I mean – just look at this place.
Even their souvenirs looks like they were taken straight from Elsa’s and Anna’s wardrobes (that’s a “Frozen” reference for you heathens).
I never thought any place in the world could have too much whimsy for my liking, but Tallinn came close to pushing even my whimsy-loving limits. Here is why I am torn up about it: on the one hand, Tallinn fits brilliantly into my magical land filled with unicorns and owls that deliver school letters. On the other hand, Tallinn is such a ridiculously storybook place that I cannot suspend my disbelief: it looks far too much like a Disney stage set than a REAL magical town. It’s like the entirety of the Old Town is “themed.” Even John Oliver joked on Last Week Tonight that “Estonia, [is] a country were from the look of it, they still worry about Shrek attacks.”
I have felt something similar when I visited Venice and Bruges. They too seemed consumed with trying to exist primarily as tourist backdrops, with souvenir peddlers on every corner, and more foreign speech than local.
While walking the streets of Tallinn, in my mind I kept comparing it to Riga. Many parts of Riga’s Old Town look like a medieval movie set too, though they felt less artificial, like if you were to shoot a realistic historical movie, you’d do it in Riga, but come to Tallinn for the “reimagining of a classic fairy tale”. I think the reason for this is because Riga’s historical center is, comparatively-speaking, rather sprawling, and its Renaissance-era old town is interspersed with Art Nouveau and entirely modern buildings – and modern businesses, and international shopping chains – whereas Tallinn’s old center is spatially concentrated and very homogenous.
By the way, I am aware that I sound like a culture-commodifying brat when harping on about wanting my travel destinations to be equal parts magical/whimsical and real/authentic at the same time. But hey, if Florence and Budapest can do it, why not….ok, I’ll stop now.
Anyhoo, despite whatever ideas the above musings might give you, I actually really liked Tallinn. The old town is absolutely gorgeous and charming. The restaurant and shopping scenes are very diverse, though I had quite a sticker shock – Tallinn, as least its touristy parts, is pretty expensive, especially compared to Riga.
Also, Tallinn was the place where I saw “stag parties” for the first time in my life. While walking around town in the evening I passed countless large groups of young, sometimes absurdly costumed, men in various stages of inebriation. Some of them were so drunk that they had to be supported or outright carried by their friends because they could not stand up on their own – and that was at 8 pm! As I was told, lots of Scandinavians come to Tallinn by ferry on weekends to enjoy cheap booze. I wont begrudge anyone that 🙂
Would you like to see more of whimsical Tallinn? I thought so.