Northern Europe’s most perfectly preserved medieval city – Tallinn, Estonia
Making its name as a major stag haunt in the Nineties, Estonia’s Old Town has matured in sophistication to become the Baltic’s boutique playground
Let’s play the word association game. If I say “Tallinn”, what pops into your head? If it’s “where?” then you need to swot up on your Baltic basics, young man. If it’s “stag weekend”, then gold stars to you, sir. You see, Estonia’s capital has long had a reputation as a prime haunt for stag parties, including — I’ll freely admit — my own. That was more years ago than I care to remember (or can remember full stop, me being the stag and all), so I thought it was time to revisit the Old Town, northern Europe’s most perfectly preserved medieval city. I’m glad I did… I barely recognised a building.
The Kiek in de Kok sounds painful, but the impressive towers that dot the entirely intact city walls provide sublime views of the Old Town. Its name means “peep in the kitchen” in Low German, and refers to when city guards could peer into medieval kitchens from the ramparts.
Venture beyond the Old Town to Telliskivi Loomelinnak (“creative city”). It’s a hub for, well, creatives in an old Soviet-era industrial complex with art shows, cafes, boutiques and, on Saturdays, a fun flea market. In summer, Kultuurikatel (KKA) is another creative enterprise with DJs, table tennis and galleries.
A no-brainer. The Three Sisters Hotel — named for the three adjoining 14th-century buildings on cobbled Pikk Street that house the rooms — combines medieval architecture with mod cons. And it contains one of the city’s finest restaurants, Bordoo, where the head chef Pavel Gurjanov gets creative with fresh local produce.
Now you’re getting the hang of Estonia — but there are no prizes for guessing Klubi Teater is a club in a former theatre. Reserve one of its old boxes as a VIP private room to enjoy house tracks from an extensive roster of DJs, plus occasional live music, and glam dancers on podiums. Come to think of it, this place rings a distant bell from a few years back…
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled in to one of Copenhagen’s cooler stores but for its name of the Estonian Design House. Shop for everything from T-shirts to a GreenCube One+ (the ultimate man cave/garden office) all from, as the name suggests, Estonian designers.
The Nordic foodie revolution has reached Estonia with its top chef, Tonis Siigur, leading the charge at Noa, a modernist masterpiece of an ark (Noa is “Noah”) looking across a bay to the Old Town. It’s not quite Noma but nonetheless Siigur makes excellent use of the local fare. Try oysters with kohlrabi (a turnip/cabbage — better than it sounds) with cucumber.
For a heavenly night out, head to Porgu (which is “Hell” in Estonian), named for its subterranean setting rather than any devilish decor. Instead, expect barrel-vaulted ceilings, long tables and nearly 20 cask ales, most of them brewed locally. If the ale fails your fancy, head instead to Butterfly Lounge, where it’s wall-to-wall cocktails with titles like “George Clooney”, “I’m Sweet” and, err, “Oomaigaaden Marmelaaden”.
Head to Must Puudel (“Black Poodle”), a super-cool cafe with nods to East Berlin chic: mismatched furniture, ironic Soviet-era ephemera and Tallinn’s trendies. Whatever time of day you graze here, leave room for the blue cheese ice cream. Yup, and yum.
Rutting stag parties. It shouldn’t be too difficult as they’ll most likely be running rampant in packs, firing off AK-47S in the woodland firing ranges or undertaking epic pub and nightclub crawls. Stick to these Esquire spots and you should be just fine.
Because Tallinn is a prettier picture in the winter snow and the Christmas market in the town square is one of the less twee variants. More to the point, the wintertime is also an excellent excuse to glug some glogi; it’s the Estonian equivalent of gluhwein, made here from red wine, sugar, spices and bitter orange with a generous slug of warming Akvavit — the fierce local potato spirit — just for good measure.