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Street Art in Estonia: Finding Mythology, Nature and Subtle Protest

Street art in Estonia is sprouting like a counter-culture flower, brightening up a country more known for its old school UNESCO heritage and Soviet legacy. What you’ll find there is steeped in Estonian history with a strong nod to its folk culture and the occupation. This guide to street art in Tallinn and Tartu is full of eye candy which will make you want to travel there. It’s the reason why I ended up visiting Estonia and I hope it will make you do the same.

Tallinn street art orange Paintbrush
A statement on the difficulty that street artists can face finding a legal canvas in Estonia. By Pintsel.

Street Art in Tallinn Estonia

The formal street art program began in Tallinn during the Baltic Sessions of 2016. It was primarily a street dance festival but the event included “wall cleaning” activities and some mural work. Tallinn got serious in 2017 with the Mextonia festival, which put Estonia clearly on the global street art map.

The festival was conceived as a gift from Mexico to Estonia for their 100th anniversary. Both countries have a long history of being on the losing side of conquest and they both believe strongly in folk history and the power of symbols. The event was organized by Nueve Arte Urbano and Sigre Tompel of Estonia.

I was caught up with Sigre when I was in Tallinn and she was kind enough to walk me around the Teleskivi Creative City district, which houses many of the Mextonia murals. I was touched by the cross-cultural care that went into curating and executing the murals for the event.

“…Transgraffiti is a trans-personal kind of muralism, which distances itself from both; names and pop, by taking deep cultural symbols and re-expressing them in a transcendental and contemporary way.”
–Mextonia

Tallinn Telliskivi mural blue lift off

Murals in Telliskivi Creative City

Sixty artists participated in Mextonia and you can find a concentration of their works in the Telliskivi Creative City compound. This re-gentrified manufacturing and power plant was a crumbling Soviet relic until it was transformed into a hipster creative district with cafes, boutiques, restaurants and lot and lots of murals.

You can find some murals from the original Baltic sessions and Mextonia mixed in with graffiti and guerrilla murals.

Read More: Get a full dose of hipsterism, history and Soviet relics with this guide for things to do in Tallinn. If you have limited time, you can still squeeze street art into a 1-day Tallinn itinerary.

Street art in Estonia Tallinn Mextonia Murals Beetle mural by Boa Mistura
A good luck/bad luck beetle mural by Boa Mistura, sitting side by side with a mural of the Estonian mythical hero Kalevipoeg.
Tallinn street art mural endangered Estonian sea eagle by Cinzah Merkens
The threatened Estonia sea eagle by Cinzah Merkens.

These murals seem a perfect fit for this hip and gritty neighborhood. Yet, the city was initially very uncomfortable agreeing to the commissioned murals. For a city that prides itself on (and gets gobs of tourist income from) its well-preserved UNESCO old town, the notion of spray painting the walls was an anathema. Yet, the festival happened. So, while it’s possible that Tallinn may never host a huge annual street art festival, like Upfest in Bristol UK, they are making a respectable showing as a street art city.

Tallinn mural: Russian Estonian handshake in red and blue
A peaceful handshake between Russia and Estonia.
Estonia Tallinn mural girl and flower
Many of the Mextonia murals focused on nature and mythology.
Tallinn mural by Sank blue deer
Some of the best street art in Tallinn features deer and Elk. This blue deer by Sank is a hybrid of a Mexican myth and an acknowledgment of the many elk living in Estonia.
Tallinn Estonia Telliskivi deer mural
Here is a third in the deer/elk mural series.
Tallinn street art purple cat with fish
Tallinn Estonia mural red whale
Tallinn Telliskivi parking lot pig and paint brush mural

Not all of the murals in Tallinn’s Telliskivi neighborhood are sanctioned or commissioned. Just wander into the parking lot adjacent to the train tracks and you find several long walls full of guerrilla murals and graffiti.

