe will be pleasantly surprised by the jewel that is Tallinn, the country’s capital city and a mix of modern, medieval and Soviet all in one.
Tallinn is a place where you can walk down cobbled streets of a medieval city center, or hang out in very modern and luxurious shopping malls. Besides the cold, there is very little in this city that actually reminds you of its once Soviet rule; the overwhelming feel is of the old-town vibe that comes from the well-preserved city center. It is here that you can attend proper medieval feasts with employees dressed up in full costume (wenches included), food is served on your wooden planked table and your grog goes down from a giant goblet. As a backpacker, it is recommended you hit the streets in a walking fashion, which is the best way to take in the narrow passageways and smells from roasted almonds on the corners.
Things to Do & See in Tallinn
While hanging out in the old town city center, you can check out the ex-KGB Headquarters building or the Museum of Occupations for a blast from the Soviet past. Also in line with the Soviet influence is the viewing of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which presents itself as a massive icon with a colorful and beautifully kept exterior. The city wall makes for a great place to climb the towers and sneak a view from the top.
Eating on a budget is easy if you seek out cafeteria style dining. A great place that is used widely by backpackers and students in the area is called Eat, and it is a way to experience traditional Estonian fare, such as hearty dumplings.
A trip to Tallinn wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t some sort of warmed alcoholic beverage involved. Here you can choose from delicious mulled wine, hot honey mead or something known to the locals as a “flaming Tallinn”.
Outside of the old city center, there are beaches to enjoy (in the summer), beautiful botanic gardens, the Holy Birgitta Monastery and the Tallinn Zoo to name a few attractions. For a seaside resort, Kadriorg will suffice, which is a district that is also home to the Kadriorg Palace.
Where to Stay in Tallinn
Tallinn makes a great stop for backpackers and there is plenty of hostel accommodation to make it a budget stay and connect with other travelers in the process. For obvious reasons, staying in the Old Town center is going to be the one that provides for the most experience in Tallinn. You’ll have easy access to public transport, the markets on Viru Street and plenty of touristy shops, pubs and restaurants.
Tallinn: How to Get There & Away
Tallinn is connected to other parts of Europe by train, so you can easily head to Russia or west towards Latvia by riding the rails. Buses, and especially overnight buses, are a good way to go from Baltic capital city to the next. It should take in the 9 hour range to go overnight from Tallinn to Vilnius, Lithuania. Another great mode of transport, besides budget airlines, are the ferries that go to the Scandinavian countries to the north.
Written by Brooke Schoenman