The “E” in Estonia might as well stand for engagement. Smallest of the three Baltic states, this country is a global leader in digital innovation. It’s the first nation to declare Internet access a basic human right, the first to accept digital signatures for most transactions, the first to institute online voting, and, this year, one of the first nations with crazy-fast 5G network capability.
Estonia’s dizzying shift from Soviet state to high-tech hub has catapulted its capital, Tallinn, onto the world stage. Innovation incubators are seeding start-ups like Starship Technologies, a maker of “delivery robots” launched by the co-founders of Skype (another Estonia invention). The new Telliskivi Creative City hub is drawing crowds to its art shops and cafés. But the headliner this year (into 2020) is Estonia’s centennial as a republic, to be saluted with scores of events and loads of Estonian pride.
—Maryellen Kennedy Duckett
Old Town’s Leib Resto ja Aed, named for Estonia’s prized black rye bread (leib), serves such classic Estonian fare as pike perch fresh from Pärnu Bay and venison from the island of Saaremaa. Reserve a table at restaurant MEKK for lunch on a weekday, when MEKK’s “modern Estonian cuisine”—creamy salmon soup, smoked pork belly—is an affordable eight Euros (about Rs650). In Tallinn’s tech-hub Ülemiste City, treat yourself to Nordic-cool Juur’s tasting menu of three, five, or seven courses—rye porridge to moose—all sourced from Estonian forests, fields, and waters.
Tallinn’s, and Estonia’s, history is written on the walls of the Solo Sokos Hotel Estoria. Each of the 93 rooms tells a story, such as that of Estonian sumo wrestler Baruto Kaito (sokoshotels.fi). Thehistoric Hotel Palace, overhauled in 2014 and overlooking Tallinn’s Freedom Square, blends 1930s elegance with amenities like a fitness centre and a pillow menu (tallinn-hotels.ee). The minimalist Centennial, named for Estonia’s 100th birthday (on February 24, 2018), epitomises Nordic style.Book one of the 10 “Zen”rooms, and you can soak the world away in a Jacuzzi bath (centennialhoteltallinn.com).
Rent a City Bike to explore Tallinn’s Old Town, then continue to the 173-acre, path-webbed Kadriorg Park. Named for its pink Kadriorg Palace, built by Russian Tsar Peter the Great in 1718, the park is home to the ultra-modern Kumu Art Museum; the Kadriorg Art Museum, in the palace, devoted to international art; and the Eduard Vilde Museum, which honours the noted Estonian writer. Tallinn’s hip heart beats in the 10-building Telliskivi Creative City, a cultural and shopping complex—and street art mecca—now flourishing on the site of a defunct factory.
Stylish hub of the once industrial Rotermann quarter, Tallinn Design House showcases of-the-moment Estonian brands like Uncle Paul (UP) urban athletic shoes. Stock up on organic Estonian cosmetics, such as peat-bog face masks and honey-based soaps, at Pillerkaar, in the trendy Solaris shopping and cultural centre. Find foods, antiques, clothing, and flowers at the reopened-in-2017 Baltic Station Market (Balti Jaama Turg); here, check out the Kalev chocolate shop for sweet treats from Estonia’s oldest (1806) candy company.