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Estonia is one of my favourite countries in Europe to visit and it has always been a real surprise packet, with all kinds of interesting towns in each corner and even relaxing island resorts – plus a whole lot of interesting history and culture to discover. Outside of the capital city of Tallinn, there is a lot to see and here are my travel tips for things to do in Estonia.
The south-east city of Tartu is the biggest Estonian city after Tallinn, and it’s considered a university town – which makes it both an interesting and fun place to be. There are a lot of literary highlights of Tartu, related both to Estonian and to international writers; a great art gallery in a particularly interesting leaning building, and visitors can also explore parts of the University of Tartu – including my favourite part, the Student Lock-Up, where in times past students were “imprisoned” for such crimes as not returning their library books on time!
Pärnu is the “summer capital” of Estonia, a small town on the south-west coast with lots of sandy beaches and a full calendar of summer attractions. These include numerous music festivals, a medieval arts and crafts festival, various concerts and fun fairs near the beach.
The Estonian capital of Tallinn is a relatively recent find, a city that was pretty much hidden from our travelling radar during the years of the Soviet Union. But when the Cold War ended it certainly sprang to life very quickly and became a hit with tourists, for many reasons – it’s an attractive city with lovely architecture, there are both interesting and unusual things to do. We’ve collated our tops tips into a Tallinn guide to help you plan you visit. Tallin is featured in our best European cities to visit post.
It’s Tallinn Week on Europe a la Carte from 27 June to 3 July 2011. This month it’s the Estonian capital of Tallinn in the spotlight. You’ll find lots of ideas for things to do in Tallinn on Europe a la Carte. My husband Demetrius visited Tallinn on a city break in March 2011, staying at the 4 star Barons Hotel in the Old Town.
Gate in Tallinn’s Old Town
On the Europe a la Carte Blog
Please leave a comment below with your recommendations for what to do in Tallinn.
On the Europe a la Carte facebook page
If you click “Like” on the Europe a la Carte facebook page, you can post a post a link to your favourite blog post, photo or video about Tallinn. I’ll “like” the links to the most interesting Tallinn posts.
We visited the Estonian Open Air Museum, one of my “Ten Things to Do in Tallinn” when we were in the city in March 2011, staying at the Barons Hotel in the old town. From the hotel, it was a 15 minute walk mostly through the old town to the main train station, where we caught bus no21 (1.6 Euro each way). The bus journey lasted 20 minutes and we were dropped off at the entry point. The bus does a circular journey, meaning you pick it up at the same spot.
Estonia Open Air Museum map
The Open Air Museum entry ticket costs 3 euro. There are excellent directions and the good path takes you through mixed woodland and past typically Estonian houses from bygone ages, which were brought here from all over the country and reconstructed on site.
Typical Estonian countryside building re-erected at the museum
There are also other types of traditional buildings like barns, fishermen’s net storage huts, saunas and several unusual windmills all through the Park.
Stone construction Estonian building
The Park is on Kopli Bay, meaning you also get great sea views and there are good picnic spots.
Classic Estonia type windmill at the museum
You can also go around the Park on a (very friendly) horse buggy, driven by a member of staff dressed in traditional clothing. On the day we visited there was snow and the buggy was on skis.
Friendly horses taking visitors on trips through open air the museum on their break
The Park is a good size and walking shoes are recommended.
Most buildings were padlocked, but there was one where a lady in traditional dress was baking some type of scones and you could visit the interior. This house was from the early 1900s and the interior decor looked somewhat Victorian.
Interior of typical 1930′s house at the museum
Unfortunately we weren’t offered any scones, although to be fair it wasn’t clear if they were ready at that time.
Model dwelling exterior
There is also a charming little gift shop near the area you buy the tickets.
Souvenir dolls at the museum
There are several toilets throughout the Park and although it’s fenced off, it is also patrolled by private security.
Another Estonia-style windmill at the museum
This is a very straightforward and pleasant day trip from Tallinn that won’t require early/late journeys as the Park’s nearby, or break the bank.The bus journey to the Estonian Open Air Museum also goes through some interesting Estonian-style modern housing estates.
We visited the Kumu Art Museum in Tallinn, part of the Art Museum of Estonia, when we visited Estonia in March 2011, staying at the Barons Hotel in the Old Town. The museum is one of our recommended “Ten Things to Do in Tallinn“. This fascinating modern building is best reached by a 40 minute walk from the Old Town which takes you through charming Kadriorg (Catherine’s Valley) Park, where the magnificent palace and art museum can also be seen and/or visited.
