I started traveling around the Baltics in Lithuania. Because the Baltic states are so small and close together, it’s common (if not universal) to find people traveling through one to be traveling through all three. So everyone you meet is either on their way to another Baltic state and/ or coming from one… and they are a wealth of travel information about the cities. When I told people that I was heading to Tallinn next, everyone described it in exactly the same way: Oh, it’s the Disneyland of Europe! Everyone had a different opinion about which city was better, but I was already intrigued. Disney? That’s a high standard to live up to, and an interesting comparison for a city. Still, fresh off Segovia I had high hopes.
I took the overnight bus from Vilnius to Tallinn. Most people go direct between the Baltic countries (i.e. either straight up or down) but the flights were more limiting for me and so I opted for Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, instead of a more direct path. Ryanair doesn’t fly every single day of the week from every city so depending on where you are coming from and going to it can make a big difference on your travel path. Anyway, my bus got in at the crack of dawn (AKA 6 AM) and Estonia was still sleepy… and confusing. I had a heck of a time trying to find the proper bus to get to my hostel because the trams weren’t running for one reason or another and no one in the bus station spoke English. But I finally made it into the old town and I could immediately tell what people were talking about!
Since I arrived so early I took a few minutes to freshen up and do some research at the hostel since I knew I’d only be spending one day in the city proper (more on what I did on day two next week), and then I headed out to wander. Tallinn is very tiny as well and I practically had the city to myself as I wandered.
For this reason I highly recommend getting an early start while in the Baltics. It’s becoming a big party scene for young Europeans (I’ve never seen hostels explicitly state that bachelor and bachelorette parties are unwelcome before) but because mostly they sleep in after partying late into the night the early morning can be the best time to see the city. I hiked up the hill to get a view of the city, and nearly had the view to myself. I definitely recommend the sugared nuts–the smell is intoxicating and they make a nice snack while you survey the city.
The red rooftops, the church steeples… the harbor. It’s all visible when you get above the city. From this vantage point you can clearly see the cruise ships that dock in the harbor as well. Both longer cruises on major cruise lines as well as ferries to nearby port cities such as Helsinki depart out of the harbor and while you would never notice it from old town, when you get above the city it is suddenly so obviously close that you wonder how you can miss it.
At the top of the hill there are some other interesting landmarks, including the Russian Orthodox church that has inspired many mixed feelings among Estonians because of the history of the country (see last week’s post for more info or just look into simple Baltic state/ USSR history). Still, the church is very beautiful and worth a stop. Coming down the hill or going up, depending on the path you take, you pass some interesting architecture that has deep city history.
Another major stop as I was exploring Tallinn was the Hotel Viru, where the Soviets kept a radio transmission station secretly enclosed on the top floor of the hotel and since it was a hotel dedicated to foreigners and visiting former Estonians who had left the county they also used a variety of high-tech devices to spy on the guests. I’d highly recommend it. They have several tours a day, typically conducted in a few different languages, so I recommend stopping by the front desk to ask about times first thing in the morning so you can ensure that you are able to catch a tour– you can’t visit alone. I’ve heard mixed reviews depending on the guide but I really found it very interesting. The views from the top are pretty sweet, too!
Tallinn was a really pretty city, much more the glamour as opposed to the harshness of history that seemed so much more prevalent in Vilnius. It was really interesting to compare and contrast the two. I heard a lot of people say that Tallinn was their least favorite of the Baltic cities, because it felt so much like a tourist destination and had that “Disney” feel. I really enjoyed the time I spent there, though, and the rest of the time I spent in Estonia. The only way to really know? See it for yourself… and go soon, before this tiny corner of the world really hits the big tourist boom.