Sometimes you have to see a place when the weather may not be optimal. If there are plenty of things to see while you trudge over the frost in the mid-afternoon twilight, so much the better. Notably, Estonia’s towns and county have plenty of x-country skiing and snowshoeing locations, although this time round the inch of snow that stuck around wasn’t enough.
Tallinn is beautiful and has more than it’s fair share of medieval and renaissance architecture and castle walls, but in reality contains about half a day of walking aimlessly around and there then needs to be other things to do.
A circuit round the medieval city walls gives some great perspective about what it must have been like to be on the wrong end of a medieval siege.
Make sure to see the high part of town – Toompea Hill – where the original castle walls were built and Estonia’s government buildings now stand, as well as the medieval-era Toomkirik church and the Tsarist-era Alexander Nevsky cathedral.
A good 3km walk east out of town is to the Kumu – Estonian Art Museum, which has a great collection reflecting the story of Estonian art to the current day, including during the Communist era. Plus it’s a very cool building.
Nearby is the park area containing the Kadriorg Museum, a foreign art museum located in the former Kadriorg Palace, an 18th-century residence built by the Russians. You can also visit that exhibit or just absorb the Tsarist vibe in the grounds.
Another neat attraction just north of town is the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour maritime museum, which befits a Hanseatic League city, having it’s own steam-powered icebreaker (outside) and a 1930’s era submarine (inside). The submarine is the Lembit, bought from Britain and one of two that formed Estonia’s interwar submarine fleet. Sadly, neither got to be used against invaders, although the Lembit was later recovered from a river in Russia and brought home. The Tsarist-era WWI concrete seaplane hangar is an interesting venue, especially when bathed in purple light.
This year, the snow wasn’t enough for x-country skiing but if you happen to go when there is, the Nomme Snowpark to the southeast of town (reachable by the Nomme rail station) also has some downhill – but Estonia is a flat place, so don’t expect major slopes.
Estonia has a significant Russian minority that mainly originated from postwar Soviet immigration as central planners added industry and military bases in the post-war era. Many Estonian coastal towns became armed camps populated by the Russian military and closed off to casual visitors and the original inhabitants. One such town is Paldiski, which is a one-hour train ride from Tallinn’s rail station at Telliskivi.
Paldiski was originally developed in the 18th century as a Russian naval base, and has an Orthodox Church to mark the original center. In the postwar Communist era, this was a closed town with a submarine base and nuclear reactor support facilities; the naval base has since been converted into a commercial seaport.
There is a mix of traditional and commiebloc apartments.
If on return to Tallinn, you need further Soviet-era fixes, you can stroll over the behemoth concrete mass of the Linnahall, a brutalist concrete 5,000-seater concert hall opened for the 1980 olympics, when Tallinn hosted some of the events. Despite it’s tired and brutalist outside appearance, the interior is still functional and renovation and re-opening is planned for 2019.
A decomposing railway control station in Telliskivi starts to become art of a type.
Tallinn Logistics. Entering and leaving by the compact and efficient airport gives you a less than 10-minute drive into town. Uber works in Estonia. I stayed just outside the old town – Tallinn is very accessible and it isn’t critical to stay in the old town, where you get to hear drunken baying at 2am. Both the Centennial and L’Ermitage hotels are well-appointed and very reasonable and modern. Breakfasts were excellent, with a combination of nordic touches to the food. The Centennial’s chef used to be the personal chef of Estonia’s first Prime Minister FWIW.
Tallinn has a great range of restaurants with a focus on nordic and Eastern European, not surprisingly. Interesting higher-end places include Leib Resto and Farm, both in the old town. There are a lot of good gastro-pubs, like F-Hoone and Porgu. The Telliskivi District, just west of the old town and railway station, has a lot of restaurants and nightlife. If you enjoy craft beer, check out the Pohjala brewpub on Kopli 4 and Pudel in the courtyard at Telliskivi 60a. Another area getting some development is the Rottermann area, southwest of the old town and just south of the ferry terminal, which has a Brewdog outlet at Rottermanni 2.
Estonian microbrews are innovative and superb – see earlier comments here: https://wordpress.com/post/www.aerotrekka.com/349 You can pick up some to bring home at Uba Ja Jamal (Vorgu 3) and Sip (Telliskivi 2).