After leaving Helsinki, we crossed the Baltic Sea for the off-the-radar capital of Tallinn, Estonia. From getting lost in a fairytale town, to shooting AK-47’s, and visiting abandoned prisons, here’s our list of to-do’s in this fascinating city of contrasts.
1 | Take a Free Tour of Old Town
The entire town is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Old plazas with modern cafes melt into small alleyways with cute markets and shops.
After centuries of being absorbed by the Germans, Danes, Swedes, Russians, and then later by the Germans and Russians again, Estonia is a cultural mutt. The easiest way to capture its long and complicated history is to join a free walking tour. They start at noon and start at the Tourism Center in Old Town.
Kiek in de Kök (Round Tower) is a 15th-century tower built by the Germans. We didn’t end up getting to it, but from here, you can also check out the bastion tunnels, a network of passageways 10m under the city.
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a relic from the Russian Empire.
2 | Haul Yourself Up A Tower and Mount The Old City Walls
Climb up the tower in the middle of the city and walk along the ancient borders of Old Town. €6 admission. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.
You’ll get spectacular views.
I couldn’t help spotting this cute terrace next door. It’s not spying if I admit it.
3 | Take a Shortcut Through a Hidden Alley
Veer off the beaten path, go under an unmarked archway and find solitude in an old passageway.
4 | Channel your inner Furiosa
While I’m far from being a gun enthusiast, there’s nothing more empowering than a girl who can handle her own. Compared to gun ranges in the US, Estonian rules are relatively lax, meaning you can shooting things like an AK-47 is actually allowed. #wheninestonia
Golden Desert Eagle
5 | Get a Glimpse of Estonia’s Soviet Past
It’s hard to appreciate how hardy Estonians are without getting a first-hand glimpse of its rough history. Patarei was first built by Tzar Nicholas I as a sea fortress-prison for the Russians. It was then taken over by the KGB to torment and kill political prisoners. It wasn’t until two centuries later in 2004 that this chamber of terror was finally abandoned. It was the same year that Facebook launched.
There are 4 floors, with this being a relatively tame level where prisoners bunked. It was in the basement, where men were used for experiments and the incarcerated were taken into a room and shot.
In one of the courtyards where prisoners were allowed to roam for an hour each day.
After its abandonment, art exhibits, concerts and festivals started popping up.
In one of the old communal bathrooms.
6 | Reconcile Your faith In Humanity At The Patarei Beach Cafe
Unwind from Patarei’s dark past with a visit to the seaside Cafe they built right next to the prison.
In the summer you can grab a beer, a chaise lounge and borrow a blanket for a cat nap next to the Baltic Sea.
7 | Try a locally sourced meal
Last but not least, eat well my friends. While there’s no real national dish, Estonian food is defined by its locally sourced ingredients. Try anything with root vegetables, berries, mushrooms, and if you’re adventurous, game meat (beaver, boar, elk, etc.).