Difference between revisions of "Tallinn"
Revision as of 15:50, 28 March 2008
Tallinn , the capital of Estonia, is truly one of the gems of Northern Europe. The city lies on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, only 70 km (43 mi) south of Helsinki. At the historical heart of the city is the hill of Toompea, covered in cobbled streets and filled with medieval houses and alleyways. The lower town spreads out from the foot of the hill, still protected by the remnants of a city wall. Around the city wall is a series of well-maintained green parks, great for strolling.
While the old town has been astonishingly well preserved and was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997, it is now in better shape than ever, with the bigger roads converted into fashionable shopping streets reminiscent of Zürich or Geneva, the new town sprawling all around is largely built in typical concrete Soviet style. The new center of town is Vabaduse väljak (Freedom Square) at the edge of the old town, and nearby is the giant matchbox of Hotel Viru, the former Intourist flagship and notorious den of Cold War intrigue (every room was tapped and monitored by the KGB!). Recently, Tallinn has received a boom in tourism, especially by daytrippers which visit it from its sister city across the Baltic Sea, Helsinki.
Tallinn is a historical city dating back from the medieval times and was first recorded on a world map in 1154, although the first fortress was built on Toompea in 1050. In 1219, the city was conquered by Valdemar II of Denmark, but it was soon sold to the Hanseatic League in 1285. The city - known as Reval at the time - prospered as a trading town in the 14th century, and much of Tallinn's historic center was built at this time.
Tallinn then became a pawn in the geopolitical games of its big neighbors, passing into Swedish hands in 1561 and then to Russia under Peter the Great in 1710. By World War I and the ensuing brief Estonian independence (starting 1918) Tallinn's population had reached 150,000.
Estonia was eventually annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, only to be conquered by Nazi Germany (1941-44) and then retaken by the Soviets. In World War II, the city was quite extensively bombed, even though luckily the medieval town remains. The Soviet Union undertook a program of massive Slavic migration, and just over 40% of Tallinn's current inhabitants are Slavic (compared to an average of 28% for the entire country). On August 20, 1991, Estonia declared independence and Tallinn became its capital once again.
Today, Tallinn is a bustling, gleaming metropolis of 400,000 people, undoubtedly the most modern city in the Baltics. However, among the tall glassy buildings and corporate headquarters, Tallinn retains an inner charm seldom found anywhere else. Estonia considers itself a Northern European country (i.e. nearly Scandinavian), and visiting Tallinn you will find a mix of at least three architectures in this very visual city: old Europe (the city walls and rustic buildings), Soviet brutalist (crumbling apartment blocks), and modern Europe (including McDonald's next to the city walls!).
By catamaran or ferry
As in other parts of Baltic Europe and Scandinavia, sea is the easiest and most common way of reaching Tallinn.
The most common ferry shuttle route is the short journey from Helsinki in Finland to Tallinn. The basic choice is between fast hydrofoil or catamaran, which complete the trip in 1.5 hours but cost more (~€20-50 one way) and are susceptible to poor weather, and slow ferries, which plod for 3.5 hours in rain or shine for half the price (starting at €20). Exact pricing depends on operator, season (summer costs more), day of week (Fri/Sat costs more) and even time of departure (to Tallinn in the morning and back in the evening is popular and hence more expensive).
As of 2007, the list of operators is:
Note that large catamarans and all ferries can also carry cars. There are also several ferry options to Stockholm.
All ferries except Linda Line dock at Reisisadam port, to the north of the center. From here, there is a direct bus (No. 2) to both the city center and the airport; alternatively, just walk for a leisurely 15 minutes, first east to Mere pst and then down to Viru Square. The journey from the port to the city center is not all that impressive but don't be shocked - this isn't the real Tallinn!
Tallinn Airport (or "Ülemiste Airport") (IATA: TLL) (ICAO: EETN), about 5 km from the city center, Tallinn Airport is increasingly becoming an airport hub of the Baltics. Estonian Air provides good quality services to a series of European cities, including London, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Riga, Vilnius, Kiev and Moscow. If you live in or near these cities, air travel is the best way to get to Tallinn. Fares are also fairly cheap - Amsterdam to Tallinn is from 67 Euro. In a code-share agreement with SAS Scandinavian Airlines, there are now a whopping 18 flights per week to Copenhagen and Stockholm. Another Estonian carrier, Finnair-owned Aero Airlines, operates 8 aircraft and offers 48 flights a week (7 a day on weekdays) to Helsinki], from where they have very good and flexible connections to 36 destinations all over Europe and to 10 destinations in Asia. Between Tallinn and Warsaw flights are provided through the years by LOT Airlines. Since 2004 the newest major air carrier EasyJet offers connections to London and Berlin at low prices.
