Sitting at the very tip of Estonia, just a two-hour boat ride away from Helsinki, you’ll find the magical city of Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, where each neighbourhood is more enchanting than the next.
Tallinn is a city riddled with history, from medieval castles to untouched Soviet towns. Start your journey in Old Town, a UNESCO heritage site which looks like a village from your favourite fairy tale. Still untapped with swarms of tourists, this developing city is brimming with creativity and excitement with burgeoning art scenes and a thriving social life.
Where To Eat
While food might not be the first reason you head to Tallinn, there is certainly an emerging culinary culture that is immediately obvious when you’re walking around the town. As well as the “living room restaurants”, which has taken Estonia by storm, where families open up their houses to serve home-cooked food.
Once such example, for the ultimate Estonian home cooking experience, is Roog (https://www.roog.ee/en/ ). Former First Lady, Evelin Ilves, opens her delightfully rustic 800-year old house up for private dining experiences and cooking classes. Our barefoot host greets us in the courtyard and hard though I try, it’s impossible to visualise Melania Trump or Hillary Clinton being so welcoming and informal, let alone having spent all morning cooking a seasonal feast. From the freshly baked sourdough rye, served with a traditional pumpkin soup to the fermented cabbage and sublime dessert, every aspect has been lovingly prepared by Evelin. She’s a font of knowledge on the history of the country and generously shares tales from her nine years as the President’s wife, offering a fascinating insight into their life as well as her own time spent in office – when she served as president of the Estonian Rollerskating Federation. The added ingredient of musical accompaniment courtesy of Siim, Evelin’s partner, ensures that dining here is a unique and very special experience. Pre-booking is essential.
Vanalinn, 10133 Tallinn, Estonia
German chef, Matthias Diether, famed for his eponymous restaurant in Berlin was so inspired by Estonia’s cuisine and source ingredients, he relocated to Tallinn. Bringing his expertise to 180° (https://180degrees.ee), a chic restaurant in the Port Noblessner area, Diether hopes his accomplished and innovative menus will finally draw the attention of the Michelin star givers, who have thus far failed to acknowledge any of Estonia’s deserving restaurants into their celestial realm. Do treat yourself to the wine pairing menu for excellent and often bold choices from the sommelier.
Staapli 4, 10415 Tallinn, Estonia
Restaurant NOA Chef’s Hall
Constructed from wood and glass with stunning sea views, NOA Chef’s Hall (https://www.nch.ee/), seats 45 people, and not surprisingly has been selected as the best Estonian restaurant several times. NOA Chef’s Hall is like a restaurant in a restaurant: it is the more private and elegant sister to NOA restaurant, where head chefs Tõnis Siigur and Orm Oja prepare the OMNIVORE 9- and 11-course tasting menu in an open kitchen.
Ranna tee 3, 12111 Tallinn, Estonia
Dinner here is like a small play telling its story, with all kinds of delights of Northern cuisine (http://restoran-o.ee/en/). Different seasons, harvesting, and ancient cooking methods – disassembling old classics and reassembling them in new ways results in good and authentic meals.
Mere pst 6E, 10111 Tallinn, Estonia
A popular restaurant located at the imposing 100-year-old industrial building. F-Hoone (http://www.fhoone.ee/en/) is one of those success stories that every wannabe restaurateur dreams of and we rather enjoy it. The food is fresh and usually quite inspired. The interior is certainly industrial and chic, the service attentive and the prices are good and atmosphere top-notch.
Telliskivi 60a, 10412 Tallinn, Estonia
Where To Drink
There’s an exciting cocktail scene fizzing away in Tallinn. Though not always easy to find, our favourite drinking establishments were the Speakeasies.
We finally located Whisper Sister (https://www.facebook.com/whispersisterbar/) after a false start in a barber shop, fruitlessly attempting to order an Aviation. The bar was definitely worth seeking out though as we sampled various delicious concoctions, and we applauded their attempts to make us Brits feel welcome with the quirky English Breakfast cocktail, comprised of vermouth, Pimms, bitters, earl grey and a marmite syrup.
