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Holidays to Tallinn
Tallinn - go beyond the usual!
Travel envy is that so worthwhile condition your friends suffer from after hearing tales of your last trip or your upcoming extravaganza. Is anything more satisfying than sending your friends green with envy? No, we thought not. But how about somewhere really different for your next trip? Somewhere off the beaten track, so to speak, but not so far off it's an unsealed wreck that smacks your suspension for six. We're talking Tallinn, a little goldmine of a soon-to-be tourist hotspot that will shoot you well-ahead in the friend one-upmanship stakes.
Tallinn is the capital city of Estonia, a tiny country right next to Finland. Relatively untouched through years of Soviet indifference, Tallinn's Old Town is a remarkably well preserved slice of history. It's now a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a European City of Culture for 2011.
Tallinn is up there, and if you're thinking romantic breaks, the time to go is now.
First placed on a map in 1154. The Tallinn of today is a pop-up fairy tale book of medieval castles, guildhalls, cobblestoned streets and cute cafes.
There are art galleries, museums and boat tours to entertain and inspire you and Tallinn has a rich history of wonderful food.
If you're after somewhere quite different for weekend getaways or a European city break that's a cut above the normal destination, Tallinn is your place.
Eating out in Tallinn
Cheap, expensive and everything in between
Tallinn is full of great restaurants serving hearty European fare, which is good because you'll build an appetite as you roam the streets of the Old Town. Happily there are plenty of budget choices, some great mid priced choices and you can certainly splurge if you wish.
The budget options - casual dining is a fun experience in Tallinn. Kompressor on Rataskaevu tänav 3 Old Town, is a big, friendly hall and eating one of their pancakes stuffed with everything, will keep you going all day or all night. It's a student style eatery serving up hearty, simple, delicious food at a decent price. Burritos in Tallinn? Yep, get on down at the Tex-Mex Texas Honky Tonk at Pikk tänav 43 Old Town.
Mid price options - Vanaema Juures is on Rataskaevu tänav 10/12 Lower Town and is a stylish restaurant at a reasonable price. This is old-style Estonian grand. Antique feel and old fashioned service with a raft of traditional menu choices. The selections may seem a little 'meaty' but vegetarians are well-catered for. What else would you expect at 'Grandma's Place'? (Vanaema Juures in Estonian.) If you're staying close to New Town, try Eesti Maja, on Lauteri tänav 1 New Town. The traditional Estonian food such as blood sausage, marinated eel and so on may not be everyone's taste, but it's certainly authentic.
Splurge - go all out with Olde Hansa. On Vana Turg 1 Old Town, it gets rave reviews, even if it does at first glance look like some sort of tacky themed restaurant. The service is cheerful and fulsome, the food is exotic (think reindeer, wild pig and elk), and the sides are authentic and home made (think juniper cheese and honey beer). They take their medieval roots very seriously with meals themed around what a middle ages merchant might eat and it's a great experience for anyone looking for something a little different.
What to wear, when to go
Despite its northern location, Tallinn boasts a warm summer with occasional temps in the 30sC for weeks on end. Winters are chilly with days hovering around zero and less. Spring is warm, but can get wet and autumn is generally wet.
Tallinn- the city that time forgot
Tallinn is really quite different. Some of the more well-known European cities can get a little crowded, especially in spring or summer. Tallinn is as beautiful as many European cities are (the old town is truly delightful), but the key difference is the warm and friendly people. Get behind the soviet taciturnity and they'll go out of their way to assist; directing you here and there. And the food is great...
Old Town - a picture postcard place full of ye olde cobblestone streets and centuries old shops, museums, castles and guildhalls. It's a step back in time and you'll need at least a day, just roaming to your heart's content to truly appreciate this place. The shops vary - cute bookstores, lively cafes, smart bars, upmarket boutiques and quirky gin joints.
The KGB Museum - Tallinn wasn't entirely left alone! In the good old days, the Hotel Viru was one of the few hotels foreigners could stay at. Consequently the KGB set up shop on the 23rd floor and today you can have a look at how they did their job. Pitifully, as it turns out. Make sure you jump on the English-speaking tour.
Kumu Art Museum - built by Tsar Peter I, this incredible palace is now the official residence of the Estonian president and houses the Estonian collection of European masters plus a range of art from the Soviet era (entitled 'How to do art in the Soviet period'). A good mix of the old and the new and seeing the cold war impact on art is disconcerting.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - this visually stunning testament to Russian Orthodox taste in cathedrals is your typical onion-domed church. The locals don't like it because of the association with Russian domination. That said it's a gorgeous building and well worth a tour.
The must see - it may be a slightly quirky choice, but the old Tallinn Prison is a spooky walk through the past. You're left to wander through on your own, past the cells with poignant graffiti and pop star posters and through the hospital operating theatre. If you have an appetite for the bizarre, this is your 'must do'!