is based on trips to Tallinn in Sept 1999 and May 2004, and on a trip
to Pärnu in May 2004)
Estonia is far more Scandinavian than the other two Baltic States,
and the national stereotype is that of a cool, calculating and reserved
outlook. A famous quote (and one of my favourites) from around the
time of the 1991 Revolutions, was “Estonians would die for
their freedom, right down to the last Lithuanian”. Nevertheless,
this is all a wee bit harsh – I find Estonia a really friendly
and laid back place to visit (apart from the burger bars late at
night!), and the scenery and architecture in Tallinn is truly breathtaking.
A significant proportion of the population is ethnically Russian
(far more than Lithuania, but less than Latvia), and although you
can expect to hear Russian spoken quite commonly in Tallinn, it
is apparently far more prominent in the eastern cities of Kohtla-Järve
The country is easiest traversed by bus – there are a couple
of buses daily between Riga and Tallinn, and very regular buses
between Tallinn and the major cities of Tartu (a student town –
never been) and Pärnu (a beach resort – see below).
The local bevvy of Saku beer was far better the second time around
than how I remembered it, and has now been joined by A.Le Coq, which
I found a bit weaker and less enjoyable. There are also several
brands of pear cider on tap, so there’s a good chance of finding
one on draught wherever you go.
Over the past few years, Tallinn has continued to evolve into
a thoroughly modern city, whilst still retaining it’s breathtaking
medieval beauty. The Town Hall square is breathtaking under a blue
sky, and the striking (if unpopular) Nevsky Cathedral on Toompea
is also awe-inspiring. It’s also chock-full of bars and clubs,
and unfortunately, British stag parties and marauding groups of
drunken Finns. Almost more Scandinavian than Eastern European, save
for the large amount of Russian spoken, Tallinn is a great destination
to combine sights and nightlife.
One word of warning – Tallinn’s taxi drivers are notorious
for trying to rip off unsuspecting passengers, and many of them
even have their meters hidden out of sight. One handy tip from a
Scottish ex-pat (thanks Phil!) is to ring up IR Tasko, who are the
cheapest company in town. In Phil’s own words
“They have tons of cars and are always less than 10 minutes
away wherever you may find yourself in Tallinn. You will never
find them at the ranks as they only operate to telephone reservations.
The number is 6380000 and with a wee bit of coaxing the controller
will be able to understand your requirements. IR also own a company
called Euro Takso so the car which turns up may have either name
on the door. Trick to remember is that the reservation number
they always give is the 3 digits from the car number plate.”
Old Town square (Raekoja Plats)
and Tower - The focal point of Tallinn is a picture perfect
medieval square bordered by a hotchpotch of coloured Hanseatic buildings
on three sides, and a massive church-like Old Town Hall on the other.
You can be active and pay a few Kroons to climb the slippery steps
to the top of the tower for a great view, or you can just chill
with a coffee, a beer or a pear cider in one of the many cafe terraces
spilling onto the square.
Toompea Hill - Looming above
the Old Town is Toompea Hill (most easily accessed up Pikk Jalg),
home to the ornate Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Kiek
in de Kok fortress and the pink Parliament Building. The Cathedral
is breathtaking, but controversial as many Estonians view it as
an attempt to "Russify" the capital. Kiek in de Kok contains
a museum, and there are stunning views from the top floor.
Occupation Museum - This
is a relatively new museum at the foot of Toompea street (down the
hill from the Cathedral, away from the old town. It's in a new and
very modern building, but is pretty text-based. Be sure to ask at
the counter for an English guide leaflet that will explain all the
City Walls - The walls on
the western flank of the Old Town (just north of Nunne street) are
pretty intact, and you can pay a few Kroons to climb up and walk
between three towers. Very photogenic.
Fat Margaret - This comically-named
Bastion and gun-tower is at the head of the Old Town, near the port.
Apparently it contains a museum and you can climb on to the roof,
but it was closed when were there. Just outside the gate by the
tower is the towering sculpture commemorating the MV Estonia ferry
Day trip to Helsinki (& pub
tram) - There's a lot to do in Tallinn, so this is not a
suggestion that you need to get out of town! However, we did, so
we thought we'd throw this in. We managed to get an internet booking
on Copterline, giving us bargain £50 tickets for the 18-minute
one-way journey over the Gulf of Helsinki. Once there, we spent
an hour on the Pub Tram, then went up to the Olympic Stadium (the
Olympic Tower was shut), before catching the 90-minute jet-foil
back to Tallinn (£13 each). Why do it? Well, it's a damn sight
better than staying in Helsinki and only spending one day in Tallinn!
And you might get to go on a helicopter!
