- Look, there’s nothing wrong with doing the tourist thing every now and then. All of us here have at least one fridge magnet or matryoshka hiding in our closets (though we don’t like to admit it). But if you want to experience Tallinn incognito, here’s a short list of activities to avoid if you want to blend in with the locals.
Every summer, locals of the lovely little Estonian capital flee to the countryside while Tallinn transforms into something that could easily compete for the most-tourists-per-square-foot award. Estonians that stay in the city often spot curious activities that repeat from one day to the next, but hardly ever involve locals – activities like:
1. Buying amber jewellery or matryoshkas
A lot of people who visit Tallinn worry about whether the amber sold in the stores is authentic. A local will generally roll his/her eyes and say: “Why worry, it’s not Estonian anyway”. The amount of natural amber found in Estonia is minuscule, in fact so minuscule that every time they find some it makes the news. Most souvenir shops sell anything that is somehow associated with the former Eastern Bloc, so you’ll also find matryoshka dolls from Russia, amber from Lithuania and even dolls wearing Latvian folk costumes. If you want a more authentic souvenir head to Eesti Esindus and Eesti Käsitöö, or buy pieces by young local designs at Les Petites or Tali.
Photo by Antony Niroshan
2. Eating around the main square
Us locals only hear rumours about the €6 beers that are commonly served at the outdoor terraces on the main square. The truth is that most of the places there or in the nearby “Medieval Quarter” rarely attract Tallinners, except maybe during Christmas when every respectable company holds a big dinner for their staff and every restaurant in town is booked. There are many great restaurants in the Old Town, however these places are often hidden on side streets and don’t hand out flyers at their doors. Leib Resto & Aed and Von Krahli Aed are great spots with a central location. If you’re feeling adventurous visit Salt in Kadriorg or Kolm Sibulat in Kalamaja.
3. Riding the tourist train
Even though locals see the train all the time, we actually had to be asked a countless number of times where it leaves from before we finally decided to get online and find out. Well, if you don’t mind paying €6 for a 20-minute ride along the cobblestone streets at a pace comparable to walking – it’s time well spent. However, consider that in the eyes of locals you yourself might become the tourist attraction.
Photo by urban_lenny
4. Taking pictures with characters not connected to Tallinn
Viru Street is one of the busiest walking streets in Tallinn’s Old Town so kudos to Goodwin Steakhouse for this great marketing trick. Putting a sitting bull with its legs crossed in front of their building is bound to draw attention, sure. However, as wired as us Estonians are with our smartphones and Instagram, you’ll never see one of us sitting next to the bull and smiling at the camera. Same goes for the guy that dresses up like Shrek all summer long, letting tourists take pictures with him.
Honestly, is the mascot of a steakhouse really the thing you wanna remember from the Estonian capital when you look at your photos at home?
Photo by Tero Mononen
5. Drinking at the Bar With No Name
If there is anything more famous amongst certain nationalities than our medieval Old Town, then the Bar With No Name must be it. It also appears to be the place where everyone who doesn’t know where to go in Tallinn always ends up, because the rowdy crowd outside can be heard from blocks away. You’ll see drunken people there at almost any time of the day. The surrounding “Bermuda triangle of bars” too – comprising Väike-Karja street, the Suur-Karja junction and the surrounding area – is full of bars that locals with more refined tastes prefer to avoid. By the way, you don’t have to go far from the “Bermuda triangle” to find cooler spots like Paar Veini or Must Puudel.
6. Buying silly hats, let alone wearing them
We have great respect for felting and people who practice this fine craft, but honestly – the colourful hats with pointy spikes can only be seen on tourists and those who sell these products. Most Estonians just aren’t that extravagant in their style (though they might do something similar when on vacation in other countries). Lithuanians on the other hand regularly wear something like this in the sauna to protect their heads from heat. And in case you’re wondering, yes, showing off that ushanka (fur hat) with Soviet symbols that you bought from the market falls into the same category.
Photo by Toomas Volmer
7. Taking a taxi from the harbour to the Old Town
Tallinn’s cruise port is roughly a 15-minute walk from the Old Town and so are the ferry terminals. Despite the fact that you can actually see the red roofs when you get off the boat, most tourists choose to take one of the overpriced taxis and happily pay more than €10 for a few minutes ride. The worst we’ve heard of was a €20 ride and the people actually thought they got a good deal. Locals know that taxi drivers in Tallinn are notorious for overcharging foreigners and ridiculous rumours are plentiful. One of the craziest things we’ve heard is that someone took a cab from the airport and he was driven around the whole Ülemiste Lake because the taxi driver claimed that the last ferry to cross the lake had left. Wow.
Opening photo by rosipaw
To get out of the touristy old town take the Funky Bike Tour!
For a more local Tallinn experience get the Like A Local mobile app