Tallinn. E-capital of Europe

Source: Visit Estonia

Tallinn. E-capital of Europe

Estonia is a country that's in love with all things digital, but it has plenty of traditional charms to offer, too. Tim Hulse reports from its 'positively surprising' first city. The story was first published in the April issue of British Airways Business Life magazine.

Things happen quickly in Estonia. It takes 18 minutes to start a company online and 3 minutes to file a tax return. More pertinently, it's taken this small north European country of just 1.3 million inhabitants less than three decades to emerge from Soviet occupation and establish itself as arguably one of the world's most advanced digital nations. Its 'e-Estonia' tag is entirely justified: internet access has been declared a human right and you'll find 4G mobile internet just about anywhere you go, even on the most isolated of the more than 2,000 islands that lie off its coast. Its tech-savvy population is accustomed to carrying out a host of tasks online: not just filing tax returns but voting, getting prescriptions and much more, making it a model of e-governance. And its thriving startup scene is making a mark on the world stage. "Few factors get us as excited as Estonian founders!" tweeted Silicon Valley VC titan Marc Andreessen in 2015.

Tallinn old town

Photo by: Mats Õun

In 2002, Estonia launched an electronic ID card that has been enthusiastically embraced by its population, who proudly describe to visitors the amount of time they save by not having to visit the bank or the doctor's surgery, or engage with various government services in person. According to a World Bank report in 2015, 2.8 million hours were saved in this way in the previous year. Estonia's love affair with tech has also proved to be a springboard for innovation. Skype was the first big success. Although Sweden and the UK can also lay claim to the company, it was Estonian engineers who made it possible in 2005. According to Startup Estonia's figures, there are currently just over 400 startups in the country, with 90 per cent in early stage development.

Estonia has also extended its digital identity scheme to make it available to anyone in the world. So-called 'e-residency' doesn't make you a citizen of Estonia but it allows you to set up an Estonian (and therefore EU) company online and to access Estonian banking and payment processing services. Since the programme was launched at the end of 2014, 17,000 new e-residents have started around 1,500 new companies.

Getting creative

Perhaps nowhere symbolises modern Tallinn better than Telliskivi Creative City, a former electrical engineering factory next to the Old City that has been transformed into a hip mix of workspaces, event spaces, restaurants and shops, covering 40,000 square metres in ten buildings. Creative City also puts on more than 500 cultural events a year, half of them for free, as well as contributing significantly to local good causes.


Telliskivi Creative City

Photo by: Visit Estonia

Meet the locals

Estonians say what they think and can sometimes seem overly blunt to outsiders. And if they have nothing to say, they'd rather say nothing than issue a platitude – so a moment of silence in a conversation is not necessarily a bad thing. That said, they're very welcoming people and most speak extremely good English. Meal times can vary, and dinner can be quite early, so don't be surprised to receive a six o'clock dinner invitation.

Local people

Photo by: Renee Altrov

How to get there

British Airways flies direct to Tallinn twice a week from Heathrow Terminal 5 (flights to Tallinn). A short taxi ride to the city centre costs between €5 and €10. Lots of useful local information can be found at visittallinn.ee.

Tallinn Airport

Photo by: Tallinn Airport, Visit Estonia

Did you know?

  • President of the country, mrs Kersti Kaljulaid is the youngest person to have held the office. Trained as a biologist specialising in genetics, she has an MBA and previously worked as an investment banker, a power plant manager and an EU auditor.
  • The 125m spire of St Olaf's Church in the Old Town of Tallinn is said to have made it Europe's tallest building between 1549 and 1625.
  • According to legend, the Danish flag originated in Tallinn. The Danish King Valdemar II was losing in battle against the local Estonians when a red flag with a white cross floated down from the sky. Taking it as a sign from God, the Danes were spurred on to victory. The event is commemorated by the Danish King's Garden in the Old Town.
  • During particularly cold periods of the Estonian winter, the Baltic Sea freezes over sufficiently to allow 'ice roads' to be opened between the mainland and islands in the east of the country. The law forbids safety belts to be worn – just in case a rapid exit from your vehicle is required.
  • The blue, black and white colour scheme of the Estonian flag is shared with just one other country in the world: Botswana.

Read the full article!

Tallinn old town

Photo by: Oliver Moosus

Last updated : 31.08.2021

In category: Tallinn