TALLINN: Your guide to making the most of your stag weekend in the medieval city
Tallinn’s a stunning Eastern European city: capital of Estonia, looks across the Baltic to Helsinki and couldn’t be less affected by its ‘former Soviet’ status if it tried. Nothing here is dull, grey or oppressed. The Old Town is one of the loveliest in Europe (it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site), but the city has also perfected effortless cool – and they know how to party on the cobbled streets.
At a glance:
• Capital of Estonia and the country’s largest city
• Boasts a beautiful walled Medieval Old Town with UNESCO World Heritage Site Status
• Looks out across the Baltic Sea and has wilderness adventures on its doorstep
• Once named the European Capital of Culture, it also oozes contemporary cool
• An up-and-coming destination for young tourists in the know, it boasts vibrant nightlife and exciting clubs
Things to miss:
Tallinn might have held on to much of its prettiness and not sold its soul to cheap and cheerful, but it’s still an amazingly exciting, lively and good fun city to visit. It makes no claims about the weather, so it’s an all-year-round destination (you’ll have to wrap up warm in winter, but the Baltic Sea lapping at the shores was probably a clue there). It isn’t precious about its history, in fact the gorgeous Old Town is a fantastic place for a night out. And while there’s no doubt it’s looked after itself over the past 800 years, nothing feels stuffy or preserved or antiquated, totally the opposite. More than 30 per cent of Estonia’s entire population live in Tallinn and they like to play, party, eat, drink and throw caution to the wind occasionally just like the rest of us.
OLD TOWN – 800 years of history and still having fun with it
Quaint doesn’t even come close to describing Tallinn Old Town. Mostly medieval and still with almost all the original city wall intact, it’s a cliché to call it ‘fairy tale’, but call it that we must. The streets are narrow, twisty and cobbled. Spires and turrets dominate the skyline. Ancient churches and town halls and houses and monuments are everywhere, punctuated by broad town squares and beautiful little gardens. The colour scheme is pastel with hints of earth tones. And it’s all just impossibly pretty. But, as well as being the city’s biggest tourist draw, the Old Town’s where you’ll find most bars, cafés, restaurants and clubs clustered together and in no particular order.
CITY CENTRE – contemporary, cool and creative
Tallinn’s city centre is sometimes hard to distinguish from the Old Town because it’s not short of history. But mixed in with stunning churches, museums and monuments there’s a thoroughly new side of Tallinn too. Look to the Rotermann Quarter, where run-down factories and buildings revitalised as great shopping, cultural venues, restaurants, cafés and bars, show how seriously Tallinn takes the spirit of transformation.
Tallinn's best beer:
Beer House, Dunkri 5, Old Town
Estonia loves beer and doesn’t care who knows. Explore the country’s rich and drinkable history at the Beer House, hearty food and live music are all part of the experience.
Beer Garden, Inseneri 1, Old Town
Great range of traditional local beers, real pub atmosphere and right in the heart of the Old Town – gets down and parties later in the evening most nights.
St Patrick’s Pub 1, Suur-Karja 8, Old Town
There are several St Patrick’s Pubs in Tallinn (even one by the sea) but this beautifully restored Merchant’s House in the Old Town is best for authentic Estonian atmosphere, good beer and a change of pace from party.
Scotland Yard, Mere pst 6E, city centre
A gentleman’s club in every sense with deep, leather sofas and reading lamps, a cigar lounge and a piranha tank in one wall (of course). Local bands play at weekends.
Valli Bar, Müürivahe 14, Old Town
Big local favourite (some seats at the bar are reserved for regulars, so select with care). Great choice of beer and the house speciality is the ‘jelly shot’.
Kolmas Draakon, Raekoja plats 1, Old Town
If the Old Town isn’t Medieval enough for you, have some historic with your pint at Kolmas Draakon. Tankards are the norm here, the Elk Soup is excellent and it’s lit by candles, naturally.
Tallinn's best bars:
Chicago 1933, Aia 3, Old Town
With its circular bar and retro prohibition style décor this is a seductive place to start a cocktail night, lots of booths and little hidden away corners.
Ice Bar, Dunkri 4/6, Old Town
Freezing vodka shots in glasses made from ice served in icy-white surroundings - cool as...you get the picture. The bar is tiny but brilliant and if you want spread out you can move to the hotel lounge. merchantshousehotel.com
Rootsu Rannabaar, Haabnemee Beach
More New Hampshire than edge of the Baltic but it’s also one of the city’s best cocktail bars. The staff are masters in the art of mixing, the surroundings are lovely and there’s even a roof-terrace and beach for summer evenings.
