To describe Tallinn as charming would be so cliché, so instead I’ll describe it as enthralling; entrancing; enchanting; fetching; pleasant; rapturous; winsome.
Tallinn is situated on the Baltic Sea with Helsinki to the south, Riga to the north, Saint Petersburg to the west, and Stockholm to the east and has close historical ties to each of these cities.
Tallinn is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe, with more than a mile of its original city wall and about 20 of the original 66 defense towers still standing. The walled, cobblestoned Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you’ll find its Gothic Town Hall, the 15th-century defensive tower, Kiek in de Kök, and a number of cafés and shops.
I spent some time in the enthralling-entrancing-enchanting-fetching-pleasant-rapturous-winsome Baltic capital, and here are my EAT, STAY, DO recommendations.
EAT in Tallinn
Tallinn has a thriving gastronomic scene and is packed with a number of exciting and innovative restaurants. Everything from fine dining to casual meals in train cars can be found in the Baltic capital.
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Located in Old Town, just steps away from Viru Gates, Tallinn’s main historical gate is the restaurant CRU. Head chef, Dmitri Haljukov, who represented Estonia in the famous Bocuse d’Or biennial world chef competition, has designed a menu that beautifully melds classic and modern cuisine. CRU is also known for its excellent selection of wines.
Located in the center of Old Town, Rataskaevu 16’s cozy atmosphere, friendly service, and delicious food, like the carrot and ginger soup and baked goat’s cheese I had, makes it a favorite of locals and tourists alike.
When asking for directions to Korsten Kitchen, I was directed to “the chimney”. The chimney was erected in 1948 and is connected to a building that was once a power station, and now houses this very hip restaurant that specializes in Italian cuisine and serves excellent cocktails.
From the outside, there’s nothing special about Gourmet Casual Gastrobar, situated slightly off the beaten path, but the interesting interior and delicious gourmet dishes are incredibly special.
Nautilus, with its very casual vibe, is one of Tallinn’s top-rated seafood restaurants. I went for the lobster bisque and half grilled lobster and was not disappointed. Nautilus is also a grill restaurant with good steaks and burgers, and also offers several good dessert options.
Ristorante Castello is a highly regarded Italian restaurant that gets rave reviews not only for its food (including an amazing Tiramisu) and extensive wine list but also for its location inside a UNESCO heritage building dating from the 1500s with visible original medieval structures.
Depoo is a newly developed hipster neighborhood just outside of Tallinn’s medieval gates where you’ll find trendy shops and restaurants and street food style eateries housed in old shipping containers.
Maiasmokk is the oldest operating café not just in Tallinn, but in all Estonia. The café, famous for its marzipan, has been in the same location since 1864 and making marzipan for even longer.
STAY in Tallinn
I was in Tallinn for several days and stayed in a couple of different hotels during my visit.
Hotel Regent Tallinn is a 5-star hotel housed in a UNESCO Heritage Site building from 1381. The hotel, located in Old Town, has been beautifully restored and has wonderful design touches such as exposed wood beam ceilings and stylish, modern décor. The hotel ‘s amenities include a spa and fitness center, and a restaurant (the above mentioned Ristorante Castello). The nicely appointed rooms come equipped with a flat-screen TV, air conditioning, coffee/tea maker, and free WIFI.
Like Hotel Regent Tallinn, Three Sisters Boutique Hotel is a 5-star accommodation located in Old Town in a historical, medieval building. The luxury boutique hotel has 23 uniquely designed and sized rooms equipped with elegant furnishings, a flat-screen TV, mini-fridge, air conditioning, coffee/tea maker, and free WIFI. The hotel also has a restaurant, bar, and a seasonal terrace.
DO in Tallinn
I took a couple of walking tours, a traditional one that took us through the medieval Old Town (read about Old Town here) and a street art tour of the trendy Depoo neighborhood.
I hung around the area after the tour and visited Fotografiska Tallinn. Fotografiska Tallinn is the satellite-gallery of Stockholm’s famous photography museum. In addition to exhibition and event spaces, Fotografiska includes a café, gift shop, and restaurant.
The restaurant, run by one of Estonia’s top chefs Peeter Pihel, is located on the sixth floor of the building and offers panoramic views of the city.
Staying with the Swedish theme, have a gander at the elegant Swedish Embassy. The Swedish Embassy is the palace of the von Rosen family and is considered to be one of the most magnificent noble houses of the city, and its exterior is considered the finest example of classical baroque style in Estonia.
Estonia ensured nearly 50 years of Soviet occupation before restoration of its independence in 1991. The KGB Museum at the Viru Hotel exhibits artifacts from that era. The “museum”, which must be booked in advance, is actually a guided tour of a staircase and two small rooms displaying artifacts from the Soviet occupation, including uniforms, cameras & spy gear, much of which is preserved as it was on the day KGB left the premises. While in the Viru Hotel, go to the top floor for amazing views across Tallinn.
Please note that the KGB Museum is temporarily closed. Visit the website for further information on reopening dates.
Combine the KGB museum with a visit to the KGB Prison Cells. Opened to visitors in 2017, the detention center used to interrogate and torture suspected enemies of the state is housed in the cellar of what was the headquarters of the KGB. The tiny museum takes less than an hour to go through and requires a €5 entry fee – a small price to pay for a look at this important part of Estonian history.
Located adjacent to Maiasmokk Cafe (see above) is the Kalev Marzipan Museum. The museum, which is free to visit, gives an overview of marzipan history.
There are nearly 200 hand-made Marzipan figurines painted by brush with food coloring on display and visitors can watch as the resident marzipan artist paints more to sell in the shop.
Town Hall Square is where you’ll find Raeapteek, one of Europe’s oldest pharmacies. It still serves as a pharmacy, but part of the shop is now also a museum, which highlights how medicine and the pharmacy have evolved over the centuries.
The exact date of when the pharmacy opened is unknown, but records indicate that it was on its third owner by 1422. The pharmacy was so well-known at one point, the Russian tsar ordered medicine from here. Raeapteek is also known for having a prescription for healing broken hearts, with a “love potion” it’s made and sold since the middle ages.
HOW TO GET TO TALLINN
Tallinn Airport – located 4 kilometers from the city center – has connections from More than 30 European airports. Public transportation goes from the airport to the city center in 20 minutes.
Tallinn is also accessible by boat and train, with ferries between Helsinki, St Petersburg, Mariehamn and Stockholm, and trains via a number of European cities, including Brussels, Berlin, Warsaw, Vilnius & Riga.
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