In every city there are places that are mostly visited by tourists and places that are mostly visited by locals, but there are also places that even locals don’t usually frequent, let alone travellers. Nevertheless, they still have a steady clientele, which means there must be something special about them. Consider the following list an alternative to an “alternative” guide to Tallinn.
As its name (“Three Lions”) suggests, you’ll need the courage and skill of not one but three lions to visit this place. It’s certainly not somewhere that people from outside Eastern Europe would be used to, however Eastern Europeans should feel right at home. Once (if ever) you get used to the atmosphere, you’ll be rewarded with cheap food, cheap beer and an authentic 90s experience. This bar is a rare example of a place where the prices don’t affect the quality of what’s on offer. It certainly won’t leave you emotionless – you’ll either love it or hate it!
Photo credit: Kolm Lõvi Bar
You can be sure that when you enter this pub in Tallinn’s Old Town you’ll be met with suspicious stares simply because you’re a stranger. Valli Baar’s customers form an unofficial community as they’re all regulars and know each other well. A good way to make them less suspicious is to try ordering the famous house shot “Millimallikas”. The reason I say “try ordering” is because a) you’ll be met with the challenge of pronouncing it correctly and b) you’ll need to muster up the courage to actually drink it. This shot is something of a local legend, and even those who have never tasted it know what it is and where to get it. Drinking Millimallikas is just one of the challenges you must embrace to say you’ve truly experienced Tallinn!
This is a place that takes you as close to the Soviet café experience as possible without making locals think they’ve travelled back in time. Some say that EU sanctions were extended to them personally and that Lenin saluted them in their dreams after visiting Energia. To make your experience complete, we suggest you order the potato salad and a sprat and egg sandwich (the more you eat, the less we have to face at our Christmas table).
Many Estonian grandmothers still take their grandchildren here in search of birthday presents, gloves, winter coats, bottles of soda… This list could go on forever. It’s a place where you can find just about anything you could possibly imagine and more. Think of it as a Soviet shopping centre without designated departments – a single vendor can be selling everything from lollypops to underwear that was produced in the 70s. Balti Jaam Market’s great variety of products makes it a fun alternative to the souvenir shops in the Old Town.
Aerial photographs of Tallinn tell you a lot about this neighbourhood as it clearly stands out from all other parts of the city. It’s a concrete jungle that was meant to look like an English-style park, and a place where you can drive around in circles without realising it simply because everything looks the same. Luckily the area is not that big, so when you finally realise you’re lost, you can use a map and street signs to escape. For anyone who has visited many former Soviet countries, the architecture of this place will probably look familiar. The zoo and open-air museum are located nearby, so it’s definitely worth the drive.
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Opening photo credit: Heiko Kruus