Tallinn Telliskivi graffiti artist, blue spray paint

The above is the work-in-progress from a graffiti artist who just claimed a patch of wall and got busy.

Street Art on the Cultural Kilometer & Thereabouts

Tallinn’s Cultural Kilometer is neither a kilometer long, nor does it feature high culture. However, wandering on and near this 2.5 kilometer long pathway will show you a fine selection of street art and graffiti. There are murals and graffiti inside the cruise ship terminal area, along the Cultural Kilometer and (for as long as it’s standing), on the old Petrai prison.

The cultural corridor runs from the Linnahall ruin west to Kalassadama street. It’s easily walkable from the cruise ship harbor, Telliskivi and Old town, and you can find it on Google maps. Within the corridor, you’ll find graffiti on the crumbling ruin of the old Linnahall and commissioned Mextonia murals representing Estonian culture along the pathway.

Tallinn cultural kilometer mural of Loit and Hamarik
This long mural on the Tallinn Cultural kilometer features the legend of Koit & Hamarik, lovers who never touched but whose love was immense.

The work in the Cultural Kilometer was done by Jorge Peralta Galindo, Sens, Ariadna Galez, Abril Pequeros, Valhur Agar and Helana Hanni.

Tallinn Cultural Kilometer mural by Sens fox, wolf and owl
Adorbs mythological forest creatures. By Sens.

If you are coming in by cruise ship, before you go anywhere downtown, walk left just as you exit the ship and go down to the parking area. Along the sea wall, you find a series of murals that celebrating Estonian music and myths.

Tallinn mural Estonia hero Kalevipoeg by Bach BaBach
Estonia hero Kalevipoeg by Bach BaBach
Tallinn mural by Bach BaBach folk culture
Figures representing folkloric culture (by Bach BaBach) and one old lady travel blogger.

More Tallinn Murals

Tallinn mural by Himed. Old Man from the sea
Old man from the sea, protecting Estonia from sinking. By Himed.
Tallinn mural by Goal. Mystical boar and elk
More nature with this boar, elk and bear. By Goal.

Taking a Street Art Tour in Tallinn

You can self-guide most of the pieces by wandering around Telliskivi, Kalamaja, the Cultural Kilometer, and peeking through the fence in the cruise ship harbor.

The Tallinn tourism bureau was kind enough to hook me up with not only Sigre but also City Bike. They took me on a custom tour that went beyond the core spots to find street art elsewhere in the city. Their “Other Side of Tallinn” tour covers some of these locations. It’s about two hours and costs €19. You can also hire them to do a private tour and they can optimize it for street art at your request. The private tours cover 4-12 people. It costs a minimum of €150 for four people and then €35 per person after that.

Pseudo Tours is now offering a new tour of Telliskivi Creative City. The tours aren’t frequent but would be worth doing if you dates match up. Check the calendar here.

Tallinn mural in Telliskivi purple portrait

Street Art in Estonia’s Tartu

Tartu is located two hours southeast of Tallinn by train. It is the home of one of the oldest universities in Europe, and has earned distinction as a UNESCO City of Literature. There is a synergy between Cities of Literature and street art. Melbourne is a City of Literature and a world class street art city. Reykjavik is also a City of Literature and has an emerging street art culture, as does Manchester, UK.

Tartu hopped on the street art bandwagon even before Tallinn. They established their Stencilibility festival in 2010 and have been organizing summer mural events ever since. Their manifesto states that “public space belongs to everyone who uses it” and “…if you don’t like it – improve it“. This is an organization not afraid to take on bizarre projects and edgy subject matter.

By the way, if a festival sounds like a blast to you, check out these street art festivals for a list of 18 great global options (in addition to Stencilibility, of course).

Tartu Murals at The Widget Factory and Karlova

Tartu Estonia street art Widget Factory whale mural by Awer
Whale mural in Tartu’s Widget Factory by Awer.

