Estonia as reflected by foreign media
Tallinn 2011 Board Member
What would I do if I had not been to Estonia for a long time?
I would fly to Tallinn and would find accommodation in one of the many beautiful hotels. In the evening I would dine in one of the equally numerous excellent restaurants. Afterwards, I would take a nightcap at a medieval wine cellar. Truly medieval! Through all of this I would saunter through old Tallinn, and let the Old Town simply sink into me.
The next day I would take one of those amusing Czechoslovakian-made streetcars in order to conquer other parts of the town – the noble Kadriorg, but also Kalamaja and Kopli; the boroughs with wooden architecture. There is much to discover here! I would simply go with the flow – as stopping points I would use several of the cafés and in Kadriorg of course the KuMu (go ahead, google it!). In the evening I would go to the sauna Kalma. It really strikes my fancy, but is not for the faint of heart. The temperatures in the upper spheres of the amphitheater-shaped steam room may be high enough as to be enjoyable only in a felted hat and a pair of mittens.
On the third day the road would take me to the National Park at Lahemaa, to its woods and its swamps. It may sound strange, but the bogs are some of Estonia’s best features. Their frugal beauty and purity put the soul at rest. Lahemaa, with its beautiful wildlife, is close enough that you can stay overnight in Tallinn. The best thing to do, however, is to stay here several days. In this case: BYOB – bring your own bicycle. (There are ample rental opportunities in Tallinn).
Do not miss out on the Western coast. The dominating factor here is the architecturally balanced wooden city of Haapsalu. Right next to it are the islands. A tip: you can reach Hiiumaa and Saaremaa by airplane for a very reasonable fare. The authentic approach is still with a ferry, while treating yourself to a delicious open-faced herring sandwich.
I am running out of space here, but have still so many ideas left. Lake Peipus, Tartu and Southern Estonian, the museums in Tallinn, the Estonian music festivals, gathering mushrooms in autumn, bird-watching at any time of the year, knowing how many bears and lynx roam the forests here, or the crazy days of the Black Nights Film Festival…
And then there is all of that, of course, which is still wholly unknown to me!
- Green and clean Estonia
- Islands - the best place to relax
- Versatile Tallinn – European Capital of Culture 2011
- Genuine Christmas market in Tallinn
Green and clean Estonia
If you are looking for windmills, forests, and varied weather and seasons, then come to Estonia. Estonia has a coastline of 3 794 km and has 1 400 lakes, 800 islands, and many national parks. The charm of the medieval era lives on in the cobbled streets at the foot of Toompea Hill in Tallinn. Mighty walls surround the old Hanseatic town, and Fat Margaret tower facing the sea protected it against the Germans and Swedes, who now again arrive in Tallinn in large masses. (Salzburger Nachrichten, 4.4)
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have not yet been touched by mass tourism, which is why you should visit these countries soon. The Baltic states are united by the cobalt blue Baltic Sea, which offers you long walks on its white beaches. Here you can find baroque and medieval towns and castles, lakes, long dunes and pine forests, making for the best preserved natural environment in Europe. Each country has its own identity, language and traditions. Tallinn, with its Lutheran and Scandinavian influences, is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and the most beautiful view of the town opens from the sea. A sense of history can be felt in the medieval Old Town, alongside a lot of the modern world in the cafés and glamorous bars, the hotel rooms with Wi-Fi connection, and the chic art galleries. (Pleine Vie, juuni 2009)
Estonia’s secret lies in its freshness. Photo: Marko Mägi
Picture a country that is so clean that you do not dare to smoke in the streets, a country so green that you believe you are walking on a mountain pasture after a rainfall. Picture a country which is so modern that internet cafés here are a thing of the past and where modern design is on par with that of the Nordic countries. This country is Estonia. The past is a memory and the future is a song. What is the secret of this country? Maybe it is freshness. The national sport of the Estonians is mushroom picking. Being close to nature is nothing new for the people here, and as you go around the countryside you will find it difficult to find a home which does not have a sauna as a natural part of it. The sauna is of deep importance to the Estonians – children were born there, it was a place for cleansing, a place for resting. The importance of the sauna has not disappeared today-- you will find saunas in hotels, town houses, camp sites. But the best saunas are the old ones, which are close to nature. Know that an invitation to a sauna night at home is a sign of respect, which you should not refuse unless you have a good reason. (Metro, 15.9)
