The Baltic Charms of Tallinn

A short guide to Tallinn with tips on accommodation, eating out and what you really must see

The Baltic Charms of Tallinn

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by fizzytom on June 11, 2008

The immediate impact of the upper and lower Old Town of Tallinn is undeniable; the pastel coloured buildings and the Russian-style golden domes are very striking and certainly do merit a visit. However, if you have time you should certainly head out of the centre and along to the wonderful white beach that curves round the headland at Pirita. As well as take a dip in the 'refreshing' Baltic there are various watersports available.

While you're in this area visit the Televison Tower for amazing views of Tallinn Bay from its viewing platform. Beside the tower are the lovely botanical gardens and on the way back into town stop off in Kadriorg to walk through the linden-filled park and visit the Song Bowl where thousands of Estonians joined in song to demand independence from the Soviet Union.

${QuickSuggestions} Like many cities Tallinn has its own money-saving card for tourists. What I like about the Tallinn Card is that you can even buy one for just six hours so you can save even more money if you are just there for one day - perfect for tourists arriving on cruises. There are various price options for adults and children so check up to date prices on the official website -

The card gives free public transport within the city and free entry to over 40 museums and interesting sights. There are free city tours (not with the six hour card), discounts at many restaurants and outdoor adventure activities and even free spa visits.

Even in summer there can be quite a breeze across Tallinn Bay so don't assume you can pack only lightweight summer gear; do pack something for cooler days and the evenings.${BestWay} Public transport in Tallinn is plentiful and easy to use. First off it's important to say that since the bulk of the sightseeing is centred around the Old Town comfortable shoes are a must, not just because you'll probably do a lot of walking but because the hills are quite steep and many of the streets are cobbled.

If you do venture further out you may well need to use public transport - in Tallinn this is in the form of buses, trams and trolleybuses. The same tickets are valid for all three types of transport.

A single journey ticket costs 20Kr from the driver but its only 13Kr to buy them from a kiosk or newsagent and buyign abook of ten is even better, costing just 90Kr. You can buy other tickets at kiosks such as an hour ticket, a two hour ticket, a 24 hour ticket and a 72 hour ticket (perfect for long weekend breaks). For 24 or 72 hour tickets you should validate your ticket at the more modern machine usually situated at the middle of the bus - you'll see this one has a digital clock on it that records the time you started using the ticket.

For other tickets you should punch your ticket when you get on. Place the ticket in the slot and pull the tab above it to punch it. On most buses you can get on at any door but there are one or two where the back doors don't open so you must quickly run to the front doors before the bus departs.

The main bus station for routes to other Esotonian towns and international destinations is just out of the centre but you can take a trolley bus there in about ten minutes.

Finally you should know that the Tallinn Card that gives free and discounted entrance to various museums and attractions also offers free public transport for the validity of the card.

Hostel Alur - a tempting option

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fizzytom on March 18, 2009

Old Town Hostel Alur is situated as the name suggests in Vana Tallinn - Old Tallinn. Well just about, it's within the old walls and is two minutes walk from the main square, Raekoja Plats. There are one or two hostels nearer the centre but it's nothing worth quibbling over. Alur's sign is rather modest and as it has no windows at eye level you could easily miss it.

Entrance is by door buzzer and reception is on the first floor so it's straight up the stairs when you arrive. The reception area is tiny; squeeze in more than two backpackers with rucksacks and you'll be falling over each others legs and luggage.

We hadn't booked and wanted a double for three nights and they offered us a room on the top floor - basically in the eaves - for the first night, after which there would be a better room on the first floor for the other two nights. If we left our backpacks in reception the next morning, they would put the bags in the new room when it was ready.

The top floor room was one not normally in use except for occasionally acting as a store room. There was nothing wrong with it really although it was more basic than the room we later stayed in. There was a double bed but no hanging space and no table. It didn't bother us; we intended to be out most of the time anyway and we would happily have stayed in that room had we been able. The only downside was that although there was a toilet on that floor there was no shower and the next morning we had to go downstairs to the floor below for a shower. This was hardly a hardship though.

The other room we had there was a double with two single beds, a desk and a coat rack for hanging clothes. It was still very sparse but the nice new laminate floor and the soft furnishings made it look less basic. On this floor there were two showers and two toilets close to our room and I think there were more in another part of this floor.

As well as doubles there are dormitories but I didn't see myself so I can't comment.

