What’s the oldest capital city in Northern Europe? Oslo or Stockholm was probably your guess. But the answer is actually Tallinn, the often forgotten–if ever even known–capital of Estonia. It’s been ruled by, well, everyone. Russia (multiple times), Germany, Sweden, and Denmark each claimed the Medieval town along the Gulf of Finland as their own at one point. But Reval, as it was originally called, was never wrecked by its occupiers. And finally, people began to take notice of this little city–whose population is less than a half a million people–after the Old Town was named a World Heritage Site, and Tallinn became the European Capital of Culture in 2011.
Many people travel to Tallinn by boat. The city is only an hour and a half from Helsinki, Finland, making it an easy day trip. Start exploring the remnants of the city’s walls, the green parks around the walls, the cobblestone streets, and the hidden alleyways. Raekoja plats, a square in the heart of the Old Town, is surrounded by cafes with strong coffee and brightly colored historic buildings. The imposing stone structure in the square, Raekoda, used to be the town hall. It now houses the Tallinn City Museum. Wander a little further to find Riigikogu–the parliament building–and the Museum of Occupations, to see how bad life was under the Soviet and the Nazi regimes.
Grab soup and a panini at Quamquam. Or a glass of white wine at Musi. Classical musical streams from stone churches. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox church filled with mosaics. St. Mary’s Cathedral, the city’s oldest church, is now Lutheran, though it was originally Catholic. Buy amber and linens in Viru Square. Or find Nu Nordik for cutting-edge designs. For views of the city, head to Toompea, a limestone hill and the site of a Danish castle. Try to find Schlossle Hotel, your home for the next few days.
Schlossle Hotel effortlessly combines the new and the old. The technology is modern, but the Medieval building’s stone walls and wooden beams–plus the additional antique furniture–fit your Old Town surroundings. Have a cigar in the lounge or a bath drawn in your room. And get ready to go out. Tallinn has a growing food scene and an already exciting nightlife. Start with vodka and cavier at Fish & Wine. Have the six-course tasting menu at Restoran O or quail and an impressive bottle of wine at Stenhus. Followed by cocktails on Vertigo 4′s rooftop terrace. And then more vodka at Ice Bar. Tallinn may be old, but no one said it was sleepy.