Tallin, the jewel in Estonia's crown, is worthy of a visit in the autumn, for it's never ending magic. The incredibly beautiful buildings, silhouetted against the autumn skies can take your breath away when looking westwards from the numerous vantage points along the compact old city walls. Towers, domes, turrets all glow with the colour of the sunset skies. Eat outside around the old square, wrapped in the fleeces and sheepskins provided, under heaters, and watch the magic of the old town light up in front of your eyes, while eating a hearty stew. Stroll around the ancient streets and alleyways to cosy basement bars, fires blazing, while picking up beautifully made Estonian gifts on the way.
The tower's wonderful name Kiek in de Kok means, in Low German, "peep into the kitchen". Apparently soldiers in the tower used to be able to see into the kitchens of houses below it, hence the name.
The 118 ft (36 m) cannon tower was originally built in the 15th century as part of the city's defences. Its solid 13 ft thick stone walls proved invaluable during the siege of 1577 when Russian soldiers blasted a huge hole in the tower but could still not penetrate it or the city.
Now the tower contains an interesting museum relating to the defences of Tallinn and the various wars and sieges that the city, and tower, has witnessed. Exhibits include two cannons, which, like the tower, have great monikers "The Lion" and "Bitter Death". Along side these are some of the paraphernalia, such as a long loading stick, needed to work the cannons and quite in-depth descriptions of how cannons were loaded, fired and used. Indeed there is quite a lot of historical information given throughout the exhibition that can be a little overwhelming as you try to remember dates, wars, allies and enemies however, rather that than little or no information.
There is also a shiver-inducing representation of the Plague Doctor, all in black with a beaked hood - the beak was filled with medicinal herbs to try and ward off infection - and a stick for prodding and pointing.
On the top floor, where seagulls and pigeons perch in the windows, are some fantastic views of the city and beyond. It's easy to imagine the soldiers sitting up there trying to keep warm by the fire with just the birds for company.
A short walk from Alexander Nevsky Cathedral or Freedom Square.
Open: Tue-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat-Sun 11am-4.30pm closed Monday
The heart of Tallinn's Old Town is the Raekoja plats, or Old Town Square. Surrounded by elegant pastel hued buildings and the creamy limestone facade of the Town Hall, the square has been used as a marketplace, meeting place and also a place of execution.
It is still somewhere to meet up, perhaps in one of the restaurants that overlook it or, during the warmer months, one of the outdoor cafes that are set up on its cobblestones. There is also a reminder of its commercial past with handicraft stalls during summer and its Christmas Market. Indeed you get the sense that this is not a square that has been frozen in aspic - beautiful but untouchable - but a place that is still much in use by locals and visitors alike. There is also an intimate feel about the square, but without it seeming small, and an openness about it without it feeling bare and exposed.
As an introduction to Tallinn's Old Town you can't do worse, and as a place to visit in and for itself you can't do worse either.
There is a danger that in describing somewhere as a "garlic restaurant" it is made to sound rather gimmicky and that somehow the gimmick will surpass the cooking. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth with Balthasar, Tallinn's garlic restaurant.
Firstly the setting is fantastic, the restaurant is situated on the first floor above Raeapteek with lovely views over the square and towards the town hall. It is rather like being in a country manor dining room, wooden beams and floor, ornate chairs, fresh white linen, subdued and subtle lighting. There were very few people in the restaurant when we visited, reflective of it being a freezing Sunday night in winter rather than the standard of the restaurant, so the atmosphere was quiet and intimate. Service too was very good, attentive and helpful but without being overbearing.
As to the food, which reflects an international cuisine, it was excellent. On the menu each dish is given a bulb rating - 3 or above and you better not have any vampire blood in you! There is a good selection of starters, soup, meat and fish dishes plus a vegetarian option. You can also order garlic side dishes including the wonderful "garlic assortment", a pile of cloves in 4 different marinades, pesto, chilli, vinegar and spice. Also, don't leave before trying the garlic ice cream, which comes in a crisp almond basket and chocolate sauce. Like the creamiest ice cream you've ever had but with a hint of sweet garlic - sounds strange, tastes delicious.
Raekoja plats 11;
tel: 372 50 29 077;
Send your feedback or queries to email@example.com