Have you been to Estonia? If so, Tallinn's super quaint Old Town likely comes to mind (it is, after all, one of the best preserved Medieval towns around). But only visiting Old Town is like just seeing Times Square – necessary once but the tip of the iceberg. I wanted to share an area untouched by tourists but just a minute from Old Town – the up-and-coming Kalamaja neighborhood.
Kalamaja translates to fish house – named because its seaside location made it the historical fishing hub – and its old-school charm is apparent in the pristinely preserved wooden houses. Recently, entreupreneurs have opened some of the city's more unique boutiques, bars, and restaurants there. But I like it because Kalamaja is the kind of place you could just as easily spend a night bar hopping or a lazy weekend strolling.
The heart of Kalamaja is more or less the intersection of Telliskivi and Brick Streets, but it extends all the way to the port. It seems bigger than it is on a map, so know the whole area is walkable in about an hour. Here are my picks:
GRAB A BITE
A local haunt if there was one, F-hoone has a chill atmosphere with mismatched seating, funky decor, and even a kid's room (of note, if the little ones are in tow). It's just as solid for lunch as for happy hour and they have a big menu with everything from local beers to Russian dumplings and falafel burgers.
Kukeke means rooster in Estonian, which is why there are roosters on everything from the menu to the walls. The chef-owner, Anni Arro, is one of the most noteable young chefs in Estonia. While all her food is good, she has a pastry background so make sure you leave room for dessert. Kukeke is only one of her restaurants – another favorite of ours is the modern pastry shop and cafe Komeet on the other side of town.
If you're looking to eat cheap, then you've found your place because Sesoon is ridiculously cheap. But that doesn't mean they skimp on quality. Super farm-to-table, with a rustic, straightforward menu that changees seasonally, Sesoon is everything a modern restaurant is in Estonia. They have daily specials which are consistently great but my favorites are their desserts (in particular, the Strawberry Graham cake).
Like the Estonian version of "In 'N Out," Burger Box is super minimal. It has an unassuming hole-in-the-wall location – everything is cooked in a place the size of most people's living rooms – and a super small menu with nothing more than a few burgers and fries.
Kalamaja is considered the more laidback part of Tallinn and Boheem is likely the chillest cafe in the whole area. They have a really relaxed atmosphere and comfort food to match. Definitely try their pancakes – both sweet and savory are great – and be sure to order them local style with a side of sour cream.
This is a tiny bakery in a tiny location – as in, it's in the basement of a building so keep an eye out or you'll miss it. Show up early to check out their just-baked goods like Danish kringel and breads from ciabatta to baguettes. And also get some of their näkileivad, or wafer crackers, as well as their various cookies.
GET A DRINK
Just around the corner from F-hoone, this bar is all about beer with one of the largest beer menus in Tallinn. There are tons of beers on tap, even more in bottles, and, if you can't decide what you want? They've got flights for that. It's dubbed a "Saku-free zone" (a snub to the Budweiser of Estonia, "Saku"), which is their tongue-in-cheek way of underlining their commitment to quality beer.
This is actually a chain coffee shop but, for a chain, it has solid espresso drinks. There's not a huge coffee culture in Estonia but Reval delivers consistent espresso and affordable bites from sandwiches to pastas to pastries. It's very European in the sense that there's not much coffee to go, so plan on hanging out a while.
Renard Speed Shop
One of the newest businesses to open in the Telliskivi area of Kalamaja, this little spot is a hybrid motorcycle shop and coffee shop (a strange concept unless you've been to Deus Ex Machina). They're just ramping up so things are minimal with pour over coffees, a few espresso drinks, and some small sandwiches but the place is about quality over quantity because what they do, they do well.
JOOKS Bike Studio
This is a high-end bike shop with minimal, designer bikes, but, like so many places in Estonia, they're more than just a bike shop as they also host events and have their own little cafe.
Focused on vintage mid-century Northern European furniture, this minimal store is our favorite of the many furniture shops in Kalamaja.
Yes, Homeart has furniture but it's more of a homewares store with lots of Nordic kitchen tools and tabletop items. They also have a cozy cafe that's perfect if you need an afternoon pick-me-up.
If you've got some more time, then make sure you also check out the section of Kalamaja on the waterfront. Here are a few places to check out:
Estonian Design House
This is co-working space for Estonian designers but they've put together a showroom and store where you can get a glimpse into contemporary Estonian design and buy a thing or two.
One of our favorite spots for brunch, especially since they're right across from the fish market, so you can watch the fishermen bring in their catch while you sip your coffee. They have all the brunch classics and after you eat, you can check out the Design House next door or walk the seafront.
Tallinn has a large Russian population and most consider Moon one of the best Russian spots in town. With a super cozy decor, you'll feel like you're eating in someone's home.
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Map illustration by Charmagne Kringstein