Tallinn: Rock Up To Estonia’s Cool Capital

Above: A viewpoint on Toompea looks out across the red-tiled rooftops towards the harbor, which is welcoming more and more cruise ships (Photo: Amy Laughinghouse)

Estonia, as it turns out, is NOT the cartoon town next to Bedrock. It’s an actual country, bordered by Russia on the east and the Baltic Sea on the west. It was bandied about by the USSR and Nazi Germany before finally gaining independence in 1991, and today, Estonia is relishing its freedom, spreading its wings, and testing its limits, just like your average 20-something. Its capital, Tallinn, is surprisingly hip and technologically savvy (it was, after all, the birthplace of Skype)–and it’s one of the best places to party in Europe.

Tallinn’s main attraction is the medieval Old Town. The city’s pedestrian-friendly core is partially framed by turreted city walls, which embrace a maze of cobblestone streets, a Town Hall square flanked by cafes (yes, they serve beer, too), and handicraft shops (which might not stock the most manly items, but hey, they’re perfect if you need a gift for your grandmother). Head to one of the terraces atop Toompea (Castle Hill), where you can see for 800 years, across the red-tiled roofs of the Old Town to the jagged glass high-rises of the Maakri District, which spring up like a manmade mountain range.

Even more potent than this architectural clash of the old and new are Tallinn’s museums. The collections of Modern art at the KUMU in Kadriorg Park, one of the largest museums in Northern Europe, stands in stark contrast to The Museum of Occupations, which is filled with artifacts from the Nazi and Soviet regimes.

Then there’s the Rotermann Quarter, Tallinn’s shopping centre. This revitalized warehouse district is no stranger to the time capsule that is contemporary Tallinn: it offers trendy clothing nestled tight with the Rotermanni Vanakraamiturg—the weirdest antique shop you’ll ever visit. If you’re looking for a painting of Joseph Stalin, a gas mask, military uniform or war medals, this is the place for you.

The Raeapteek Apothecary Museum in Old Town’s Town Hall square is stocked with jars of toads, burnt hedgehog and dried deer penises (yep, you read that right), but among these disturbing displays, which have far surpassed their “use-by” date, you’ll find typical pharmaceutical items alongside garlic (and cannabis flavored chocolate bars).

Then night comes on, and the Old Town takes on a new life after dark. For an old-fashioned feast, sit down for a meal of bear, wild boar and elk at Olde Hansa, which is kitted out with iron candelabras, tapestries, and minstrels playing in a gallery. Wash it all down with a beer served in a ceramic mug the size of your head. For a chic atmosphere—and amazing views of the city—book a table at Horisant, the 30th floor restaurant and bar at Swissotel Tallinn.

Grab a nap and get ready to party ‘til dawn. After dark, Tallinn’s Old Town throbs with an unexpectedly active nightlife. Hipsters groove to wax-spun tunes from the 50s, 60s and 70s at Kohvik Must Puudel (Black Poodle Café) in a basement dive outfitted with retro furnishings, while a few blocks away at Club Prive, girls in skimpy cop uniforms distribute shots, policing nothing. With bars of every description, Tallinn is a popular destination for European bachelor and bachelorette parties. They’re probably still dancing right now.

For more: www.tourism.tallinn.ee

Follow Amy Laughinghouse on Twitter at @A_Laughinghouse or visit her website: www.amylaughinghouse.com.

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