TASTEscape: Tallinn

TASTEscape: Tallinn

by Great British Chefs 22 November 2016

Tuomas Telaranta invites us to explore the capital of Estonia, unearthing centuries-old traditions sitting side by side with trendy, repurposed Soviet architecture and a vibrant, exciting food scene.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Tallinn is an exceptional city where you can enjoy a medieval atmosphere, get to know its Soviet era legacy and dine in high class contemporary restaurants, all of which can be done in one day. Of course, it's always better if you can stay for a bit longer, but in Tallinn almost everything is within walking distance, so even in as little as twelve hours you can see and learn a lot of interesting things about this beautiful old Hanseatic city.

The city is constantly developing and transforming. According to legend a mythical creature called Ülemiste Elder, living in a nearby lake, is believed to ask those who meet him: ‘Is Tallinn ready yet?’ If one answers ‘yes’, then the Elder will flood the city. Instead, the correct answer is: ‘No, there’s much to be done yet.'

The old town is without doubt the most well-known part of Tallinn but if you want to know more about it then you must visit the Kalamaja district, as well as some of the beautiful landscapes surrounding the city.

For years I've been hunting for new, interesting places in Tallinn and for this article I have gathered some of my favourite spots in the city. A number of them have been around for years, but there are others which an average traveller probably wouldn't stumble across. There's something here for everyone; whether you want to enjoy the outdoors, see the more traditional side of Tallinn, check out how the locals have transformed old industrial buildings into vibrant hubs or just want to eat great local food. I hope you enjoy reading this article as much as I enjoyed putting it together. I'll see you in Tallinn!

Traditional Tallinn

As with many UNESCO listed treasures Tallinn’s cultural heritage is rich and varied, from churches and merchant houses to the saunas. Estonia’s traditional cuisine continues to thrive in the city, with influences from Scandinavian, eastern European and Austrian dishes.

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See one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe

If you need a pharmacy but still want to be immersed in the medieval atmosphere of this historic city, then navigate through the narrow old town alleys to the Town Hall Pharmacy (Raeapteek), which is one of the oldest in Europe in continuous operation. The pharmacy opened its doors in the fifteenth century and today you can still buy medicine from there. There’s also an exhibition of old remedies and according to legend, marzipan was invented here sometime in the 1400s.

Pick up some hand-painted marzipan at Café Maiasmokk

Try the handmade sweets and pastries at Cafe Maiasmokk, which was founded in 1806 and left unchanged for over two centuries. Remember to also visit their marzipan museum room, which is free of charge. There are 220 different moulds used by the confectioner to create all sorts of shapes and models, which make a fantastic gift for anyone back home.

Let off some steam at Kalma Saun

Kalma Saun is one of the oldest saunas in Tallinn – the second you enter its doors it truly feels as though time has stopped. You'll experience a traditional atmosphere, as most of the customers are locals who come to enjoy a steam and meet their friends. The wood-heated sauna is the best thing Kalma Saun has to offer, but if you can't take the heat then you can always move to the steam sauna or take a dip in the pool. This iconic establishment offers a Russian-style banya sauna at its best, so if you want to try something unique then pack your towel and slippers. There's a small bar in the locker room where you can buy refreshments, but you can also bring your own.

The marzipan on offer at Café Maiasmokk comes in all shapes and sizes
Raeapteek is in the centre of Tallinn's old town and is one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe
Telliskivi Loomelinnak is an old industrial area that's been turned into a creative, trendy space for restaurants, shops and events

Tallinn today

Since the end of Soviet rule, the residents of Tallinn have turned the city's old factories and abandoned buildings into thriving hubs of art and creativity, giving birth to a new, trendy form of Estonian culture which is becoming known the world over.

Enjoy contemporary Estonian cuisine at Restaurant Ö

Considered one of the best restaurants in Estonia, Restaurant Ö is run by chefs Martin Meikas and Ranno Paukson who utilise local ingredients and seasonality to produce dishes such as elk with ramson stalks and black garlic or goat’s cheese and spruce syrup ash cookies. Should you want to try something a bit more Scandinavian, then you can just move next door, where Martin and Ranno have a restaurant called Kaks Kokka (Two Chefs).

