Advantages old, attractive, no annoying street vendors
Disadvantages aching feet, we were done in a day
|Value for Money|
|Ease of getting around|
I'm currently staying in Helsinki, Finland with my boyfriend because of a summer job. As something to do, it was recommended to us that we take a day trip to Tallinn in Estonia. This we did yesterday and had a great day out. There were a huge number of museums and galleries that we didn't look at, a huge number of shops we didn't go in and a vast number of traditional Estonian restaurants that we didn't have the space in our stomach to try. This is just a brief description of our trip; there is plenty more in the city that we didn't see.
There are plenty of boats that go from Helsinki to Tallinn. The cheap option is to take a ferry which takes about three hours. We avoided this option because I have a tendency towards seasickness and one of the ladies at work told me that the slow ferries tend to be full of drunk Finns. So we took the somewhat more expensive Nordic Jetline Catamaran at 56 euro each return.We were told to arrive half an hour before the departure time to collect our tickets (booked online at an efficient website) and check-in. The actual check-in was very simple. We handed our tickets to a member of staff who checked them and then we went through passport control. For someone used to airport security, it was amazingly easy, but I guess not many people want to bomb a ferry between Finland and Estonia. We then had to stand around for a while before they'd actually let us on the boat. There were plenty of people who didn't pay attention to the half-hour deadline and turned up only five or ten minutes before the departure. We were wishing we'd done the same and had an extra ten minutes in bed!
The boat ride lasted about an hour and forty minutes. There was a large area of seating on the main deck and the seats were pretty comfortable. There was a duty free shop, a few arcade games and an area selling food and drink. We tried out the food on the way back to use up the last of our Estonian currency and it was surprisingly good.The sea was wonderfully flat and I didn't have any trouble with seasickness. But that comes down to the weather. If it had been windy, I doubt even the nicest boat in the world would have helped.
There wasn't much in the way of outside. There was a tiny little deck at the back that was filled with people smoking. If I had suffered seasickness, I would have liked to have stood outside, but I can't stand the smell of cigarettes. Still, this was the only downside to an otherwise excellently organised boat.The staff all appeared to be multi-lingual. You can tell what languages they spoke by checking the flags on their name tags. Most had three (Finnish, Estonian and English) but there was at least one that I saw who had four. You should be able to speak to them in English. Even if you speak to the rare staff member with a bad grasp of English, he or she will be able to find someone who speaks the language fluently.
The old town centre of Tallinn is definitely the touristy bit. The entire area seemed dedicated to the tourist trade. There are a lot of old buildings and nice bits of architecture, including the remnants of the former town walls, complete with towers in places. It's a very pleasant place to just wander around the town, taking a look in the churches and admiring the buildings.
~~~ The Old Town ~~~
We went up the tower of one of the churches, I think it was called St Olav's church. It cost 30 Kroon each (approximated £1.50). The stone steps were uneven in places and a very tiring climb, but the views at the top were worth it. There was a flat stretch part-way up the staircase with a few seats for those who really found the climb a struggle. The tower had clearly never been designed for people to be walking round, but there were safety railings and some wooden boards to walk on making a very narrow path. My camera got a lot of use up here. Something to be done early in the day before your feet are worn out from walking, but definitely something to do if you think you're up for the climb.There are a huge number of souvenir shops and traditional Estonian restaurants (as well as a few Indian, Italian and the inevitable McDonalds). There are also plenty of museums. We passed a maritime museum and saw a guy holding up a placard for a museum of Medieval torture implements, though standing in the hot sun with the advert was probably torture enough for that guy! Neither my boyfriend or I are much into museums or art galleries, so we didn't try any of these out.
We were also surprised by the number of strip clubs and gay bars we passed. We'd been expecting something a bit more conservative from a town so recently under Soviet control. Needless to say, we didn't try any of these either.Up on a hill in the centre of the old town is an area that is World Heritage Site because of its historical architecture. We spent a couple of hours wandering round here, admiring the view and watching archery. There was an archery range set up with a couple of people in medieval dress instructing people on how to shoot. We thought about having a go, seeing a board advertising that it was 20 Kroon (about £1) but it turned out this was the price of one shot, so for the set of five it would have cost 100 Kroon. We decided it wasn't worth that much considering we could join the university archery club for a year for about the same amount of money.
The part of the town on the top of the hill was very attractive, with plenty of old buildings and some areas with trees and grass that made for a pleasant sit down when our feet were aching. There were plenty of shaded benches around. Clearly the locals thought the place attractive too, because we saw at least two wedding parties gathering who'd driven up the hill to have their photos taken.I was very impressed by the street sellers or, to be more accurate, by the lack of them. There were some postcard stands, with the people running them sweltering in medieval costume. On the walk up the hill we passed several artists with displays of paintings. And, around the town, there were vendors with little coolers selling cold drinks. But none of these people were pestering anyone. I've been to towns where you can't go ten metres without someone bothering you to sell you something, but these guys stood quietly by the sides of the street and let people approach them. That's the way I think they should be.