Detailed information is available from Tallinn Airport timetable.
A taxi to the city center should cost between 100 and 150 EEK (ca. 16 EEK = 1 €). The initial fee for taxis varies from 25 - 75 EEK and you shouldn´t necessarily get into the first taxi in the row.
Bus line 2 comes right in front of the airport and goes to the city center in just a few minutes. The bus stop (A. Laikmaa) is located between Hotel Tallink and the Viru Center shopping mall/Bus terminal. The bus does not stop in the Bus Terminal itself. Be careful! Line no. 2 buses also go to the Mõigu area from the same stop. You can buy tickets at the R. Kiosk in the Bus terminal or in the Bus itself.
Copterline's hourly helicopter service from Helsinki was suspended following an accident in 2006. They resumed operations on Septemver 5, 2007.
Train travel in the Baltics has considerably decreased in recent years, and today, Estonian rail is a cocktail of private companies and subcontractors that makes it fairly hard to get around by train. There are limited train services to Latvia, Lithuania and Russia (Moscow by EVRekspress ). Therefore, train is not a good option to get into Estonia. If you're visiting from Russia, take the plane; if you're in Latvia or Lithuania, consider the bus. If in Poland, fly to a European hub and transfer to Tallinn, or catch a bus.
There are a series of fairly frequent bus routes that radiate out from Tallinn and serve other countries. These particularly go to Riga in Latvia, Vilnius in Lithuania, and Saint Petersburg in the Russian Federation (about €20 for an 8 hour ride) as well as other parts of Estonia. Even though not always the best of comfort, they are much better (usually) than the train if you live in one of Estonia's neighbouring countries. Increasingly, the buses are also servicing Russia, Germany and Poland.
Approximate over-land distances to other cities:
The Old City is best navigated on foot, not that you have much choice. A network of buses, trams and trolleybuses covers the rest of the city, and there is an abundance of (relatively) cheap taxis.
Buses, trolleys and trams operate regularly between 6 am. and 11 pm. Make sure that you have a valid ticket when driving. You can buy tickets from newsstands or from drivers.
For ticket prices go to https://www.pilet.ee/pages.php/0403 .The Tallinn Card holders may use unlimited public transportation free.
Timetables(in english): http://soiduplaan.tallinn.ee/?a=p.routes&transport_id=buss&t=xhtml&l=en
Map: http://kaart.tallinn.ee:8080/Tallinn/Show?REQUEST=Main (pick Ühistransport)
One-day ticket (24h) - 40 EEK; Three-day ticket (72h) - 70 EEK; 10-day card - 125 EEK
The bus network covers the whole city from southeast to northwest. One time ticket from newsstand costs 13 EEK(from driver 20 EEK); discount tickets are accordingly 6 and 12 EEK. Ticket has to be punched right after entering.
The tram network covers the city centre. There are 4 lines and they all meet at Viru Center, at stop Hobujaama. About 15 vehicles are with a lowered middle-section, which makes trams wheelchair-accessible. Tickets also 13 or 20 EEK.
All trolley lines have a direction to south or west. There are 8 lines, 1-7 and 9. Trolley no. 8 was closed in 2000 and replaced with bus no. 22. The fleet is relatively new, though there are some old Škoda-s. Tickets 13 or 20 EEK.
If possible, always order taxi by phone and for example don't use the ones standing in Tallinn Port taxi stop. They are being called "the sleeve-taxis", cause usually they have extortionate prices and the taximeter seems to go a bit faster than normal. Always remember to ask for a written receipt, as they detail the distance and time travelled. If the taxi cannot provide such a receipt you have the legal right not to pay. Also, if you find "jootraha" on the receipt, keep it. "Jootraha" means tip in Estonian. Remember to keep the receipt and report about it. Legal taxi companies operating in Tallinn can be found at http://www.ttl.ee/taksod.php
The dodgy taxi situation in Tallinn is improving rapidly due to crackdowns from the government, and these days legit ones clearly marked with the company logos are abundant.
