Tech City Spotlight: Tallinn
It was only in 1991 when Estonia regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The situation back then was bleak with less than half the population even having a telephone line. Fast forward 25 years and Tallinn is a world leader in technology and one of Europe’s most intelligent cities. In fact Estonia stores all health records in the cloud, 95% of citizens file tax returns online and it holds the record for start-ups per person.
Mart Laar, Estonia’s Prime Minister back in 1992 is to thank for the transformation. Laar nurtured the e-society visions – he introduced flat income tax, free trade sound money and privatisation meaning there was plenty of reasons for entrepreneurs to startup. New businesses could be registered smoothly without any delays and had plenty of financial support from the government.
The first giant to come out of Tallinn was of course Skype, and when Skype sold to eBay in 2005 for $2.6 billion a new class of Estonian investors was created with a wealth of experience. These investors helped to pave the way for Estonian born giants PlayTech and Transferwise. Today, Tehnopol – a scaled down version of London’s Tech City – enables an active startup community of technologists and entrepreneurs. Continued support from both the state and the private sector has encouraged rapid growth and succeeded in aligning the city as one of the hottest startup scenes in the world today.
Estonia was also the first country in the world to introduce e-residencies, an initiative so foreigners can become residents without actually having to live in the country. With an e-residency foreigners can have the exact same digital identities as Estonians including bank accounts, registered businesses and access to local services. The idea is to increase and support local talent pools by attracting (virtual) entrepreneurs, employees and investors.
However, it’s not just tech Tallinn should be recognised for. It also has many world class restaurants, a medieval old town, incredibly clean streets, free public wifi (everywhere!), and electric cars. It is a young country with a lot going for it!
Where to live:
Kadriorg is located close to the city centre and is considered to be the most beautiful area of Tallinn, and also one of the most sought after. Despite its central location it still feels secluded thanks to the surrounding forests. Head towards the sea and you’ll come to Kakumae, a neighbourhood with big houses and bigger gardens. It’s a quiet area and of course you’ll always be close to the beach. Like every city, Tallinn has an up and coming edgy area – Tallinn’s is Kalamaja and it’s here you’ll find an abundance of art cafes, bars and shops alongside some great tsarist architecture. It’s worth mentioning here that Tallinn is the best preserved medieval city in Northern Europe. In the Old Town you can live amongst gothic spires, winding cobblestone streets and magical architecture. (It’s also the centre of nightlife, so residents should definitely be night owls).
Where to eat:
Head to the hip area of Kalamaja and follow the cool crowd down to F-Hoone. Enjoy high quality food for surprisingly budget prices, all in industrial chic settings. Club nights happen here on occasion too. For something intimate there’s nowhere better than family run Vinoteek Tigu. Originally a small wine bar, the owners realised their talents for cooking and now serve incredible seafood alongside the strong wine collection. Von Krahli Aed (or ‘the garden’) is a good choice for something special and is the perfect place to eat, drink and lounge. Sfaar Restaurant combines and unusual fusion of Italian and Nordic cuisine, but it works. Don’t leave without checking out their lifestyle shop for beautiful fashion brands and wines.
Where to drink:
NO99 Restoran is located in the lobby of one of Tallinn’s most popular theaters. Guaranteed lively atmosphere thanks the eclectic crowd of young local celebrities and theater people. Previously a members only bar, Noku recently opened its doors to all, but is popular with those in-the-know down to the bohemian vibe (and the fact it’s rather hard to find!). For a good wine selection Paar Veini has a great selection, is affordable and you’ll be served by knowledgeable staff. It’s located in the city centre and they have live music most nights. In Pudel it’s all about beer. Relaxed ambience and a menu focused on local and international microbreweries. Two enormous windows across two floors give a view of the adjacent railway making it an ideal place to spend a cold day.
What to do:
Roam the narrow streets of the Old Town and hunt for art galleries, try some traditional Estonian food in the street markets, and hone your photography skills capturing the medieval architecture. You can also join a ghost tour through the Old Town where you’ll uncover eerie legends and horror stories from 700 years of history. Visit Telliskivi old factory, a warehouse space which has been turned into a creative hub full of cafes, restaurants, vintage boutiques and independent local shops. Walk up Toompea Hill for a great view back over the city including the famous Aleksandr Nevsky Cathedral. For something different make a trip to Patarei Prison, an imposing building originally built to protect Tsarist Russia, then used as army barracks and a prison. If it all gets a bit intense there’s a beach and bar here too to lighten the vibes.