Estonia is a country of squirrels. Photo: Elvis Kõll
Estonia is a country of squirrels, not hares - here you can live in the treetops, jumping from one branch to another without touching the ground at all, so thick are the forests. The surroundings are quiet, here or there you may spot plain wooden houses with a light in the window and a column of smoke rising into the silent air. The houses in their modesty may remind you of buildings seen in Japan. In winter there is little light, even on the sunniest of days. The people are quiet, winds are icy, and despite the great changes in social life over the last 20 years the memories of the times of the occupation are disappearing only slowly. (Le Figaro, 21.12)
Islands - the best place to relax
The islands are among the most beautiful places in the Baltics. In the middle of Hiiumaa, a massive 36-metre high tower rises. This mighty structure is the Kõpu lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in the Baltic Sea that still operates. The Estonian Lighthouse Society is working towards opening 45 Estonian lighthouses to the public. The lighthouses will retain their old function, but additionally they will become tourist sites, which will attract visitors to the islands of Estonia. The forest paths on Hiiumaa are solitary, the beaches are solitary too. Hiiumaa is enchanting, but more good ideas, initiatives and dynamic people are needed. (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2.4)
Kõpu lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in the Baltic Sea that still operates. Photo: Getter Vahar
The Estonian islands are the best place to slow down and relax. Muhu was the westernmost edge of the Soviet empire until Estonia gained independence in 1991, and along with the neighbouring island of Saaremaa, it has retained a rural charm. The result of no industrial development is two time-capsule islands. Here the attractions are simple pleasures such as walking in pine forests, bathing at deserted beaches, or getting treatments at a spa hotel. Even in Soviet times it was a place where artists came. In Koguva village the work of local artist can be admired. The famous Pädaste Manor offers its visitors a luxurious setting. (The Times, 8.8)
The “Eiffel Tower” of Hiiumaa is related to the similar structure in Paris not just by name, but also in the attitude of the public to it. There were many who demanded the ugly monstrosity be demolished during its construction. But now millions of tourists visit it, and it has become a tourism magnet. Jaan, who built the Hiiumaa tower, says that he created it as a memorial to his beloved and having to demolish it would mean betraying his love. Every day dozens of tourists visit Jaan’s yard where the tower stands. (Первый канал, 19.9)
Versatile Tallinn – European Capital of Culture 2011
Bored of Riga and Vilnius? Then hurry on to Tallinn! Tallinn is best known for its beautiful Old Town, surrounded by a well-preserved town wall. Inside the wall, red tiled roofs and narrow church steeples catch the eye. This beauty is only a two-hour ferry journey away from Helsinki, so it attracts lots of visitors from Scandinavia. You seldom meet French people though. They do not know what they are missing out on! The best way to get to know the town is by starting your tour on top of Toompea Hill. The viewing platforms here illustrate for you the different historical periods of the town. Next to the marvellous Old Town you see the port, and beyond that the residential districts full of Soviet architecture. In the town centre you will notice several ultra-modern high-rise buildings. Having admired the Orthodox cathedral, descend to the lower town, where you will discover a real pearl of Tallinn, the Town Hall built at the start of the 15th century. The surrounding historical buildings house several chic restaurants and cafés. Continue your walk along Pikk Street, undoubtedly the most beautiful street in the town. In the building of the Great Guild is the History Museum. And if you still have some time, visit the art museum KUMU in Kadriorg, where you have a chance to see the best of Estonian art. (20 minutes, 27.3)
Kadriorg Palace of the 18th century is certainly worth seeing.
