Tallinn has always been the centre of football in Estonia. The league title has stayed in Tallinn every season since Estonian independence in 1991. The national side has played almost every home game here, either at today’s A Le Coq Arena or, before 2001, the Kadriorg.
Built in 1926, near Peter the Great’s palace of the same name, the Kadriorg witnessed some of the most historic moments in the Estonian game.
Between the wars, an independent Estonia played a modest number of matches, mainly against fellow Baltic and nearby Scandinavian nations. After promising wins at the Kadriorg over Finland and Romania, Estonia lost its independence to the USSR in 1940.
More than 50 years after the Soviet invasion, players such as later Sunderland goalkeeper Mart Poom and midfielder Martin Reim, who would go on to win nearly 300 caps between them, stepped out into the Kadriorg. The opponents were Slovenia, also recently independent, the crowd only 3,500 – but this was represented a return to the international football family.
Estonia duly took part in regular qualifying rounds for the World Cup – there were two previous attempts in the 1930s but no games at home – and European Championship. 1996 saw a first victory, over Belarus, but the only Estonians to turn up a few days later at the same Kadriorg stadium for the visit of Scotland were spectators. After the Scots had trained there the previous night, and complained about the poor floodlights, the match time was brought forward. Only the Estonian team then didn’t turn up.
While a number of Scots fans took to Tallinn, staying to run bars as the Estonian capital became a stag-weekend destination of choice for Brits, the limitations of the 70-year-old Kadriorg were obvious.
Named after Tallinn’s main beer company, the A Le Coq Arena was opened in 2001, its capacity nearly 10,000. Home to 2015 champions Flora Tallinn as well as the national side, it is part of a complex that also contained the smaller Sportland Arena where Flora’s reserve team plays.
Formed in 1990, record title-holders Flora are where Poom, Reim and Estonia’s top internationals all played. Their city rivals are Levadia, who still play at the Kadriorg, shared with 2012 champions Nõmme Kalju. Only clubs from Tallinn have won the Estonian championship – Norma, TVMK and Lantana have all since folded though.
Estonia’s first game at the A Le Coq was a thriller, ex-Flora Andres Oper opening the scoring against Euro 2000 semi-finalists Holland. Flora’s Indrek Zelinski then made it 2-1 before a late brace from Ruud van Nistelrooy saved Dutch blushes.
Since then, Estonia have pulled the occasional surprise, even reaching the qualifying play-offs for Euro 2012.
In 2013, the Dutch only gained a 2-2 draw thanks to a 94th-minute equaliser by Robin van Persie. A year later, Estonia kicked off their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win over Slovenia – 22 years after the recently independent nations met in Tallinn.
Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport is only 4km (2.5 miles) south-east of the city centre. City bus No.2 runs every 20min to the city centre (tickets €1.60 from the driver, 15min journey time). You can also buy a smartcard (€2) from an R-kiosk at the terminal at charge it with a 24-hr (€3), 72-hr (€5), or 5-day pass (€6).
In town, public transport of buses, trams and trolleybuses runs on the same ticket system.
From the airport, there’s also a shuttle-bus shared taxi (€5). Three taxi companies operate from the airport and should charge around €10 to town – Tallink Taxi (+372 640 89 21) accepts credit cards.
There are few options around the A Le Coq Arena but Tallinn is compact. A hotel in the city centre or medieval Old Town would require a quick and affordable taxi journey to or from the stadium.
Among the city’s most upscale options, high-class best describes the Swissôtel Tallinn, set in the tallest building in the capital, with quality sauna, heated pool and contemporary in-room accessories to match.
In the same bracket, in terms of luxury, price and scale, the Radisson Blu Sky Hotel is newly renovated.
For historic character, the Merchant’s House is just that, a 14th-century residence now boutique hotel with all mod cons.
Mid-range Braavo comprises fashionable apartments with kitchen facilities and standard rooms, all attached to a sports centre and water park. Guests are allowed two hours’ free use in the mornings.
For inexpensive, centrally located and fairly modern hostels, try the Australian-run Red Emperor, a party-centric hostel with singles, doubles, triples and quads also available.
Tallinn’s Old Town is full of bars. Many have terraces and large screens for European and Premier League action.
Suur-Karja is the street with the highest concentration of venues. One of the oldest is the Nimeta Baar, aka the Pub With No Name, a long-time expat favourite. On the same street you’ll also find Route 13, an American-style bar-eaterie with an accent on televised sport, while the Dubliner is more pub by rote.
Right on Town Hall Square, Mad Murphy’s is a large and extremely popular haunt, always packed on big-game nights.