On a recent whistle-stop tour of my favourite of the Baltic capitals, Tallinn, I found that the stag-do stereotypes and perception of post-Soviet greyness are common misconceptions and belong firmly in the past. In their place you'll encounter a quirky arts scene, sophisticated restaurants and a postcard-pretty photo op on every corner…
Head to Kalamaja. It's a trendy neighbourhood, just a stone's throw from the city's train station. Eat breakfast at Boheem and watch the rickety old trams pass by. I recommend the scrambled eggs with bacon, along with a chai latte.
Explore the area. The New York Times notes that Kalamaja is "still a bit dilapidated, as these hip hangouts are opening amid boarded-up houses, low-cost liquor stores and abandoned factory complexes", but adds that this is "often the blueprint for neighbourhoods on the rise, which, with its packed cafes and fully booked restaurants, Kalamaja certainly is".
Hire a bike and cycle around the medieval city wall (one of the best preserved in the world) and chatter along the winding cobbled streets. Leave your bike outside the imposing St Olaf's Church and trade two euros for the steep climb to the top – all 258 steps of it. At one point you'll probably wonder why you're paying for such torture, but the panoramic view from the lookout is more than worth the effort. This was reputedly once the tallest building in the world.
Take your bike out of the Old Town and head for the coast. The whole route is flat and there are a few park benches along the way if you fancy a break.
Lunch time! You're spoilt for choice in the Old Town, but my favourite has to be Kompressor. A pancake house with portions big enough for two sharing, this place is a firm favourite with budget travellers (dishes will set you back around four euros) and they have a filling to please the fussiest palates. Try the smoked trout or salami and cheese. Save some space for dessert -- the sweet pancakes are the best bit!
Walk off your lunch with a stroll through the meandering streets of the Old Town. Miraculously escaping major damage from various wars, the whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tallin was a European Capital of Culture in 2011, and you'll find galleries hiding down back alleys, varied museums and boutiques in crooked buildings. The interior of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is particularly "wow", transporting you to 1890s Moscow.
Take a taxi to Patarei Prison (open April-September). The prison was originally built as a gun battery and fortress in 1840. Two euros includes your entry and pretty much free reign over one of the most terrifying buildings I've ever been to, although admittedly it won't be everyone's cup of tea. The prison, resembling a horror-movie set, looks as though it was abandoned decades ago, but in fact the last inmates only left this place in 2005. There's a bar on the beach outside if you're in need of a drink to calm your nerves afterwards.
If you're feeling energetic, why not walk back to the city? The Culture Kilometre runs all the way along the city centre's coastline. It was created to celebrate Tallinn's time as a European Capital of Culture, and is the closest thing that the city has to a promenade. It's actually 2.2km in length and has a few excellent landmarks to photograph along the way (look out for the occasional mural and hipster café at the end).
As nice as the Old Town is, it can be a bit of a tourist trap. Head back over to Kalamaja and hit F-Hoone for dinner -- it's not the easiest to find, but ask a local if you lose your bearings. This sophisticated restaurant has a menu to die for and surroundings to match; once an area of derelict factories, Kalamaja is having fresh air breathed into it by independent businesses, and it is quickly becoming gentrified. I recommend starting with the goats' cheese and strawberries, and ending with the crème brûlée. There's a flea market outside every Saturday, with vendors selling everything from second-hand shoes to Soviet memorabilia.
Follow the crowd to a local bar or make your way over to Hell Hunt. It has an impressive list of beers, ciders and just about every other alcoholic drink you can think of. It's also one of the cheapest bars that you'll find in Tallinn. That, coupled with the decent music, makes it an ideal hangout at which to end your night.
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