Having long since emerged from behind the Iron Curtain to become one of the busier tourist hubs on the Baltic Sea, the Estonian capital is also much better value for money than the more familiar historic centres of Western Europe. Start with elk soup and meat pie at the superb little shop built into the Old Town Hall ($5, raekoda.tallinn.ee) before climbing the 12th-century spire of St Olav's church ($3, oleviste.ee). Once the tallest building in the world, it has been repeatedly hit by lightning and burned down three times in the last 800 years but still stands to offer vertiginous views over the red-tiled rooftops. Visit the wonderfully evocative Russian market for quality old crockery and high-grade home-made jam ($10, jaamaturg.ee), and the striking Kumu Art Museum for a primer on more recent developments in local painting and sculpture ($8.50, ekm.ee/eng/kumu). Then spend the evening sampling strong, dark house beers and rustic Estonian cooking in the mediaeval candlelit tavern of the Olde Hansa Restaurant ($40, oldehansa.ee), and find a comfortable, affordable room nearby at the Old Town Alur hostel (private doubles from $50, hostel.alur.ee)
Easy Does It
Built into the upper walls of the Old Town watchtower, Kohvik Dannebrog Cafe is something of a tourist trap but the coffee and cake is almost good enough to justify the inflated prices, and the setting makes for Tallinn's most atmospheric breakfast ($25, no website). Just beyond those walls is the Viru Hotel, a high-rise erected by the Soviet regime in 1972 for the dual purpose of accommodating Western tourists and spying on them. The former KBG surveillance centre on the upper floors is now a creepy but fascinating museum with a regular English-language tour ($15, viru.ee). Take the city tram a few stops to Kadriorg Park, where the gorgeous palace built by Peter the Great now houses the Estonian Art Museum ($5.50, ekm.ee) and the surrounding grounds are lined with oak trees and old wooden buildings. If it's summer you can enjoy a dinner of inventively prepared local produce in the garden at Lieb Resto Ja Aed ($50 with wine, vabalaud.ee/et/restoran/leibrestojaaed), then a movie from an inflatable deckchair at the Katusekino rooftop cinema ($6, katusekino.ee), before taking to bed at The Three Sisters Hotel, a stylishly updated mediaeval merchant's house (rooms from $150, threesistershotel.com)
It's not exactly classic local fare but the Bonaparte bistro does the best espresso and croissants in the Old Town ($20, bonaparte.ee), which should set you up for a morning of browsing the craftsmen's workshops of St Catherine's Passage and the boutiques of the burgeoning "Karja Quarter". Squeezed into those narrow streets are many familiar premium brand-stores – Armani, Burberry etc – and specialist outlets such as Suda, a showcase for Estonian designers Ave Tamme and Julia Havanskaja, among others (budget at least $150, suda.ee). Around noon, head to the harbour for a yacht cruise around the Bay of Tallinn, where you can see the modern-mediaeval skyline from the water and sail past other highlights of the Baltic coast, including Patarei, the sea fortress built by Tsar Nicholas I (from $235 per person, estoniaexperience.com). In the evening, you should catch whatever play, opera, or dance recital is being performed at the Von Krahl, a wonderful backstreet theatre now rightly renowned across Europe for bold and astonishing productions ($25 approx, vonkrahl.ee). A world-class six-course tasting menu of gourmet French-Russian cuisine will cost you a lot less at Tchaikovsky Restaurant than it would in Paris or Moscow ($115, telegraafhotel.com/restaurant-tchaikovsky), and since it's located inside The Telegraff, Tallin's top 5-star hotel, you might as well stay the night there too (rooms from $215 approx).
Total: $760 approx
The writer travelled at his own expense.