A scribbled love note on a napkin was all it took. I was charmed. Three courses later and I was in love – with the delicious local food served up by top restaurant Rataskaevu 16 just a short hop from the Old Town Square in the centre of Tallinn. Despite being called ‘awesome’, and wooed with numerous smiley faces, it was this microcity’s unique blend of old and new, wintery hues and medieval magic that really stole my heart.

Rataskaevu 16

A two-hour crossing from Helsinki to Estonia’s capital by ferry was just enough time for me and my travel companion, Linzi, to seek out social recommendations of where to eat. Rataskaevu 16 was described as ‘amazing, quirky, great food and sooooooooo cheap’ – trumping most other considerations. Disembarking we bypassed our Air B&B check-in and head straight to make our reservation, only to be told they were fully booked. A chirpy little waiter was happy to help, though, and set aside a table for us at Vaike Rataskaevu 16 (meaning ‘little’) – realistically, their ‘overflow’.

Exploring Tallinn

Many eastern European destinations have opened their doors to the stag and hen parties of western boozers, but in Tallinn, you’ll find a fairy-tale city much more classy than brassy. The Old Town Square in Tallinn slows your explorative pace as each direction intrigues. Winding alleys and roads open from between narrow gaps between buildings, and passing tourists and locals alike simply glide on by; no rush, no hurry. In the day, pastel-shaded buildings, all a little wonkier than the other, light up in blue skies. And, as the blue skies turn a dark purple, the Old Town Hall is illuminated by vibrant projections that dance in time with a live performer, sat cocooned in a glass bubble of warmth.

Streets in Tallinn Old Town

At this time of year (February), it ranges between -16 and -3. It was wintery-crisp, and while basked in golden sunlight, the air was mighty nippy. In between answering work emails, dialling into conference calls and warming up by hopping from coffee shop to hole-in-the-wall eatery, we still managed to see the best of Tallinn.

On our free day, we took a brisk walk to the eastern area of the Old Town, and Toompark. Freshly fallen snow made the perfect bed on which to handstand, my new hobby though one I’ve not quite mastered. Adjacent to the park quirky houses of all different shapes and sizes rise above, and a slippery staircase climbs to Patkuli Viewing Platform for one of the best views of the skyline. Here, tanned rooftops showcase the city’s medieval roots, and the more modern shopping centres towards the north of the city fade out of view.

View over Tallinn

handstands in tallinn

Climbing down from the viewing platform the winding streets fast became familiar. In the Old Town area, the retail chains are too big to squeeze into the small building fronts, leaving only the quirky independent outlets and scattered souvenir shops to fight for our attention. Gentle perusing provided relief from the cold, keeping us relatively defrosted ahead of our meal at little Rataskaevu 16. This is a city to wander. There’s no real agenda here or hurry to tick of statues, museums and major attractions, just a chilled destination in which to slowly discover – just how I like it.

Vaike Rataskaevu 16

Our chirpy waiter greeted us as we entered Vaike Rataskaevu 16, we guessed having transferred on request ahead of our arrival. First course and we both tucked into a baked goats cheese salad, but it was the homemade breaded thinly topped with Estonian butter than stole the show.

I opted for the pork next. Tender and as succulent as all-day roasted lamb, it melted onto the fork along with a touch of carrot and potato mash plus a smidge of tartar source. Delicious!

Our deserts arrived, accompanied by a small note from our waiter. A default stunt by the restaurant to charm their customers perhaps, or a personal love letter? Who knows, but it worked a treat. We giggled over our gooey fondant, gracefully tucking in magnum-advert style in an attempt to seduce our host – who really didn’t know where to look.

The bill arrived. 25 Euros each for three courses, and not just any bog-standard courses but truly top class restaurant food, and for a quarter of what we would pay in London . The notes were a sweet touch as well, and while perhaps a cute marketing plan, made our evening just a little extra special.

We paid, tipped without hesitation and left for the sounds of the cosy performer singing in the Old Town Square. We left with a cheeky squint to the waiter, who winked back…but only to me.

Three days in Tallinn

…is more than enough to get a true feel for the charm this city has to offer. The bitter cold made stints exploring a little shorter than perhaps we would have preferred, but in good company, there’s enough fine wine and cosy coffee shops (serving some of the best cakes in Europe) to make even the shortest of visits to Tallinn a real pleasure.

Travel Resources: Short Break to Tallinn

Flights to Tallinn
You can get to Tallinn directly but you’ll often find that going via Helsinki will be cheaper. I would recommend that you fly to Helsinki, spend a few days there, and then take the ferry across for 22 Euros! Everywhere is walking distance from the port. You can get flights through Expedia for around £100 return. Search for flights here >

Accommodation in Tallinn
I stayed in an Air B&b for around £40 per night, which proved great value for money. We were a little out of town but only a 25 minute walk or so. If you’re looking to stay a little closer to town take a look here for hotels in Tallinn – which start from around £30 per night.

Food is really well priced in Tallinn – a nice contrast from the hiked prices in Scandinavia. A bottle of wine in a restaurant will cost you around 20 Euros, and a good main course, around 10 Euros. Be sure to check Rataskaevu 16 as I cannot recommend it highly enough – but book in advance if you can.

Getting around in Tallinn
Public transport in Tallinn is easy, with a good network of trams and buses. BUT, despite being a complete advocate of cheap and public transport I took quite a few Ubers whilst in Tallinn! In fact, I took five in total – but the cost came to 10 Euros in total! There minimum is fair and you’ll really find zipping around in an Uber, if in a two or more, is very cost effective. When’s it’s -16, they also provide light relief!

  • DO NOT USE THE STANDARD TAXI’S – unless you insist on them using the metre. Not all of them will take you if you ask to use the metre, which is why downloading and using Uber is a much better option – where fares are fixed. We took three different taxi’s to the same destination – all at similar times of the day, and were charged 5, 8 and 11 Euros for the same trip!

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