Get a taste for Tallinn
By Luke Chilton
As you wander through the twisting stone streets, don’t be surprised if you’re beckoned into a nearby pub by a pigtailed wench, tempting you with the promise of a gigantic pint of ale and a roast boar sandwich. That might seem cheesy, but the locals have embraced their Middle Ages origins with such enthusiasm that’s hard not to smile as you explore this tiny, toytown-like city. Besides, look more closely and you’ll see that the faux-historic atmosphere hides a modern and vibrant capital. Yes, there’s the Town Hall Square, with its traditional market and world’s oldest pharmacist (which houses the remains of an ancient mummy) but Tallinn also hosts some of the Europe’s best restaurants, shopping and hotels.
Grab a bite
For a start, Talin has more than its fair share of excellent restaurants, whatever your budget. You can feast on succulent fresh fish and rhubarb vodka in the sunny courtyard gardens of one of the newer, cheaper places, Leib. For something more upmarket, try Restaurant O, probably Tallinn’s classiest restaurants. With sleek black steel décor and long wooden tables, it’s been consistently voted as one of Estonia’s best restaurants and offers the best of Estonian classics like eel, goats cheese and white fish.
The Estoinans are famous for their ‘black bread’ a thick, dense nutty Rye served with butter at almost every meal. Other popular mainstays are locally sourced herring, black pudding and Sauerkraut stew. But no visit to Estonia would be complete without sampling their second greatest export (they’re also very proud of inventing Skype): Marzipan.
Estonians claim they invented marzipan in the 15th century as a cure for the common cold, and spent years gobbling tonnes of the stuff every winter, before eventually realising that their noses were still running and they were just getting very fat.
If you’re feeling artistic, you can even try your hand at making your own at the Kalev Marzipan Workshop. Here, under the careful eye of a trained marzipan expert, you can mold together almonds, sugar and flour to make a stodgy yellow ball. It doesn’t look like much, but after ten minutes of careful sculpting and painting with food dye I managed to make a serviceable goldfish. And even if my slightly dodgy-looking marzipan fish wasn’t quite as impressive as the beautiful, professionally-made dragons and unicorns in the shop downstairs, it was still a lot of fun trying.
The city has become something of a magnet for stag and hen weekends, so if you’re happy to dodge middle-aged drunken men dressed in mankinis, there’s a surplus of heaving bars and clubs along the winding streets in the Old Town. If that’s not your scene, Hell Hunt – (don’t worry, it’s not a Goth bar, the name translates as “The Gentle Wolf”) is a down-to-earth, no-nonsense drinking spot away from the tourist crowd. For something a bit trendier, try heading out to the Kalamaja quarter, where you can sample locally brewed beers in Pudel Baar (CORR) surrounded by some of Tallinn’s more fashionable students.
But for a really local experience, try Valli Baar in the Old Town, where if you’re brave enough, you can sample something called a Milli Malikas AKA “The Jellyfish”, a shot of Sambuca, tequila and Tabasco sauce. Apparently a Tallin specialty, it’s possibly one of the foulest drinks ever created, and was indeed like gobbling down a jellyfish, but it will probably get your evening going with a bang – or maybe a wobble.
Before you leave
To walk off the hangover, try strolling around the beautiful President’s Gardens in Kadriorg, and build up an appetite for the amazing fresh, cream-filled pastries at the Katarienthal coffee shop on the edge of the grounds. For something more cultural, there’s the huge Kumu Art Museum – or if you prefer getting naked and sweaty, check out the ancient Kalma Sauna (where real Estonians whack each other with wet birch bunches for fun).
While there’s perhaps not enough here to keep you busy for more than a long weekend, Tallinn packs enough in to make a short visit worthwhile. Like they say, great things come in small packages.
Flight time from London: Two hours and 43 minutes
Time difference: GMT+2