Estonia Week on 501 Places No.4: A proper look at Tallinn

Raekoja Plats, TallinnWe finally dedicated a full day to see Tallinn today, and use our Tallinn Cards (24 hours of included sights and activities within Tallinn). Having stayed in the city, we have been waiting for the right day to visit. On Monday many of the museums are closed, and on Tuesday we had ventured out to the coast, so today was the day.

The first thing we wanted to do was to take the bike tour of the city. Having arrived at City Bike, we chose a cycle and set off in a very small group (a guide and two Belgian girls). Apparently they frequently take out groups of 30+ in the summer, but as we learned yet again, we had arrived off-season. As a pure coincidence, we took exactly the same route on our cycle tour, through Kadriorg Park, through the Song Grounds and on to Pirita Beach, that we had walked on Monday.

Despite this it was a really enjoyable ride. In any case, the view is very different on a bike and on foot, and of course we had a local guide who told us about places we had barely noticed before. For example, we learned that Tallinn had hosted the sailing part of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 (there are still relics of the Olympics around the marina if you know where to look). We also heard a fascinating account of the last days of the Soviet era in Estonia, when the independence movement grew into an unstoppable mass.

Dropping the bikes off, we even had a short ride on a Conference Bike (a 7 seater where the cyclists face each other in a circle while pedalling) before heading out for an afternoon of sight-seeing.

Having the Tallinn Card we ended up visiting a lot of places we wouldn’t otherwise have gone to; small museums that might only take 10-15 minutes to visit and that would normally be overlooked, or a little climb on the city wall. In this way we got good value from the card. To make the Tallinn card work for you it is important to ensure you do at least one “big ticket” item: a bike hire, a discounted car rental, a Segway ride or an out-of-town day tour with the generous discounts on offer. I have to say it was great to be able to visit so many places in such a short time and not dip into our wallets at each point!

There were two highlights for me: one was climbing the tower of St Olav’s church to enjoy fabulous views over the Old Town and the harbour, and the other was the Museum of Occupation. This fascinating place described in excellent and graphic detail the hardships and injustices suffered by this tiny nation at the hands of the Soviet Union between 1940 and 1991, and a short but equally horrific period of German occupation during the war. It was sobering to hear again the inhumanities that people heaped on one another, yet at the same time inspiring to see how the spirit of the Estonians was not crushed despite the terrors they faced. There were also many interesting artefacts from the Soviet era, including telephone boxes, old cars and the Lenin statues that would have been pulled down at the first opportunity after independence.

We had wandered past Olde Hansa several times, and tonight was the night we finally paid a visit. A Tallinn institution that has been described as unmissable, a tourist trap but one where Estonians bring their guests, this restaurant serves up food according to researched recipes from Medieval times, with waitresses dressed in olde worlde costumes to match.

It did not disappoint, and the herb beer was different to anything I had tried before (although I don’t know if I would have another one). The portions were good without being too big, and the ambiance was just right. I will happily join in the recommendation of this place.

Being in Tallinn in mid-week in September, it’s easy to imagine this place as being still largely undiscovered. It’s a beautiful city, and there are so few visitors even in the main attractions that it is a real pleasure to have the space to explore (although it is frustrating that one or two activities have already scaled back their operations at the end of the summer). But it is clear that the place gets busy at weekends (Tallinn would not have so many clubs and bars if this was as busy as it got!) and I think we have struck lucky for our arrival, given that neither of us will choose to be in crowded places.

We have still left a little of the Old Town to explore on Friday before we leave, while tomorrow we have booked a hire car and are heading to Lahemaa National Park, about which we have heard so much. And we hope to get some decent hiking done to start to compensate for all these delicious cakes we have enjoyed.

I am grateful to and the Tallinn City Tourist Office for their partnership and support of Estonia Week on 501 Places

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4 Responses to “Estonia Week on 501 Places No.4: A proper look at Tallinn”

  1. Smita #

    Hey Andy,Olde Hansa sounds really interesting and Estonia sounds very inviting. Do click a picture of the waitresses in olde worlde costumes if they do not mind :)

    September 17, 2009 at 11:01 am
  2. Andy Jarosz #

    Thanks Smita! I didn't get a waitress picture sadly, but will upload a picture of Olde Hansa that includes some of the staff when I get home.

    September 17, 2009 at 9:36 pm
  3. Jim #

    Regarding the 1980 Olympics and the sailing competition in Estonia – the Estonian diet was very much seafood based, until the Soviets. The Soviets didn't want Estonians to have boats, because they could use them to escape to the west. So the fishing industry was shut down, and nobody could have a boat. Then, in 1980, they had the Olympic sailing competition in a place where nobody could have a boat.

    Note that if someone escaped via boat they had to go all the way to Sweden. Finland would return any escapees. Sweden has no border with Russia and felt safer.

    September 19, 2009 at 12:18 am
  4. Andy Jarosz #

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting Jim. Yes, the Finns felt very nervous of their big eastern neighbour and so it was not considered safe for escapees.
    Estonia now feels so vibrant and confident that it's hard to imagine the restrictive world in which its people lived for so long.

    September 19, 2009 at 7:29 am