As a destination for a city break, Tallinn has become very popular for many wanting a weekend break. The Estonian capital’s old fishing district, Kalamaja, is has become one of the city’s coolest haunt. Come and explore the medieval Old Town’s cobbled streets, easy-on-the-eye architecture and colourful squares, the galleries (such as Kadriorg Art museum) and the churches (St Olav’s Gothic church and tower) – St Alexander Nevsky Cathedaral, built during the reign of the Russian tsars in 1900, it’s the most opulent Orthodox church in the city and its pop-up bars and warehouse parties.
As the prevalence of revelling stags suggests, people do go for the drinking, but it’s not overrun with rowdy drunk tourists. For those who would rather party with the locals than be stuck in a touristy bar downing jagerbombs, Tallinn famous nightspot – Kalamaja, aka the “cultural kilometre”.
On the city centre’s fringe, Kalamaja used to be a fishing district but is now a relic of the city’s Soviet past. It is filled with warehouses and old factories – including what used to be one of the USSR’s biggest toy factories, Polymer which sprung up when workers poured in from Russia after a railway was built linking Tallinn with St Petersburg in 1870. After Estonia’s independence, the district became an impoverished ghetto, rife with unemployment, drug addiction and crime.
Veined with sketchy alleys and dotted with empty buildings, it was a no-go zone. But gone are the days when Kalamaja was synonymous with an impoverished Russia population. Now Tallinn’s burgeoning hipster scenesters have got their hands on the district, and Kalamaja is all about edgy bars, pop-up galleries and raves.
Housed in an old heating plant is the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (EKKM). The gallery, which also has its own bar, was founded by artists in search of a place to squat and the venue has now become the city’s first contemporary art museum.
The Patarei Sea Fortress was originally built as an early 19th-century naval base. When the Soviets rolled into Estonia, it became Tallinn’s KGB prison. Now, more than 20 years since Estonia regained its independence, a stage is set up in the yard of the empty jail for Estonian and European DJs to perform on, a beach café has been created in the courtyard and sprawling murals – one of a giant crazed green monkey freeing itself from a burning jail, policeman in hard – plaster the old prison walls. Nearby is Ökosaar, a disused, London double-decker bus that doubles as a cage preaching eco-values to anyone who will listen.
Mutant Disco is one of the sweaty electro nights that hops from abandoned warehouses to old workers’ housing blacks around Kalamaja. Most locals stay updated on where the next events are through Facebook. But if your Estonian is a bit rusty, the way to find out what’s going on while in town is to explore in the daytime first – look for posters, chat to people or walk into one of the area’s permanent fixtures, such as F-Hoone, which translates to F-Block. The bare, brick-walled ex-Soviet factory is now an obscenely trendy restaurant and bar, owned by a Tallinn DJ. And if none of those things work, just rock up in Kalamaja on a Saturday night and follow the bass.