Another establishment oozing with the sultry Prohibition vibe is Parrot MiniBar (https://www.facebook.com/parrotminibar/). We’re a sucker for anywhere that makes us enter through the wardrobe and exit through a parrot cage. There’s a fun 1920s vibe in here and like every good bar, they make their own delicious infusions.
Another ‘living room restaurant’, Mull literally translates to ‘Bubble’, a cosy champagne-lounge worth the visit if only to see the bohemian decor. Owned by a national celebrity, a model-turned-painter called Beatrice, the restaurant invites guests to sample a constantly changing menu with non-stop champagne. They don’t have regular opening hours, so be sure to call ahead.
NoKu, a hidden bar with a rebellious past, is in the heart of the Old Town, on the second floor of a building with a red and blue door. It used to be a members-only haunt for artists, which started in the Seventies as a protest against the admission policy of the nearby KuKu Klub. It is now open to the public, but you need a code to enter – just ask the smokers standing outside the door.
What To Do
Tallinn is a highly compact city, and while you can capture the most of the city in one weekend, you can spend days exploring by foot and train, everything from the romantic to the Medieval Tallinn, to the trendy, high-tech one.
Top tip: The Tallinn Card gives you free entry to 40 museums and other interesting attractions, one free sightseeing tour of your choice, free use of public transport and a range of entertainment options.
It’s the best place to start and get your head around the city. Why? This is the city wall that encircles the old town, sections of which were built in the 13th Century. Platforms offer views across the spires of the old city and out to Tallinn Bay. From here take the steep cobbled path up to Toompea Hill called Pikk Jalg, or Long Leg, to see the orthodox Cathedral and parliament building in what was Toompea Castle. From medieval churches to the huge City Hall to traditional pubs to narrow stone streets, and some of the City’s best restaurants – this is where you begin.
St Catherine’s Passage
Formerly known as the Monk’s Alley, it goes from Vene Street past the southern end of the Dominican monastery to Müürivahe Street. St Catherine’s Church, from which the alley took its name, is thought to have been built here more than 700 years ago. The southern side of the alley is lined with predominantly 15th-17th century residences. The alley as a whole retains its medieval atmosphere. It was last restored in 1995. Walk through a number of handicraft workshops and watch the artists at work – creating ceramics, hats, glass and more.
Telliskivi Creative City
The new side of Tallinn. An artist-friendly complex that has become a popular hangout for shoppers and restaurant-goers. Located in a reclaimed factory area not far from the Old Town, it is Estonia’s biggest creative economic enterprise centre including dance evenings are held on Tuesday evenings, and a flea market on Saturdays.
Rocca al Mare
Sitting at the western edge of the city is the coastal Rocca al Mare district. The area’s name, meaning ‘Rock by the Sea’, comes from a summer manor established here in 1863 by local baron Arthur Girard de Soucanton. It now has the Estonian Open Air Museum, one of Tallinn’s most incredible museums, and a a forested park where you can immerse yourself in traditional Estonian village life without leaving the city.
One of the grandest examples of palace and park design in Estonian architectural history. The jewel in Kadriorg’s crown however is the Kadriorg Palace, a magnificent, Baroque structure surrounded by manicured gardens and fountains. This was the centre of an estate that Russian tsar Peter the Great established as a family retreat in the early 18th century.
Where To Stay
Hotel St Petersbourg
Set in a flagship building representing this coupling of history and advancement, look no further than the sumptuous St. Petersbourg hotel, located in the picturesque Old Town. Redesigned by British designer Andrew Martin in 2014, with only 27 bedrooms, it’s proudly one of the Small Luxury Hotels collection combining chic interiors with the history that is oozing from its walls. Read full review here
Rooms start from £117 per night including breakfast.
In an unbeatable location just 70 steps from Tallinn’s medieval square, the Telegraaf exudes romance, elegance and charm in the heart of the Estonian capital’s Old Town. Once the city’s telegraph exchange station, the hotel retains its beautiful marble floors and grand, spacious rooms. Sample the best of Tallinn’s cuisine at its restaurant, Tchaikovsky.
Rooms from €160 (£137) per night including breakfast.
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