Have you noticed that places start to look a lot better as soon as you know you are leaving? This happens to me all the time. I get into this state of super-awareness mixed with melancholy and start noticing all of the astonishing details, marveling at beauty in unexpected places and smiling at strangers. And then I feel guilty about all the events I will miss and all the friends I didn’t get to see enough. This pre-departure sentiment has made me compile a list of reasons why Tallinn is cool and why you should totally come here (but perhaps plan it for next summer so I can be here to show you around, okay?).
People who don’t know anything about this part of the world usually have some strange preconceived ideas of “those Eastern European countries”. Whatever you think Estonia is like, expect to be surprised once you get here. It’s a quirky cross-section of cultures and histories; a combination of earthy clean-cut Scandinavian style and grim remnants from the Soviet era.
1. Old Town magic
The #1 reason why Tallinn is awesome is because it’s one of the best preserved Medieval cities in Europe. The Old Town is like a fairy-tale theme park full of ancient limestone buildings, turrets, towers, wrought iron lamps and yes – tourists. The town centre is perfectly sized: small enough to walk everywhere and yet large enough to spend several days exploring. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes though, because the streets are paved with old cobble stones – excellent for authentic ambiance but not so great for stilettos!
2. Architectural marvels
There is plenty of cool architecture outside of Old Town as well. I love looking at buildings in Rotermann Quarter and Kalamaja, but Kopli takes the cake (just maybe don’t go there alone after dark). There are a lot of old warehouses and factories in prime locations that are slowly getting developed and repurposed into cafes, art venues, community gardens, concert halls etc. The construction work never ends in this place and every time I come back some new structures and renovations are underway. Estonian Centre of Architecture has this comprehensive guide for visitors.
3. Rustic, quirky, hipster or chic… there is no shortage of nice cafes and restaurants
There are plenty of good eateries with reasonably priced menus and good wine lists. But make sure to check for insider tips because the best places are usually in the least obvious locations. Once you find the gems you should probably call them up to book a table because locals know about all the best spots in town and it often happens that everything is full. The best part is that finally there is an all vegan restaurant! I am very excited about that!
4. Beautiful people
Spring brings about great changes not only in scenery but also in people. It’s as if everyone comes out of their introverted shells. I mean literally: as soon as the trees turn green people are suddenly more outgoing, happy and adventurous. It becomes really easy to spark up random conversations with strangers. Everyone speaks perfect english here and people love chatting up foreigners (especially after a few drinks) so you will have no trouble making friends.
Estonians (the ladies in particular) are exceptionally good-looking and many of them aren’t afraid to sport a quirky unique style. I feel like I can wear my most eccentric outfits in Tallinn and no-one will even blink; unlike in France where people stare down at even remotely unusual garments. This is probably due to the strongly engrained Nordic courtesy: make sure to respect people’s personal space, no staring on public transport and most importantly – no smiling at strangers!
Picture I snapped on my way home on a Sunday night at around 10:30PM. It’s still light outside and some guys are randomly playing ping-pong in the middle of the street in Old Town.
The light is something else here at 59º North. At this time of the year it’s still light outside at 10PM and the sun rises by the time I’m ready for bed (yes, I’m a night owl). I know I grew up in this light but I still get amazed and a little freaked out by it. Having such long days is a pretty crazy experience. In the winter though… Well, let’s just say I strongly recommend visiting Estonia in the summer time!
6. Free public transport and late-night shopping
The city centre is comfortably walkable but there is also a good public transport system with buses, trolleys and trams. And the best part – it’s free for local residents! I know, it’s pretty crazy but I can’t say I dislike the concept. Shopping is super easy as well. There is an inside joke that the city planners are trying to build one mall for each resident. For example: you can discover at 10PM that you need some groceries for your midnight snack and hit the mall. I just did my food shopping for the week at 10.30PM the other day. It’s a pretty great time for shopping – no queues!
7. Free wifi everywhere!
Last but not least: Tallinn is in the top 10 Digital Cities in the world. This means you don’t have to worry about roaming or not being able to Instagram your amazing Old Town pics because free wifi is everywhere. And I mean free, as in you don’t have to ask for passwords from waiters and hotel receptions, nor fill in any online forms to access the internet. And by everywhere I mean literally – in shopping malls, in parks, as soon as you arrive at the airport… even on the bus between Tallinn and Riga. Yeah, that’s pretty cool.
I have lived here about 20 years of my life and yet I still find details I’d never noticed, places I’d never seen and courtyards I didn’t know existed. Tallinn is cool that way: it never stops surprising me and it never stops growing. So. When are you coming over? I know I’m leaving in a week and won’t be able to show you around myself. But maybe next summer?
In the meantime you can come along to Fiji with me!
Just follow me on Instagram for daily bits of wanderlust.
And join the Insiders Circle to get monthly updates