I’ve found hipster heaven, and its name is Kalamaja, Tallinn.
I knew very little about this area of the city before arriving, apart from being told that it once was a ‘dodgy’ district that’s recently undergone a lot of gentrification and become the ‘cool’ part of Tallinn.
Kalamaja’s Bohemian Vibe
Looking for an apartment to rent close to the Old Town and the city’s main sites, we found a little apartment in the heart of Kalamaja that looked perfectly placed for our stay. I’m so glad we chose it, as it meant that, for three days, Kalamaja was our home, and we were able to immerse ourselves in its bohemian vibe.
The History Of Kalamaja
Kalamaja is one of the oldest districts in Tallinn and during the Middle Ages it was home to fishermen and sailors – hence its name, which is Estonian for fish house.
Between the 17th and 19th centuries the area housed strategically important city defences and until the start of World War II, it was home to Estonia’s most important fishing port.
Sadly from the 1940s the area began to fall into decline, with its beautiful houses falling into disrepair, and until recently, it was considered an unsafe area for visitors, especially at night. But this all started to change at the beginning of the noughties, when gentrication came to the area and it’s now a hub for the young and hip, overflowing with art and culture, independent shops and quirky restaurants and bars.
To me, Kalamaja feels like the perfect place to live, with its chilled vibe, pretty buildings, tree-lined streets and cute corner cafes. Around every corner you see smiling friends meeting over a coffee, families playing in the small parks or people walking their dogs. It’s the place I’d imagine spending my perfect, chilled Sunday.
It’s also a photographer’s dream, and I couldn’t stop taking photos of the gorgeous buildings you’ll find along every street! Now iconic to the Kalamaja district, these were originally built in the boom era of the 1920s and 1930s. Called Tallinn houses, they’re two or three story houses built from wood and painted in beautiful colours from rich green to pastel blue.
Many are now modern homes, whereas others have been turned into cute cafes and restaurants, like Boheem. This became a family favourite, just a block away from our apartment, delicious pizzas were only around €7 each, and they made a mean potatoes, bacon and egg hash for breakfast!
The Telliskivi Creative Centre
At the heart of Kalamaja is the old industrial area, which has been given an amazing second lease of life. The old buildings now house museums, art galleries, shops, restaurants and bars. At its centre lies the Telliskivi Creative Centre; a warehouse turned shopping centre now full of small design, food, interior and clothes boutiques.
Behind this giant building, the old outhouses have been converted into bars and restaurants, and all across the area are ping pong tables for the locals to play. The old industrial works regularly hosts flea markets where the cool kids sell their funky clothes and designer cast-offs and it even gets turned into an outdoor cinema during summer evenings.
I Left My Heart In… Depoo!
Just north of Telliskivi was my favourite spot – Depoo. An old industrial depot, this area appears to be an extension of the Creative Centre, with fairy lights dangling between the shipping containers that have been turned into funky little diners. Indian, Vietnamese; there’s even a waffle and crepe specialist there to fulfil any of your culinary cravings, and one restaurant; Peatus, is even made up of old train carriages. How cool?
Street Art in Kalamaja
Regular readers will know how much I love street art, and Kalamaja did not disappoint! Almost around every corner you’ll come across new, gorgeous piece of art – it was such an adventure just walking the streets! My favourites were in and around Telliskivi and Depoo, including this amazing sculpture of a little mouse, or vole, made out of old junk.
Seaplanes, Submarines, Icebreakers and Prisons
As well as being the perfect place to spend an evening eating and drinking, Kalamaja also has some impressive sights to visit. This includes the spectacular Seaplane Harbour, a museum which houses not only planes, helicopters and sailboats but even a submarine you’re free to explore, all inside an expansive, centuries old seaplane hangar. Outside there’s also several ships you can explore along the harbour. This includes an old coastguard’s boat and an even an icebreaker.
Next door is the old sea fortress, and once prison, Paterei. Until recently these crumbling ruins could be explored, but sadly its gates now appear to be permanently closed. I would have loved to clamber around this area, but had to make do with a glimpse from outside on the harbour.
Why I loved Kalamaja, Tallinn
Tallinn has much more to offer than just Kalamaja, but this cool and quirky district is, in my opinion, the perfect part of the city to stay in. Residential streets offer a peaceful escape after a long day of tourist-ing (yup, I’m making that a thing) but you’re just a 10-minute walk from the Old Town walls and the main train station. It’s a great base, and for lazy days it’s perfect for a walk along sun-dappled streets to a cute café or bar with comfy love seats and a snuggle-tastic blanket waiting for you. What more could you want?!