Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea, and a three-hour ferry ride from Helsinki has become a tourist haven.
Although numerous wars were fought, Estonians somehow managed to keep the Old town in tact with its priceless typical buildings, the imposing cathedral and narrow streets.
These days, Estonia’s geographical location is cause for invasions of a different type. Millions of Finns come to buy alcoholic beverages and enjoy the restaurants of Tallinn, but hundreds of thousands of young, carefree, and hedonistic European youths are also visiting the city. The most developed and westernised of the three former Soviet Baltic States is now an EU member.
After liberating from Soviet rule more than a dozen years ago, there is practically no trace of communism. Within minutes of landing at the ferry terminal, you can reach the main square Raekoja Plats into which all the cobblestone streets of the Old Town lead.
Old buildings have been tastefully converted to galleries, boutiques offering the latest European fashions, antique shops, restaurants and bars.
Sidewalk cafes do a roaring trade in cappuccinos and pastries. Aromas of fine fish specialties waft from second floor restaurants. Here you eat the best and freshest seafood, including Caspian Sea caviar, or enjoy a slice of pizza and fine Czech beer.
Tallinn, is the most perfectly preserved 14th century fortified town built around the Toompea Hill (towns in those days were all fortified for better protection from marauding hordes of Central Asian tribes). Tallinn is a post-card medieval fairyland with red-tiled roofs, seagulls swirling between church spires, and cathedrals.
The Town Hall dates back to 1429 and is still being used. City walls still sport 19 towers that served as sentries to alert citizens from approaching enemies. Tallinn is pretty much a walk-in museum displaying how cities were laid out, the architecture of the time, and how people lived.
The baroque Toompea Castle on the hill rebuilt in 1700 on orders of Catherine the Great, the Russian tsarina, houses the Estonian Parliament.
Over the centuries many races came through Estonia and thousands liked the place so much that they stayed here, marrying locals. You can see the results of this centuries old exotic blood in the cafes and bars awash with Baltic beauties, impossibly tall blonds with sky-blue eyes, and high cheek bones, clad in latest Parisian fashions.
Now British-, Irish pubs, and American-style bars compete for the attention of young Estonians, Finns, Poles, Russians and other western tourists.
The Russian orthodox Alexander Nevski Cathedral, built in 19th century, is an absolute must for every tourist, as is the 13th century Gothic Church just south of the Raekoja Plats famous for its organ recitals and collection of medieval art.
Kadriorg Palace, commissioned by Peter the Great for Catherine in 1721 is located in the eponymous park and deserves the attention of every tourist interested in history. The old town would require at least 4-5 hours to explore during the day. After dark the young go out to enjoy themselves, meet friends, and try to make friends with like-minded tourists in clubs (Hollywood or Venus). Café VS and Scotland Yard are two establishments catering to the cocktail and “in” crowd. Those who want to be seen and to see frequent them.
If you want to eat well, Tallinn offers many opportunities. For traditional food, Old Hansa Restaurant is recommended, Egoist and Gloria cater to the “nouveau riche” and glitterati, but Estonian food, much less expensive, can be savoured in Vaneama Juures
unlike any other Baltic capital has a flair and quietly sophisticated look about it.
The city exudes class, history, solid architecture and a rich past which no doubt will return in a few years.
Take advantage of reasonable prices charged for all tourist amenities now.
If you go: Lufthansa operates daily non-stop flights from Toronto to Frankfurt am Main with convenient connections to Tallinn.
You can also fly Finnair from Toronto to Helsinki and then take the ferry.
Accommodation: Domina City in downtown offers all the amenities.