A June 2004 trip
to Tallinn by Red Mezz
Quote: Old City Tallinn is a place I came into having no idea what to expect, and I came away with a wealth of great photos and stories. Different from what I was told and had guessed, this city has much to offer an interested traveler.
This is a beautiful and intriguing city to visit so long as you don't come for the fabled "dirt-cheap prices." From my experience not only was it not incredibly cheap, but a bit on the pricey side. All the same it was a great city to walk around and soak up the atmosphere. Old Town especially is everything you'd expect of a country like Estonia, with huge stone battlements at the gateway entrance to the city and lots of medieval flavour in the shops, restaurants, and street performers. If you catch it on a sunny day, you can well feel like you've slipped back in time to an old medieval festival--though smacking of a little bit of touristy overkill, it still plays just the right note for the atmosphere.
The streets are pristine, despite the rather large number of tourists. If you arrive early in the morning, you get there in time to see all the shops coming to life and the town square in the middle of the city slowly coming awake and beginning its preparations for the day. I arrived off the overnight ferry from Helsinki, along with all the other passengers, just as dawn was breaking. After a somewhat lengthy wait in line getting off the ship, we all made our way to Old Town. The streets were filled with vendors just opening for the day, and for the most part I found them very friendly and welcoming, without being pushy. A friendly young girl running a postcard stand just inside the gate offered to take a photo of me and my friend, something we don't often get on these trips, and I in turn bought a handful of cheapish postcards. We stopped in the main square and had a coffee waiting for the shops to open and then spent most of the day meandering the calm little city and taking photos of enchanting back streets. Anyone who enjoys taking black-and-white photos should definitely give it a look. All in all, it was a very pleasant experience, one I would happily repeat.
As I mentioned in the beginning of the last entry, don't go looking for ultra-cheap prices. Though you may be able to find dodgy stands outside of Old Town in what is decidedly a more European-style city selling cheap DVDs, etc., the general prices I came across were veering on expensive. But you can still get an interesting (and very atmospheric) medieval meal at a number of themed restaurants around the city, and it certainly won't break even a shoestring-budget traveller. I highly recommend the honey beer in The Peppersack.
And be sure to count the change you are given in all places. A very friendly young man who served our coffee in the main square conveniently forgot to give us change for a coffee in the equivalent of 18 British pounds. We were told to be sure you count all change; this proved to be good advice in the first place we stopped.
The trinkets and souvenir shops along the way are somewhat disappointing if you're looking for anything other than gaudy amber jewelry, but as I said, this city is a treat for the eyes and the camera lens.
This place was great and one of the highlights of this trip. Of all the themed restaurants I've been to, the ones in Tallinn hit closest to the mark.
By lunchtime, my fellow travellers and I were getting hungry and counting up the confusion of Estonian krona (I believe) in our pockets, wondering if we'd have to settle on reliably cheap McDonald's or if we could check out the local cuisine. We were heading back up towards the entrance to Old Town when we passed a very colourfully medieval section of town. The menu boards outside caught our attention, and it wasn't long before we'd abandoned all thoughts of McDonald's.
The menu was incredible, with things like beaver tail salad and wild boar for a reasonable price. (I believe it worked out to the equivalent of 5 to 7 UK pounds, or about $10, though in reality it might have been a bit cheaper.) The atmosphere inside was more authentic than in any other themed place I've visited, with the waiting staff all in authentic clothing, down to worn leather bags at the waist to carry their order pads. The place was stuccoed inside and completely lit with candles and decorated with heavy wooden tables. It was dark and cool inside, with the smell of well-cooked meats and sweet beers. I could have been in a reenactment.
In the end (in our curiosity to try more than one place), we decided to have a beer and an appetizer in the Peppersack and the main course in a restaurant across the street. We ordered the beaver tail salad and some honeyed beer, which came in big clay tankards and was both refreshing and pleasantly warming. Even if you don't try the food (I can only vouch for the salad, which was indeed nice), I recommend that you pop in for a cheap mug of honey beer. It was a nice place, all in all, and it very pleasantly rounded off the Tallinn experience.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 15, 2005
Viru 2/Vanaturu 6
6 466 800
Restaurant | "Olde Hansa"
Whether you are wandering in Tallinn for the day and want somewhere to pop indoors for a little atmosphere; or are looking for a fine and memorable meal for the food tourist, Olde Hansa is somewhere everyone visiting Tallinn should stop at.
Though they are both very good, in my opinion the Olde Hansa exceeds The Peppersack in both food and atmosphere (see review of 'The Peppersack'). The idea is the same, but you get a distinct sense of reality from Olde Hansa, that is not as prominent in the Peppersack.
In this restaurant, you forget what century you are in the moment you walk through the door. The huge tables on the first floor are full of people drinking their large pints and talking pleasantly--could be any medieval tavern. Again, the waitresses and waiters are dressed in very traditional looking garb. The whole place looks like a set for a historical reenactment.