Kumu Art Museum exterior
The Kumu Art Museum is an unashamedly huge 5-year old ultra-modern building, which fills its vast spaces with a unique mixture of pure Estonian art from various stages in its history and currently-themed temporary exhibitions.
Tallinn Art Museum posters from various exhibitions
We initially experienced the ‘For Love Not Money’ 15th Tallinn Print Triennial, featuring artistic takes on issues like family, politics, religion, fetishes, sex, yearning and dependency.
This exhibition was over two floors, the 2nd and 5th, and a good mix of artists was represented. Keeping in with the Estonian/Russian/Baltic themes, one of the exhibits featured a woman’s memories through 80 years of political change in the form of a cartoon character looking at a life-long collection of cards, while another featured allegories through sexual life, experiences and birth. Print shape co-mingling with context was explored in several, most unexpected, forms.
Sculptures amongst paintings at Kumu art Museum
The ‘Difficult choices’ permanent exhibition of Estonian Art from 1945-1991, covering the Soviet occupation era, struck several chords and familiar faces like the Russian Marxist revolutionary, economic theorist, political philosopher, author and lawyer Vladimir Ilyich Lenin as well as the head of the Politburo Stalin were amongst Estonian notables in the form of either a painting or bust.
The oppression of Estonians and their agony and spirit of fight and despair comes through clearly in these artistic representations, some of the most vivid and disturbing of the paintigs being life-size. As there was little/no influence from the West during this era, some of the works also rerpresented most unusual departures.
Some of the busts in a discrete area containing over 100
The Treasury permanent exhibition covered earlier Estonian art, approximately 18th century to 1945, and it was fascinating to note the similarities, influences and differences between it and styles predominating in the West during the same time period.
Exhibits with local character at the Kumu
‘The Colours of Light’ exhibition on the 3rd floor examined the functions of these elements as classic forms of expression in painting, as well as interpretations by Estonian artists during the pre-WW2 period.
Modern sculptures at the Kumu
The 5.5 Euro charge covered cloakroom facilities.
Some of the posters exhibited at the Kumu
A charming modern little cafe at the 1st floor by the auditorium, with lovely views over the grounds and Kadriorg Park, completed the rich experience.
Model of the Kumu Art Museum and its grounds
In my opinion, the Kumu Art Museum is a ‘must see‘ Tallinn museum during a visit to the city. I’d recommend that you leave at least 3 hours in order to take in the experience.
Summary: A characterful, great value hotel right in the heart of the Tallinn Old Town.
We stayed at the restored 4 star Barons Hotel in Tallinn Old Town for five nights in March 2011. Karen found the best rate through the HotelsCombined price comparison site on the Thomas Cook site for £67.40 per night for a twin room for 2 guests (as Thomas Cook had a £30 off bookings over £300 at that time). The price included buffet breakfast, afternoon coffee with pastries, buffet dinner and free wifi.
It was easy to reach the hotel from the airport (5 kms distance), or by bus followed by a five minute walk. The lobby and public areas were beautifully presented and the staff courteous and helpful. There are several interesting spaces in the hotel, like a cigar and cognac room reached by spiral staircase. The hotel and rooms were immaculately clean, beautifully and tastefully lit and decorated. There was free wireless internet in the lobby.
Cigar room Barons hotel, Tallinn
Our room was clean and nice and warm, considering the -2C temperature outside. There was adequate storage space, two desks and a mini-bar fridge. Ample hangers, soap and shampoo were provided, some nice touches (eg slippers and bathrobes) were present and the room’s own wireless access internet point was great. No password was needed, so traffic might have not been encrypted. The room was small (but high ceilinged), just adequate for 2 adults. The twin bed mattresses were somewhat on the soft side. There was a little outside noise and you could also hear some noise from the rooms next door as well as water running. The curtains did shut most of the outside light away.
The buffet-type food was included in the price of the room on a half-board basis. It was served in a very cosy restaurant on the 2nd floor with views of old city buildings all round and unique glass partitions with frost-effect figures.
View from Barons Hotel Restaurant
The breakfast was wonderful for choice, care and quality.