About mid-morning, shortly after the climb of the tower, we were feeling peckish. It was far too early for lunch, but we were both needing a good drink and something to eat. We found a little deli/corner shop and bought drinks and some very nice pastries very cheaply. The owner seemed a bit grumpy, but I've no complaints about the food.
~~~ Food ~~~
For lunch, we went to a place called Café Eat, which was mentioned in the Wikipedia article we'd read prior to our trip. It serves filled dumplings (more like pasta than what we in the UK would call a dumpling) that are apparently traditional Estonian cuisine. You go in and pick up a bowl and fill it with as many dumplings as you feel like in whatever flavours you choose. The flavours available when we were there were meat, meat and spinach, turkey and potato. The bowls are then weighed and you pay for the amount you've bought.The dumplings were absolutely delicious. So good, that my boyfriend has been looking into recipe information to learn how to make them. Not much in the way of vegetables and possibly a little salty, but they tasted wonderful. Despite the enormous choice of restaurants, I think we'd probably go back to this place if we ever go back to Tallinn.
Another reason we liked that restaurant so much was the price. Between us, the food cost about 33 Kroon, that's about £1.60. And we were both pretty full with the portions we'd eaten! Seriously cheap and seriously tasty. If you ever find yourself in Tallinn, definitely try Café Eat. It's on a street called Sauna very close to the old town square.In the afternoon, after quite a while wandering in the hot sun, we decided to go for ice cream. We wanted to go to a café so we could sit down (touristing is tough on the feet!) rather than buy something from one of the stands we passed. This was where it got tricky. We wandered through the streets for a bit and passed plenty of restaurants, but they were all serving full meals. Sure, we could have just asked for the desert menu, but we wanted a proper café.
In the end, we went to tourist information and asked a very helpful lady there. She spoke excellent English and recommended we try a special ice-cream shop called Da Vinci, on the street Narva Mnt, a short walk out of the old town. We followed her advice and found the shop. It took us maybe ten minutes to walk there from the centre of the old town and we weren't walking fast at all.The ice cream was wonderful. The fruit flavours actually tasted of fruit rather than fruit flavouring and the portions were decent. I generally like foreign ice cream more than the stuff sold in cartons in the UK. It's more like sorbet than UK ice cream and very fruity. Delicious!
The only complaint I have about this place is that they really needed air conditioning. It was all very well eating cold ice-cream, but we were too warm and our deserts were melting before we could finish them!
We didn't really do much shopping, but we did spend a short while in a shopping centre a little way from the old town. It was called Viru Keskus and it was a pretty big mall, with one of the streets it opened onto being Narva Mnt. It has everything you'd expect of a shopping centre: clothes shops, a newsagent, camera shop, DVD and music shop, more clothes shops, cosmetics and bath products shop and a few more clothes shops. There were different names over most of the shops than you'd find in most UK malls, but the type of thing being sold was much the same.There was also a supermarket in the basement. We went here to buy some more drinks and ended up buying olive oil (it was near the end of our trip, we had Kroon to use up and it was cheap). We also got a bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice from a machine in the back of the shop. I don't mean a vending machine, I mean a machine that you operate to chop and squeeze the oranges.
As mentioned earlier, the old town is full of souvenir shops. A lot of them seemed very nice, with attractive jewellery and some good craft products as well as the usual tack. There were plenty of art and craft shops in the old town.If you prefer markets, there were a couple of covered markets near the harbour. These sold what you'd expect to find at markets, namely cheap clothes and a few stalls of tat, but there might be some interesting stalls as well. To be honest, with the exchange rate as good as it is, it's not worth trying bargain hunting at these places. You'd be better off heading into the main town and finding a shopping centre.
We had a pleasant day in Tallinn. We were running out of things to do in the end, but that's really because we don't like museums. If you're interested in museums and galleries, there's probably enough here to keep you going for two or three days. As it was, we were ready when it was time to head back to the boat to come home.
~~~ Overall ~~~
In terms of money, Tallinn is very, very cheap. We worked out that our entire day, including lunch, ice-cream, drinks, snacks and climbing the tower cost us £21 for the two of us. This doesn't include the price of the boat obviously, but the exchange rate is currently excellent. We kept wondering if we were miscalculating, but no, things really were that cheap.Our feet were seriously aching by the time we'd finished wandering, but we'd enjoyed ourselves. It was a good trip. I'm glad I went, but I'm also glad we didn't try to stay the whole weekend. I'd definitely recommend it. If you're into museums, go for a weekend break, if not, you'll be done in a day.
Attention, this is the first review from this author
Instead of giving a negative rating, consider:
Help this member by giving your advice
Report fraud (for example plagiarism) or other issue with the review to the Ciao support team
Add your comment
Pages: 1, Edition: 2nd Revised edition, Map, ITMB Publishing
Availability: Usually dispatched within 2 to 3 weeks
Release Date: 2004-06-27, Audio CD, Bis
Availability: Usually dispatched within 24 hours
Release Date: 2004-06-27, Audio CD, Bis
amazon marketplace music
Availability: Usually dispatched within 1-2 business days