Visit Telliskivi Loomelinnak and try Estonian craft beer

Taste your way through Tallinn's booming craft beer scene at Pudel, in the trendy Kalamaja district, where local breweries such as Põhjala, Õllenaut and Tanker are fresh and on tap. Pudel was one of the first places to open in Telliskivi Loomelinnak, which has transformed in a couple of years from an old abandoned industrial area to the trendiest and coolest area in Tallinn.

Get creative in Kultuurikatel

Kultuurikatel is housed in an old Soviet factory which is now home to spaces for concerts, festivals, exhibitions and other events. Just a quick stroll through the large creative hub garden (PADA) fills you with a sense of tranquillity, and the constantly changing pop-up cafés and restaurants means there’s something for everyone.

Pirita beach
Pirita beach is beautiful year-round, but is especially popular throughout the short Estonian summer
Balloon Tallinn
Balloon Tallinn offers unparalleled views across the city's individual districts

Tallinn outdoors

Estonia’s capital city is surrounded by lush forests, incredible landscapes and picture-perfect scenery. Venture out for the day and experience it first-hand.

Take to the skies in Balloon Tallinn

If you're arriving to Tallinn by ferry or cruise ship, this giant helium balloon is one of the first things you will see. Balloon Tallinn opened in 2014 and ever since people have been enjoying 360-degree views over the city's beautiful red rooftops, 120 metres up in the air. From there you can enjoy truly amazing sights of the city centre, old town, Kalamaja district and the Baltic Sea. This is a perfect spot for getting a quick overview of the different districts, all of which look completely different and have their own atmosphere and soul.

Relax on the legendary beach of Pirita

This is surely the best known beach in northern Estonia as well as the most popular and largest in Tallinn. The Estonian summer tends to be short, so when a heat wave arrives the whole city heads to Pirita beach. Easily reached from the centre by bus or taxi, it's worth visiting if you want a dip in refreshing sea water, to sunbathe and enjoy beach games. In the summer it has a beach bar, a ten pin bowling club, kiosks where you can rent loungers and a small market.

See the biggest natural waterfall in Estonia

Jägala Waterfall is over fifty metres in width, eight metres in height and is located in a peaceful area about thirty kilometres to the east of Tallinn. It is a beautiful sight in all seasons, but in the winter the spot is truly magical, as the temperature drops and the water freezes into enormous icicles and interesting ice sculptures. When it gets really cold, the frozen water creates a tunnel between the ice and the waterfall’s wall.

Still have time to spare?

– Enjoy a glass or two of local wine at Luscher & Matiesen, a century-old winery and distillery with a hidden terrace overlooking Tallinn Old Town. Luscher & Matiesen is located in the old town on top of Toompea Hill, so the view from the terrace is pretty stunning. It also houses the Museum of Drink Culture.

– Visit Leib Resto & Aed, a celebrated restaurant focused on contemporary Estonian food using produce from local farms and serving its own craft beer, brewed just twenty kilometres away in Lehe Brewery. Try the delicious homemade black bread (leib), soft cheese from a local Kalamatsi farm and mouth-watering quail from Järveotsa farm, to name just a few. This restaurant has been my favourite in Tallinn for many years, so I fully recommend it.

– Walk around Patarei Prison for a taste of dreary life under Soviet rule. The prison has been left untouched since it was decommissioned in the early 2000s and lets visitors walk around the cells, hallways and exercise yards. Built more than 100 years ago, Patarei was originally used as a sea fortress, before becoming a barracks and in 1920 transformed into a prison. The last prisoner left Patarei as recently as 2002, so while roaming around the premises it's easy to imagine what life was like for the inmates. This is one of my personal favourites in Tallinn, not only because of its historical significance but also because it's such a unique place.

Jägala Waterfall
Jägala Waterfall is eight metres high and freezes completely in the winter