Kalamaja is most notable as one of the best-preserved wooden architecture areas in Tallinn and throughout Estonia. Architecture and history buffs or anyone who wants to get a feel for the grittier side of Tallinn’s art scene should pay a visit to Kalamaja.
This quiet neighborhood has long been known for its colorful hodgepodge of old-fashioned, working-class houses. Throughout most of Tallinn’s history, Kalamaja served as the town’s main fishing harbor. In fact, “Kalamaja” literally means “fish house” in Estonian, and from the 14th century the area was traditionally dominated by fishermen, fishmongers and boat wrights. Everything changed in 1870, however, when Tallinn was connected to St. Petersburg by railroad. Suddenly, enormous factories started to sprout up in this part of town, and they brought with them an influx of thousands of new workers.
The wooden houses built to accommodate these workers became Kalamaja’s architectural legacy and are now what give the neighborhood its unforgettable charm. The most architecturally unique of these are called “Tallinn Houses”. Built in the 1920s and 30s, these two- to three-story apartment houses are made of two symmetrical wooden wings separated by a stone central staircase. There are about 500 of these in the city today.
Recently it has also taken on a Bohemian atmosphere, becoming the residence of choice for young creative types. Visitors will notice that some of Kalamaja’s old industrial infrastructure is still intact and operating. The Estonia Piano Factory (Kungla 41), for example, is renowned for producing some of the world’s best grand pianos. Many factory buildings, however, have now been converted for other uses, like providing space for the city’s cutting-edge art scene.
Although Kalamaja used to be closed off, the Soviet border zone is conveniently located between the scenic Tallinn coast and Old Town and hides some real architectural pearls. New cafes, bars and galleries have transformed the former industrial complexes of the historical wooden townhouse district, making it the fastest-developing area of Tallinn attracting creatives and those young at heart.
Kalamaja is a very cozy district where many creative people live. Here you can find lots of cafés, bars, restaurants, galleries, places to spend time with children, live music venues, and a few theaters as well.
BB Apartments are located a short walk from the city center, Old Town, the harbor and the main railway station, and Telliskivi Creative City.
Telliskivi Creative City has become the center of Kalamaja, where Estonia’s urban gentrification stands tallest. Telliskivi’s indoor shopping street sells everything from organic cosmetics to Estonian design. The place also nurtures its own vibrant restaurant scene, with new joints popping up regularly, offering quality dishes and using locally sourced ingredients. The inventive interiors of restored industrial giants overlook the majestic Tallinn Old Town. Telliskivi also hosts a range of chic community events, including bicycle festivals and street food competitions, as well as the weekly flea market. Telliskivi Creative City has a theater, and you can find plays, performances and concerts on their program’s webpage: http://vabalava.ee/en
In Kalamaja you can find Estonia’s largest maritime center, Seaplane Harbour, one of the area’s absolute must-see sights. This museum and restaurant is housed in a renovated seaplane hangar from the early 20th century, and gathered under its vast concrete shell are exciting digital and physical displays of Estonia’s maritime history, including the British-built 600-stone submarine Lembit.
A short walk will take you to the Energy Discovery Center. There you can discover the secrets and interactive exhibits of the 101-year-old power plant, travel to distant planets and learn about discoveries in space, take a look at the old diesel engine ‘Russ’, raise your hair by walking on a lightning bridge and see a unique lightning demonstration.
The Linnahall is a place to visit in good weather. It used to be a concert/sports venue. From the rooftop of the Linnahall you can enjoy a very good view of the city and the sea. It is situated on the harbor, just beyond the walls of Old Town, and was completed in 1980.
A stone’s throw away you’ll find the 19th-century Patarei sea fortress and prison. These days the museum grounds hold a museum exposing the dark tales of Soviet occupation in Estonia and act as festival grounds for alternative electronic music festivals during the summer.
It is a 20-minute tram ride to a beautiful district called Kadriorg. From there a 10-minute walk will take you to the Presidential Palace. For a few years during Estonia’s first period of independence (1918 – 1940), the Estonian head of state worked out of the Kadriorg Palace. But in 1938, the purpose-built presidential palace was opened next to it, just up the hill. The Presidential Palace’s style echoes the Kadriorg Palace, albeit with less flourish. Since the building once again serves as the President’s office and residence, it’s closed to visitors, but you can still wander into the parking area for a better view and, if your timing is lucky, you’ll see the honor guards marching out front.
From this district you can find parks, cafeterias and lots of museums:
• Art Museum of Estonia KUMU;
• Kadriorg Art Museum;
• Mikkel Museum;
• Niguliste Museum;
• Adamson Eric Museum