In May, we had the wonderful opportunity to visit Estonia, to get closer to one of the northern peoples – the Estonians – and to get to know its culture through the places we visited there. We spent 4-5 days in Tallinn, enough time to see the main sights of the city, most of which are located in the center and the Tallinn Old Town.
This article is dedicated to the most interesting places in Tallinn.
The history of Estonia is quite colorful having in mind that several countries conquered it over the centuries. Between the 12th and the 19th century, the territory of today’s Estonia was under German, Danish, Swedish and Russian rule. No doubt, this had a great impact on the culture and historic sites.
Tallinn is the largest city in Estonia and it is the capital. The city is full of tourists, especially during the weekend. There are a lot of places to see, most of them in the Historic center. There are many green areas throughout the city. Restaurants and museums are quite expensive. The food stores are affordable, I think. The weather is a bit cooler than here in Bulgaria.
In May, at nine o’clock in the evening the sun is still shining and the day is bright. Later on the sunset comes, and after the blue hour begins – the light is not so bright, but it is not dark also, the colors are blue and soft, it is the photographers’ favorite time. In Tallinn at that time the blue hour is much more than 60 minutes. By midnight it was almost dark until 4 am when the sun rises.
Experience the Tallinn Old Town!
I will try here to immerse you – at least virtually – in the atmosphere of Tallinn and to show you the most interesting sights in the old part of the city. I have arranged them in such an order that represents an almost circular route.
The Tallinn Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is surrounded by massive fortress walls with 20 preserved defensive towers (in the past they were 66), well-visible from various locations in the center. On many of the panoramic photos below, you will see some of them.
Lets enter the Tallinn Old Town through the Viru Gate. These are two picturesque towers, one of the entrances to the Old Town. The Viru street that starts from the Viru Gate leads to the central Town Hall square. Near the Viru Gate towers there is a row of flower pavilions that enrich the landscape around.
We go along the Viru Street, but instead of heading directly to the main square, we turn right at the first street and continue along the fortress walls. It is surprising how massive they are.
After a hundred meters of walking, we see the Dominican Monastery Claustrum. The monastery is massive, built of stone and very old – it dates back to the 13th century. We enter and explore various rooms – a library, a chapel, rooms. The entrance is 3 euro per person.
After the monastery, we return a little back on the same street and look at one of the Tallinn emblems – the pedestrian zone of St. Catherine’s Passage. It is a narrow cobblestone street surrounded by tall stone walls. During days there are canteens and kiosks for handmade goods. In the evenings, almost everything is closed except a couple of restaurants.
We leave the St. Catherine Passage and turn right onto the Vene Street. After a while, we are in front of the Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas’ – so rich and beautiful like any Russian church.
We head back to the Vene Street, which takes us to the Central Square with the old Gothic building of the Town Hall – also an emblem of the city. Once upon a time the square was a market place. The Tallinn Town Hall is the only survived Gothic town hall in northern Europe. The Town Hall was first mentioned in 1322. The current building dates back to 1402-1404.
The Town Hall square is a very nice place – it is so pleasant to stay a bit there, to have a walk and to have a drink. The square is surrounded by buildings, most of which are restaurants.
One of the buildings opposite the old Town Hall houses the oldest permanently working pharmacy in Europe.
We cross the square and head to the small Mundi Street. We stop several times to look back at the Town Hall. This view point is different.
Mundy Street takes us to Pikk Street, where we continue our walk. First we look to the left to see the picture there.
Then we head in the direction opposite the central square.
There is a special museum on the Pick Street – the KGB prison cells. This is a basement with a long corridor, several prison cells and a carcer, all used for interrogation and torture by the KGB. On several information boards we can read the terrible stories of many people who were cruelly destroyed years ago in this place. The ticket price is 6 euros.
After the former KGB cells, we go a little further to see two more interesting landmarks in Tallinn – the Great Coastal Gate with the Fat Margaret Tower. They are built in order to protect the city from the seaside and to impress visitors arriving from the harbor. The Fat Margaret houses the Estonian Maritime Museum.
Then we go back, but this time we take the upper Lai Street, which is parallel to Pick Street, and continue our walk towards the main square.
Few minutes later, we encounter an imposing cathedral – this is the St. Olaf’s church – one of the most iconic places in the Estonian capital.
It was the highest building in the world in the period between 15th and 16th century.
It costs 3 euros to climb to the panoramic terrace of the St. Olaf’s Tower. The views are so worth seeing!
On top of the St. Olaf’s Chirch Tower we look at both the Old City and the Baltic Sea. Opposite to the sea is the magnificent Tompea Hill – a massive limestone rock that rises 30 meters above the other buildings in the center.
We can see on the hill several interesting places – we see the two viewing platforms Kohtuotsa and Patkuli, we recognize them for the massive green crowns of the trees between buildings on the edge of the rock. We see also the St. Mary’s Church – the white one in the central part of the Tompea Hill, and the domes of the Orthodox Church of St. Alexander Nevsky.
We get on the Thompea Hill to look closer at all those places. The two panoramic platforms offer great views of the Old Town and the sea, quite different from the view point of St. Olaf’s panorama.
We walk along the narrow cobbled streets of the Tompea Hill. We reach the imposing white cathedral of St. Mary, and after the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – so luscious and beautiful not only from the outside but also inside.
Behind the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky is the Estonian Parliament – a beautiful new building glued to the remains of Tompea Castle.
We approach the castle from one of the side streets to see its old stone walls.
Then we go down to the center. We pass by the large cathedral of St. Nicholas. The Freedom square is nearby.
Then we go back to the central Town Hall square and to the Viru Gate and close the circle.
You would need 2-3 hours to have the above described walk. I would recommend you to explore the Old Town in different hours a day, because the day light is different and thus the colors are different.
After exploring the center, we go to see the sea – the Baltic Sea. We start from the Coastal Gate, cross the park and continue on the street down to the sea. After 10 minutes of walking we are on the quay near the boats and yachts.
What’s more in Tallinn?
If you have a few days in Tallinn, visit one of the many museums in the city. Here are two of the most interesting.
This so beautiful and extremely well preserved baroque palace was built by the king Peter the Great in the beginning of 18th century as a summer residence for Catherine, his wife.
The palace currently functions as a gallery, but there are also halls where you can see objects from the interior of older times. The palace is surrounded by a beautiful flower garden. The ticket price is 6.50 euros.
Kadriorg Palace was our first impression of the landmarks in Tallinn – we chose to start exploring the Estonian capital just with it. We liked it a lot and it made us curios about the other sites in Tallinn.
The Kadriorg Palace is located in a city park, quite pleasant for a walk, which can be reached within a 15-minute walking from the center.
Seaplane Harbour museum
The museum is situated in a sea hangar. The visitors can see there a lot of authentic items related to the maritime affairs. The Seaplane Harbour museum is particularly interesting for children because they can try out various devices and attractions. Personally, I was most curious about entering a real military submarine.
The Seaplane Harbour museum has also an outdoor part consisting of several ships in the sea in front of the hangar.
You can reach the Seaplane Harbour museum by car, by public transport, and also on foot – it takes about 30 minutes of walking from the Tallinn Old town.
In conclusion, we were impressed by Tallinn and the Old City. We walked there several times at different hours a day to see the interesting buildings, streets, people, and views. It is very nice to have a beer on the main Town Hall square no matter it is a day or a night.