Port of Tallinn
Find a Cruise to the Baltic Sea
Today, thanks to its strategic position on the Gulf, Estonia's largest city is thriving. Tallinn, with a population of 410,000, is not only a major port but also a major industrial center. Timber, chemicals, electronics and information technology are all booming industries. Voice-over-Internet calling service Skype, of all things, was developed in Estonia. One of its creators: Jaan Tallinn.
The contemporary city of Tallinn is Scandinavian sleek mixed with Soviet-era concrete. But the attraction for cruise passengers is the remarkably restored, medieval Old Town, which despite a plethora of shops catering to locals and tourists, still feels a part of the 1400's because of the cobblestone streets and medieval architecture that has remained largely unchanged for over 600 years. Walk the winding streets, past ancient towers and the old city wall, and you'll feel like you're taking a step back into a medieval storybook. It is no wonder that the old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Tallinn is artsy and a delightful place to hang out and people-watch from one of the sidewalk cafes. The folks there are no longer restrained, and amid the fairy tale surroundings there is an "anything goes" ambience. The shops, especially the galleries and antiques venues, serve up interesting finds, such as elaborate weavings from textile artists and modern art from local painters; antique shops feature Communist memorabilia (Lenin paperweight, anyone?).
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock at the commercial port, which is a 15- to 20-minute walk on flat pavement to the heart of Old Town. The cruise season lasts from mid-May to mid-September, with roughly 300 visits a year by cruise ships. As of 2013, a new pier is under construction that will accommodate the industry's largest ships -- and even more tourists. There is also a movement afoot to develop a Christmas markets season for cruise passengers, which would extend the cruise season from late November to the middle of January.
Good to Know
Wear comfortable shoes because the streets are mainly cobbled and quite uneven. Plus, there are a lot of steep hills. As with any tourist center, beware of pickpockets.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Estonia has been a member of the European Union since 2004. It adopted the euro as its official currency in 2011. For updated currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. The cheapest way to get money is to use your debit card at an ATM.
The official language is Estonian. Most tourist shop employees speak English, however. English is taught from first grade on, so it is widely understood by young people. Many buildings in Old Town have informational signage in both Estonian and English.
Handmade woolen sweaters, sophisticated glass art, amber jewelry, juniper wood products, leather goods and fashionable linen capes are just a few examples of locally produced items. The woolen sweaters are every bit as nice as those you'll find in Stockholm and Oslo -- only cheaper. Shops are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In addition to credit cards, most souvenir shops accept U.S. dollars as well as British pounds.