by Christopher Beanland, The Telegraph, October 28, 2019
The newest series of the TV spy show Berlin Station depicts Russia’s “little green men” of the Spetsnaz taking Tallinn by force. It’s a far-fetched fantasy perhaps (for now, at least) but it does illuminate tiny Tallinn’s precarious position – historically caught between the Russian Empire, its Nordic neighbours, Hanseatic Germany and, more recently, Western Europe. It’s the mix of all these influences, coupled with a particular Estonian esprit de corps that gives Tallinn such a vibrancy.
Now is a great time to go. Tallinn’s waterfront is developing at a frenetic pace. Here, the new Kai Art Centre (1) (kai.center) is the city’s biggest cultural talking point of 2019. The gallery and cinema opened in September in a former submarine works which still has No Smoking signs written in Russian painted on its walls.
Tech company HQs, free Wi-Fi everywhere, and a commitment to public transport – which is free for citizens but not, sadly, for tourists – make Tallinn seem almost futuristic; but its Old Town retains its traditional medieval charm. The Town Hall Square (2) hosts the Christmas market from Nov 15.
Air Baltic has a new flight four times per week from London Gatwick to Tallinn (airbaltic.com).
The Radisson Blu Sky (3) offers clean, minimal, modern charm within easy reach of all of Tallinn’s attractions, plus panoramic Old Town views from its open air rooftop bar; doubles from €95/£85 (telegraph.co.uk/tt-tallinn/radisson-blu). Boutique hotel Telegraaf (4) sits in Tallinn’s former Post Office and Telephone Exchange and is slap in the centre of Old Town; doubles from €140/£124 (telegraph.co.uk/tt-tallinn-telegraaf).
Begin at Viru (5), the central roundabout where the looming Hotel Viru was completed in 1972 and housed the KGB (and their many bugs). There’s a museum dedicated to that story inside. Cross into Old Town and stroll along Viru Street through the pretty Flower Market (6). At the end of the street is Town Hall Square, surrounded on all sides by impressive Hanseatic architecture. From here, make your way to St Mary’s Cathedral – aka the Toomkirik (7).
Pomp oozes from every pore of the Kadriorg Palace (8), built by Peter the Great and designed by architect Nicola Michetti – featuring ceiling frescoes, fountains and lavish formal gardens. The palace today serves as the Kadrioru Museum of Art (kadriorumuuseum.ekm.ee/en), featuring Old Masters from the Netherlands and almost 500 Russian works. In the gardens you can find Kumu (kumu.ee), which houses the Estonian art collection.
Just along the waterfront from the new Kai gallery, handsome 1916 hangars for some of the world’s first seaplanes have been turned into the Lennusadam Sea Plane Harbour Museum (9) (meremuuseum.ee/lennusadam). Inside, the flimsy-looking aircraft come alive under disco-style lighting. Outside, there are ships you can explore.
Telliskivi is the former industrial quarter behind the main train station Balti Jaam (10) which is now home to tech companies, restaurants, bars and a slew of independent boutique shops (telliskivi.cc/en/indie-shops) like Jooks’ Bicycles, World Clinic Records, Kelpman Textiles, and Juheko Lamps – handmade in Tallinn. A new Radisson Red Hotel is coming soon to Telliskivi.
Vaba Lava (11) (vabalava.ee) is a bar and culture centre in Telliskivi and one of the main venues for Tallinn Music Week, the city’s music festival which returns in March 2020 (tmw.ee). Another good Telliskivi hang out is Pudel (00 372 5866 4496). The drinkers might not be English but ironically the owner is – and was one of the first to bring the craft beer movement to Tallinn.
Lore Bistroo (12) is Tallinn’s most talked about new restaurant opening. Janno Lepik and Kristjan Peaske, who specialise in Nordic fish dishes, have moved from Umami, a restaurant in a suburban house which closed at the end of September. Their latest restaurant, Lore opened in the hip Kalamaja district on Oct 9 and serves sharing plates of modern Estonian cuisine, with plenty of veggie options (lorebistroo.ee).
Off the map
Head east from the city centre on a voyage of discovery. You’ll pass the huge Song Festival Grounds where every five years thousands belt out stirring folk compositions which reinforce the sense of Estonian nationhood. But Soviet ghosts lurk around corners. The discarded statues of Marx and Lenin, which once stood around Tallinn and were unceremoniously removed with the fall of Communism, have just been exhibited again in the garden at the back of the new History Museum (ajaloomuuseum.ee) at Maarjamae Palace, which tells the nation’s story.
Next door are the imposing concrete monoliths of the Soviet War Memorial. Travel a little further and you’ll reach the USSR-era TV Tower (teletorn.ee/en). On a clear day the view from the top stretches all the way to Helsinki.
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