In January 2023, Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn, will become Europe’s 13th Green Capital with the goal of becoming a model city for sustainable governance. In 2013, Tallinn became the first city to introduce free public transport to all residents following a referendum. By 2035 the city intends to have free carbon-neutral public transport and wants to achieve full climate neutrality by 2050. As one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tallinn is characterized by the diverse nature of its landscapes and communities, which are home to rare plant and animal species. Tallinn impressed the international jury with a systemic approach to sustainable governance and interlinked strategic goals, which reflect the ambitions of the European Green Deal and UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
During the Green Capital Year, Tallinn’s main themes are biodiversity, reducing the carbon footprint, and sustainable governance. The goal is to involve Tallinn’s communities more in the city development, to find opportunities to support and implement green innovation, develop carbon-neutral mobility and circular economy, and help city residents better understand the importance of environmental protection. During the year there will be many events starting with the opening ceremony in January and leading up to a green innovation expo in the autumn.
Tallinn has more than 2,100 hectares of protected areas – nature reserves, protected parks, and even an island. Tallinn is also one of the few capital cities that has its own bog and probably the only one where Scottish Highland cattle are employees of the city. This is just one of Tallinn’s many projects for restoring and protecting the biodiversity of coastal meadows.
Tallinn’s 2023 Initiatives
Tallinn is planning a variety of green projects in recognition of its responsibility to protect the planet and to create a stable environment for generations to come. Here are three example projects planned for 2023
Tallinn aims to achieve carbon-neutral, free public transport by 2035. To reach that goal, the city is investing in new tram lines and electrical buses and rethinking city planning to include an additional 40 kilometers of bicycle lanes. The safety of existing cycle paths and roads in Tallinn will also be improved by gradually creating a network of safe elevated cycle paths physically separated from the pavements of the city center. The aim is to make Tallinn a 15-minute city, meaning that key facilities – workplaces, shops, entertainment, and education – should be reachable from any part of Tallinn within 15 minutes on foot or by bicycle. Already, all trams in Tallinn run on 100% renewable electricity.
This is a sustainable and vibrant linear 13-kilometer park that champions the co-existence of biodiversity and urbanization. The Pollinator Highway – Putukäväil – will pass through nine districts, starting from an urban forest area and ending in a garden city, reaching from a species-rich Alvar to various industrial areas, all the while connecting Tallinn’s most distant parts with the heart of the city.
Klint Park is another green corridor connecting three of Tallinn’s districts together. This nine-kilometer unique park area runs along a limestone cliff and will be transformed into a coherent and integrated recreational area for all. The cliff has many different habitats including several protected plant and bird species. The aim is to create an environment where people have rest areas, but at the same time, there is very little interference with nature.
Despite its small size, Tallinn is a major start-up hub and home of Skype and Bolt. Estonia has the largest number of unicorns per capita in the world and since 2005, a unicorn has been born in Estonia every two years. Many innovative Smart City projects are being launched throughout 2023.
To encourage this innovation, Tallinn has moved towards a more systematic and practical
partnership with universities and companies, that want to test new environmentally friendly technologies and concepts in Tallinn. Think globally, test in Tallinn is the motto to encourage companies to test their smart and eco-friendly products and services in a city environment.
At the end of 2023, Tallinn will also host an international Green Expo to showcase sustainable innovation for cities.
OTHER REASONS TO VISIT IN 2023
THE YEAR OF THE SAUNA
Sauna culture has been such a significant part of Estonian life for hundreds of years that it is engrained in the national psyche. The traditions are being celebrated throughout 2023 – dedicated as the Year of the Sauna – with a program of events taking place to promote the rituals, history, and folklore as well as the wisdom of the sauna masters.
Included on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritages, Estonia’s smoke saunas are a long-standing and unique tradition. Originating in the community of Vōromaa in southern Estonian, smoke saunas have been part of local culture since the 13th century used for family and community celebrations as well as birth and death rituals. Sessions can last between three and five hours, during which, the saunas are fumed by the scent of burning wood, as well as birch and honey. Once the sauna reaches 100˚C, the smoke is vented out of the room. Bathers beat their bodies with a tree branch whisk, which exfoliates the skin and stimulates circulation. Throughout the ritual, users cool off outside and rinse their bodies with cold water, typically in a freshwater pond or lake. Once the session has finished, the sauna building is often used for drying flax, cereals, or herbs, preparing malts, and smoking meat and fish.
THE 13TH YOUTH SONG AND DANCE FESTIVAL
Estonia’s Song Festival, first held in 1869, takes place every five years and encompasses the values that Estonians consider important as a nation – love for their country, language, culture, and customs. The festival is of such national significance it is listed by UNESCO as an intangible heritage tradition. The 150th jubilee celebration in 2019 saw almost 70,000 Estonians gather at the Song Festival Grounds in Tallinn to listen to 35,000 singers from 1,020 choirs. Towns and cities across the country have their own smaller festival grounds for performances in between these years.
The 13th Youth Song Celebration will take place on 2 July 2023 at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. Performers will include young children’s choirs, children’s choirs, boys’ choirs, mixed choirs, girls’ choirs, male youth choirs, wind orchestras, and symphony orchestras and end with performances by the combined choir. The concert is preceded by the ceremonial procession of the participants through the center of Tallinn along a 5km route.
CAPITAL OF CULTURE 2024
Estonia’s second city, Tartu, will be the European Capital of Culture in 2024. The city is home to one of the most tilted buildings in Europe, the Tartu Leaning House. Now part of the Tartu Art Museum, it leans at a greater angle than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Whilst marveling at the sloping building, visitors can explore the rest of the art museum, which is the largest in southern Estonia and houses a diverse collection of post-18th-century Estonian and foreign works.
Tartu is home to one of northern Europe’s oldest universities and has a wealth of museums including the Estonian National Museum. With a large student community, the city has a bohemian vibe and is a hotbed for creative and scientific culture. Throughout 2024, there will be offers a vast array of theatrical performances, concerts, and festivals showcasing the historical and cultural heritage of Estonia’s second-largest town.