Facts, travel tips and tourist information
Estonia is the northernmost of the Baltic countries, and the capital Tallinn lies about 80 km from Helsinki in Finland. At the end of WW2 Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, but gained independence in 1991. Estonia has been a NATO and EU member since 2004.
The country's history has been tumultuous with Swedish, Russian and even Danish rule. Denmark got in early (1219) and got its flag, Dannebrog, during the battle. Read much more on Wikipedia.
Population: Of Estonia's 1.34 mio about 400,000 live in the capital, Tallinn. About 70 % of Estonia's population are Estonians and 26 % Russians. The birth rate is low: 1.4 children per woman.
Area: 45.227 km2.
Language: Estonian, which resembles Finnish. Many speak Russian, but it isn't popular. You can get on nicely with English.
Country code: 00 372 (if you are calling Estonia).
Tallinn's airport is fairly small, but nice and modern. It is very close to town, and a taxi ("takso") to the old town will cost you about 100 EEK (in 2009). It is even cheaper (20 EEK in 2009) to take bus number 2. Transportation to and from the airport is described in detail on the airport's homepage.
There are buses, trolley buses and trams in Tallinn. The cheapest tickets are bought in kiosks - it will cost you more to buy from the driver when you get on. A detailed description of the transport system can be found at Wikipedia.
Taxis are fairly cheap. The start fee is (in 2009) 45 EEK and then 7.9 EEK per km (daytime).
A Tallinn Card is a valid ticket for buses and trams.
In the old town the best way of transportation is on foot. Beware however that most streets are cobbled, so sensible shoes with solid or stiff soles are highly recommended. The old town is not good terrain for high heels, unless you have a break-a-leg-wish.
There are several ferries to Tallinn from Stockholm and Helsinki, and they are popular with Swedish and Finnish weekend visitors.
The Weather in Tallinn
Estonia is on the border between temperate coastal climate and continental climate. That means that winters are relatively mild and summers cool, if the wind is westerly from the Baltic Sea. If the wind comes with love from Siberia it can be very cold in the winter and hot in the summer.
Like in many other cities you can buy a card that gives access (or a discount) to a number of museums and sights. It also works as a ticket for public transportation. That can be quite practical. In Tallinn the card is called "Tallinn Card", and at the tourist office's website you can see exactly what you get. You can buy cards valid for 6, 24, 48 or 72 hours (the 6 hour card has some limitations).
It is comfortable to have a card like that, and comfort is not to be underestimated. So don't be sorry if you didn't use all offers and saved money. You can buy the card many places and online too - see this page for a list of sales points.
Where to stay?
There are about 7000 hotel rooms in Tallinn, and during the high season there can be a shortage, so it is recommended to book in advance - especially for groups. There are hotels in every price range and standard.
Tallinn's biggest attraction is the old town, and most hotels are here or close by. When you have walked a lot it is nice to live nearby.
There are also B&Bs, hostels and camping sites. I don't know much about this and leave it up to you to search the Internet!
We stayed at hotel Bern in Aia 10, a central location just outside the city gate and a few minutes walk to the Viru gate. Nice breakfast and a polite and friendly young staff that speaks excellent English. The room was spacious and there was plenty of room for the extra chair(s) we missed, and there wasn't even one decent hook except in the bathroom.
Comparing internationally I consider the four stars one too many, but a pretty nice hotel with a good location.
Restaurants and eating out
Traditional Estonian food is a bit heavy, but there are lots of restaurants with a more international kitchen. See my travelogue for descriptions of the restaurants we visited in Tallinn.
Compared to expensive Denmark it is reasonably cheap to eat out in Tallinn - even in better places in the old town. The food is cheap: either price wise or in the sense that you get a lot of value for money. Beer is negotiable, but wine is expensive.
If you know where you want to go, it is a good idea to make a reservation - especially at the height of the season and in weekends. For instance a friend had recommended Olde Hansa, and I made a reservation via their homepage, which worked fine.
