Ah! Tallinn old town, there is nothing quite like it – the endless charming streets with cozy cafes and shops surrounded by the mighty medieval walls that look like something straight out of a fairy tale. It is picturesque, it is grand and just like every good fable- it has its curse! For a clueless wanderer the town might seem very peaceful and romantic at first glance, but as the clock strikes 10 am even the most serene alleyways will overflow with visitors from all across the near and far and going to that one funky looking church or catching that picture perfect view will turn into a true heroic quest of pushing through the crowds.
It’s true, summer in the city can get pretty busy and unless you absolutely enjoy swimming through the steaming hot soup of people under the burning sun, you will find it challenging to be within the old town walls. No need to fret thou, as the “high tide” of tourists in the city usually passes by 3 pm as most head back to the cruise terminal to board their ships and sail away to the next adventure, and you can have thou whole town just for yourself after that ( well, more or less, there is still a couple of hundred thousand locals and stray wanderers here and there, but it is still remarkably quieter.) But that does not answer the big question- what to do in the afternoon as it gets overcrowded and there is seemingly no place to hide.
That also does not provide an answer to those who just simply hate all things touristic, cute 14th and 15th-century towers included. Or for those who just want to drink fair trade kombucha and take film photos on an old Laika camera they inherited from their grandpa while sitting in an old rusty train with obscure techno music is playing on the background. Well, conveniently enough there is a safe haven, an oasis in the middle of this desert, an answer to all of our prayers, and it is hidden just a short walk away from the old town.
Situated on the side of vibrant Kalamaja (translate: fish house) district, it is everything that every hipster has ever dreamed of and beyond. Built in 1869, Telliskivi used to serve as a railway factory complex as well as an electrical engineering factory in its former glory days, well, up until 1991 that is. Then we became independent from the Soviet rule and the whole area fell into a deep slumber for quite a while as the industrial facilities were simply shut down. It has ever since had a major revival and been resurrected back from the dead and now serves as the largest hub of the creative economy in Estonia.
Don’t let yourself be fooled by other travel blogs and confuse Telliskivi for an up and coming area, as it already very well so came to stay and it has been the heart of the art scene here in Tallinn for a couple of years now. Well established cafes, funky design shops, art gallery, modern theatre, gin distillery, bars with craft beer flowing out of every tap, awesome murals and street art, fairy lights, flea market every Saturday, cool people and most importantly- no crowds, Telliskivi has it all! Boasting an array of interesting cultural events all year round and home for many NGOs and creative studios, this is the perfect place to come, take a stroll, admire the street art and try to blend in with the locals.
Here is a little guide to make your navigation around the hipsterville a breeze!
We have good and bad news. The good is that there are a fair bit of places to choose from, all in excellent price point and usually more than ready to accommodate any kind of dietary restrictions- you want it vegan, gluten-, casein- and sulfate free, NO PROBLEMO! The bad news- the area is not exactly known for its culinary masterpieces of the higher caliber, so if you are scallops and truffle kind of gal or guy, prepare to come back down to earth for a while as the general style of the area is more laid back and relaxed. A couple of favorites to check out.
A quickie for the go. It’s a box and as you might have guessed, they do have burgers indeed! Also some of the best kimchi fries out there. The menu is just as small as the place itself, but what they lack in variety they compensate in the good finger-licking kind of quality.
Set in the former railway construction shed, this is a local beloved eatery! Kitchen is European with a quirky twist here and there, prices are great and the vibe is cool, hip and artistic. This is one of the OG places in here and as the locals gravitate towards it, be prepared for it to get busy.
If you are planning an urban picnic, hunting for beers to bring back to your hotel or just looking for an interesting souvenir- Sip will sort you out. It’s a store with the largest collection of craft beer and cider currently brewed here in Estonia as well as quite a big selection of foreign options. The best part about buying beer here is since it is a shop, it is relatively cheaper to try our brews here than in any bar. If choosing gets too tough then Sauna session by Tanker (birch tree ale,) Kadakane by Juhus (juniper ale) or TNL PNLB by Käbliku (bread ale) is always an excellent choice, as well as an interesting experience taste wise. If you are not a big fan of beer in general, and cider from Tori talu or a sparkling berry wine from Nudist winery will satisfy your thirst for something unusual.
Glitz and glam, boom bam! Sveta is funky, Sveta is fabulous, Sveta is fierce and Sveta will greet each and everyone with open arms. LGBTQ friendly venue for the more vibrant and stylish concerts and parties, here you can let your freak flag fly high and just be yourself. Also dancing the night away, the perfect place to do so.
Pudel means a bottle in Estonian and boy do they have a ton of those in there! Fancy a craft beer and seat in the very heart of Telliskivi and all of its buzz – say no more! With the killer location and a cozy outdoor seating area, this one is for those who want to spend some time people watching and soaking in the good vibes.
Right next to the Telliskivi, there is an excellent place to leave all your hard earned money at – Baltis Station Market! The new and modern market will satisfy that little voice inside of your head whispering you to hoard up on the keepsakes. Lucky for all, the market has a lot of trinkets worthy of your time and will surely serve as a better memento from the trip than a made in China magnet you were just about to buy in the Old town.
First things first- the farmers market. If fresh produce is not your cup of tea and cooking on your holiday is about the last thing you want to do, then head straight to the indoor section where you will find honey, smoked fish, jams, teas’, syrups from unusual herbs that make excellent additions to any cocktail, etc. – anything made in Estonia and ready to be stuffed into a suitcase without the fear of going off will be waiting for you over here.
On the second floor, there is the antique quarter, where you can, among many other relics, find all kinds of Soviet memorabilia for pennies! Anniversary edition rubles, medals of honor, soviet postcards and badges will not rip a hole in your pocket and make a unique gift to bring someone back home.
For the fashionistas out there- Fankadelik vintage, Sveta vintage, and MS vintage stores are worth checking out for their curated selections and a high chance to find something bold and unique that will make you stand out wherever you go. Be it an evening gown covered head to toe in intricate sequins, funny hats that only your nana would wear or denim jackets paired with Adidas tracksuits from the 90s’ – the possibilities are endless.
If Estonian design goods are what you are really after, from home decor to one of a kind jewelry, everything will be covered in poetänav in telliskivi A1 and A2 buildings. Poetänav is a very chic stretch of boutiques with items that will guarantee to be noticed and admired by everybody back home. It is a place that exuberates with style and sophistication. It also smells very nice in there at all times, if that’s an important factor for anyone out there.
At the end of your visit to it will seem like you have seen just about it all there is to see. Good news is, Telliskivi area covers only a portion of the hipster-licious Kalamaja. As you go further and further into the depths of the streets of cute wooden houses, you will find yourself surrounded by locals only. Kalamaja district is a perfect place to take a bike stroll and just get lost only to find an unexpected coffee shop or a bar seemingly right in the middle of nowhere. There is a lot to discover, but for the sake of sparing you some time today, it will all be covered in an upcoming post. We can’t let you in on all the local secrets and favorite spots all at once, so an air of mystery will remain for some time more and it will be up to you to discover what lies within.
Good luck out there, travelers!