The Widget Factory (or Aparaaditehas) was a military manufacturing plant from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. It was abandoned in 2006 and filled with squatters shortly after. It has since evolved into an urban creative hub in Tartu with artist lofts, galleries, restaurants and this lovely sea-faring whale mural by Awer.

Tartu street art- Karlova portraits by Bach
Portrait series by Bach.

The artist Bach helped to establish the street art ethic in Tartu in the ’90’s. It came out of a post-independence free speech movement and was inspired by the hip hop graffiti scene in New York City. This stretch of wall on Viru street houses many murals curated by Stencilibility.

Tartu Estonia murals: by Kashink
French muralist Kashink specializes in startling color and multi-eyed characters.
Tartu mural upside down Russian nesting doll
This subtle bit of political theater by Thobek turns Estonia’s Soviet occupation on its head.
Tartu street art mural by KZRTE. black and orange folk characters
by KZRTE
Tartu Soviet Cold War Shelter street art mural
Because I can totally rock a former cold war bunker as long as its covered in bizarre characters.

Not everything in Tartu’s Karlova neighborhood is commissioned by Stencilibility. Wander around the side streets and around the abandoned cold war infrastructure and you can find some creative guerrilla works.

Tartu Karlova graffiti character with gun

Other Tartu Street Art

There are also quite a few stencils and smaller murals closer to Tartu’s downtown core. Look for them along the main Johvi-Tartu-Valga road between the train station and town. There are also several literary themed pieces at the public library on Kompanii.

It’s quite fitting that a City of Literature would have literary themed street art. The piece below comments on how difficult it is to make a living as a starving writer and the one below that was inspired by a classic Estonian children’s book.

Read More: If you are into literary street art, then check out my street art guide to Shoreditch London where you’ll find an Alice in Wonderland. You can also find a riff on Where the Wild Things are in San Francisco’s Mission District and a nod to Gulliver’s Travels in Chicago.

Tartu street art stencil starving writer by Edward von Lõngus
Starving writer by Edward von Longus. He is considered Estonia’s “Banksy” because of his aptitude with stenciling.
Tartu children's story mural by Hare. blue street art with people walking on sidewalk.
Children’s story mural by Hare.
Tartu estonia Mother Child stencil by Edward von Lõngus
Another stencil by Mina Ja Lydia.
Tartu street art barbed wire with Soviet symbol
Another not so subtle statement about the strict life under Soviet occupation. Look carefully at the barbed wire and you’ll find Soviet symbolism.

Taking a Tartu Street Art Tour

You can wander around downtown, the Widget Factory and Karlova’s Viru street to find some of these murals. However, I strongly recommend taking a tour with Tartu Pseudo Tours. Salme runs the tours. She’s an artist herself and she keeps up with all of the new pieces. Her schedule is irregular so it’s best to message her on Facebook to arrange a tour. They cost €10 per person for a minimum of five people.

Tallinn Estonia street art stencil selfie and skeleton
Who doesn’t love a street art selfie with a creepy skeleton?

(Some of the following links are affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission)

Learn More About Street Around the World

Study great street art in other cities by checking out my guides to:
Top Street Art Cities in the World | Books About Street Art|Street Art Festivals | Buenos Aires | Bogota | San Diego | San Francisco | Los Angeles |Nashville | Chicago | New York | Havana | London | Reykjavik  | Belfast | Bristol | Berlin | Paris | Estonia | Rural Australia | Melbourne | Honolulu | Salt Lake City

Follow my street art board in Pinterest for more cool street art images and articles from other fans.

Become an even bigger street art connoisseur by using an encyclopedia like the New Street Art, Street Artists 2: The Complete Guide, the World Atlas of Street Art & Graffiti or Lonely Planet Street Art to educate yourself about the medium.

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Explore street art in Estonia with this guide to the murals in Tallinn and Tartu. Find murals featuring folklore, nature, history and culture.
Explore street art in Estonia with this guide to the murals in Tallinn and Tartu. Find murals featuring folklore, nature, history and culture. #Estonia #streetart
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