You should tip at restaurants and in taxis. Service is usually not included. 10 - 15 % is fine, but of course it is natural to pay the nearest sensible round amount. It is not a math exercise, and why should the waiter earn less, because you drink the cheap house wine instead of Chateau Snob (or vice versa)? Give what you find appropriate.
I read somewhere that tips are not expected at hotels, but we left something for the maid anyway - she worked hard.
Tap water in Tallinn is okay, and I think it smells and tastes better than tap water in - let's say Copenhagen.
Here and there you read that you should not drink tap water in Estonia. I have even seen a warning not to use it for brushing your teeth.
Warnings like that must be based on outdated or misunderstood data. The drinking water in Tallinn fulfils every requirement made by the EU as can be seen on this page. It is not quite as pure and well tasting as the outstanding grand cru water I have at home in Aalborg, but to warn against using it for brushing teeth is ridiculous and ignorant.
Tallinn's biggest attraction is the old town by itself. It is a great experience to walk the cobbled winding streets admiring the beautiful houses. All the time you spot things like a door in a new happy colour, building details or funny signs. Many houses also have a discrete sign with some text about the house's background and history.
Tallinn's old town is on UNESCO's long list.
Of course the city has a number of sights and musums worth seeing. The following is by no means exhaustive, but is more like an appetizer. I recommend that you look up more detailed information at Tallinn's excellent page with tourist information and/or at Tallinn this Week.
Estonia's historic museum is more or less the national museum. It lies close to the town hall square in Pikk 17 in an old house with a beautiful big hall. The collection isn't that big, but it is well worth a visit.
Tallinn's city museum in Vene 17 gives a good impression of the city's long history. Tallin's city museum has 7 other museums, for instance the Tsar's summer cottage in the Kadriorg Park and Kiek in de Kök, which is an old cannon tower from the end of the 15th century.
The Tsar's summer palace Kadriorg lies in a nice park 2-3 km from the old town and is now an art museum. There are many portraits (the Tsar's family album - yawn!), but I liked the paintings by Russian realists a lot, and then the palace by itself is quite impressive.
The Tsar's summer cottage lies not far from the palace and the new modern art museum, Kumu.
There are more museums - see the tourist information.
If you like to visit churches, Tallinn is not a bad place. Personally I think that the Alexander Nevsky cathedral from 1900 is the most impressive with its onion shaped domes. Alexander Nevsky was a Russian grand duke that beat the Swedes in a battle in 1240, and 660 years later he had a cathedral named after him. Better late than never.
The Lutheran cathedral lies close to the Alexander Nevsky cathedral. There is also the Niguliste church with a museum (church silver). The Olevesti church is very old (writte sources mention it in 1267), and in the Middle Ages the tower (159 m) was the highest in Europe. There's a platform half way up with a terrific view. There is no access to the platform in the winter time.
Eventually you'll pass the old town hall and the square, Raekoja Plats, when you walk about in the old town. The town hall's present front dates back to a renovation in 1404. On the square is also the world's oldest working pharmacy. It has been there since (at least) 1422.
The fortress and castle Toompea lies on the city's highest point and is home to the Estonian parliament.
There are almost 2 km left of the original city wall, which was 4 km long. Several defence towers in the wall are intact and are open to visitors.
The streets Vene and Müürivahe are connected by the alley Katarina Käik. Here you can watch working craftsmen and monastery gravestones. A part of the wall has small coves on one side, and I noticed that it is a popular place for flirting youngsters. The good Italian restaurant, Controvento, lies in Katarina Käik.
Outside the old town you find the botanical garden, the zoo, an open air museum and the open air theatre where thousands of Estonians met and sang patriotic songs before they gained independence in 1991.
There are tour-buses that can take you around. Some are the kind where you can get off and on. A Tallin Card is a valid ticket.
As I said: this was just an appetizer - go to tourist information for more sights, information and links.
Banks and money
Most banks in Estonia are Swedish or Danish. Bank is "Pank" in Estonian. You can withdraw money or pay with the usual credit cards.
You can read about our trip to Tallinn in my travelogue.
Tallinn's official page with tourist information is a must, and Tallinn this Week also has info about planned events.
Have a nice trip!
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Last update August 4th 2012