Beer House, Dunkri 5 - This
massive German-style beer hall is just off the Town Hall Square,
and boasts a nightclub and sauna upstairs (we never ventured that
far). In addition to brewing their own dark and light beer, you
can watch the campest chef in the world (in his yellow and maroon
overalls) as he prepares food over an open grill. If you’re
lucky, the house duo will be onstage knocking out “La Paloma
Soti Klubi, Uus 33 - The
Scottish Club is a bit of a weird one. On the edges of the Old Town
out towards the port, the entrance is up some steps and then through
a secluded garden with a fresco painting of a lochside landscape.
The club itself is like a posh golf club, but boasts an impressive
selection of Malts. The downside is they may or may not be open
to “outsiders”. We bowled in on our first visit, but
our second interuppted a slide-show of some sorts!
Kompressor, Rataskaevu 3
- A cross between a pancake café, a bar and a student common
room, the bright and airy Kompressor knocks out very reasonably-priced
drinks and pancakes to an appreciative young crowd. Well worth a
visit if you like pancakes.
Hell Hunt, Pikk 39 - Far
and away the best ex-pat pub in Tallinn. Re-invented from it’s
previous days as an Irish pub, Hell Hunt (meaning “Gentle
Wolf”) has now got a stripped, industrial feel that’s
still comfortable. Knocking out it’s very own dark and light
beers and pear cider at almost half the price of it’s ex-pat
competitors, the bar has quickly become established as a locals’
favourite as well. The pub's been around a while as while, having
opened in 1993.
Molly Malone's, Raekoja
Plats - Small, popular and relatively expensive Irish bar on the
main square, with added karaoke. A new Formula 1 theme bar has opened
next door (but I've never been in)
Nimeta Baar, Suur Karja
4 - The legendary “Bar With No Name” (and it’s
sister “Nimega” over the road – the “Bar
With A Name”) are well established on the Tallinn ex-pat scene.
Both have historical Scottish connections, however I just can’t
grow to like them. Very popular with everyone else, mind.
Kower Korts, Viru 8 - You
can spot this place by virtue of it’s quirky metal sign of
a mechanical head straining to drink a beer. Inside it’s small,
cramped, and difficult to get served (once you’ve managed
to find a space at the bar that is). I don’t know why we bothered.
Scotland Yard, Mere pst
6e - The most stylish pub we encountered in Estonia, the huge Scotland
Yard has the feel of a Sherlock Holmes museum. Loads of comfy seats
on different levels surround a spacious dancefloor. Don’t
miss the cigar bar behind the huge aquarium that sits on top of
the other bar. The toilets may have an electric chair theme, and
the waitresses may carry handcuffs, but unfortunately that didn’t
excuse the surly and unfriendly service. Beyond that, a fine pub.
Depeche Mode, Nunne 4 -
It’s all I ever wanted, all I ever needed. ‘Nuff said.
Bamba, Pärnu Mnt 69
- A pool hall within easy staggering distance from the A.Le Coq
Arena, this seemed to be frequented by drunken Russian neds. Did
what it said on the tin.
Baar Tallinn, Narva Mnt
2 - The first bar beyond the Viru hotel is a cheap and functional
affair, and seemed popular with Finnish jakies. 1 litre steins available
Troika Trahter, Raekoja
Plats 15 - There’s a well-regarded Russian restaurant downstairs,
but it’s this cosy and atmospheric Russian tavern, right on
the Town Hall Square, yet back enough from the cobbles to avoid
the brunt of the stag party crowd, that you should head for. Neck
vodka and pickles (or just sip your beer) and chat to the soundtrack
of authentic wailing Russian folk songs.
Karja Kelder, Vaike-Karja
1 (aka Villa Willem) - A really cosy, and surprisingly huge, downstairs
bar diagonally opposite the Nimeta. The misleading name above the
door (Villa Willem) made it slightly difficult to find. Decent priced
food and drink and a good atmosphere.
Kolumbus Krisostomus, Viru
24 (2nd Floor) - This bright and open Estonian bar sits directly
above yet another soul-less Irish pub, just inside the Viru gates.
Popular for food, this is one of the few places we went that did
table service for beer.
Treffi, Kinga 3 - Supposedly
once the cheapest bar in the old town, knocking out any drink for
€1, this place has recently doubled it’s prices. Nothing
Restaurants (although they serve beer
Vene 12 - Controvento does have a small bar area, but it’s
the food you should come here for. Not quite the bargain it used
to be, it’s still a massive saving on what you would expect
to pay at home for fine steaks and pizzas.
Fellini Restaurant, Kinga
1 (Old Town square) - Sitting right on the Town Hall Square, this
tourist trap of a restaurant does exactly what it says on the tin.
Beware the “Fellini” sized pizzas, unless there’s
a dozen of you sharing one.
