Smart Cities: Tallinn, Estonia

All digital roads lead to Tallinn, Estonia’s forward-thinking capital city and innovation hotspot.

The “E” in Estonia might as well stand for electronic. Smallest of the three Baltic states, this country, centered on its capital, Tallinn, is a global leader in digital innovation that unites people. It’s the first nation to declare Internet access a basic human right, first to accept digital signatures for most transactions, 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 catapulted Tallinn onto the world stage. Global innovation incubators are seeding startups like Starship Technologies, a maker of “delivery robots,” by the co-founders of Skype (another Estonia e-invention). The new Telliskivi Creative City hub is drawing crowds to its arts shops and cafes. But the headliner this year (into 2020) is the celebration of Estonia’s centennial as a republic, to be saluted with scores of events—and loads of Estonian pride.


Old Town’s Leib Resto ja Aed, named for Estonia’s prized black rye bread (leib), serves classic Estonian fare, such as pike perch fresh from Pärnu Bay and venison from the island of Saaremaa. Reserve a table at upscale Restaurant MEKK for lunch (weekdays) when the ”modern Estonian cuisine” offerings, from creamy salmon soup to smoked pork belly, are an affordable 8 Euros (about $9.60). In Tallinn’s tech-hub Ülemiste City, treat yourself to Nordic-cool Juur’s tasting menu—3, 5, or 7 courses, rye porridge to moose—sourced from Estonian forests, fields, and waters.


Tallinn, and Estonia’s, history is written (and pictured) on the walls of the Solo Sokos Estoria Hotel: Each of the 93 guestrooms tells a local story, such as that of Estonian sumo wrestler Baruto Kaito. The historic Hotel Palace, overhauled in 2014 and overlooking Tallinn’s central Freedom Square, blends 1930s elegance with modern amenities like a fitness center and a pillow menu. Named for Estonia’s 100th birthday (February 2018), the comfortably minimalist Centennial epitomizes Nordic style. Book one of the 10 “Zen” guest rooms, and you can soak the world away in a Jacuzzi bath.


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 of Estonia); the Kadriorg Art Museum, in the palace, devoted to international art; and the Eduard Vilde Museum, which honors the renowned Estonian writer. Tallinn’s hip heart beats in the 10-building Telliskivi Creative City, a cultural and shopping complex—and street art mecca—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 center. Find foods, antiques, clothing, and flowers at the reopened-in-2017 Baltic Station Market (Balti Jaama Turg). Pop into the market’s Kalev chocolates shop for sweet treats from Estonia’s oldest (1806) candy company.