If you’re labouring under the misconception that ‘former Soviet’ means dull and grey and that all tourist traps are soulless, Tallinn will delight in proving you wrong. This city has charm by the bucketload, fusing the modern and medieval to come up with a vibrant vibe all of its own. It’s an intoxicating mix of ancient church spires, glass skyscrapers, baroque palaces, appealing eateries, brooding battlements, shiny shopping malls, rundown wooden houses and cafes set on sunny squares – with a few Soviet throwbacks in the mix, for added spice.
Despite the boom of 21st-century development, Tallinn remains loyal to the fairy-tale charms of its two-tiered Old Town – one of Europe’s most beguiling walled cities. That wasn’t always the case. For a while it appeared to be willing to sell its soul to become the Bangkok of the Baltic: attracting groups of young men with the lure of cheap booze and rampant prostitution. That’s calmed down somewhat and although sleazy elements remain, the city seems to have realised that there’s more money to be made from being classy than brassy. Hence an ever-expanding roster of first-rate restaurants, atmospheric hotels and a well-oiled tourist machine that makes visiting a breeze, no matter which language you speak.
Increasingly sophisticated without being overly sanitised, forward-focused while embracing the past, Tallinn is a truly fascinating city.