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Top 10 cultural must-sees in Tallinn
Local residents recommended their favourite cultural spots in the Estonian capital, including a new rooftop cinema and a museum with a labyrinth of underground passages
1. Balti Jaama Turg
This wonderful Russian market is a must-see. Every day, 50 or so stalls fill the streets opposite Balti Jaam, Tallinn's main railway station, selling anything from antiques to locally made jam. I come here to buy beautiful second-hand plates and dishes for photography in my cookbooks.
• Kopli 1, jaamaturg.ee
Anni Arro, chef and co-owner, Komeet
2. Saint Olav's Church
This 12th-century church, at the end of Pikk street, is the most beautiful in Tallinn. It's also the most unlucky: it has been hit by lightening at least eight times, and burned down three times. Once the tallest structure in the world, its 124m spire can been seen from all over the city. Climb the narrow stairs to the observation deck at the base of the spire for sweeping views.
• Lai 50, oleviste.ee; fee for tower £1.60
Julia Kuznetsova, concierge, St Petersbourg Hotel
3. Kiek in de Kök
The museum inside this great artillery tower (whose name means "peep into the kitchen" in low German because from the upper floors soldiers could peer into the houses of the lower town) is interesting, but don't miss a guided tour of its limestone bastion passages, which reopened in March with new video and sound effects. Built to conceal the movement of soldiers, the 500m of passages (half are still being dug out) were used as a bomb shelter during the 1944 Soviet bombings, and inhabited by a large community of homeless people in the 1990s.
• Komandandi tee 2, +372 644 6686, linnamuuseum.ee/kok; tour £4.70 adults, £2.60 children (booking essential)
Mikk Tamme, business consultant
4. Old Town
Katariina Käik (St Catherine's Passage) in the Old Town, lined with craftsmen's workshops, is a favourite for many visitors, but I love Pikk Jalg, or "Long Leg" (there is also a short, steep alley called Lühige Jalg, or Short Leg), which winds up to Toompea Hill. Stop on the way for coffee and a croissant at Bonaparte, a charming French bistro (Pikk 45). At Toompea Hill are the great Russian Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, St Mary's Cathedral (the oldest church in Estonia, founded in 1219) and several viewing platforms, where you can see over red-tiled roofs to the Baltic sea.
Roman Zaštšerinski, chef and co-owner, Kohvik Moon
5. Von Krahl Theatre
When I get time off, I like to watch a show at this wonderful avant-garde theatre, in a back street of the Old Town. The performances, by Estonian and foreign troupes, range from contemporary opera and dance to theatre and musicals.
• Rataskaevu 10, +372 626 9090, vonkrahl.ee; prices vary
Mae Kivilo, theatre designer and co-founder of Emma Leppermann studio
6. Kumu Art Museum
Housed in a striking limestone and glass building in Kadriorg, Kumu is Estonia's largest art museum. It houses several permanent exhibitions, as well as temporary modern painting and sculpture exhibits. Next summer, as part of the Capital of Culture line-up, it will host Gateways, presenting experimental art by younger artists.
• Weizenbergi 34, +372 602 6000, ekm.ee/eng/kumu; admission to all exhibitions £4.45 adults, £2.60 children
Georg Poslawski, coordinator at Enterprise Estonia
7. Open Air Museum
For an insight into old Estonian life, head to this open-air museum – a reconstructed rural village in a forest park on Kopli Bay, a short drive from Tallinn. Open all winter, its buildings include 12 farms, windmills, watermills, church, fire station, tavern and schoolhouse.
• Vabaõhumuusemi tee 12, +372 654 9101, evm.ee; £2.60 adults, 50p children
Triin Tähnas, freelance journalist
… and if you go later in the year …
8. Kadriorg Park
This is the first place I head once spring arrives. It is a leafy park a few tram stops from the centre, filled with oak and lilac trees and surrounded by wooden houses – many of which house small museums. It is also home to one of Tallinn's greatest buildings – the Kadriorg Palace (built by Peter the Great in the early 18th century for his wife Catherine I), which also houses the Estonian Art Museum.
• Weizenbergi 34/Valge 1, +372 602 6001, ekm.ee; palace admission £3.40 adults, £1.80 children
Bruno Marques, landscape architect and university lecturer
9. Song Festival Grounds
This stadium, just east of Kadriorg, is an amazing sight. The stage can hold 15,000 singers! Song festivals mean a lot to Estonians. In 1988, thousands gathered here to sing patriotic hymns in what became known as the Estonian Singing Revolution, which overthrew Soviet rule. Next year, from 1-3 July, a youth song and dance celebration will be a highlight of the Capital of Culture calendar, with over 35,000 young performers from across Estonia.
• Narva mnt. 95, +372 611 2102, lauluvaljak.ee
Jaak Johanson, singer and actor
This rooftop cinema is on top of the Viru shopping centre. It's closed now until May, but there's a massive inflatable screen and deckchairs for 300 viewers. Movie screenings in Tallinn will get even more exciting next year: from May to September, as part of the Capital of Culture line-up, films will be screened in museums and parks.
• Viru väljak 4/6, +372 5609 1577, katusekino.ee; tickets £3
Sten Saluveer, musician and CEO of the Plektrum Festival
How to get there: Estonian Air (0844 482 2327, estonian-air.com) flies from Gatwick to Tallinn from £142 return.
Where to stay: the Meriton Old Town Garden Hotel has doubles from €60 (+372 667 7111, meritonhotels.com)
Tip: the Tallinn Card, offering entrance to most museums and attractions for a day, discounts in shops and restaurants and free travel on local transport, costs €24 adults, €13 children (tourism.tallinn.ee)
More information: visitestonia.com and tourism.tallinn.ee
Compiled by Nicola Iseard
Culture takes centre stage in 2011
Capital of Culture Opening Ceremony 31 December-1 January
Events culminate in a midnight firework display on a platform out to sea in the Gulf of Riga. Watch from the Russalka monument in Kadriorg.
Fire Sculpture World Championships January (exact date to be confirmed)
Tallinn's skies will fill with light as the city hosts the first world championships in fire sculpting. Giant artworks of wood and straw, will be set alight – to "transform" them.
Tallinn Music Festival 24-26 March
Around 100 Estonian bands and artists will perform in the city's clubs, theatres and bars.
Straw Theatre 1 May-30 September
The Straw Theatre, to be erected at the Skoone Bastion Park, will be the biggest structure of its kind in the world. It will act as a stage for contemporary productions by both Estonian and visiting artists.
For a full calendar of events, go to tallinn2011.ee/est
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