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Everything we love in Tallinn
Explore the city by district:
When you first walk into Tallinn you’ll notice something unmistakeably Disney about the town – its medieval spires glinting in the sun, the charming narrow streets and the perfectly preserved merchant’s houses – all of them overlooked by the stern towers of an ancient fortified hill. The impression is reinforced by the throngs of tourists walking the streets, the handicraft shops, and the polite young students kitted up in medieval clothing who will accost you with inducements to join a Hanseatic feast in one of Tallinn’s many themed restaurants.
But Tallinn is never as it first appears. While there is a thriving tourist industry in the centre, where foreign visitors are drawn like bees to honey by the bizarrely picturesque atmosphere, the city also hides many other worlds. Outside the Old Town there is a small modern metropolis – the Soviet and post-Soviet sprawl where most Estonians live and work (although many commute into tourist-land for their day jobs, along with shoppers and diners). But far from being a frozen museum-piece, the Old Town is host to some of the city’s best nightlife and restaurants, shops and galleries. And there is also plenty going on outside the ancient walls, from the modern city centre – more active and vibrant with every year as business grows and new shops and services open – to the trendy port area. This was once an industrial wasteland, but today is home to some of Tallinn’s choicest
nightspots. More leafy and serene, Kadriorg Park lies a few minutes’ drive outside the bustle of Tallinn’s centre and hides some of summertime’s best jewels: a beautiful park, gorgeous museums and a forest right next to the ocean. Further along the coast and you’re in Pirita, Tallinn’s marina and beach.
Like its Baltic neighbour, Riga, Tallinn has garnered a reputation for legendary nightlife, full of racy clubs and beautiful, willing women. The truth is a little different, although not always far off. Rather than cater uniquely to the fantasies of drunken sex tourists, Tallinn has the beginnings of a truly sophisticated night-time scene, from its excellent restaurants and cafés to bars and nightclubs that would hold their own in London or Paris. There is a wonderfully disorganized element to the development of the city’s entertainment, with themed restaurants ranging from Italian and Georgian to Russian, Indian and Thai, and inventive bars and cafés which will strike any pose to stand out from the crowd. The vast majority of these ‘ethnic’ businesses are owned and staffed by Estonians, proving that Tallinn has gladly embraced the role of themed town – except that no one seems sure what that theme should be. Expect waitresses costumed in medieval dress rubbing shoulders with Sikh-style doormen, and sushi bars next to Irish pubs.
Finally, it is worth remembering that this small city of 400,000 people crammed next to the Baltic Sea is long used to visitors: from the foreign armies that crossed its borders for 2,000 years to the legions of Finns that flood over every weekend from Helsinki, less than two hours away on the ferry. As a result Estonians are open-minded, curious and welcoming to guests – and tolerant of their excesses – and it’s worth getting to know a few as you pass through.
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