Valuutabaar, Viru-Valjäk 4, city centre
Touch of Soviet-era Tallinn with your cocktails? The name translates as ‘hard currency’, the cocktails are amazing and the atmosphere is the opposite of oppression.
Nimeta, Suur-Karja 4, Old Town
Big tables, cheap cocktails and Old Town party vibe. This is the city’s other ‘pub with no name’, a bit less cool than its counterpart but all the better for it.
Labor, Suur-Karja 10, Old Town
Smoking cocktails, weird and wonderful concoctions, Labor is inspired by the mad scientist’s laboratory and its tube shots are the stuff of legend in Tallinn.
Shooters, Suur-Karja 4, Old Town
The only ‘shots’ bar in the Old Town and that’s fine. Drinks come in sets of five, so bring friends. The atmosphere’s wild and ‘weekendy’ all the time and singing and dancing are normal practice until the early hours.
Tallinn's best nightclubs:
Club Münt, Müürivahe 22, Old Town
Tiny club but always packed. The drinks are the cheapest in Tallinn and there are go-go dancers several nights a week.
Club Hollywood, Vana-Posti 8
Baroque Theatre setting and club of choice for the young, beautiful and wealthy of Tallinn. The dancefloor is always busy and the atmosphere is more debauched than debutante – Wednesdays are good for girls because entry’s free and drink prices reduced.
Arena 3, Sadama 6/8, city centre
Enormous, sprawling club with a constant crowd of wild, young clubbers. Loves a theme night and any old excuse to dress up. Good DJs and a summer roof terrace for chill-out.
Plub, Valli 1, Old Town
Only club in the city open seven nights so it’s popular. Sound mix is varied and different on different nights but the atmosphere is always good.
Vabank, Harju 13, city centre
Used to be a bank now it’s one of Tallinn’s most exclusive clubs. Pulls a big crowd but you can book ahead for VIP rooms, tables and even beds.
Food: Eat like a local:
Traditional Estonian food might take a bit of getting used to (eels, tongue, blood sausage), but there are hundreds and hundreds of restaurants in Tallinn so even if you don’t want to go too native you won’t starve.
U Natasi (Lai 49, Old Town) offers Russian home-cooking served in very smart surroundings. This is one of the places to ease yourself into some more traditional tastes – try the blinis or borscht.
Rataskeavu 16 (Rataskeavu 16, Old Town) is a little restaurant loved by locals and visitors. The food is fantastic and it’s very friendly and welcoming – there’s also a lovely, sheltered terrace in summer. Lido (Estonia pst 9, city centre) offers great views over the Opera House in the city centre and the best value buffet in Tallinn. The choice is huge and covers everything from soups and salads to pasta and pudding.
Paris in the 1930s Paris is the inspiration for C’est La Vie (Suur-Karja 5, Old Town), a sweet French café. Champagne and coffee are served upstairs and for food you want the Medieval cellar. The ultimate comfort food is a Kompressor (Rataskaevu 3, Old Town) speciality – light, fluffy, American style pancakes filled with just about anything you want. Perfect for the morning after the night before.
When to visit:
The weather never gets too hot in Tallinn, even in summer. But it’s pleasantly warm and sunny and there’s plenty going on. Winter is very, very cold but Estonia’s used to that and just wraps up warm and gets on with it – you should too because it’s a great time to visit.
Best view of the city:
For a panoramic perspective on the Old Town and the new, head for the east of Toompea Hill. There’s a viewing platform all year round and a café in summer.
Buses, trains and trams cover Tallinn easily. Pick up a smartcard from post offices or ticket kiosks and just top it up with cash to cover your transport – it calculates the cheapest fare on any journey and never charges more than 3€ a day.
Only use Tallinn Taxis in the city, all others hike up fares for visitors.
When in Tallinn...
Always tip and never less than 10 per cent of your bill. It’s a direct insult to give less than 5 Estonian Kroon and rude to only leave coins.
5 Useful phrases...
Hello = tere
How Are You? = kuidas läheb?
Goodbye = nägemiseni
Thank You = tänan
Cheers! = tervist!
Did you know?
Tallinn is the birthplace of the Christmas Tree. In 1441 a group of unmarried men put up a tree, decorated it and drank loads. By New Year most of them were betrothed and the Christmas Tree custom continued.