Among Nordic medieval cities, there's none nearly as well-preserved as Tallinn. Its mostly
intact city wall includes 26 watchtowers, each topped by a pointy red roof. Baroque and
choral music ring out from its old Lutheran churches. I'd guess that Tallinn (with 400,000
people) has more restaurants, cafés, and surprises per capita and square inch than any city
in this topic—and the fun is comparatively cheap.
Though it's connected by an easy boat trip to Helsinki and Stockholm, Tallinn feels a
world removed from those cities. Yes, Tallinn's Nordic Lutheran culture and language con-
nect it with Scandinavia, but two centuries of tsarist Russian rule and 45 years as part of the
Soviet Union have blended in a distinctly Russian flavor.
As a member of the Hanseatic League, the city was a medieval stronghold of the Baltic
trading world. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Tallinn industrialized and expanded bey-
ond its walls. Architects encircled the Old Town, putting up broad streets of public buildings,
low Scandinavian-style apartment buildings, and single-family wooden houses. After 1945,
Soviet planners ringed the city with stands of now-crumbling concrete high-rises where
many of Tallinn's Russian immigrants settled. Like Prague and Kraków, Tallinn has west-
ernized at an astounding rate since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Yet the Old World
ambience within its walled town center has been beautifully preserved.
Tallinn is still busy cleaning up the mess left by the communist experiment. New shops,
restaurants, and hotels are bursting out of old buildings. The city changes so fast, even locals
can't keep up. The Old Town is getting a lot of tourist traffic now, so smart shopping is wise.
You'll eat better for half the price by seeking out places that cater to locals.