I knew almost nothing of Estonia before I traveled there. And that’s probably typical for the average American; it occupies that seldom-visited corner of the world with the countries bearing names that sound made up: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania…
They never grace the pages of our newspapers or make it into our history books, and rarely, if ever cross our lips.
But on my trip to Scandinavia, I knew a stop in Estonia was in order. Tallinn, Estonia could be “the next Prague,” which honestly, I hope it’s not. Because if Tallinn gets as overrun with tourists as Prague, just like Prague, its magic will seep away. And that would be a very, very sad matter indeed.
I say this knowing that if you follow this blog, you probably aren’t a typical tourist; you’re a traveler. You want to tread lightly, be respectful to people of other cultures and their countries. And you want to travel deeper. If you fit these qualities, this is my advice. Go to Tallinn now. Go before it’s too late.
Already Tallinn gets more than 4 million visitors a year. And that number is growing.
The Ferry from Helsinki, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia
You can get to Tallinn, Estonia easily by ferry from Helsinki, Finland. Even the ferry itself is fun and fairytale like.
Three ferry lines serve the route, making a total of nine trips a day. Trips take about two hours.
Tallinn: A Party Destination, But so much More
Tallinn has recently gained ground over Prague as a European bachelor party destination, as prices are far lower. But bargain-hunting bachelors shouldn’t keep you away. Just know the party population explodes on weekends. During the week, you’ll share the ferry with some folks from Helsinki, and a few from Russia, all of whom will make the trip to take advantage cheap liquor and goods on the other side of the Gulf of Finland.
You may, as a traveler, find the lower pricing on everything from food to booze to hotels and Airbnbs refreshing as well. Scandinavia can be a very expensive place to visit.
If you make the trip, you’ll be treated to cobblestone streets, crumbling, ancient buildings, and relatively quiet, winding roads in Old Town, the crowning jewel of Tallinn. Lauded as one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe (take that, Prague!) and an Unesco World Heritage Site, it’s breathtaking and relatively unspoiled.
That said, it’s far from undiscovered. In fact, Tallinn is considered to be a Silicon Valley, of sorts. You’ll find wicked-fast internet in this country where Skype was born. And beyond Tallinn’s Old Town you’ll find a modern, bustling city with brewpubs and malls and everything you might want or need to buy. And in the Old Town area, there are touts to fend off, some of them dressed in kitschy medieval-style garb, particularly in the main square.
I chose to stay within walking distance of Old Town, and I found a musty basement apartment on Airbnb for a song: just $32 a night. It wasn’t perfect, but after paying far more than that in my travels throughout Scandinavia, it gave my wallet a much-needed breather. On top of that, I was excited to stay in a room in Estonia with a full-sized wall mural of Italy. ‘Cuz that’s how I roll.
St. Vitus Brewpub in Tallinn
More, it was walking distance from my favorite place to hang at night: St. Vitus. There, I enjoyed great food and beverages at a reasonable price, and a relaxed atmosphere during the week. And by the weekend, the crowds swelled.
Balti Jaama Turg, or Baltic Station Market
By day, I explored the city, doing some of my grocery shopping at Baltic Station Market, (Balti Jaama Turg) where shoppers can find a farmers market, a fresh seafood purveyor, a butcher, a grocery store and many food vendors. It’s a food-lover’s destination, to be sure.
Telliskivi Loomelinnak – An Artisan Marketplace
I also wandered over to a lovely market called Telliskivi Loomelinnak, filled with artisan offerings: clothes, furniture, accessories…it was a really fun place to shop. I wound up buying several items of clothing and some earrings for RollerbagMom there.
Kompressor – Cheap Pancakes and Beer
I’d heard a lot of buzz about Kompressor, a cheap restaurant for great, filling pancakes and beer. So, of course, I had to give it a try.
I was delighted. The entrance doesn’t look like much, but inside you will find comfort food that’s affordable, even on a backpacker budget. The pancakes are not like American-style fluffy pancakes, but instead they are a bit like crepes, in both savory and sweet varieties.
Thinking of traveling to Prague? Go to Tallinn, Estonia Instead
Have I said it enough? Stay the heck away from Prague. To go to Prague is to get an in-person view of the ugliest of what over-tourism does to a place. Give it time to get itself back on track, to reclaim its soul from the vomiting, trash-spewing, foam-finger-vending devil of tourism to which it sold itself.
Travel instead to Tallinn.
Go. Wander. Explore.
Just don’t tell anyone. Let’s keep it our little secret, okay?
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess, she applies her worldview to her business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.
Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.
Find Charish on Twitter: @rollrbaggoddess, on Facebook at @rollrbaggoddess, and on Instagram at @rollerbaggoddess. You can also read more about Charish Badzinski’s professional experience in marketing, public relations and writing.