Estonia – Somewhere different

By | Category: Travel destinations
Master Courtyard

Master Courtyard

Estonia is one of those countries that you may have heard of, but few have visited. With Prince Harry’s pending visit on May 16, I was interested in seeing what the country had to offer.

Tallin, the capital is the best place to get a feel of the country. The airport isn’t far from the centre where Prince Harry will be laying a wreath on the Freedom War Monument in Freedom Square.

Approximately, a third of the population lives in Tallinn, and there are still many unattractive buildings dating back to the Soviet period. However, the Old Town, made up of the upper and lower parts is the main attraction. Remnants remain of the old city walls, with medieval buildings, and cobbled streets. At every twist and turn I discovered something interesting. Courtyards and alleyways are all places to explore where, tucked away, are interesting shops. In Master Courtyard we discovered a really quirky chocolate shop that doubles as a cafe serving snacks. Several craft shops have items that are great for souvenirs or presents. We also discovered an old monastery whose entrance was via a cafe in which there was also a theatre. At the heart of this area is the Town Hall Square where a tower can be climbed for views over the city, but is also a landmark for finding your way around. From July 10 – 13 a Medieval market takes place in the Square.

Town Hall Square

Town Hall Square

Near the Town Hall Square there are several medieval themed restaurants. We went on our last night, and the food experience was not a pleasant one. Although they look as if they could be fun, I would definitely recommend giving them a miss unless you are part of a stag party for which this type of restaurant could have an appeal. The town square, filled with outdoor cafes and places to drink is also the meeting point for stag parties. Expect to see groups of men or women particularly at the weekend.

The upper town built on a hill is where the aristocracy lived, and now houses several embassies and where I could get a good idea of how the fortifications, which are still intact, actually look. The preserved part of the ancient town wall is around two km long and has 26 defence towers.  The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral with its four domes reminiscent of the Kremlin towers over the city. Next to it and painted Mediterranean salmon pink is the country’s Parliament.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Tallinn has lots of museums. There seems to be one for everything. The one I thought unique, near but not in the Old Town, is the KGB Museum on the twenty third floor of the  Varu Hotel. An employee of the hotel during the Soviet era regaled us, with lots of sinister implications, stories of the methods used by the KGB to spy on guests. We were taken to the top of the building where the hotel’s machinery is kept, and shown a room containing the remains of the KGB’s telecommunication equipment with sections removed as it was when they left the country. Visits in English are at 11.30 and 14.30. €9. Advisable to book in advance.

Although the majority of attractions are concentrated in the Old town there are also other places to see. A short tram ride took us to the Baroque style Kadriorg Palace and park. Built in the eighteenth century by Russian Tsar Peter the Great it now houses a collection of international art. In contrast, and near it is KUMU, a modern glass building that contains the country’s Estonian Art Collection.

By the harbour, Tallinn is a port of call for cruises, and housed in an enormous seaplane hanger is the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour.  On display are boats, seaplanes and a submarine that we were able to explore. The country’s prides itself on being very high tech, and this was clearly evident here. Through using the interactive descriptions, I was able to send text of anything that interested me to my personal email address. In fact Wi-Fi is accessible free in all public places, and I was able to access it in my hotel, the restaurants we visited, and all the museums. However, there is a charge for entry to the latter.

Tallinn

Tallinn

Tallinn is not the only place to visit. In a country where a quarter of it has been designated a nature reserve, and with only 1.3 million inhabitants, it is easy to get around if you want to explore. There is very little traffic outside the main towns, and car hire is cheap with petrol being numerically similar but in euros.

My guide in Estonia, Neil Taylor, is also the author of the Bradt Guide to the country which is great for making sure you don’t miss anything and invaluable out of town. £16.99.

The Gatwick Express is the fastest way of getting from the airport to Victoria Station. Southern Trains also run a cheaper but slower service.

For more information  about Estonia, click here. For more information about Tallinn, click here.

 

 

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