Alur is not a hostel brimming with facilities. However guests can access the internet using the laptop in reception for up to twenty minutes a day. If you bring your own laptop you can get free wi-fi access in this area too. There are no posters advertising trips or tours or special offers or discounts at local bars or restaurants. This suited us; we just like to be able to get basic value for money accommodation and aren't interested in the whole "meeting fellow travelers" experience. So, if you are the sort of backpacker who likes to hook up with like-minded travelers this may not be the hostel for you; perhaps it's easier to do this if you stay in a dormitory, however.

In the basement there is a kitchen and adjoining lounge/dining room with television. The kitchen was well equipped with plenty of pots and pans, plates and cutlery. However the fridge was crammed with food stuffs of questionable age and the worktops were virtually unusable as they were covered with packets of cereal, loaves of bread and half-drunk bottles of wine. This, I find, is a common problem in hostels as people often leave unused food behind in the hope that others will use it - and invariably nobody bothers and the food just stays where it is. Being responsible people we washed what we used immediately but other guests didn't and left dirty pans in the sink. Cleanliness wasn't really the issue here, it was just difficult to do what you needed to because of the clutter.

If you do wish to buy food to eat at the hostel then there is a small deli/gastronom in the Russian style just on the next corner. They sell some delicious sliced cured meats and excellent cheeses as well as fresh bread and other grocery items. They sell alcohol until mid-evening.

In summary Old Town Hostel Alur offers good value budget accommodation in a great location.

Approximate prices 2009

Dorm beds around £6-7 depending on size of dormitory

Double room - £28/per night
Old Town Hostel Alur
Lai 20
Tallinn, Estonia

A Mixed Bag at Turg

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by fizzytom on March 8, 2009

On paper this place shouldn't really work. Restaurants that mix and match different cuisines and dishes from all over the world tend to be something of a disappointment, spreading themselves to thinly and not really achieving more than mediocrity in any individual dish. So can Turg pull it off?

Turg translates as "market" and this quirky restaurant on the Raekoja Plats in the very heart of Tallinn has an interior designed to look like an old town and marketplace. It has a bizarre cobbled floor in parts and fake windows complete with little awnings meant to give the impression of a stall. Throw in an inordinately large amount of plastic fruit and vegetables, then dim the lights so it doesn't look quite as bad as it sounds. Oh yes, and put the staff in costume too just to make you wonder whether you took the wrong plane and ended up in Disneyland Paris.

Choose from a buffet, pizzas, an extensive grill, pasta dishes or a wide range of other dishes such as Norwegian salmon, chicken a l'orange or pork and ginger.

We started with tomato and onion soup (69 EEK) and then I had a pork dish which came in a honey sauce (Kalapirukas 139 EEK) while my partner had a kind of spicy pork stew (125 EEK).

The food wasn't amazing but it was tasty and the portions were generous. Other people seemed to be enjoying their meals too and I didn't hear any complaints.

An Estonian beer cost 40EEK and a glass of red wine cost 45 EEK,both reasonable given the location.

The restaurant is open from 12 till midnight daily which is a good option on Sundays when some restaurants have limited opening hours.

Trug is OK but nothing really special nor remarkable. The service was fair and we didn't have to wait long for our food. However, there are better restaurants in town though for the location this is decent value. The main problem I have is that it has such a variety of dishes on the menu that it doesn't seem to excel at any. Perhaps a place for family groups that are hard to please?

Where the Pig is King!

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fizzytom on March 1, 2009

This attractive restaurant just a stones' throw from the main square is a popular restaurant with tourists and a good place to get tradtional fare, although it's not cheap. The name means "The Golden Piglet Inn" and pork dishes dominate the menu. Some of these are very old dishes and the emphasis is on hearty and rural.

The interior has been decorated to resemble a traditional farmhouse kitchen with whitewashed walls, wooden tables and benches and folk art on the walls and for the soft furnishings. Lovely woven decorative runners are placed along the centre of each table, for example. Staff, too, wear traditional dress but the theme is not overbearing and over the top. The light fitting that hangs from the ceiling is made from an old cartwheel and a stone fireplace has been constructed on one wall.

The menus were in Estonian, English, German and Russian. The clientele was mixed but there were quite a few Russians - most of whom were plumping for the huge meat specials.

