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Tallinn offers a dazzling array of leisure time activities

10.August 2015

For tourists visiting Tallinn, all roads initially lead to the Old Town. With its picturesque towers and streets, cafes, restaurants and souvenir and handicraft shops, the old quarter is the pride of the city, an open storybook where every page comes to life. Ramparts where knights once kept watch over the city, fascinating courtyards, legends of ghosts and narrow streets lined with the homes of wealthy merchants from long ago. The towers, observation platforms on Toompea hill and the city wall offer a view of an exciting capital where dozens of museums and cafes beckon. There’s also an irresistible array of exciting events on offer.



A kids’ favourite is the Kalev Marzipan Museum on Pikk street, exploring the history of the sweet almond confection and allowing visitors to try marzipan painting.

 

Bastion’s Garden, an atmospheric courtyard right by the Viru gates, is a place to lounge on plush leather divans in the midst of greenery and flowers, enjoying concerts and high fashion.

 

Indoor water fun and pampering are also well represented in Tallinn’s Old Town. Two spas and sports centres are located near each other on Aia street: Braavo offers high-calibre sports and pool fun while Kalev Spa has a 50-metre pool and various water slides, making it a top pick for the whole family.

 

All adventurers in the Old Town can hire Segways on Viru street, the main shopping street in the lower Old Town.
The stand-up powered two-wheelers can save time and energy, and add a dose of fun to ground-level urban exploration.

A can’t-miss stop is the mediaeval St. Catherine’s Passage, which links Vene and Müürivahe streets. The artist and artisan studios and boutiques give a sense of how mediaeval tradesmen lived and worked centuries ago.

 

The Old Town has numerous restaurants and entertainment venues to while away the night-time hours. Outdoor terraces are a great spot to forget where you are, as the atmosphere in Tallinn can sometimes seem like it could be any big city in Europe on a summer night – the bustle of street, romantic outdoor café seating areas and striking terraces await patrons.


Tallinn surprises with its plentiful outdoor cafes, which can be found everywhere from the Old Town’s main plaza – Town Hall Square – to Pirita beach and all the way up to the tip of Viimsi peninsula beyond city limits. Many have developed special al fresco menus with lighter, summery fare – also easier on the pocketbook than fine inside dining.


Two hidden gems in Tallinn are the interior courtyards of Telegraaf and Schlössle hotels, which are concealed from view of casual passersby in the Old Town. Green and lush, they’re places to let the time slide by pleasantly, taking in live music and enjoying tasty food and beverages.

 

If you’re already in the Old Town, take time to climb the stairs up to Toompea Hill – the upper town. There you’ll find the Museum of Estonian Drinking Culture – the former Luscher & Matiesen distillery. The museum introduces the history of the making of wine and other spirits on Toompea and the more than 100-eyar-long history of Luscher & Matiesen is introduced in an immediate, fascinating manner. Visitors will hear exciting legends, fascinating display items and the latest advances in Estonian viticulture.  The experience wouldn’t be complete without tastings, of course. Right next to the museum is an observation deck with a splendid view of the Tallinn skyline, especially at sunset.

 

Nestled up against the Old Town is the seaside district of Kalamaja, which was originally a fishing settlement. Already back in mediaeval times, the residents’ main obligation was to keep the citizens provided with fresh fish. The timber architecture you see there today dates mainly from the early 20th century.  In the last decade, Kalamaja has become a residential community of considerable interest:  small, cosy-looking wooden homes, yards full of community activity, the nearby seashore, tidy parks. Kalamaja also boasts the Telliskivi creative hub, where many creative industries and art factories have set up shop. The shops in Telliskivi’s commercial centre sell art and design, furnishings, clothing and ecoproducts.

 

In addition, visitors will also find trendy eateries and pleasantly Bohemian cafes.
The Culture Kilometre, opened in 2011, is a recreational path that links up the historical Patarei prison and Tallinn’s most modern award-winning museum – the Seaplane Harbour.

