It is always a good idea to include new destinations in your city breaks and a wise move will be to travel with the destination’s carrier. My next 48-hour winter break is in Tallinn, Estonia. I have to confess that when I set out to experience a weekend in Tallinn, I was not sure of what to expect. I had made the right decision and was travelling by Estonian Air. This is my first time travelling with the airline and my very first visit to Tallinn which is situated on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, in north-western Estonia.
I knew it would be different, first it was very cold and it was snowing. I had expected this but I wanted to put a little spice into my travels. I had also read somewhere that making friends in Tallinn is not easy so I was ready for many “cold shoulders” too. On the contrary, Tallinn friendliness started on board the aircraft, where a very curious Estonian proudly offered me some tips on how to enjoy Tallinn, obviously she was intrigued to find that an African-European had chosen to visit her country for a weekend break in mid-winter! Upon arrival, my chauffeur was also very chatty and friendly. My Chauffeur was so knowledgeable about his city that I learned a lot before I went to bed that Friday evening. If anything at all, he assured me that despite that bitter cold night and white snow, it was not possible to ski in Tallinn and the appearance of snow on my arrival was rare. I was beginning to think that the ‘weather-gods’ were warned that I was in town! The warmth continued till the morning from the hotel staff through to my guide even though I was of a race and colour they were not used to seeing. Very re-assuring.
Travelling to Tallinn
Estonian Air was established in December 1991, shortly after the country gained independence. It flies six times a week to Tallinn. It flies direct non-stop flights between London Gatwick and Tallinn in a three class service; Travel class, Flexible Economy and Premium Business Class. As a member of the EuroBonus Loyalty program, it offers frequent flyer programs on all its flights.
It is important to note however that, even though the airline is not a budget carrier in-flight catering is sold to passengers in the economy class and offered complimentary to passengers travelling in business and flexible economy.
All flights from London go into Tallinn airport which is about four kilometres from Raekoja plats (Town Hall square); there is a local bus connection between the airport and the edge of the city centre (bus no. 2). The nearest railway station Ülemiste is only 1.5 km from airport. The terminal building is a small but modern, convenient and clean.
Where to stay:
Tallinn has a lot of accommodation choices – from budget to the best, there is a wide selection of
hotels, guesthouses, hostels, apartments, bed and breakfasts and camping solutions. Most hotels accept major credit and debit cards. Rates are usually quoted per room and not per person and include breakfast and tax.
I stayed at the Schlossle Hotel, in the medieval city centre which is otherwise known as Old Town. The hotel was very warm with log fires blazing in the lobby when I arrived.
One cannot fail to notice the plaque proudly displaying the names of royals, diplomats and celebrities who had stayed in this hotel as you climb up the stairs to your room. Every guest walks past this plaque. It raises your expectations and immediately makes you feel important.
I was a little disappointed though that despite the numerous services advertised on the room information list which included 24 hour room service, laundry and valet service, baby-sitting, Doctor on call, private sauna and massage service, among others, there wasn’t a maid ready-in-waiting to undress me and run me a warm bath – but hey! – What do you expect after all it was a hotel fit for kings and I was expecting a ‘kingly’ service! The hotel is ‘cute’ with 23 rooms and suites to offer. All rooms have deluxe furnishing and direct dial/ISDN-lines and phones, voice mail and modem/ fax connection, minibar, In-room safe, LCD television and DVD. My room was complimented with a luxury en-suite bathroom and floor heating, personal scale (as if I’d care to check my weight on a fancy weekend trip!), it was a non-allergic room with everything except for a non-slip bath mat!
Most importantly, everything in the room was clean and carefully laid and I slept like a log. Breakfast was in the hotel’s restaurant Stenhaus which has won many awards and has become famous in Tallinn for its intimate atmosphere of 13th century vaulted ceilings and the huge roaring log fireplace. Even before breakfast, I was looking forward to dining in its elegantly tapestry-decorated rooms, by candlelight and to enjoy the city’s best rated culinary choices. Traditional breakfast is laid out in a self-service manner but you can order some hot breakfast. I suppose that in Tallinn, Kings and Queens are familiar with self-service!
I was told that during the summer, you can enjoy the courtyard garden for lunch and dinner. Also, if you choose to send the whole boardroom there on a brainstorming weekend, the hotel’s Boardroom offers a unique setting for up to 40 persons.
It has conference and banquet facilities for up to 18 people; and provides Cocktail Receptions in the manner of a Baronial Manor House for up to 60 people. Apart from the efficient service, they also provide an overhead projector, screen, flipcharts, video recorder, slide projector, TV set and pin boards. Schlossle hotel is the destination of everyone famous from royals through to diplomats, famous musicians, celebrities and now of course, me! Will I make the grade and have my name placed on the plaque of famous names that had made into this hotel? I hope so – especially as I could not identify any African-European on the list.
