Tales of Tallinn

By Kate Docking, University of Kent, Chase Student Committee Secretary and Kent Representative

Out of the three Baltic capitals – Vilnius in Lithuania, Tallinn in Estonia, and Riga in Latvia – it is Tallinn that captivated me the most. Don’t get me wrong, I love every Baltic city: I had a really special evening celebrating Latvian Independence Day in Riga in 2017, and a wonderful time spent enjoying snowy Vilnius in 2018. But Tallinn has a special place in my heart. The place looks like something straight out of a fairy tale, with its cobbled medieval streets, old city walls, and stunning architecture. It was quite unlike anywhere I’d been to before (and this is coming from someone who has lived in medieval Canterbury for almost five years of my life). In this post, I’ll talk a bit about what my sister and I got up to on our first day in this breathtakingly beautiful city.

Tallinn City Walls

We started by climbing the Town Hall Tower, which is the main tower in the Old Town. It only cost 3 euros to climb, and 115 steps later we were at the top, standing nervously on a somewhat precarious platform with room for approx. 2 people at once, with an amazing – if somewhat dizzying – view of the square and the streets of Old Town before us. Descending the hazardous, narrow steps on the way back down was an experience, but well worth it for the excellent panorama at the top. Next on our list was the free walking tour of the Old Town. I try to do one of these tours in every city I visit, as it’s a great way of getting acclimatised with the place. We learnt a lot about the history of Tallinn on this tour in a friendly, accessible way with many witty anecdotes provided by the extremely knowledgeable and hardworking guides.

When the tour finished, it was about lunchtime, so we made our way to Lido. This chain of canteen-style restaurants – there are some in Latvia, Riga, and more in Estonia – serves delicious and hearty traditional dishes for a cheap price. After lunch, we walked through the Old Town up to Tompea Hill. This viewing platform offers incredible views of Tallinn and its surroundings, that is, if you can manage to get a place amid the throngs of selfie-stick wielding tourists. We then decided it was time for a beer, so headed to Beer House, a beer hall-style place off the main square in the Old Town. In spite of its inflated prices (and the extremely rowdy stag do from Newcastle who were sitting on the table next to us), Beer House was a good place to sit and soak up the early evening sun. I was beginning to feel – dare I say it (as someone who pretty much never relaxes) – relaxed!

At the top of Tompea Hill

As the night fully descended upon us, more watering holes were frequented. We first went to Noku, an obscure bar where intellectuals met covertly during the socialist era, and the place retains a strong sense of secrecy. There’s no sign advertising the entrance, so you have to venture down Pikk 5, one of the streets off the Old Town, and look out for a nondescript blue and red door and people gathered outside. The place used to be a member’s only club, but there’s now a code to get in, which you can find quite easily by Googling (it changes regularly). This is one of the few places in Tallinn that we definitely didn’t feel like tourists in. You wouldn’t go here for an extensive drink selection, but you absolutely would go here for a buzzing, student-y atmosphere full of Tallinners.

The ‘secret’ Noku Bar

Anna and I then descended upon Ill Drakoon. This is a medieval themed tavern right off the main square, but ‘medieval themed’ taken to the maximum level: staff are all in character, notably the landlady, who plays a part of an angry innkeeper who is reluctant to feed thirsty and hungry travellers to Tallinn. This certainly led to some interesting interactions when ordering our drinks. Again, it wasn’t the cheapest place in Tallinn, but was (probably) worth it just for the atmosphere.

Enjoying ‘mead’ in Ill Drakoon (my nervous smile indicates that I’d just had a run in with the landlady who sternly reminded me not to take pictures with flash)

We then looked for a place for dinner, and settled on an Indian named Elevant, which was, from memory, delightful. One last stop of the night called before we retired to our accommodation (a lovely, and very cheap, Air B n B); we visited Labor, a bar that is entirely chemistry themed, with shots served in test tubes, drinks concocted according to meticulous chemical formulas (which I’m sure you’d especially appreciate if you knew anything about chemistry, which I don’t), and neon lights everywhere. As we walked back through the medieval streets and past the old city walls to our Air B n B, we both firmly decided that Tallinn was our favourite city in the Baltics.

Two Weeks of Greek Islands

Kate Docking, University of Kent

When I’m not ‘PhDing’, one of my favourite things to do is to find a cheap flight, cajole someone (usually my sister) into coming with me, and visit a new country. One of the highlights of my recent non-work related travels – if not the highlight, really – was going Greek island hopping in June with my friend Tab. Over the course of two weeks, we visited three islands in the Cyclades: Santorini, Anafi and Ios. Here is essentially a ‘mish-mash’ of some of my favourite bits.

One of Anafi‘s many isolated beaches

Swimming in the sulphur springs of Nea Kameni, a volcanic island very close to Santorini, was definitely a memorable experience. We got on a boat to get there, which ended up actually docking some distance away from the actual springs, and we were informed by the tour guide that only ‘strong swimmers’ should make the crossing. Tab and I quickly assessed our respective swimming abilities, and, more concerned on potentially losing out on the 20 euros each we’d coughed up to do the trip than the possibility of being stranded in the Aegean Sea, we launched ourselves off the side of the boat and completed the swim. Surrounded by hyperactive young backpackers wielding Go-Pros, we somewhat ceremoniously and a bit dubiously covered ourselves in the ‘sulphur-mud’ (I’m not certain what it actually was, but apparently it’s good for your skin). This was certainly a unique and fun way to spend one of our mornings in Santorini. Another Santorini highlight was the two and a half hour walk we undertook from Fira (the capital of Santorini) to Oia. We were laughably unprepared (we had about one bottle of water each in blazing heat), but thoroughly enjoyed the amazing views and talking about a range of riveting things on the way, such as Santorini building regulations and the ideal size of a water bottle.

The walk from Fira to Oia

After a week in Santorini, we spent a few days in Anafi, a much smaller island about an hour and a half boat away. I absolutely loved Anafi, and I think, on balance, it was my favourite island. For me, Anafi really encapsulated what springs to mind when someone mentions a Greek island: rugged beaches, traditional domed white houses, churches with blue tops, and incredible sunsets. As soon as we stepped off the ferry (while uttering the classic ‘I’ve still got my sea legs on!’ as we walked onto dry land), I knew Anafi would be a very different experience from touristy Santorini. Only a handful of us disembarked, and, indeed, we kept seeing the same people throughout our stay. We spent most of our time there sleeping under the tamarisk trees on many of the beautiful beaches, which provided a natural form of shade when the temperatures soared during the day, and swimming in crystal clear waters, often the only ones in the sea. Anafi remains untouched by mass tourism (for now), and I think that contributes greatly to its sense of isolation, ruggedness, and community. This is a place where people actually live, and have done for years, not somewhere that simply caters for the demands of modern tourists.


Our last island was Ios. We were firmly told by several people in Santorini that Ios that it was the ‘party island’, but it didn’t really live up to this reputation. When we arrived in the Chora on our first evening (the main village) we were faced with lots of virtually empty clubs and bars. We couldn’t walk through the streets without getting hounded by promoters trying to get us into their empty places. All Tab and I wanted was to find somewhere to have a drink that wasn’t 8 euros and didn’t consist of literally energy drink in a plastic bag. Surrounded by 18 year olds probably on their first trip abroad without an authoritative figure, I felt distinctly out of place. Ios was lovely – it’s got great beaches, a nice town with some really good restaurants and it’s very aesthetically pleasing – but it didn’t have the rugged charm of Anafi nor the jaw-dropping views of Santorini. But of course you can’t love everything about travelling, and our slightly negative experience of Ios definitely did not even taint what was an absolutely incredible trip.