I’ve traveled through a lot of Europe, and decided I wanted to see a little more towards the East. A travel-show helped point me in the right direction, when they went to Latvia. I didn’t know anything about the Baltic States, so I did a little research, and from pictures alone, I booked a flight to Tallinn, Estonia. I really love smaller towns with a lot of charm and history, and Tallinn definitely provides that. So here’s a quick overview of Estonia.
Quick Overview of Tallinn
- Location: on the border of Russia, sharing the Baltic Sea with Finland.
- Language: Estonian, which has a Scandinavian-Slavic sound, but mainly shares roots with Hungarian and Finnish. Russian is also widely spoken. In Tallinn, many people speak English. And very good English, I might add.
- Population: 1.3 million people.
- Money: the Euro.
- Transportation: Trains, buses, and trams within Tallinn.
- Religion: only 14% of the population claim any religion, making it the least religious country in the world. Historically though, they are a pagan country.
- Birthday: February 24 (1918)
- Safety: as a girl traveling alone, I felt very safe here. I didn’t see any homeless people, I never felt people staring at me, and even walking around at night was no problem.
- Fun Facts: Skype was created in Estonia. First country in the world to use online voting.
- History: First mention of Estonia goes back to the 10th century, but unfortunately they were continually being ruled by anyone, but themselves. Because of their location, connecting the East with the West, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Germany, and Russia have all conquered them throughout Estonia’s history. In 1918, they officially declared their independence, but it wasn’t until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, that they gained true autonomy.
Arriving In Tallinn
From the airport to the city center: When arriving by plane, you’ll notice that even the airport seems fun, alive and different than others. There’s a mini-library and reading area, a restaurant that has cute trucks, that serve as a bar, with stools pushed up to it, and even a ping pong table, that people actually use.
The airport is clean, with lots of natural light and great signage in English. To get to the city center is really easy and cheap. Follow the signs for public transportation, and from there you can take a bus or a tram, with both costing €2, and taking about 15-20 minutes. You can buy your ticket from the driver, when you get on. There are also taxis, as well as car rental companies at the airport. And voila, welcome to Tallinn!
Walking Around: Tallinn isn’t that big, so regardless of where you’re staying, it’s easy to walk everywhere. But it does have some hills and of course cobblestone streets, so keep that in mind as you pack your shoes.
Sunshine: One thing to keep in mind for anyone living south of Canada, Russia and Scandinavia, is how your day or night might be affected by the sun. I was there in late June, and the sun was going down at 23:00 and it was up again at 04:00. So depending on what your hotel/Airbnb room is like, packing an eye mask is a great backup plan for the summer months. And of course, in the winter, the opposite is true, as the sun comes up around 09:00 and goes down around 15:30. So you’ll want to make sure that you make the most of the daylight.
Things To Do In Tallinn
Tallinn is actually a really pretty city, with beautiful buildings, nice parks, and one of the best-preserved medieval walls in Europe, with 20 defensive towers still standing. So just walking around is a feast for the eyes.
Tours: As with many cities these days, you can do the hop-on, hop-off bus that goes to the main sites. There are also bike tours, a cute “train” that’s mainly in the city center, as well as walking tours. One of my favorite ways to see a city, especially when it isn’t too big, is to do a free walking tour. If you aren’t familiar with them, you go on a walking tour, that covers the main sites, as well as local history, and then you give a donation at the end.
Food: One of the great things about Tallinn is the wide variety of food options there. I’ve traveled to places where they mainly have fish, or just beef, and after a few days, you want something different. But in Tallinn they had everything from medieval food, to vegan food, to regular hamburgers and fries. One of the restaurants I saw online, I had to go, strictly from seeing the pictures.
Medieval Wall: One of the biggest things that makes Tallinn different from other European cities, is their medieval wall. You can see it throughout the city center, and for a small fee, you can even go into some of the towers, on the wall, and into the tunnels underneath.
A Russian Touch: I’ve never been to Russia, or other countries that have the churches, with the onion-domes decorating the tops. So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that Tallinn had one. I walked by the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral several times, and each time was just as enjoyable as the first, especially when the sun illuminates different parts of it.
Possibly See The Prime Minister: A perk of coming from a smaller country, is that there isn’t the high need for security for government leaders. Just across from the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the Parliament building. The building alone is worth a visit, as it’s a mixture of the medieval wall, a classical palace and an expressionistic-style Parliament building. As I was on the walking tour, at the gated-entrance of the Parliament, the gate suddenly opens, and we see two black cars drive past us. Our guide told us that the guy in the passenger seat was probably the Prime Minister, and that he’ll sometimes come out on the balcony to wave to tourists, and ask where they’re from.
Bohemian Part of Town: Kalamaja and Telliskivi are cool areas worth visiting, that are a few minutes walk outside of the city center. You’ll notice some of the houses are straight out of the 1800’s, with lots of character, old bricks and wood. There’s a cool restaurant area, where most of it is outdoors, and has a food truck feel. One of the restaurants are two train cars, that they’ve made into a modern cafe and nightclub. Nearby, are ping pong tables, soft electronic music playing in the background, and even a giant rubik’s cube for decoration.
Want To Visit A Nearby Country For The Day? If you don’t realize that Tallinn is so far north, you don’t even think about how close it is to Finland. But there are regular ferries that take around 2 hours to get to Helsinki, and will cost between $30-$50 for a round-trip ticket. The funny thing about being that close, is that a lot of Finnish people will come to Tallinn for the day, and stock up on cheaper alcohol. There’s even an alcohol market right beside the ferry, making it easy to have that as their last stop.
Sense Of Humor: Something I was surprised about was the slight sense of humor Estonians have. On the walking tour, within my Airbnb, and even in the statues around town, you’ll notice that it isn’t an in-your-face sense of humor, but it’s very subtle. And I’m sure that helps them get through their long, dark, cold winters.