Tallinn’s Got Talent: Why Estonia’s Capital Is The World’s Best City For Digital Nomads
“Estonia is not a place that can offer you the sandy beaches of Barbados.”
As I make my way through the blizzard from the sauna to the sea, the words of Linnar Viik, a founding father of Estonia’s first digital nation, so integral that he is known as Mr Internet, resonate in my ears with the wind whistling.
One of the big challenges of working remotely can be staying energized. As I lower myself down the ice-covered ladder to immerse myself in the Gulf of Finland, the tingling rush of life confirms that this is a problem I won’t have after this long day of laptop. Tying it back through the fresh snow in my trunks before the frost grabbed my ankles, I must look like a rather red penguin who just drank a triple shot espresso martini.
Here in Iglupark, located on land that was once the Russian Empire’s main submarine shipyard, it’s a routine way to end the working day. As well as their Iglusaunas, which count David Beckham and Guy Ritchie among their owners, the resort also features a splash of Iglu offices, offering workspaces overlooking the sea that are almost comical. A popular package for remote teams is an afternoon at the office to reflect before heading to the sauna for a brain bath. If that’s more exciting than you can handle in a day’s work, there’s even the option of spending the night in an Igluhut with a sea view.
As unusual as this experience was, it turned out to be representative of my working week from Tallinn, which was recently ranked by a blog as the best city in the world for remote workers. Each element reinforces this reputation; as Viik had suggested, Tallinn is such an optimal base, “Not because of one great thing, but because of a million little things that accumulate in your experience”.
As I settled in on the first day, I noticed how openly and easily people worked from anywhere, without the shyness of working on the go that I’ve witnessed in other places. In the brutalist environment of Telleskivi Creative City is Fika Café, aptly named after the Swedish practice of enjoying coffee and cake in company. My fellow caffeinators took in-person meetings over artisanal flat whites and cardamom buns harmoniously alongside others doing it on Zoom. It had the laid-back vibe of Friends’ Central Perk rather than the tension of many cafes, where coffee coexists somewhat uncomfortably with computers. If you’re looking for privacy, you can instead hire one of the Work In Peace stalls around town and lock yourself in a cave of concentration, complete with a panoramic webcam and TV screen.
More pros were highlighted by the team I met at the Palo Alto Club coworking space. Its name evokes its setup: in an office, there’s a boxed award for Winning Skydiving Pitch, like a free-falling elevator pitch (I’m glad that’s not how I had to pitch this article) . Living in London, I feel familiar with international cities, but I rarely remember being part of such a diverse group, finding myself meeting people from South Korea to Nigeria, Brazil to Belgium, who have all chose to call Tallinn home.
José jumped on it for moving here from the Brazilian island city of Florianópolis, renowned for its sun, sea and fashion models. For him, “Tallinn is the perfect size. No need to take the train for two hours to meet someone. In 20 minutes you can meet anyone here, have a coffee and go to work.
This helps give Tallinn’s scene its warm and friendly flavor, which combines with the city’s effervescent entrepreneurial spirit to give it a laid-back openness. As such, I was able to chat with Martin Villig, co-founder of Bolt, the leading mobility platform in Europe and Africa currently valued at $8.4 billion. He told me that this is all perfectly normal in Tallinn: “The ecosystem is small, all the famous guys, all the models are accessible, so you can ask them for lunch and most guys are willing to come and talk to you and share your comments.
This digital-first culture is so ingrained in the fabric of modern Tallinn that even graffiti tags speak of a startup: a wall outside the Old Town bears the mantra, “Process > Result”. The reminders multiply: my hotel, the Von Stackelberg, a restored Baltic baron’s townhouse with gloriously exposed brick walls, is proud to have been the first hotel in Estonia to have a computer in every room during its opening in 2004.
All these advantages are not limited to Tallinn itself. Before arriving, I had heard that the internet infrastructure was so complete that you could travel 160 km from the city center without losing the Wi-Fi signal. Days outside the bogs have become popular, with an infallible signal even there. An hour’s drive from town, I stayed at the rural retreat of Vihula Manor, spectacular in its isolation. En route, my transfer driver warned me that the surrounding forests are wild enough to contain wolves and bears. Still, I took an hour-long video call without issue in my room in the converted old vodka distillery, with a view of the snowy wilderness. I was told that it was becoming common for guests to come and stay their entire work week, take care of all their meals, and enjoy evenings at the spa.
Back in town, everyone raves about the ease of Estonian life. Part of that, as José explained, is that “the country is prepared for English speakers. The contracts are in English, the gymnasium is in English, all the government websites are in English too; it’s so much easier for foreigners to come here”. Nelson from Nigeria, who has been here since 2015, said that, equally important, “there are laws to protect you as a foreigner and the crime rate is like zero, it doesn’t exist.” Indeed, the only danger I was warned about by the locals was falling ice cubes.
To make things even easier, each service is online and foreigners can access them through the Digital Nomad Visa – which was launched in 2020 and allows freelancers to live in Estonia for up to a year – or e-Residency. , which in 2014 saw Estonia become the first country to allow foreigners to run a business in the country from anywhere in the world. Viik told me that this online approach came about because Estonians “are not very outgoing people. Digital solutions suit our mindset and lifestyle very well, in the sense that I don’t want to queue in front of my commune just to get a service, I prefer to stay in my underwear the evening in front of my computer to complete the application and obtain my benefits. As the end of January approaches, I certainly envy Estonian residents for filing their taxes in three minutes flat.
Life here doesn’t just seem easier, it’s also more economical than in other European capitals. At the legendary creperie Kompressor in the Old Town, the menu of 29 crepes is almost as huge as the portions. Pancakes cost less than £4.50, a pint less than £3 and figure skating on TV makes the meal even heartier. On the round wooden table next to me, a crowd of foreign startups were talking about blockchain babble. It’s that same combination of daring modernity grounded in comfortable reality that I felt walking home that night, ankle-deep in fresh powder, against a backdrop of illuminated castle towers and city gates. . It was as if I had spent my day working in a sci-fi movie, only to end it with the assurance of a classic historical novel.
For Martin Villig de Bolt, all these factors combine to make Tallinn “definitely the best place to be in the world”. Palo Alto Club community manager Kairi proudly explains that Estonia now finds itself in such a positive position thanks to the boldness of its forward-thinking internet policy known as tiigrihüpe, or “jumping the tiger” in English. In my Estonian experience, tigers from other countries have a lot of leaps to take to reach those heights of remote work.
Try to fly less?
Estonia can be reached from the UK in three nights by taking the Eurostar from London to Paris, then trains to Rostock in Germany, a ferry to Helsinki and another ferry to Tallinn.
Good with flying?
Ryanair flies direct from London Stansted to Tallinn.
Von Stackelberg Hotel Tallinn has double rooms from €80 (£67), B&B. www.vonstackelberghotel.com
Vihula Manor Country Club & Spa double deals from €99 (£83), B&B, including use of swimming pool and sauna. vihulamanor.com