Peppersack, Viru 2 - One
of several medieval restaurants in the Old Town, Peppersack is three-in-one.
It combines a café/patisserie with a grill house/barbecue
and a normal restaurant. We ate downstairs and I enjoyed a game
kebab on a skewer over a pint of the house beer. Definitely recommended,
but not quite as good as…
Olde Hansa, Vanaturg 1 -
The daddy of all medieval restaurants, Olde Hansa is a Tallinn institution.
Apparently, a lot of research went into everything, from the music
to the waitresses uniforms, not to mention the food. It’s
possible to eat bear here, as well as other simple yet surprising
dishes (although it’s not the best for vegetarians). Be aware
that all food comes with authentic side dishes, which I loved (but
Helen hated). Three types of house beer to wash it all down with:
Honey Beer, Strong Beer with Herbs and Cinnamon Ale.
Pärnu markets itself as the “summer capital of Estonia”,
which may or may not be true. We were there before the start of
the season, and it had the air of a place that was tidying itself
up and applying a fresh lick of paint. Halfway between Riga and
Tallinn, Pärnu is relatively easy to reach (frequent buses
from Tallinn, taking 2 hours, or 2 trains a day, taking nearly 4),
the town is eminently walkable, and benefits from wide roads and
lots of green space. The sandy beach is very wide, and not drastically
affected by the tide (it’s in a sheltered bay at the north
of the Gulf of Riga), and is packed with playing apparatus and changing
The prices are very reasonable, and the whole place was very friendly
and very honest (which Tallinn’s taxi drivers could take note
from!) – all in all, the city is geared as a resort for Estonian
holiday makers. Those who have been there in high season rave about
the place as well.
- Pärnu's main street is reminiscent of Disneyland's (not that
I've been). It's mostly pedestrianised, and is flanked by picturesque
wooden shops. It's also a good start for a pub crawl, as most of
the action seems to stem from this street.
Beach - The beach is onto
Pärnu Bay, an inlet off the north-eastern edge of the Gulf
of Riga (which is an inlet of the Baltic), and is therefore slightly
sheltered. It benefits from a wide expanse of sand, complimented
by a number of changing screens, nets and goals, and during the
summer there are bars, amusement parks and mud baths all within
easy reach. It rained while we were there! The magnificent Art Deco
Ranna Hotel is right on the beach, and is well recommended as a
place to stay.
Mini Zoo - Mini? They weren't
bloody joking - there's two rooms of fish tanks containing snakes,
spiders and even Nile crocodiles. Not one for the faint-hearted,
or for anyone even slightly concerned about animal welfare! (Me?
I was sizing the crocodile up as a potential sporran)
Tallinn Gate - Not only
is this a well-preserved medieval gate, but it even comes with it's
own in-built bar (see below) - can't go wrong there!
Red Tower - It's not at
all red, it's white. And it was closed when we were there. It's
tucked down a driveway off a side street in the town centre, but
apparently it's historically significant (sayeth the guide book),
and let's face it, it's not going to take too much of your valuable
Alexandri Pub, Vana-Raama
8 - A quirky pub on the north side of the Pärnu river, but
well worth the stroll. Don’t let the menacing biker club next
door put you off. You could spend years trying to look at everything
on the walls, but when we were in, there was a saltire hanging in
one of the alcoves.
Laterna, Puhavaimu 12 -
A very cheap, very local bar, just off Ruutli. Smelled a bit funny,
but at 50p a pint, who’d complain?
Nikolai Lehtla, Nikolai
7 - Another bar just off Ruutli, you can spot this one by the wooden
decking out front just beyond the Tourist Information centre on
the corner. The walls are bedecked with lifesize pictures of a forest,
but when we were in, the atmosphere was pretty dead and the service
surly. Supposedly open later than most bars, but don’t count
Postipoiss, Vee 12 - Mainly
a restaurant, but at weekends this place turns into a raucous dance
hall for a more mature crowd. There’s also a small amount
of seating near the bar, which serves their own (nice) dark house
beer as well as pear cider on draught. There always seems to be
a taxi stationed outside as well, which is handy.
Romantik Baar, Tervise Paradis
Hotel - a bar with a view! It's on the 8th (and top) floor of the
brand spanking new, and very plush, Tervis Paradis Hotel on the
beach. Well worth a visit for the view alone.
Ruutlihoov, Ruutli 29 -
This wee pub has it’s own courtyard off Ruutli, but to be
honest, I wasn’t that impressed. There seemed to be a mezzanine
level – we sat underneath it and felt like we were in a curry
house waiting room. The main room felt a little like a beer hall,
but everyone seemed more preoccupied with eating than drinking.
