I first landed in Tallinn in late June at about 10:30pm after 20+ hours of travel and 30+ hours without sleep. Being so far north, the warm sun was still shining bright in the sky. With a mix of excitement and exhaustion, I exited the airport and got on the tram, which was conveniently located right outside the doors. I looked around me and noticed that I was the only one on board that did not have bond hair. Four stops later, I got off and headed for my hostel. The road was fairly quiet and lined with trees. Everything around me looked fresh and green.
After a much needed night’s sleep, I dedicated my next two days to exploring the city and seeing all it had to offer. Here are some of the highlights of that (filtered through my own arbitrary perspective, of course).
Medieval Meets Modern
While this is a pretty common balance most European cities aim for, Tallinn has mastered it. As I first walked down to the old town, I was surprised by how many tech centers and pristine modern buildings were all around, lining the streets. Likewise, all the facilities in which I stayed were in great condition. Wifi was very fast, things were clean, and nearly every product could be found in shops. But then when I entered the old town, it felt a little bit like I was walking back in time (well, except for the two modern horrors of McDonald’s and tourists with selfie sticks).
Very Walkable/Not Crowded
Tallinn has all the charm and beauty of the classic European cities There are historic sites, a medieval old town and castle, green parks, and a rich cultural history. There’s just one thing it doesn’t have: crowds of people. Estonia as a country only has only 1.3 million people, and Tallinn only has 400,000. And despite being named Europe’s cultural capital just a few years ago, large scale tourism hasn’t quite caught on yet. or me, this made the experience much better and significantly more pleasant. There were few crowds to dodge, small lines at bars, and open seats on public transportation. Plus I didn’t have to wake up early to take awesome shots of the old town.
Tons of Green Space
While there are some things I do admire about cities, such as architecture, culture, and collective artistic expressions, I have always preferred nature to urban slabs of concrete. Therefore I really like it when a city has ample green space. Tallinn happened to be such a city. Parks, green squares, and trees can be found just as much, or even more than pavement and buildings, and never once does it feel like the city is trying to conquer or dominate the land (in the way monstrosities like Manhattan and east Asian mega cities do). Instead, the structures and natural world seem to grow together and complement one another in Tallinn. Never are you overwhelmed by pollution or smog, and its never hard to find a place of solitude or silence.
Amazing Old Town
So I may have found a new favorite European old town center. Tallinn’s was so cool and fascinating that it overshadowed all others I can remember. It may not be the biggest, nor the most famous, but it’s substance is second to none. Everything from the ancient stone gate entrance to the large open square in the city center to the the spiderweb of narrow winding streets that are scattered about. Buildings have been kept looking in old traditional styles, and some places even tried to recreate old style eateries and breweries. Unfortunately though, there were still some tour groups with selfie sticks (the horror) and one McDonald’s (again, the horror), but these were far less than pretty much any other such city. Plus many of the overlooking views and lookout points offer incredible views of the city below. Case in point how much I enjoyed it: I decided to spend midnight on the solstice wandering about this area. It was absolutely time well spent.
Everybody is Blond
I first noticed this once I exited the airport after landing, and then had it reinforced everywhere I went. And I mean everyone. Tall blond people as far as the eye could see. I felt as if I was the only brown haired person in the entire country. Kind of strange to think that I, a white American of Polish descent could be the darkest one in sight, but here that was the case. Even Scandinavia had more hair color diversity.
Candied Nuts are Everywhere
So this I found to be pretty cool. All throughout the city (and especially in the old town), there were street vendors selling candied nuts everywhere. Apparently it was an old tradition started by monks (according to the story I was told) and the city decided to keep it as a tradition. Typically speaking, this would consist of several different kinds of almonds and peanuts, each sweetened in different flavors. Some were spiced in cinnamon, others in chocolate, and many in other things I couldn’t quite distinguish. Nonetheless, all the ones I tried tasted good, and I would definitely recommend getting some if you happen to go there. And as an added bonus, they weren’t expensive either.
Very Artistic City
Some people may say art is dead, but this is not true in Tallinn. From the architecture to the odd statues, to bizarre yet amazing murals, to eerie looking manikins at store fronts, Tallinn knows how to express itself artistically. And there’s not just one style either. In just a quick hour of wandering around, you’ll be able to see such a variety of creation, all intertwined with nature as well. Some places will seem extremely modern, while other classical, and many without any specific category. Likewise, even restaurants and cafes have creative flares as well, each trying to establish their own unique layout, music, and menus.