To start we picked a pea soup that contained a good helping of tasty smoked meat (85 EEK) and a portion of marinated herrings (80 EEK) that came with potatoes and onions. Both were excellent.

For my main course I chose the blood sausage with baked potatoes, sauerkraut and marinated pumpkin (175 EEK). This was a really filling dish that was absolutely delicious. My companion tried a smaller dish of slow cooked beans, onions and smoked meat (115 EEK) which, although it was described as small, was very satisfying.

We finished with liqueuers made of Estonian berries (30EEK).
I had a glass of white wine with my meal (40 EEK) and my partner drank beer at 40EEK for 500ml.

The service was friendly and relaxed and we enjoyed a leisurely evening without feeling they wanted the table despite the place being constantly busy.

This restaurant has some outdoor seating in summer and is part of the St Petersbourg Hotel.

Thoroughly recommended.

Kuldse Notsu Kõrts
Dunkri 8
+372 628 6567

The Tallinn Songbowl - Where Freedom Was Won

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by fizzytom on October 30, 2008

Known in Estonian as the Lauluväljak, the tallinn Songbowl is one of the most important (if not THE most important) locations tied up in the fall of Communism in Estonia. Singing is hugely popular in the former Baltic coast Soviet States and the Tallinn bowl is where national competitions and festivals have been held; the first Estonian song festival was held in 1869 though of course the song bowl is not that old. At that time Estonia was already part of the Russian empire and a man called Johan Jansen was responsible for establishing the festival and, in so doing, awakening a sense of Estonian national pride in her people.

When, in September 1988, 300,000 Estonians gathered at the song bowl they sang traditional Estonian songs that had been discouraged under Communism because they celebrated a national pride for Estonia and didn't embrace the Soviet collective ideals.

The overthrow of communism in Estonia was known as the "Singing Revolution". In 1990 it is estimated that a staggering half a million people crammed into the song bowl for the 21st festival, the last one to be held before independence was achieved.

Concerts and Song Festivals still take place here but it is possible to see the Song Bowl even when there is no special event taking place. It's situated a short walk from the Old Town, about twenty miuntes walking along the bay.

You enter the park though the big iron gates and go up the hill to the building - it's right in front of you as you enter. Take either side - it doesn't matter which and walk around to the front of the song bowl where you can either keep walking up the grass bank and admire the graceful curve of the canopy from a distance or go through one of the open gates and climb on to the steps of the song bowl where the singers sit during performances.

There's nothing more to see than the actual structure itself but it is quite striking and it is a major part of Estonia's recent hisotry and therefore it's enough just to be there. And I'm sure there can't be many visitors who haven't tried at least a verse or chorus of one of their favourite songs while standing on the song bowl steps!

Take buses number 1,8,34 or 38 from the centre and alight when you see the Song Bowl on theright

Dine or Drink in Historic Surroundings at Hopner

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by fizzytom on October 16, 2008

This restaurant is situated in a former merchants house in the Old Town centre, almost on the Raekoja Plats. The building is rather old with the main walls on the courtyard side dating from the 14th century while the Hanseatic Gothic facade is from the 1420s. It is thought that the large hallway part was originally some kind of a tavern because the stone flagstones sloped towards the street; this was a feature of taverns and was done so the the liquid would flow out onto the street and drain away if ever a barrel spilt or burst. So not only is this a very visually atttractive place to dine, it's also very historic. The house continued its realtionship with food when , as hase been discovered in city records, it was owned by a baker in the latte part of the fifteenth century.

In the second part of the sixteenth century the house was owned by Peter Möller, a Mayor of the city. He was a very keen drinker and, to avoid temptation getting the better of him, he had built an inner stone portal inside the house at the top of the cellar steps. There is an inscription over the poral in low German that translates as ""WOE UNTO THEM THAT RISE UP EARLY IN THE MORNING, THAT THEY MAY FOLLOW STRONG DRINK, THAT CONTINUE UNTIL NIGHT, TILL WINE INFLAME THEM." However as he could not really admit to the citizens of Tallinn that he had a drinking problem he had a different inscription over the front door of the house"God is my sole consolation".

Between 1662-1723 the house belonged to a family of merchants called Hopner - the name derived from the word "hoppe" whjch in English refers to the hops used in brewing. The three Hopner brothers lived up to their name because they were highly successful dealers in beers.

But what of today? What can drinkers and diners expect of the restaurant now?

