Travel

Tallinn is hip with history

Estonian capital's old-world charm and easy access make it worth visiting when in Europe

If you imagine Tallinn - the capital and largest city of Estonia - to be soulless and dull because it was part of the Soviet Union, a trip there may change your mind.

Tallinn is full of charm, perfectly balancing its baroque palaces' old-world appeal with skyscrapers.

Not many travellers include Tallinn in their Europe itineraries. Understandably so, as Tallinn is not as well known as Paris or Rome.

But after setting foot in this medieval city, which has fused hipness with history, I would recommend visiting it in a heartbeat. It feels like being in a Hollywood movie set in the 15th Century.

The best part about Tallinn is that almost everything there is cheaper by European standards.

The Unesco World Heritage List city was heavily bombed during World War II, but its Old Town, built between the 15th and 17th centuries, is well preserved.

There are many buildings from centuries ago too. The ancient Great Guild Hall, now housing the exhibition showcasing 11,000 years of Estonian history, is one of them.

I included Tallinn in my itinerary for Stockholm in Sweden and Helsinki in Finland.

You can get to Tallinn from either city. The best way is by ferry, and I took the Stockholm-Tallinn route.

It feels like being in a Hollywood movie set in the 15th Century

There are two ferry operators that link Stockholm and Tallinn, the St. Peter Line and the Tallink Silja Line.

I took the latter, as they operate seven times a week, and the 15½ hour-trip was luxurious.

It cost a little more, but the extra was worth it, as there was a variety of onboard services to enjoy.

Plus, making the trip overnight will save you some money - the cabin on board costs you a lot less than most hotel rooms.

There is no better way to explore Tallinn than walking. The buildings are not only full of character, they offer a fascinating overview of Estonia's tumultuous past too.

To get a glimpse of this past, head for the Bastion tunnels.

Built in the 1600s, they are a series of secret pathways used for transporting soldiers and ammunition and spying on the enemy.

Meanwhile, the Old Town - with its castle-like walls, rustic alleyways, ancient churches and labyrinth of boutique shops and cafes - will make you feel like you have stepped back in time. There is a visible Soviet influence in the mix too.

There are street vendors selling souvenirs, handcrafted winter wear and decorative items.

The highlight of my trip was the Christmas market in the historic Town Hall Square.

Brightly-lit booths, candlelit side-street cafes and a huge Christmas tree covered in festive lights, all set against the Town Hall - it was an enchanting sight.

It is little wonder, then, that Tallinn's Christmas market is touted as Europe's finest.

From Tallinn, Helsinki is a mere 2½-hour ferry ride away, making it an excellent day trip or stopover.

There are several ferry operators making the crossing, all for a similar price, but the quality of their services varies.

The Viking Line Cruise has daily departures. Prices start from as low as €18 (S$27.50), but upgrading to an outside cabin with the buffet will make your journey sweeter.

The Baltic states are some of Europe's least-visited, but the remnants of an unforgettable era give Tallinn an understated charm, an untouched beauty in its own right.

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