Although Nottingham has got two shopping centres and a castle, it is yet to be named European Capital of Culture. Instead the award this year goes to Tallinn, Estonia. Tallinn occupies an area of 159.2 km2 (61.5 sq mi) with a population of around 412,000. The Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has remained in remarkable condition given the first of its fortresses was built in 1050, and they were bombed by Soviet air forces in WWII. But that’s enough stats from Wikipedia. The bottom line is this place is absolutely gorgeous.
Tallinn is full of cobbled streets, odd shaped buildings, and dimly lit bars. Basically, it’s a mini Prague. It’s absolutely perfect for a romantic meal out or to catch up with friends. We particularly liked the African Kitchen which served up some great curries for five euros. If you fancy a pint in the main square then expect to be paying silly money. We got stung for 6.5 euros for a Chai Latte in a tower wall cafe and it cost 2 euros to get in! Amazing how quickly the shackles of communism can be cast off. Estonia only became an independent democratic state in 1991.
Tallinn has a long and uncomfortable history of invasion. As a sea port city, they’ve had everyone knocking on their doorstep. Naturally the most recent invader is the British stag. I witnessed one group of knuckle draggers kitted out in ‘help for heroes’ T Shirts start chanting ‘Ing-er-land’ at the top of their voices as they entered a gourmet bar hosting one of the many jazz events being put on as part of their culture festival. Expect more of this now that Ryanair offers a £70 return flight. Perhaps anticipating this, there are numerous ‘clubs’ offering dancing girls as well as massage bars that come with a happy ending. If they can be filtered downhill to this area then you might be able to enjoy your night after all.
Where Tallinn falls down in size it gains in location. The airport is two miles from the centre with a regular bus service. The ferry port is in easy walking distance from the Old Town as is the rather rude sounding Kunsti muuseum. This is worth visiting just for the modern architecture although the art inside isn’t bad as well. This can be found in the beautiful surroundings of Kadrioru Park which offers some great walking routes. They’ve even got beaches running up the coast, although you’ll need a fair few tattoos to keep you warm by the Baltic Sea.
Tallinn is a place for walking, home to the flaneur. The people are friendly and polite and generally all speak English. So trying to pronounce those words that seem to quadruple vowels can be avoided. They are proud of their saunas, which are roughly 20 euros for a private room, but whatever you do don’t challenge them to a sauna sweat out. Last year in the World Sauna Championships (I guess our equivalent would be eating hot curries) Russian finalist Vladimir Ladyzhensky collapsed and died of severe burns. If sweating and walking isn’t your thing, then take a day excursion to Helsinki.