The dinner was variable, with a choice of at least two main courses and free drinking water was provided. The breakfast hours (7-11am weekdays, 8-11am Sundays) were fine but dinner hours (6-8pm except Thursdays, 7-9pm) were restrictive. On one of the days we were offered an a la carte menu, both for breakfast and dinner, which was fine. In addition, there were speciality teas, coffee and cake included for guests 1-4pm in the lobby.
Afternoon coffee in the lobby at Barons Hotel Tallinn
Our stay was over 5 nights, during which we felt that the hotel occupied a very central position, ideal for the old and new city, port, art museums and galleries, shopping, bars and restaurants as well as buses and trains all within walking distance. These and the generally very polite staff, coupled with the reasonable prices made us feel we had obtained excellent value for money. I’d recommend the Barons Hotel for a short stay in Tallinn.
Click here to check out availability and prices at the Barons Hotels for your trip to Tallinn.
Here are ten tips for things to do in Tallinn, based on our five day visit to the Estonian capital at the end of March 2011. We stayed at the Barons Hotel in the Old Town which I’d recommend it for its central location, the value for money half board option and free wifi.
And then another, possibly a third and fourth. So, it may be worth splitting it in quadrants if you have the time. The point is that the Old Town of Tallinn, which is very much a living, breathing entity for locals and not just preserved for tourists, is both very beautiful and fascinating. It features an excellent mix of churches, palatial houses, sprawling parks with gardens and green areas plus well-preserved walls and towers, covering an historic period of several hundreds of years. It is also a great cultural and night life hub, with locals and visitors making full use of its charming and eclectic mix of eating and drinking establishments.
Tallinn Old Town Gate
Visit Kardriog Park and the Kumu Art Museum
We walked past the beautiful Kardriog Palace Museum on our way to the Kumu Art Museum.
Kardriog Palace and Museum
We spent four great hours going in the Kumu Art Museum with its fascinating mix of old, modern and traditional.
Exterior of Kumu Art Museum of Tallinn
Visit the Estonian Open Air Museum
Located at Kopli Bay, traditional buildings from all around Estonia have been lovingly reconstructed within a lovely natural setting at this open air museum.
Estonian Open Air Museum at Kopli Bay
Do some Tasting at the Beer House
Go for a selection of house-brewed beers and excellent food to the German-style Beer House and microbrewery of Tallinn’s Old Town.
Particularly amazing in the winter as you effortlessly and majestically cut through the ice. Helsinki is famous for beautiful, open spaces, museums and a great music scene. The journey takes around two hours each way and cost 42 Euro return (in March 2011) departing Tallinn at 07.30 and arriving back in the evening.
Ferry in Tallinn
Visit the Viru Keskus shopping complex, the easiest modern building in town to find as it’s the tallest. There the shopping experience is unrivalled, with 5 floors of different types of quality goods sold by independent retailers. There are also several other shopping complexes, both in and out of town.
A modern shopping centre interior in Tallinn
Visit Olevieste (St Olaf’s) Church
It has the tallest/thinnest one spire the Old Town. Take in panoramic views of Tallinn from the top. Public concerts sometimes take place here, particularly before Lent and Christmas.
Tallinn skyline with St Olaf’s Church having the highest spire
There was at least one ice rink in the old town near Olevieste Church, with an entry fee of 5 euro per hour for adults plus a small fee for shoes hire. For those that cannot ice skate, helper frames are provided, so everyone can have fun. Great for families too, as many locals bring their kids here at the weekend.
There is a step-wise ascent about 1km to the left of the ferry port, at what seems to be some type of abandoned grand public concrete park – it’s difficult to miss. The views from here are amazing particularly in the winter, when you can see the Tallinn-Helsinki ferries slicing effortlessly through the ice.
Tallinn edifice, ascent to viewing platform with ferry port to the right
Get Connected to the Free Wifi at Tallinn Airport
Tallin Airport offers travellers free wifi, so you can pass the time waiting for your flight online, without spending a cent. If only all other airports would offer this free service.
We’re looking for tips for things to do in Tallin, the capital of Estonia and 2011 European Capital of Culture. My husband Demetrius and our son Simon will be taking a trip to Tallin at the end of March 2011. To help them get the most from their city break, I requested readers’ recommendations for must-see Tallinn attractions and day trips.
Mishi Dulwich Morath – Without a doubt the Occupations Museum. And there’s a small bar called Depeche Mode….dedicated to the old band of the same name!
Melodie – I was in Tallinn only for 2 days so I spent them walking around the old town, having coffee here and there. But I spent about 6 days in Helsinki, just 2 hours away by ferry from Tallinn. That might be an idea for a day-trip.