© Toomas Volmer, Tallinn City Tourist Office
Tallinn has something for everyone. In our cash-strapped times a tour of the old town’s ecclesiastical sites is perfect-- discover the famous painting Dance Macabre in St Nicholas’ Church or the walls of a Lutheran church splattered with armorial epitaphs. Yet ecclesiastical tourism is far from Tallinn’s only bargain. Snug cafés, cheap museums and bizarre attractions await visitors, such as Tall Herman castle tower, St Catherine’s Passage, Fat Margaret tower, Kiek in De Kök, Long Leg and Short Leg, and the Kalev Spa. The cure for the Baltic cold winter can certainly be found here. (The Times, 24.1)
The excavation work for the underground car-park under Vabaduse (Freedom) Square revealed, to the residents' joy, old defensive walls and the frameworks of two medieval towers. Archaeologists were surprised to find a 4 500–5 000-year-old settlement there. It was not known before then that people had lived in the heart of Tallinn as long ago as the Stone Age. Over a thousand findings from the Stone Age, such as pieces of a dish or tool made of bone or quartz stone have been recovered. The strata of the Stone Age on Vabaduse Square site is separated by a lighter strata of sand. In those days this used to be a beach, in medieval times a suburb. During the Swedish era, preparations for war were made on Vabaduse Square as defensive tunnels and moats were dug and walls were built. The walls and one medieval tower will be left for everyone to view after the car-park is completed. (HS, 3.2)
In medieval times you could buy precious stones and sweets in the pharmacy. Around 600 years ago the Town Council's Pharmacy in Tallinn offered its customers yellow beryl against yellow fever and blue sapphire to treat plague boils. Similarly people believed in the curative power of sweets. The most famous product on the shelves of the Town Council’s Pharmacy was marzipan. Today the Town Council's Pharmacy unites a museum and a pharmacy. (ESS, 20.5)
Tallinn is small enough to get around on foot or in a wheelchair. When visiting Toompea you have to be aware of steep inclines, which can make going uphill difficult. Getting around the old town mostly means walking or rolling down the streets and visiting the cafés and restaurants that have outdoor terraces. Tallinn has a Hanseatic spirit with many cafés, restaurants and shops. Like in medieval times, you can taste bear meat even today. Like in other European cities, when you move away from the centre, the architecture becomes more modern. Moving around outside the old town is easier. A pleasant place to visit is the Open Air Museum, which has free entrance for the disabled. In the museum you can learn about the life of Estonians from the 18th century up to the 1930s. Kadriorg Park and palace and KUMU art museum are also worth seeing, as visiting these sites is easy for people with physical disabilities. (Yanous, aprill 2009)
KUMU art museum.
© Karel Koplimets, Tallinn City Tourist Office
In 2011 Tallinn will be the European Capital of Culture. In summertime the historical Town Hall Square is the central point thanks to its cafés and the many concerts taking place on the square. It is a real delight to wander down the narrow streets and taste sweets in the cafés. In Tallinn you can find remarkably well-preserved groups of medieval buildings, which have been skilfully restored. For example, almost half of the medieval town wall still survives. Roaming through the handicraft shops, you might end up in the Dominican Monastery dating from 1246, where 60 monks lived in the 13th century. St. Nicholas Church, built in the 13th century is remarkable too, and is home to the famous Danse Macabre by Bernt Notke. Tallinn flourished thanks to its Hanseatic status. The beauty of the old town is best admired from Toompea Hill, where many of the buildings are state buildings and foreign embassies. (La Croix, 12.6)
The charm of towns that are less well-known lies in the fact that at first you do not know what to expect, but upon arrival you may become excited about everything. The architecture of Tallinn bears the imprint of different eras, and in a strange way the East and the West meet here. Hanseatic merchant houses, tsarist wooden workers' quarters, bland Soviet apartment blocks and the modern city create an irresistible dreamy mood. Here people know how to combine memories of the past and visions of the future to create a brighter present. (Roadbook, juuli-august 2009)
The young people in Tallinn look like those in Paris, but unlike French youth, the younger generation here speaks perfect English and is used to the opportunities offered by wireless internet. The Old Town is like an open-air museum with its narrow, winding streets and houses. Life boils in the lower town; there are shops, cafés and restaurants everywhere. On the other side of the town wall lie old wooden houses, Soviet memorials and new high-rise buildings. At the railway station market the classic scent of Eastern Europe lingers. Here you can buy caramels in a metal box as well as old samovars. (Biba, 6.8)
It is said that Nõmme is the most pleasant district of Tallinn, and it is easy to agree with this. This lovely area is a world of its own, where you get a feeling of local life. The day begins nicely at Nõmme market, which after its refurbishment is nice and well run. Nõmme is an old district of wooden houses, which are now complemented by interesting modern buildings. It is possible to learn more about the history of the area in the Nõmme Museum, located in the railway station. (Kaleva, 9.8)
Lovely summer day in Nõmme market
A pleasant atmosphere of the old times is characteristic of Tallinn markets. There are many small-hold farmers who sell their garden produce. Magda Priinits has arrived from Haapsalu to sell her goods at the Tallinn central market. She offers ripe plums, large beans, tomatoes the size of a fist and small cherry tomatoes. Small-hold farmers are not often well-known, but the Uus-Kongo farm in North Estonia has become famous for its sauerkraut. The famous chanterelles from Saaremaa cannot be found at the central market, but Tartu County is also well represented. Mushrooms, lingonberries and apples are sold. East Estonia provides cucumbers from Mustvee and onions from Lake Peipus. (HS, 12.9)
Cobbled streets, pastel façades, narrow church steeples and red tiled roofs – the Old Town of medieval Tallinn offers a real thrill. Toompea, historically the part of town of the rulers, towers 50 metres above sea level. The lower town was mostly occupied by craftspeople and merchants. This is the main area of the town with its restaurants, pubs and shops. On the Town Hall Square you should make sure to take a look at house number 11, as one of the oldest pharmacies still operating in the world is located in this building. The tower of the Town Hall building is high, slightly reminiscent of a minaret in its shape. Was the inspiration received from the Orient when it was built? You can try the national cuisine in the nearby Kuldse Notsu tavern. Walking along Pikk Street you reach St. Olaf's Church. In the 16th century it was the highest structure in the world with its 159-metre steeple, and the steeple was a landmark for navigators. Now you can climb to the top to enjoy an enchanting panoramic view. In medieval times famous marzipan was made in Tallinn. But surprisingly it was primarily used as a medication. You can get an overview of the history of sweets production at the marzipan museum on Pikk Street. Art lovers should be sure to visit Kadriorg Park and the museums there. (Voyages, oktoober 2009)
The jewel of Tallinn is the best-preserved medieval Old Town in the Nordic countries.
