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Published: 25 February 2018

Tallinn-Spotting: 10 quirky finds in Tallinn

In honour of Estonia's 100 year celebrations in 2018, our guest blog is by author JOHN GIMLETTE who was charmed by Estonia’s capital city Tallinn. It’s full of surprises and curiosities, he says. Here are his ten favourite finds in Tallinn:

Tallinn old town Baltic Holidays private tour

1. An exploding purse. 

Made in the 1970s, anybody who tried to open it would be showered with indelible ink.  This was a bit of KGB kit, used to catch dishonest hotel staff, and to blackmail them into becoming informers.  It can still be found in the KGB’s outpost, on the 23rd floor of the Hotel Viru. Baltic Holidays can arrange a tour as part of your stay in Tallinn.

2. A submarine built in Barrow-in-Furness in 1937.

Although the ‘Lembit’ would spend almost 40 years in the service of the Soviet navy, she’s still unmistakably British.  By the time she retired, she was the world’s oldest sub still afloat, and, on the captain’s taps, you can still find the words ‘HOT’ and ‘COLD’.  Visit her at the Seaplane Harbour


3. A pile of molten nails.

Found on the north coast of Estonia, this is all that remains of a Viking longship, set ablaze for the funeral of a great chief.  This and other Viking artefacts can now be found in ‘Fat Margaret’s Tower’ (otherwise known as the Estonian Maritime Museum).


4. A suit of armour made of walrus bone.

This is just part of a remarkable collection of oddities that includes a Mozart manuscript dated 1790, pellets of old Estonian banknotes (shredded in 2011), Peter the Great’s boot, an executioner’s sword, and a mummified crocodile.  All this (and more) can now be viewed at the magnificent Great Guildhall Museum.


5. A forbidding 19th century prison, left as it was the day it closed in 2004.

Once a sea fortress built by the Tsar Nicholas I, Paterei prison is a 15 minute walk from the centre, along the waterfront.


6. Hand-painted marzipan dolls.

Like Lübeck, Tallinn claims to have invented marzipan in medieval times.  Originally considered a medicine, it’s now an art form.   You can now go and eat the artwork at Café Maiasmokk, at Pikk Street 16.

Orthodox church on Toompea Hill Tallinn, Estonia


7. Icons celebrating the sainted Russian royal family.

Tallinn’s ethnic Russians still flock to St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, to say their prayers before images of the last Tsar and his family.


8. Wild boar skins for sale.

Just head for the market in Raekoja Plats, the old town square.

Catherine's passage in Tallinn old town, Estonia


9. A street of gravestones.

Dating from the 14th century these car-sized slabs of stone line the delightful St Catherine’s passage at Vene 12.


10. A Soviet-era prisoner’s jacket from the Special Regime Camp, Omsk, USSR.

Shockingly, it only dates from 1981.  This and other exhibits make for a fascinating display at the Museum of Occupations.


John Gimlette visited Estonia with Baltic Holidays in the winter and wrote a delightful article for The Guardian about a winter holiday in Estonia, you can read it at 'Rolling Estonia: a wilderness adventure in fairytale forests'. To take the same or similar winter trip as John, find our Estonia Winter Break here. Or discover the highlights of Estonia on a private tour at any time of the year on our Highlights of Estonia Private Tour.

Baltic Holidays are specialists in private tailor-made tours of the Baltic States, Russia, Scandinavia & eastern Europe - from the Baltic to the Black Sea we have expert knowledge and local teams to craft the best itinerary for your travels. Our private drivers and guides, bespoke arrangements and personal service give you the best experiences of our destinations and true insights into real life; all designed to suit your pace, budget and interests. Contact us to discuss your travels in the region and how we can help on [email protected] or visit for some inspiration!

John Gimlette is a highly regarded travel writer and the author of ‘Elephant Complex; Travels in Sri Lanka’ (Riverrun, £10.99).

Published: 25 February 2018