Nat - I live in Tallinn and I love this city!! I would suggest you going on the 24th floor of Radisson Blue Hotel, an awesome view on town from there. Then, not really sure if it’s gonna be open for visitors by the end of March, but you could also climb the tower of Oleviste church. Terrific!! Some other places: Open Air Museum (Vabaohumuuseum), a walk along Pirita promenade, Kalev SPA (swimming pool & saunas – love it!!), Keila-joa and Jagala waterfalls are on the outskirts of Tallinn. Beer House and Olde Hansa are definitely the best places to eat.
Kaspar - I suggest to check out the European Capital of Culture Tallinn 2011 event calendar first. Link: http://www.tallinn2011.ee/eng I also suggest to go outside the walls of old town. Yes, old town is really amazing as most tourist traps are in the world, but that is just one part of Tallinn. Rent a car and make a trip around whole Tallinn and pay a visit also to Tartu or Pärnu. Estonia is a small country and every corner of the country is only few hours drive. There are many different manors (link: http://www.mois.ee/english/) and castles. Near Kohtla-Järve, there is a oil-shale museum (link: http://www.kaevanduspark.ee/eng/index.htm), 2here people are taken undergorund into the mines and can try oil-shale mining with their own hands. Saaremaa and Hiiumaa are two largest islands, and it is also worth to take a little ferry trip over there. Traffic is mostly calm (except rush-hours in Tallinn maybe) and all car rentals offer cars with gps devices. But when you are certain not to leave from Tallinn, then it will be worth to visit kiek in the Kök (link: http://linnamuuseum.ee/kok/en/) where you can find time train and underground passages. You can find everything from here: http://www.tourism.tallinn.ee/
Taavi - I also live in Tallinn. I will recommend also platforms in Toompea Hill (Kohtuotsa and Patkuli) where is also a cool view. In Old Town Square is a funky little cafe called Kehrwieder ( link: http://www.kohvik.ee/). Hope You will have lot of fun in Tallinn :)
My husband Demetrius and our son Simon are are off to Tallinn, the Estonian capital, for 5 nights at the end of March 2011. We found flights with Ryanair from Edinburgh for only £23 per person return (hand luggage only and payment by Mastercard prepaid debit card to avoid the £5 per person per flight admin fee). As the family travel expert, I was charged with finding a hotel for their Tallinn trip.
A budget of £70 a night for either one twin room or 2 single rooms (in order to keep the cost per person to under £200 including flights for the 5 nights).
I started off searching for hotels in Tallinn on the HotelsCombined price comparison site. It quickly became apparent that single rooms cost almost the same as twin rooms. Most hotels offered free wifi.
I was attracted by the 4* Hotel Barons at £67.40 per night for a twin room, which included buffet breakfast, afternoon coffee with pastries and buffet dinner, free wifi and wired internet, scoring an average guest rating of 80%. We find that going for the half board option makes it easier to stick to your budget when travelling.
Exterior of Hotel Barons, Estonia
After I spotted that Thomas Cook had a £30 off code (TCSAVE30) for hotel bookings of £300+, reducing the price of a twin room at the Hotel Barons for 5 nights from £337 to £307 i.e. £61.40 a night per room, we decided to book there. (No dates were given on the Thomas Cook site for expiry of offer).
With return Ryanair flights from Edinburgh to Tallinn at £23 and half board in a 4 star hotel at £154, the total cost per person is £177.
However if you’re looking for a budget Tallinn trip. you can find some B&B deals at 3 star hotels from around £25 a night for a double or twin room.
Last week I highlighted one of the two European Culture Capitals, Turku, who is throwing a blow-out bash next year. Most years there are at least two culture capitals, and this year’s other capital of culture is the charming little town of Tallinn.
But those things are there anytime. What can you expect for the European City of Culture festivities? The official website suggest a few interesting things going on, including:
Stories of the Seashore: a forum where writers from all of Europe and globally can share stories
Rooftop Cinema: sounds great – bet the stars are beautiful at night up thr!
52 Surprises & Ideas: a weekly arts and cultural event
Maritime Days: a festival in July celebrating harbour culture
A few other things sound interesting – such as the “60 seconds of Solitude in Year Zero,” but unfortunately much of the content isn’t available in English so I can’t tell you more. But I can tell you that, European Capital of Culture or not, you’ll love it here.
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