 

The Seaplane Harbour is next door to the nearly century-old Norwegian schooner Kajsamoor, a living museum that enshrines the atmosphere and traditions of the age of great clipper ships.
If desired, advance bookings can be made (www.sunlines.ee) to go out on the Bay of Tallinn and have a lunch or dinner with the captain, in full view of the city’s famous skyline.

 

The Kadriorg district, a 20-30 minute walk from the city centre, is a beloved place for an outing among townspeople and tourists. Kadriorg dates back to 1718, when Tsar Peter the Great had a Baroque castle and park built here as the Russian imperial family’s summer home. Today the residence and office of the Estonian president and several art museums are here. In summertime, a Japanese garden designed by Masao Sone, who is a renowned creator of oriental gardens in Japan and Europe, offers a little piece of tranquillity.

 

Lovers of active pursuits can delight in the 17 tennis courts next to Kadriorg park - they’re among the city’s most pleasant places for a game, set or match. In addition to the 18th century park, the Miia-Milla-Manda children’s museum, the Kumu Art Museum and many atmospheric cafes and restaurants are also next to the tennis club. The tennis centre has a selection of pros who can help fine-tune your game. The centre has a tennis shop and equipment rental, plus a café of its own and a sauna.

 

About 5 km to the northeast of the city centre is Pirita, which was named after a convent run by the Order of St. Bridget. In the early 20th century, the seaside district started becoming a place for outings and bathing - Today Pirita has the city’s premier beach, boasting a strip of pine forest and, inland, a picturesque river valley.  As for the 500-year-old convent, the conserved ruins still stand, and serve as a beloved concert venue, hosting the Birgitta festival, a major classical music event known throughout the world. 

 

Interested in a high-wire acts in the tree canopy? Head to Pirita Seikluspark, an ideal spot for the adventurous. The trails come in varying ability levels and heights, with great views of the Bay of Tallinn. The adventure includes conquering heights, jumping into nets, various obstacles and ziplines.

 

Those looking for more laid-back entertainment should go on an hour-long boat trip on the Pirita River. The quiet and meandering river features views of the 500-year-old convent ruins and lots of greenery all around.

 

Also along the river is the Tallinn Botanic Garden, with local species and more exotic flora represented.

 

The Tallinn TV Tower is also nearby, now one of Tallinn’s top general tourist attractions, and an interactive, family-oriented one. For instance, TV Tower visitors can produce their own mini news broadcast, view exhibitions, eat at a restaurant 170 metres up and enjoy the breathtaking views of the city and the surroundings. True adrenaline fans can go for a harnessed walk along the edge of the tower – an outdoor area without a railing, 200 metres up.

 

There are even more adventures in Tallinn.

 

If you’d like to know what it’s like to fire the same weapons as James Bond, head to the Tactical Shooting Range at the tip of Kopli peninsula.
The shooting range has top of the line equipment that allows you to fire weapons familiar from films or history – without the element of danger.

 

Balloon Tallinn (www.balloontallinn.ee) offers the chance to take a magical flight along the shoreline not far from the Old Town. You can enjoy beautiful views of the fairy-tale perfect Old Town and the sea, and see the entire famed skyline from 120 m up. Balloon Tallinn leaves the ground every 15 minutes and the entire balloon ride lasts about 12-13 minutes. Visibility can be up to 40 km in clear weather. It’s something so real, exciting and fun that it’ll light up the face of visitors big and small.
After touching down in the balloon, why not take a helicopter flight (www.summukas.ee) in an R44. The copter can hold up to three passengers at a time, plus the pilot, and the flight lasts about five minutes. Another unique experience – to take a spin above the Old Town of Tallinn and see the beautiful shoreline.

 

The copter and the balloon both depart from near A-terminal of the port of Tallinn. To make the time in a possible queue pass more quickly, there’s a café and grill that turns out light hot tasty food. The spacious outdoor terrace provides great views of the sea, and of others enjoying their own aerial experiences.

