Travel: Estonia’s got Tallinn


Throw away your DeLorean and travel back in time with Emer Sugrue’s guide to Tallinn

In eastern Europe, tucked away just below Scandinavia is the beautiful city of Tallinn, capital of Estonia. Estonia is one of the former soviet republics that tend to be overlooked due to their location and low-key reputation. Named 2011’s cultural capital of Europe, Tallinn is the place to be this summer.

It’s easy to get lost in the maze on tiny winding streets and without a good guidebook; you may end up wasting your time and energy on the wrong things. Despite the wondrous history of the area, there are some extraordinarily dull and expensive museums.

Avoid the tedious exhibits of fibreglass models of 15th century workmen and disturbing, moth eaten traditional dress and stick to the real history of the place: the medieval town itself. Tallinn’s astonishingly well-preserved cache of medieval architecture is the closest you’ll get to time travel without hanging out with a mysterious old scientist, and considerably less risky.

Your first stop should be Town Hall Square. A large open square used for the odd execution back in the day, it is the hub of the old city and contains market stalls, cafés, merchant houses and concert halls. The Town Hall, completed in 1404, is still used for civil life as well as entertainment events and is well worth a tour.

Next, visit St Catherine’s street. This narrow medieval walkway is home to the St Catherine’s Guild, a collection of craft workshops where artists use traditional methods to create and sell glassware, hats, quilts, ceramics, jewellery and hand-painted silk. Oldest and most interesting of all is the Old Town wall. With nearly 2km of wall remaining, this is the best-preserved medieval fortification in the world.

The wall adds amazing atmosphere to the place and while carefully ignoring the McDonald’s, you can really imagine you’re back in time. You can even climb and walk along the wall with breathtaking views of the city below.

I wouldn’t be much of a student if I didn’t mention Tallinn’s nightlife. As fun as looking at old walls is, people tend to expect at least a bit of socialising when on their hard-earned breaks and again, Tallinn does not disappoint. In such a small city, most of the pubs and clubs are very close together, so you can flit from one to another until you find the best entertainment.

There are a huge variety of places to go for such a small area, from stony old man pubs for a quiet pint to thudding crazy clubs, odd and wonderful in the way only eastern European venues can be. Just don’t let the short distance fool you into wearing high heels however – those cobblestones are lethal.