How to discover and enjoy Tallinn
Tallinn is renowned for its history – both medieval and Soviet so whatever you do, you need to explore it. The best way to start your weekend visit is to get the 48-hour Tallinn card (http://www.tallinncard.ee). This is a card that gives you free admission to 40 museums and sights, free sightseeing tours, free use of public transport and discounts in shops and restaurants.
Tallinn has two sides to its coin, it is a medieval city with a modern twist and the contrast is remarkable.
The medieval city centre is the jewel in its crown. Influenced by the Baltic, German and Russians, the old town of Tallinn is a rare blend of northern European history, culture and architecture. I was particularly drawn to the tourist shops full of exquisite Fabergé eggs. It large Town-hall Square and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral are sheltered by ancient towers and sturdy wall dating back to the 14th century.
The streets are paved with winding cobblestones and lined with properties dating from the 11th to 15th century centuries. Tallinn’s Old Town is so well preserved that in 1997 UNESCO added it to its World Heritage list.
The Old Town, Lower Town
This is home to the Town Hall, the Town Hall Square, Town Hall Pharmacy and Medieval Churches.
Then there is the Latin Quarter home to monasteries, courtyards and passages, town wall, Towers, Gates and Guild Houses. This is where you can discover the Toompea Castle & Tall Hermann’s Tower, Cathedrals, Panoramic view of the city and the Danish Kings Garden.
Beyond the Old Town is St Bridget’s Convent and my favourite of all is one of Tallinn’s Soviet legacies the Alexander Nevesky Cathedral. This large, richly decorated Orthodox Church was founded in Tallinn in the late 19th century, at a time when tsarist Russia carried out an imperialist policy of Russification in the outskirts of its conquered territories. Its powerful impression can be witnessed from a distance and in the interior. The church tower contains Tallinn’s grandest church bell ensemble, among the largest bell, which weighs 15 tons
Places to eat
A good place to stopover for lunch is the Ribe Restaurant. The Ribe is a contemporary restaurant with delightful interiors and delicious food. It has rare foods on the menu including a variety of game. I was also impressed to discover that Ribe stocked up some Louis XIII.
For a traditional Estonian cuisine, you may want to visit the Kuldse Notsu Korts where you can enjoy an Estonian dish served by Estonian waiters and waitresses.
Other sites worth visiting are the KGB Headquarters, the museums, Open air attractions, the Tallinn zoo with some 350 species of over 5400 animals, and the botanical garden.
The large shopping malls are in the New Town and exclusive boutiques are located in the Old Town. Everything you need is available in Tallinn from designer labels to exclusive one-off items in the petite boutiques. Do not expect any bargains though – prices are about the same as any other part of Western Europe.
Nightlife in Tallinn
Tallinn is a very interesting city. During the day rich cultural tours are at their peak and then if you plan a formal dinner, the suggestion is that you make it early because dinner starts early between 6.30pm and 9.30pm, followed by pre-night out drinks before the night out activity. A weekend in Tallinn is full of buzz. Most of the nightlife activity goes on in the Old town. The bars, night clubs, pubs and wine bars are within walking distances of each other so instead of picking a specific spot; you can a have a nightlife medley by visiting several venues in one night.
Friday night is when all Tallinn gets lively. The night activity starts from 11pm to 3am. If you want a less crowded scene Thursday or Saturday will be a good idea. However, if you are visiting in summer, there is not much difference between the days. Bars and Pubs stay open until at least midnight and a pint of the local brew costs about 2-3 EUR. Expats and Foreign visitors stick to clubs such at the Havana, Molly Malone’s Nimega, Nimeta or O’Malleys; while the young and trendy favour the hip party scenes.
A quick scan of Tallinn revealed 13 nightclubs two of which are a gay clubs. The nightclubs do not open until 11pm and most people linger nearby pubs and bars until then. Some of the nightclubs like Club Privé and Club Hollywood have fully-serviced lounges to cater for the pre-nightclub traffic.
Other ways of enjoying Tallinn
If you do not prefer to dance your way into the night, you can enjoy some fine cuisine experience, by attending some of the cooking challenges, organised Estonian parties and evenings, spas and relaxation activities, continue with culture and entertainment or opt for adventure. The choice is endless.
Useful information – Visa Regulations
Nationals of EU and EEA member states do not require visa to enter Estonia
Dial 110 to call the police free of charge from any phone
Tallinn Tourist Information Centre
WIFI- There are more than 358 zone covered by Wi-Fi in Tallinn
Estonian Chamber of Commerce
Tallinn City Enterprise Board