Tallinna Varavad, Kuninga
1 - Now we’re talking – a bar built into the roof of
the Tallinn Gate. No windows, but loads of atmosphere. The only
let down is that it closes pretty early, and there aren’t
loads of seats. Definitely worth a visit, even if it is only bottled
V6, Vee 6 - A small, friendly,
local bar opposite the theatre at the top of Vee. The swirly walls
give the impression of some pre-club haunt, but this is anything
but. No pumps, so bottles all the way.
Veerev Olu, Uus3a-2 - Best
pub in Pärnu (Alexandri’s is second), in my opinion.
It’s off the road, tucked behind some other buildings, and
gives the impression of a wood cabin in the middle of wasteground.
This pub has long, beer hall style benches and a very friendly atmosphere.
Look out for the football photos and the olde-worlde maps of the
Baltics on the walls.
Vies Villem, Kuninga 11
- Just around the corner from Postipoiss, you can spot this place
by the Guinness sign. Indeed, on the inside as well, this pub really
does want to be an Irish pub, complete with random jakies! A decent
selection of food and drink, and lots of seats, make this an acceptable
Vaike Klaus, Supeluse 3
- Halfway between the mud baths on the beach and the centre of town,
this small bar/restaurant is pretty much marooned, but a handy staging
post if headed in either direction. Help yourself to a menu, and
order at the bar.
Kuursaal, Mere pst 22 -
This massive ex-theatre is almost on the beach, and the nightclub
had the atmosphere of a Jumpin Jaks or a Brannigans, with a big
bar and lots of tables, plus a stage for live music. I was lucky
enough to see Kool & The Gang here.
Martini & Espresso Bar,
Munga 2 - The good news is this place is open VERY late (5 or 6am).
The bad news is it’s little more than a room with a bar in.
Still, it serves beer, and is open very late.
Teater Endla, Keskvaljak
1 - This minimalist designer café is primarily for theatre
goers, however it does coffee and cakes for early risers, and a
nice line in Vana Tallinn cocktails for the more decadent.
Estonia is the most
northerly, and most Scandinavian, of the Baltic states. It was certainly
the quickest to westernise, and Tallinn’s position opposite
Helsinki has led to a lot of Finnish money (both tourist and business
investment) pouring in. Estonian’s have a reputation for being
cool and calculating, directly opposite to the Lithuanians (aka
the “Italians of the Baltics”) – at the time of
the 1991 revolutions, the saying was “Estonians would die
for their freedom – right down to the last Lithuanian”.
too much attention to this - it just shows how my own experiences
can really warp my view of a place!
Tallinn (from 1999)
is the only place in Estonia I have ever been to, and even then
only once, in September 1999. This is despite Scotland having visited
three times. As a result, my expectations were very high, and I
left a wee bit disappointed.
The centre is very fine, with the requisite
old town square, and town hall tower to catch your views from. Rising
to the west is Toompea Hill, with an ornate pink “Kremlin”
style church and some old wooden houses, and the streets north of
the old town square leading towards the harbour also have some fine
sights, including Fat Margaret (a gun tower). Around 2 miles east
of the centre is Kadriorg Park, which houses the old national stadium
(I understand a new one has now been built) and the Presidents palace
(just a big house in the woods, basically). You can also walk to
the edge of the Gulf of Helsinki here and see the memorial for those
drowned in the mid-90’s Baltic ferry disaster. All-in-all,
the city is very pretty and walkable, certainly in early Autumn
(when I was there).
Tallinn is also famed for it’s
nightlife – and for the droves of Finnish tourists that often
antagonise the locals. Estonia has long been a convenient getaway
from Scandinavian prices for Finns (this can be used to your advantage
– why pay Finnish hotel costs when you can base yourself a
few hours away in Tallinn?), but weekends have a reputation for
drunken-ness on the streets. It was the nightlife that hit me the
hardest – I don’t know if it was too hot on the heels
of Sarajevo (where I has spent the previous weekend), but it just
didn’t float my boat! We drank mostly in Nimega (“the
bar with a name”), mainly because this was less crowded than
it’s sister over the road: Nimeta (“The bar without
a name” – both are Scottish owned). Other pubs clustered
around the Old Town Square, including the insanely popular TA favourite
Molly Malones, and in the street running across the top of the square
(more Irish pubs here).
The local beer is Saku, and unbelievably
it is very well-regarded. Personally, I share Inverness David’s
opinion that it makes battery acid taste nice, but there you go.
Stick to vodka. Or Riga!
Despite the disclaimers that I have tried
to plaster everywhere, I feel the need to reiterate this more here
than anywhere else – this really is just one man’s opinion.
Almost everyone else I know loves the place, and there are some
very Scottish influences out there as legacies of our previous visits,
it’s just that personally I wasn’t as impressed as I
have been by the other capitals. Go, and make your own mind up!