First the decor; simple yet traditional. White-washed walls with some exposed walls and some patches of stones exposed on others; stone floors in entrance parts in keeping with the traditional style. In the bar area there are tables made from barrels and barrel hoops. The seating is not especially comfortable in this part of the restaurant but adequate if you'r just staying for a wuick drink.

In the restaurant area its still quite simple with wooden tables and simple dining chairs. Table presentation is simple and unaffected. Copper lamps and candelabrea style fittings hang from the ceilings. A few simple but colourful pieces of naive art decorate the walls.

I have not eaten here, I have only been for a drink in the late afternoon when there is a drinks offer on. However, this is not the sort of place to get filled with people bent on drinking as much cheap beer as possible. It's laid back, quiet and a pleasant place to enjoy a drink. The interior has also got to be worth seeing.

The menu is a mix of a few traditional dishes with some classic European dishes so you'll find things like pike-perch, chicken Kiev and beef steaks. There's a handful of soups and salads and pasta dishes too. Main courses range from 13 Euro (186 EEK) to 27 Euro (419 EEK).

For those just coming in to drink an A le Coq beer will set you back 47 EEK but do look out on the sign outside in case there are special offers.

We didn't have much contact with the staff and they did seem to be getting the tables ready for evening diners so they were moving around a lot. However we were served promptly and found the staff friendly and they spoke good English.

Even if you don't eat here it is an interesting place to see in terms of history, and to appreciate the traditional interior.
Restaurant Hopner
Vanaturu kael 3
+372 6418358


Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fizzytom on June 22, 2008

This tiny but very very pretty little cafe is tucked away in a little courtyard just off Vene near the Irish Embassy (look out for the flag).

As you go in the counter and the display cabinets of cakes and chocolates are on the left, the seating area to your right. You need to go to the counter first, choose what you want then get a table. This means you run the risk of not getting a table of course but there is no waitress service and no menu - you need to look at what's on offer and take it to your table. This means that queuing can be long and annoying as the three staff crammed like sardines behind the counter get in each others way and as yet haven't managed to work out how to serve people more efficiently.

As I have a nut allergy and all the cakes and chocolates were displayed together I couldn't eat here though I was sorely tempted. Cakes are gooey and creamy with lots of nuts and fruit. There are loads to choose from.

The chocolates really are something else, handmade and really individual.

All coffee is made freshly with lots of options to choose from and several different syrups too. There are lots of speciality teas so this could be somewhere you could get an English style tea with milk of you're hankering after one.

The seating section is like a Victorian parlour with so much clutter you'll not know where to sit. Still its pretty and different and very homely and comfortable. There are a few tables outside in the courtyard too.

The coffee and other drinks are averagely priced for Tallinn centre but the choccies and cakes are more pricey. However, its pretty clear that these are top notch fancies and certainly seem reasonable for what you get.

Vene Tanav 6

Eat Cafe (Pelmeni, Doughnuts)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fizzytom on June 29, 2008

Not only does this place serve some of the most delicious and cheap food in the centre of Tallinn, it's a really cool place to hang out with free wi-fi and a book exchange.

It serves 'pelmeni' a traditional Russian food that is generally translated as a 'dumpling' though this might be misleading to some, especially Brits. Pelmeni are basically oversized ravioli, similar to the Georgian dish 'khinkali'. They are cooked in stock to enhance the flavour and they can be stuffed with a fried vegetable mix, but more usually minced meat. They are drained and served with soured cream, other sauces sometimes as at Eat Cafe.

It's self-service but the staff are on hand to help you if you're unsure. However the instructions are also kindly painted up on the wall behind the counter in big colourful letters.

You are invited to start with soup but it's up to you - at just 20 KR it won't break the bank. It's usually a vegetable soup.

For the pelmeni you are given a bowl and you choose which pelmeni you want and how much. Then add your sauce. The staff weigh the bowl at the end - its easy to work out at 10Kr for 100 grams.

Want a side salad? That's also 10Kr for 100 grams.

Choose your drinks - beer is available at 30Kr for a half litre, most soft drinks cost 15Kr - and find a table, taking your tray of food with you. It's that simple!

We went quite late in the evening and the place was quiet - too late for the dinner crowd, a bit early for the clubbing crowd. However, this is a good place to go at any time of day because it is both a pleasant cafe - the cake looked delicious - and a good restaurant.

