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.
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!
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.
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.
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.