We had seats upstairs in the loft, and our cotton-clad waitress walked us up to the barn-like loft up a heavy staircase encrusted in the biggest mound of melted candle wax I've ever seen. The murals and various paintings and sayings on the walls were lit only dimly by what light there was from the many candles. Despite the fact that we stopped there in the middle of a sunny day, the upper section of Old Hansa was dark and cool.
The service was very good--obviously they are accustomed to tipping tourists, and did earn the tip we happily gave them. The menu is an absolute delight to those wanting an exotic array of food to sample. (I believe it was the wild boar on the menu that enticed us in in the first place.)
I had a platter of Himalayan lamb, and my friend had the boar. Both were excellent and came with a unique variety of sides and spices that, especially in the dark, were hard to identify. But I'm of the opinion that only added to the meal--and sat there being very pleased that I'd spent the extra bit of cash rather than succumbing to McDonald's (which, by the way, was packed full, dirty, and a bit more expensive than I expected even a McDonald's to be).
I recommend (again) the honeyed or the spiced beer. Both were fantastic, though the spiced beer is heavily spiced and you may have trouble getting through a whole mug of it. Might be good to share if you want to give it a try.
It's very easy to find, close to the old Town Hall at the old Market Square. Just look for the large white building with the name painted on the side. This is a place well worth stopping in Tallinn.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 20, 2005
Olde Hansa Restaurant
Vana Turg 1
Tallinn, Estonia 10140
372 627 9020
Attraction | "Old Town Market"
I did mention this in my overview of Tallinn but thought it deserved special mention, as the legendary "cheap shopping" in Tallinn is one of the reasons a lot of people visit. Let me say first off that the city of Tallinn has a lot to offer, particularly if it's scenery and atmosphere you are looking for. It's quite hard to find a place in Europe these days that has a really genuine medieval feel to it, but Old Town Tallinn does. From the moment you first walk through the big stone gates you feel like you've left modern Estonia behind and are being reverted to a different time.
Having said that, the prices don't revert with you. Once the sun is up, all the shops begin to open their doors, and the market vendors begin to set up their stalls, the main street of Old Town comes alive. To the casual observer, there is an absolute wealth of little local treasures to be found and, if what you've been told is true, get at an absolute steal.
This, I'm afraid, is simply not true. With very few exceptions, each and every shop and market stall sold almost identical items. Unless you're in the market for gaudy, overpriced amber jewelery or some very standard souvenirs, there isn't much to buy. And the cheap prices, as I mentioned before, simply don't exist. I was later told that there are dodgy markets out in urban Tallinn, but even the malls and stores outside of old town are not only not cheap but actually quite pricey.
So come to Tallinn--there are lots of reasons to visit and lots to see and do, but don't come expecting to come home with lots of things for pennies. Apparently this is a thing of the past.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on February 2, 2006
I was making my way around Scandinavia when a friend in Finland suggested a trip across to Tallinn. Everyone there agreed this was an excellent trip to make (though they were all under the impression that it was still the cheapest place to buy things.) It very soon became apparent that the way to make the trip was by 'ferry.'
Now, where I come from, a ferry is a small boat that a few cars and some stand along the rails passengers ride across a small body of water. An hour, maybe two. So when my friends told me we were going on a 12-hour ferry ride across the Gulf of Finland to Estonia, I left out my warmest waterproof gear and braced myself for a really rough trip. I even bought sea sickness pills, of which I have never had a problem. The prices we were paying only confirmed for me that this was going to be a miserable trip, so after a bus ride from Tampere to Helsinki, and then a hike through town to the docks, I found myself standing near the Rosella, completely taken by surprise.
The Viking line of 'ferries are actually ships. Proper ships. If the insides were accommodated in luxury, they would be cruise ships. As it is, though, it's a fun and different way for Scandinavians to spend their weekend city-hopping, or many just go along for the ride and the tax-free booze.
It was fantastic. Probably a lot of this was due to my massive relief, but still it was one of the most interesting parts of my trip to Estonia.
The cabins were small but very clean and just about as well equipped as any budget hotel room (including showers, toilets, and a small bathroom for changing and fixing up, as well as clean and tidy bunks.)
The ships were crowded, but it was in a festive atmosphere, and everyone was having a good time. You can walk the decks, where music played both our exit from Finland and our entrance to Estonia. The docks in both cities were easy to find and navigate, and the ride thoroughly enjoyable.
On the trip there, we actually arrived in the city at about midnight, but you had the option of staying on the boat for the night, or getting off then. As it was too late to find a hotel, we opted for a very pleasant night on board and greeted Tallinn as the sun rose.
This is such a uniquely Scandinavian way to see the city that I highly recommend you give it a try if you can.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 25, 2006
Viking Line Cruises
OÜ Viking Line Eesti, Hobujaama 4
372 666 3966
Inverness, United Kingdom