Estonia is a progressive and modern country. Go visit it now.

If you’re like me, when you think of the country of Estonia you probably picture an old Soviet country with massive dark and depressing concrete structures. Much like this huge concrete structure called Linnahall. It was built as a stadium for the 1980 Olympics. Although the 1980 Olympics were held in Moscow, they needed a coastal venue for the sailing events. So they built this concrete complex on the coast in Tallinn, which at the time was part of the Soviet Union. As I mentioned, when I first set out to visit Estonia, this is exactly what I expected to see. Was I ever wrong.
Estonia, and its capital Tallinn is modern, progressive and technologically advanced. Lets take a look around Tallinn!
Estonia was annexed by the Soviet Union in the 1940’s. In the early 90’s Estonia declared independence from Russia and has long since being trying to rid itself of their soviet past. Shown here is what was the Russian embassy. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Estonia kicked the Russians out and turned the embassy into a monument for Ukraine. Although Estonia is concerned Russia may one day return to try to reclaim their country, being part of NATO helps alleviate that concern.
This church, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was built in Tallinn during the Russification period. When Estonia first gained independence, they wanted to remove all Russian symbols from their city including this church. However, they didn’t have enough money for the destruction and removal of the church so it stayed. The Estonians have since accepted this part of their heritage and the church still stands… for now.
The old city of Tallinn is surrounded by a castle wall and is still well preserved today. More recent governments in Estonia realized that the country didn’t have much in the way of natural resources and felt the best way for their economy to move forward would be to focus on becoming a technological center within Europe.
How has the drive for a technology based economy worked out? Estonia has more tech start-ups per person than anywhere else in Europe. They are the birthplace of the software Skype. The same guys that started Skype then went on to create the worlds first self driving delivery robots for distributing food during COVID lock-downs. If the robots got stuck on the cobble stone streets they would call out for help until a friendly passerby would push the robot along. The robot, being a friendly Estonian would thank you and carry on with their delivery.
Estonia also held the words first online federal election. With this in mind, citizens of Tallinn are provided with free Wi-Fi. They also do all their taxes online and are the first country in the world to offer e-citizenship. You can become a virtual citizen of Estonia and would join the ranks of people like Barack Obama.
While taking a guided walking tour of Tallinn the guide just causally mentions this is the highest point in the city. He obviously doesn’t understand the importance of this detail, you know what time it is! #TSS.
View of Tallinn from one of those high points. In the distance you can see the port where we arrived on the ferry. The tall black church spire on the left is St. Olafs Church which was built way back in 1549. At that time, it was the tallest building in the world.
More of the castle wall that protected the town. Estonia places a large priority for parks and natural spaces. 50% of the country is covered in forest.
Estonia is the least religious country in the world. Only 14% of the population of Estonia say that religion is an important part of their life. For comparison, Bangladesh, Indonesia etc.. have a rate of about 99%.
More castle wall, more parks and of course, a moat. What kind of castle doesn’t have a moat?
The main town square which not surprisingly is a UNESCO world Heritage site. It is also home to the Raeapteek pharmacy, which has been in business for over 500 years at the same location it sits today.
There are many hidden passages and little restaurants tucked away for you to discover. Although 2 million tourists visit Estonia each year, it sure doesn’t feel like this country has been discovered yet.
While walking around Tallinn, I noticed a huge number of very expensive cars. I asked a local about this and they said there are 3 reasons:
1) In soviet times you simply couldn’t get luxury items like fancy cars (or even a pair of nice jeans). So when they became available, everybody bought everything they could

2) When the Soviets last invaded Estonia they simply took all the wealth. If you had a bank account, it now belonged to the Soviets. With this history the locals are much more inclined to spend their money, just in case the Russians come back again and try to take it all

3) Lastly, you can’t park a fancy apartment outside a night club to impress the ladies, so you better buy a nice car instead.
If you don’t have a fancy car, public transit is free for citizens of Tallinn. But for tourists like myself, we have to pay. Most of the train tracks were built in Soviet times so they all go to St. Petersburg or Moscow. There are currently no trains that travel between the Baltic countries. However, plans are in the works to change that, connecting the Baltic’s to Western Europe. Note how the lights double as seats to wait for a train at.
3 of the original houses built in Tallinn.
Estonia is home to about 1.3 million people with about 0.5 million living in Tallinn.
Another view of Tallinn from the Castle wall.
Unlike other tourist old towns (Dubrovnik for example), Tallinn is still very much lived in by the locals. They speak their own language, Estonian, which is loosely based on Finish. The nearest country Latvia speaks Latvian and they cannot understand each other. Often using English as a go between to communicate between the two countries.
Behind the scenes!
Canada, being the friendly country it is, has an embassy in Estonia. Some say, it is built from used hockey sticks glued together with maple syrup.
Speaking of food… does Estonia has a national dish? Not exactly, but they do take food very seriously. The majority of options at restaurants are vegan or vegetarian. Estonia uses the least amount of pesticides for growing food in all of Europe. Here is Sian excited to try the third best rated burger in all of Europe, it was pretty good.
Beyond the castle walls is a modern city. This area is called Kalamaja district which is home to a bunch of small restaurants built from shipping containers.
The district is covered in interesting street art to keep you entertained as you walk about trying to decide which shipping container will have the best food.
After exploring Tallinn on foot for a few days we rent the finest VW the Baltic’s have to offer and set off on an epic Baltic road trip. More to come!

1 Comment

Teditor · August 27, 2023 at 9:57 pm

Really interesting, good writeup!

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