Tallinn is a stunning metropolis set beside the Gulf of Finland. Its Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site containing medieval facades and fortifications that have remained largely unchanged since the 13th century. Its modern bonafides are almost equally as impressive. Beginning with the birth of Skype here back in 2005, the area has built up a reputation as the “Silicon Valley of Europe.” All the delicious hallmarks of hip contemporary society have crept in alongside it: a craft brewing boom, Michelin-caliber gastronomy, cocktail bars.
So, to say Tallinn is having a moment is vastly underselling what’s going on within the bustling Baltic capital city. Here’s where to make the most of it, one mouthful at a time.
Begin your culinary adventure in the Noblessner Seafront Quarter, a former submarine shipyard that’s recently received new life as a waterfront destination for bars, restaurants and high-rise lofts. Lore Bistroo is a great setting from which to absorb it all. A well-curated menu features flavorful preparations from sea and land; the unctuous fish soup changes with the seasons, and the tenderloin is as expertly-rendered as any cut of meat in town. But it’s the staff’s ability to match all this fare with the perfect liquid pairing that really sets the experience apart. The wine list is expansive and innovative, featuring plenty of seldom seen selections from across Eastern Europe, and the gin and tonic list showcases a slew of offerings enlivened by Estonian-sourced botanicals.
If you’re looking to elevate your dining in the literal sense as opposed to just figuratively, book a table atop Restaurant Fotografiska, amidst the nearby industrial complex of Telliskivi. The zero-waste kitchen is helmed by Peeter Pihel, whose commitment to sustainability has earned his venue a coveted Michelin Green Star. The cuisine changes daily, but you’re always guaranteed dishes donning a minimal carbon footprint. That ethos even extends to the drinks list. Wasteless Lager is an easy-drinking beer made exclusively for the restaurant in conjunction with local craft darling Põhjala Brewery. It’s crafted using leftover sourdough bread from each day’s dinner service.
You can also take tours and tastings of the craft operation daily at the Põhjala taproom. It’s just a 1.5 mile walk north of the restaurant and is open daily until midnight (closed on Mondays). Don’t forget to take a deep dive into Baltic Porter, naturally. The dark and robust style of suds is a local favorite.
Cocktail enthusiasts will want to head directly to Whisper Sister, Tallinn’s preeminent speakeasy-style parlor. More than just an elegant environ, the atmosphere is anchored by the sophistication of the menu. Love Letter to CPH is a clarified riff on a Negroni, using aquavit and polugar—traditional Russian breadwine. Mushroom Mary is a fungal-infused variation on a Bloody Mary, which also relies on caper juice to balance umami with saltiness in a deeply satisfying tipple.
And though rent prices have notoriously skyrocketed across the city over the past decade. Top-notch tipples such as these remain at relatively reasonable costs compared to their London, New York, and Singapore counterparts. Don’t expect to spend more than €13 per drink.
Still, if that’s too steep just head to the historic Hell Hunt Pub, the oldest continuously-running saloon in all of Old Town. Half-liter pours of the house brews are around €5. Live music typically buoys the lively ambience.
For a city of less than 500,000, Tallinn punches way above its weight class when it comes to food and drink. A full rundown of the many examples would take you hours to read. So start with the standouts above, then ask your local waitstaff where to go from there. They won’t hesitate to share their secrets. Indeed, one of the city’s finest attributes is its convivial, welcoming vibe. You’ll instantly feel part of the community. Even in the depth of a Baltic winter, it’ll warm you to your bones.