The thing that annoys me the most about the tourism industry in Tallinn is souvenirs. It seems that every second shop in the Old Town of Tallinn is a souvenir shop, and almost all of them are jammed full of pointless, tacky crap. I think that the cruise ships are largely to blame, as the garbage tours organised by the cruise lines herd their passengers into shops rather than showing them Tallinn.
Of course they are all receiving their little kick back, so they aren’t even the good stores, just the ones that pay. The worst thing is that the stores are full of things that aren’t even Estonian! We don’t want to burst your bubble, but Amber doesn’t really come from Estonia. Yes, it comes from the shores of the Baltic Sea, and Estonia is on the Baltic, but amber comes from further south. If you want to buy amber from its source, go to Lithuania or Poland. Certainly more frustrating than amber is the matryoshka dolls, or nesting dolls, that seem to fill every window in every souvenir store. These dolls are RUSSIAN, not Estonian. Only if you have a complete lack of cultural understanding would you think of these dolls as Estonian. Spend just 5 minutes reading your guidebook and you will know that Estonian and Russian cultures are quite different.
Ok then! You’re probably thinking by now that I’m just a grumpy old tour guide who goes on and on about the negatives without making any decent suggestions. Well, the good news is that there are some really great souvenirs to be found. And that means that if you seek them out, then you will have a truly unique memento that very few others will have. To be honest, there is a lot of “handcraft” that is just plain awful! I wouldn’t give some of the knitted sweaters I’ve seen to my worst enemy. But if you’re prepared to hunt around you will find some gems. One store we like is the Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union (Eesti Käsitöö) located at Pikk 22.
There’s also a range of shops in the Master’s Courtyard and Katariina Kaik, two small passages which both run of Vene street. If we had our way we’d kick out all of the souvenir stores from the Old Town and replace them with places like Kuld ja Hõbeehted at Pikk 27. This is a jewellery store has lots of beautiful items with an Estonian flavour. They manage to be Estonian without being kitsch. I’m sure you have plenty of souvenirs that are just clogging up your house. Let’s face it, you don’t really need another fridge magnet!
Why not buy some clothing from an Estonian designer, and you can wear your souvenir. Hula on Pikk Street began life as a project by students at the Estonian Academy of Arts. Ivo Nikkolo is probably the best known designer in Estonia. Nu Nordik in Vabaduse Väljak (Freedom Square) has fashion by young designers, as well as jewellery and design ware. Why not get your feet into a cool pair of modern shoes with traditional Estonian folk patterns. Made by Folkr, these are a great blend of old and new. They also make a range of other items such as aprons.
Visit a music store and pick up some Estonian music. Arvo Part is an internationally renowned Estonian composer. The Popular local band is arguably Tanel Pader and the Sun. Metsatōll will suit heavy metal fans. Ask a local for some suggestions, there’s bound to be something to suit your taste.
Kalev is Estonia’s most famous chocolate producer. They produce some really nice boxes with painted scenes of Tallinn landmarks. These make fantastic gifts for friends back home.
Or for friends who like a tipple you might consider the national liqueur, Vana Tallinn. Souvenirs don’t, have to be cheap and tacky. With just a little bit of effort, you can find a really unique and interesting.