Like every other large-ish city, Tallinn has its fair share of traffic jams and therefore is not for the faint-hearted. Their road rules and driving style make sense only to themselves. The one and two way roads seem to change all the time and often you have to go around a barely-there signposted diversion to get into a road on your left. That being said, traffic jams in Tallinn clear very quickly and if you are from a large city, they will seem like speed-humps rather than headaches.
Speed limit in Tallinn is 50 km/h, except some bigger streets like Laagna tee, Pärnu mnt., Paldiski mnt., Peterburi tee etc., which have the speed limit of 70 km/h.
If you are from Melbourne, then this next rule will be familiar to you: if a tram is picking up passengers, stop. They stop very frequently in the city centre so be wary of them. On the note of trams: do not do hook turns. It is very bad form - and from personal experience - the Estonians will hate you for it. Instead, the correct thing to do (if possible, without blocking the path of a tram) is to make a normal left turn from the lane closest to the centre.
As in other major cities, there is an abundance of parking if you are willing to pay for it. However, you might notice a lack of ticket machines or obvious methods to pay for your parking - one would logically think that you can park for free anywhere in the city. But, no such luck - you still have to pay for it. To compound the problem, they are not very clearly signposted either. To ensure you don't get fined, follow these steps:
The Old Town of Tallinn is very comfortably covered on foot.
Take the Tallinn Chill Out Walking Tour. This tour is an off beat alternative to regular walking tours in the old town with musicians for guides and interesting commentary. It takes about two hours and visits places not normally frequented by tourists as well as the usual sights in the old town. The tour is usually conducted in English and starts at the Tallinn Traveler Info tent which is located in the square in front of the official Tallinn Tourist Information Center in the Old Town. The tour even includes a snack at the end.
Mobile tours in English have recently become available for mobile telephone wielding tourists, []. At tourist centers audio guides in several languages are also available, for free. Another option is various standard red-colored city tourist buss tours, starting at designated stops in the Old city.
The Old City
Tallinn's prime attraction is the excellently preserved Old City, built in the 15-17th centuries. The compact area is best explored on foot.
Outside the Old City
Estonia has become a hive of activity in IT. CV Online - Töö has a lot of advertisements for speakers of Estonian or English in this field. Jobs for non Estonian speakers are less common in other fields.
English language teachers are also in demand, and if you have a TEFL certificate or equivalent you ought to be able to find a job.
Main shopping hub is on the Viru väljak. There are big department stores like Viru Keskus, Foorum, Kaubamaja and Melon. For heavy-duty shopping check out the Kaubamaja  and Stockmann  department stores, off Vabaduse väljak. Big shopping centre on the Viru väljak is Viru Keskus.The area near the port has also sprouted an ever-increasing array of minimarkets, supermarkets and hypermarkets catering to the tax-free alcohol brigade. The biggest shopping centre in Tallinn near Zoo is Rocca al Mare kaubanduskeskus in the Õismäe. Take trolley 6 or 7 or bus 21 or 22 to get there. There is also big Ülemiste kaubanduskeskus near the airport. Take bus 2 or 15 to get there.
For boutiques and souvenirs, your best choice is Viru street in the Old City and its side streets. There are many stalls selling traditional items like woolen pullovers and crystal; prepare to bargain.
The Old City is packed with restaurants claiming to offer authentic Estonian food, particularly on and around Raekoja plats. Prices are steep by Estonian standards, but still much cheaper than neighboring Helsinki - which explains why on weekends they're always packed with daytripping Finns.
Tallinn's nightlife is extensive enough to be notorious. Exercise some caution in choosing your venue, as some strip clubs and such make their money by fleecing tourists who come in for a drink. Drinking is still cheap in Tallinn, you can get a beer in a bar for 2€.
Apartment rental is a viable option.
Bars and restaurants. Conference centre. Health club with swimming pool and saunas. Free wireless Internet throughout the hotel.
Overall, Tallinn is a safe town if you don't go out of your way to court trouble. Look out for pickpockets in crowded areas.