 

The southern part of Tallinn, in the woody Männiku area, the Safari Centre organizes trips and ATV rides for groups of up to 14.

The safaris tour military artillery ranges, tank manoeuvring facilities, quarries and lakes.

 

Horse enthusiasts can spend some time in Tallinn’s largest equestrian centres, Veskimetsa, located just a few kilometres from the city centre. The centre welcomes both experienced riders and rank novices. Children are also welcome; a specially trained riding coach will pick out a pony just the right size and temperament.

 

Right next to the equestrian centre is the Tallinn zoo, which is an ideal place for children of all ages. The Tallinn zoo is home to close to 8,000 animals from different parts of the world. In the summer months, a children’s petting zoo is also open.

 

Toward the western outskirts of Tallinn in the Rocca al Mare district is the Estonian Open Air Museum, which introduces the rural architecture and village environments of Estonia from the 18th to 20th century. It makes a pleasant stop in any season for visitors big and small. In the summer season, visitors can experience living history in the museum’s farms, staffed by “farm families” with domesticated animals. Kolu tavern and Lau general store look just as their real-life predecessors did more than 100 years ago. On summer weekends, the museum hosts folk dance performances and handicraft Saturdays and exhibitions. It is also the site of large traditional St. John’s Day (June 23) celebrations with bonfires.

 

If you’re spending your holiday in Tallinn, there’s no need to confine yourself to city limits – distances are short in Estonia and you can take a number of exciting excursions in fairly little time.

 

With an eye to nature lovers, Nature Tours organizes day-long bus trips to one of the areas of Estonia with the best preserved ecosystems – Matsalu National Park.
It’s an opportunity to see migratory birds passing through the region, while the flowering plants on the coastal and wooded meadows, including orchids, are a sight to behold. In good weather, boat trips on Matsalu Bay are offered; in windy weather, along the Kasari River.
Interesting cultural and historical sites in the area can also be seen, with a picnic at a local farm.
Sign up for tours online (www.naturetours.ee) at least a week before you plan to visit.

 

The Bay of Tallinn is dotted by a few nearly uninhabited islands, the most accessible of which is Aegna. The island is 14 km from the city centre and has been declared a protected landscape in order to preserve the local forest and coastal ecosystems, which include rare species and habitats. The island is home to military fortifications from the 20th century, giant erratic boulders, an old cemetery, a magical stone labyrinth, various hiking trails, and two seaside campsites with campfire areas.

 

The steamer Katharina (www.sunlines.ee) is an old, classic ship that departs from the Seaplane Harbour dock and takes tourists to some of Estonia’s smaller islands in the Tallinn area. You can take a day cruise to beautiful Naissaar, home to ruins of a pre-war village, or exciting and more remote Prangli, where the local culture is closely tied to seal hunting. Bicycles can also be rented on both islands.

 

Helsinki in neighbouring Finland also makes a good day trip for museums and art galleries. Viking Line offers one-day cruises to the Finnish capital. Families with children should definitely consider visiting Linnanmäki, an amusement park in central Helsinki, Finland’s most popular such park offers the widest selection of rides and attractions in the Nordics. The park has 44 different attractions. The newest one, Ukko, opened in spring 2011, is meant for thrill seekers with ice in their veins. The passengers are lifted to a height of 50 metres, then zoom downward at speed of up to 105 km/h. Besides fun and rides, the park has different places to eat between rides. Viking Line tickets are available online at www.vikingline.ee, port of Tallinn A-terminal or Viking Line Estonia’s sales offices, located at Hobujaama 4 right across from the Viru Hotel.

 

Indeed, despite not being a big city by world standards, Tallinn offers a huge array of opportunities for spending leisure time. From culture vultures to history buffs, outdoors lovers, families with children and hipsters – the city’s got them all covered.


Come and discover Tallinn today!

 

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