See and Drink in Tallinn

For such a small city, in such a small country, Tallinn has established itself as a European technology hub. It is home to established tech companies like Skype, BoredPanda, and many innovative tech startups. Estonia’s bright, technologically advanced future stems from it’s past behind the Iron Curtain. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 90s, Estonians had to start over scratch. Instead of looking to the past for lessons on how to build a country, they looked towards the future and what technology could do for them. Now, social security numbers, voting, medical records, taxes and all other aspects of day to day life are conducted online. Children are taught to code as early as kindergarten and internet access was declared a basic human right.

For the casual visitor to Estonia, all this means is that you will never be forced to hunt for Wifi, or struggle to make travel plans in advance. Despite looking so far into the future, Tallinn has maintained its past with a quaint, coblestoned old town. Spend two to three days in the city to get an overview of all it has to offer.

Here’s what to do in Tallinn

Explore the Old Town

oldtownThe Old Town of Estonia is in the style of other large Balkan cities. It looks like something out of a dream or a fairy tale. What I like about the Balkans is how colorful everything is. Bright salmon pink is a popular color in Estonia architecture, as well as greens, yellows, and reds. Some notable parts of the old town are the Parliament building, the old fortress, and the Orthodox church.

Sometimes in Tallinn, the push towards the future can clash with the past. The FreedomMonument to Freedom is one such case. The monument is not nearly as spectacular as what it represents. Many Estonians find it to be quite the eyesore.

Check out the Art scene, old and new

Arts districts boarder the city on the east and west. On the east, seek out the┬áKadriorg Palace, a large baroque palace built by Peter the Great. The palace itself is beautiful inside and out. Now, it is also home to a large collection of classic Estonian and Russian art. The Kumu is a short walk from the palace and home to Estonia’s largest collection of art. The multi story collection features classic Estonian art, international art, Soviet art/propaganda, and is home to rotating exhibitions. I went to SO MANY museums in Europe, and this one was one of my favorites. A lot of the art in the collection was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

The west side of the city is home to the Tellskivi arts district. Like other arts districts, there’s street art, galleries, shops, food trucks, and hip restaurants scattered through the area. It’s worth checking out because art is always great, but I didn’t find it quite as special as the Kumu. It’s not super different from every other arts district in every other city. I didn’t explore the bars in that area, so perhaps it livens up at night.

Sift through Soviet memorabilia

On the edge of Tellskivi, is the┬áBalti Jaama Turg. The first and second floor of this large market are home to small restaurants and food shops. The top floor is an antique lover’s paradise and a look into a scarier part of history. Scattered among old teapots and toys are old soviet medals and nazi memorabilia. I am quite sure that all the nazi related things you can find here are illegal in the U.S., so while it is a bad idea for a number of reasons to buy anything, it is a bizarre piece of history to see.

Drink with locals and internationals

Like the rest of the Balkans, Tallinn is a cheap place to drink. It takes the euro, but everything is priced low. It can get a little pricy in old town, but there are a few hidden gems.

Valli Bar

This is such an old man bar, but I had the best time here. I was grabbing a drink with a couple I met on the bus from Warsaw to Vilnius, and then continued running into. This bar was on a list of Tallinn’s most interesting bars. We walked in only to discover that we were the youngest people in the bar by a solid 40 years. The barman was no nonsense and definitely spoke more English than he let on. We befriended an older Estonia camera-man who was excited to run into an American at his usual spot.

shotThere is a stereotype that people hate Americans or love Americans. In all my travels I found that this isn’t really true. Mostly people don’t really care about Americans, but they are interested in American politics since we affect so much of the world. This man was the first person I met who was genuinely so excited to meet an American. He was the first of several older Estonians who did nothing but thank me. It is an uncomfortable feeling to be thanked by someone simply for being from the U.S., particularly when I vehemently disagree with the current state of U.S. politics. It is also uncomfortable to be thanked when I am 23 and have done nothing particularly remarkable or good for Estonia. However I understood his sentiment, he lived a hard life and saw his life change for the better with intervention from the U.S.

Valli bar may be an older crowd, but it was one of the most interesting and enjoyable experiences I had while traveling. Grab a beer and don’t leave without taking a Milimarkus shot (I won’t ruin the surprise but it involves tabasco).


Two days in Vilnius

Vilnius is a small city full of friendly people, great nightlife, and interesting sites. It’s a small city, everything is easily done within a day, but the nightlife and cheap accommodation makes staying a few extra nights worth it. Because Lithuania is so small, Vilnius serves as a great central hub to explore the countryside from.

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Two Days in Tirana

After the tranquil lakeside days I spent in Ohrid, Tirana was a little overwhelming. It’s a big city packed with crazy drivers. Seriously these drivers will not stop for you unless you are staring them down the entire time you cross the road. While it’s terrifying, it adds to how vibrant and full of life Tirana is. Post-communism, they covered all of the drab buildings in colors and patterns. You can’t walk five feet without seeing some street art. Tirana isn’t packed with “must-see” museums or monuments, it’s more about walking down the street and experiencing the vibrant culture.

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What to do in Sofia

Bulgaria is a gem that remains undiscovered by many Americans. The mountains offer prime skiing conditions and the beaches of the Black Sea are the perfect place to relax. The best part about Bulgaria is that it is still relatively cheap compared to the rest of Europe. I only stopped in the capital city, Sofia, and it left me hungry for more. (Quite literally as the food was incredible).

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What to do in Skopje

Skopje also known as the Vegas of the Balkans, not for gambling or partying, but for the larger than life, sometimes gaudy architecture. Walking down the central streets of Skopje you see statue after statue and Greek column after Greek column. You can’t go far on your walk without being greeted by one of the city’s many stray dogs. I wanted to take every dog home with me, but I won’t be home until April and the dogs probably get better care than I could provide. Every dog is tagged, tracked, fixed, and given all the necessary shots. On top of it, they seemed well-fed. It’s a unique city to say the least, and incredibly inexpensive.

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Take a Beer Bath in Budapest

Budapest is famous for many things, including its beer and baths. The beer scene features something for everyone, from crushable brews to hoppy crafts, we couldn’t find a beer over about five dollars. For beers, the stand out was Szimpla Kert, a ruin pub in the middle of the city with local and international brews. I discovered a raspberry-mint sour that tasted almost like fernet, and proceeded to drink it the rest of my time in Budapest.

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Road Tripping through Ireland

Being from the Midwest, we’re used to driving. A lot. From Lawrence, Omaha, St. Louis, and Oklahoma City are about 4 hours away, double that for Denver and Chicago. Long road trips are nothing, so we spent two weeks driving across Ireland, a country around the size of our home state. The longest drive we had was about 4 hours, and to all the Irish we spoke to this was way to long, but the scenery made the drive go by rapidly.

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