© Toomas Volmer, Tallinn City Tourist Office
The favourite destination of the Finns, Tallinn offers new attractions for children. In the museum Miia-Milla-Manda you are in a good mood as soon as you step in the hallway. The newest place in Tallinn, intended for children, is much more than a boring and traditional museum. All types of games can be tried, while at the same time everything has a teaching aspect. “It is not just a playroom. We try to make the children think through their games,” says the director of the museum Tanel Veeremaa. (TS, 23.12)
The jewel of Tallinn is the best-preserved medieval Old Town in the Nordic countries. Walking on cobblestone streets gives you the best idea of the flourishing times when Tallinn was an important port town on the Baltic Sea and a member of the Hanseatic League. Small, cosy cafés with a real fire and candles attract visitors. Of local drinks try the famous Saku beer and Viru Valge vodka. On the Town Hall Square the gothic Town Hall towers; it dates back to 1422, 70 years before Columbus discovered America! (Taksidia, 8.11)
Genuine Christmas market in Tallinn
Tallinn Town Hall Square is said to be the site of the world’s first Christmas tree, which formed part of a ritual begun in 1441, when unmarried merchants sang and danced with the town’s girls around a decorated tree. The tree was then burned. Organisers expect 200 000 visitors this year and no tree-burning. (The Times, 8.11)
Forget crowded shopping centres! With their atmospheric squares full of fairy lights, pretty stalls and handcrafted gifts, Christmas markets put the magic back into the season. Tallinn has found a worthy place in the list of the best Christmas markets in company with Dresden, Vienna, Prague, Copenhagen and Strasbourg. Tallinn’s market is set in Town Hall Square in the medieval Old Town. The vicinity of the Gothic town hall gives it an undeniably ancient, fairy-tale feel. Cosy stalls sell traditional crafts such as embroidered quilts, felt hats, stained glass, sheepskin rugs, wooden goods, puppets, candles. Chilly temperatures are kept at bay with mulled wine, spicy sausages and sauerkraut, as well as traditional marzipan and gingerbread. There’s also an open-air ice rink in nearby Harju Street. And don’t forget to send your cards from Father Christmas’s post office. (The Daily Telegraph, 12.11)
Romantic Christmas market in Tallinn Old Town.
© Allan Alajaan, Tallinn City Tourist Office
It is becoming more and more popular for Russian tourists to celebrate the New Year and Christmas in Estonia. In addition to the Town Hall Square, one of the centres for the New Year celebrations is the new Nokia Concert Hall, right next to the National Opera. It is part of the Solaris entertainment centre, which has multiple shops, restaurants and cinema screens. As is customary, many town-centre hotels and restaurants offer special programmes for Russian tourists. Those who would like to get away from the hubbub of the town may select an old, grand manor house converted into a luxurious hotel. (Турбизнес, november nr 16)
Wrap yourself up warm and walk on the slippery, frozen streets of Tallinn Old Town – this is certainly more romantic than spending your winter holidays in the Bahamas! An intimate Christmas market is open around the grand Christmas tree on the Town Hall Square. The pleasant scent of mulled wine lingers around the huts lit with fairy-lights. Santa Claus, wearing a red coat and accompanied by two beautiful elves, is keeping an eye on the bargaining. Unlike most West European Christmas markets, the Nordic countries have been able to preserve the right atmosphere and authenticity. In fact, winter-time is the right time to discover the beauty here. (ViaMichelin, 15.12)