Tallinn city guide

Tallinn is the capital of the smallest Baltic country. But its tiny size does not stop Estonia from being one of the most technologically advanced European nations. I remember that when they announced their countrywide free Wi-Fi I was still struggling on my overpriced dial-up back then. The journey that Estonia went through is astonishing. They declared independence from the USSR in 1991, and now they’re nicknamed the European Silicon Valley. This country is not only small in terms of territory, its population has always been frighteningly low reaching 1.3 million in 2018, with only 400,000 living in Tallinn, compared to almost 9 million living in London alone. They didn’t have people to fill positions in banks, post offices etc. So they needed people to service themselves, automatize. This is ingenious: you don’t have enough people to work in banks? That’s fine: you just need more ATMs. Insurance, taxes, ordering food online, Estonia pioneered solving problems via online services.

Cobbled streets in the Medieval Old Town of Tallinn

Cobbled streets, Medieval architecture and gourmet restaurants: Tallinn's Old Town will charm every visitor

All this “digi” stuff makes you think, does the “E” in e-commerce stand for electronic or Estonia? It was even the first country in the world where the people could vote completely electronically in nationwide elections. Marriage, fortunately, or not, is still one of the few things you cannot do online. Funny enough the reason why Estonia has become so advanced in IT business is a pleasant heritage of the Soviet Union because the best engineers of all regions within the USSR were traditionally planted for work and research in Estonia. If you want to learn more about Estonia’s great track record in the digital era it is highly recommended when in Tallinn to pay a visit to e-Estonia Showroom. By very entertaining and interactive presentations visitors will be briefed about all the digital achievements and developments ahead. This country isn’t all circuits and motherboards either; it boasts one of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe with its nature, medieval ruins and tiny villages frozen in time. Over 20% of the land within the borders is protected from human interference, and around 50% is comprised of bogs, marshes, and forests. There are also lakes near the eastern border with Russia. And on top it all: a giant coastline with cliffs and 1500 islands, large and small ones. So plenty of room for sailing, lazy days at the beach, or bird watching if you happen to be into that kind of things.

All that talk about technological advancement must paint a futuristic picture of Tallinn with holographic images and digital billboards the size of skyscrapers. That couldn’t be further from the truth, Estonian capital is a stunning, medieval town, cobblestone streets with a UNESCO World Heritage Old Town Square. Some even say that it’s the prettiest among the Baltic countries. Everything is within a walking distance. The airport is 3 km away from the Old Town, so not much money to spend on taxis. If you are a light traveller and do not have a lot of luggage you could almost take a walk from the airport and take the sights in. There are numerous towers and vistas that you can climb to get a better view of Vanalinn (The Old Town), such as the Town Hall tower. St. Olaf’s Church is nearby, built in the 12th century and it was supposedly the tallest building in the world back then, though I admit I’m having trouble figuring out how they contacted the other tall buildings to compare the numbers. Pigeon mail, I suppose.

Beautiful view from Toompea in Tallinn

Several spots on Toompea Hill offer wonderful views of the Old Town

The City Museum is also a cool place to visit if you’re interested in Tallinn’s history. The nearby Toompea is a legendary site, connected to Estonia’s mythology. The entire hill is said to be a burial mound of Kalev: the country’s heroic founder. The Gate Tower that leads uphill is supposedly the most hunted building in the city; numerous encounters of ghostly figures have been reported throughout the years. Try to visit at least one of the saunas, they’re immensely popular in the region, almost every hotel has one. Also, make sure you grab the Tallinn Tourist Pass, a 72h one costs €58 and covers everything from public transportation to free entrance to over 40 museums and attractions. There are even benefits like free coffee here and there. You’ll get a map with all the good stuff marked on it, it’s a real bargain considering that some of the museums can cost upwards from €10 per visit.

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