The food is good 'stick-to-your-ribs' stuff so if you are on a budget and need something really filling this is the place to go. The pelmeni were good, plenty of tasty filling and the dough wasn't too thick. The stock they had been cooked in was very tasty too.

The salad was crisp and fresh in spite of the late hour which was a pleasant surprise.

The decor is bright and cheerful; simple white walls but bright seating and lots of funky painted letters on the wall to advise you as to prices.

Self-service it might be but the friendly English-speaking waitress still came to our table to offer more drinks and she was chatty and full of questions about where we were from and what we thought of Estonia.

It's worth seeking out this restaurant in the narrow back streets; its hard to believe that its so close to the main square yet there are few crowds and the food is excellent value for money compared to the hefty prices you pay just round the corner.

Ask someone where to find 'Sauna' (the street its on) or look out for the gay, rainbow striped flags hanging at tother buildings on the street and you are there.

Pelmeni may not be strictly Estonian food but you can't erase the Russian influence and this is, after all, great food for people on a budget. Even if you're not on a budget this is a good palce to escape the crowds and get good food without waiting an age.

Depeche Mode

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by fizzytom on June 22, 2008

Descend to this basement bar and step into Depeche Mode world. The Essex band have a major following in Central and Eastern Europe and only in ths part of the world could a whole bar devoted to one band exist like this.

The decor is like a whitewashed subterannean cave and the place would be a bit dull if it weren't for all the Depeche Mode memorabilia that decorates not just the walls but under the glass on the tables for example. The red seating is quite funly and stylish but not really comfortable.

Quite annoyingly the bar is where you enter but the main seating area is along a kind of white tunnel so unless the bar staff come through to check regularly, you have to go back through to get more drinks or to ask to pay the bill.

This place is for fans only, unless you can switch off from the continuous playlist of 100% Depeche Mode (at least when we were there).

Maybe its better a bit later on but we found the place a bit soulless. A group of Estonian teenagers spent twenty minutes choosing drinks from the menu and shrieking. A few ot them watched the nonstop Depeche Mode DVD being shown - and looked bored.

There are standard domestic and international beers as well as hot and cold soft drinks and cocktails all served by a bored looking member of staff.

My Slovenian and Slovakian Dep Mode loving friends will probably work themselves into a tizzy over this place and while I do like the band myself, I have to say the the bar was a little underwhelming.
Depeche Mode Baar
Nunne 4, puh
Tallinn, Estonia

Television Tower

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by fizzytom on June 22, 2008

Even if you’re only in Tallinn a couple of days you really should try to get out of the historic Old Town and head out to a couple of spots that help tell the story of contemporary Estonia – the Songbowl (reviewed separately) and the Teletower are two great places to visit and bring the recent past to life.

As a frequent traveller of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the television tower often crops up on my travels but not usually with as much dramatic impact as in Tallinn for the television tower was stormed in 1991 in an attempted breakaway from the Soviet Union. You can still see bullet holes in the concrete at the base.

The tower measures 314 metres high and at the base you pay approximately 50 Kr to ride the elevator to the viewing platform. There’s also what is usually described as a ‘Soviet style” restaurant on this level – though the only thing remotely Soviet was the standard of the service which was rude and unfriendly to say the least. The waitress was astounded when we complained that she threw away about one-third of a bottle of beer when the glass she had poured it into was not big enough for the entire contents of the bottle. And drinks are overpriced too though that did not seem to worry the other customers as there were several family groups having full meals. In a further insult, if you aren’t dining but just drinking (and you have already upset the staff by wanting all the drink you have paid for) you can’t have a table by the window – which is why you went in there anyway, isn’t it?

In the entrance way to the tower is a really interesting exhibition of photographs from the time the tower was built with lots of Soviet looking men hard at work. You can see how the works progressed. Around this section are some colourful stained glass windows which looked wonderful with the sun streaming through them. As you would expect from the age of the tower, there are no windows in the lift but the views from the platform more than make up for this. You can see Tallinn Bay and lots of countryside and the botanical gardens below the tower.

Although the view is good it’s not necessarily worth a trip out here unless you have lots of time and it may be a good idea to slot this in if you are also visiting the Botanical Gardens next door. You can get a bus out here or you could walk – about thirty five minutes much of it along the Bay – if you are feeling inclined. From town you also pass the Songbowl and Kadriorg Park.

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