There are cities, so preserved that they will carry you into the past from the moment you took the first step in.
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, ranks first among the world destinations when it comes to medieval times. Take a look at our tips to get lost in the streets of Tallinn and enjoy many unique experiences.
Possessed by the charm of the old
If there is a place not to be missed to visit in Tallinn, it is the Old Town with a charm dating back to the 15th century. With its narrow cobblestone passages, courtyards, and winding streets, you need to get lost to enjoy this confusing yet delightful area. Even the inhabitants of the city disappear from time to time. Stop by the Katherine Pass (Katariina käik) where there are craft shops and the Courtyard of the Master. Head towards the smell of hot chocolate and browse the antique and design shops for souvenirs. Meanwhile, do not neglect the art; The Estonian History Museum or the NUKU Puppet Arts Museum, which is interesting and unusual for adults as well as children, are worth seeing… Choose a stop on the streets of Vene and Müürivahe, where surprising places are lined, Rataskaevu Street, where there are restaurants, and the shortest Saikang, where the cute cafes are, far from the main roads and crowds.
Get lost at the local market
Many cities have local markets worth exploring. In Tallinn, this is Balti Jaam. This newly restored market complex is the most modern of its kind in Estonia, combining everything from children’s goods to delicious street food with a remarkable range. From pickled cucumbers to Italian cheese, you can enjoy a delicious feast on many street stalls, especially for breakfast, and find interesting souvenirs among the Soviet past and present designs. There are also a supermarket, a sports club, hair dresser, fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, the most extensive meat and fish selection in the country and various cafes. Balti Jaam is like a social center with many restaurants and designer shops in the surrounding area. With its unique atmosphere and interesting antique pieces, this is a market that not only the locals enjoy stopping by, but it is also a pleasant tourist destination.
Watch the city like a bird
Once the settlement of the city aristocracy, Toompea, also known as the uptown, is the place where Estonia is ruled; both parliament and administration are located here. The Estonian Parliament, also known as Riigikogu, is located at Toompea Castle. There are several historic houses in this area, which are in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. While the medieval crusader castle blends with the classic palace, it hides the building, which is called “the world’s only parliament with an expressionist architecture”, in the courtyard. If you come here with your entry document and passport, you can see the parliament building. Across the square, in front of the castle, there is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky. You become a little bit intoxicated by the incense smell but mostly dazzled by the sight of gold as soon as you step into this impressive sacred atmosphere. Historically, the most notable church is actually the Dome Church, not Nevsky, in other words, the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary (Toomkirik). If you want to take great photos, add three observation platforms (Kohtuotsa, Patkuli and Piiskopi) in your list. From Kohtuotsa Vaateplats, a small observation area, look at the harbor over the red-roofed Old Town, Kadriorg Park, and Estonia’s countryside. The seagull named Steven that is going to compete with you to pose in Kohtuotsa is the real boss around here. Seagulls are the ones most photographed here…
Blend in the dynamism of the square
The Municipal Square (Raekoja plats) is the heart and soul of the medieval Old Town. In Tallinn, all roads lead here. From the 11th century onwards, this place has been the pulse of the city since the markets began to be established. This area is always photogenic regardless of the season, surrounded by pastel-colored buildings of the 15th and 17th centuries and the Gothic municipal palace. In summer, the cafes with outdoor tables invite people to sit and watch life. You can find pizza in many places or meet Estonian cuisine. If you come around Christmas, you will see a huge pine tree in the middle of the square, as in 1441. If there is an event such as a concert or a market in the Old Town, it absolutely takes place here. It doesn’t get empty especially in the summer thanks to the variety of activities such as Tallinn Old Town Days or Tallinn Medieval Days. A handicraft market that will stimulate your imagination is set up every Wednesday from May to September. At the corner of the square, visit the City Hall Pharmacy (Raeapteek), the oldest active pharmacy in Europe since 1422. If you have a trouble that you can’t find medicine, check out the historical section; I wonder if a burned hedgehog and human skull salt prescription could cure your problem? The trump card of the square is the Town Hall of 1404, which is the only Gothic municipality in Northern Europe. Right on top of the tower, Tallinn’s symbol Old Thomas (Vana Toomas in Estonia) will catch your eye. If you climb up the narrow steps of the tower, a beautiful view awaits you.
Get enough of arts and nature
Perhaps the most beautiful part of Tallinn is Kadriorg. Kadriorg has a wonderful summer palace built by the order of Peter the Great for his wife Katerina. This palace, which has a beautiful garden in terms of landscaping, was built in 1710. Peter stayed in this palace with his wife for a while. The place is the Kadriorg Art Museum today. The park around the 300-year-old palace is the largest in the city. The museum is located right next to the Presidential Palace, so you can have the opportunity to see the change of guards or if you are lucky, the president. There are many museums nearby. The most important of them is the magnificent Kumu Art Museum, which houses the national art collection. The museum’s range, which houses a rich collection of Estonian art from the 18th century to the present, gives a satisfying insight on the country’s art to those who have little time to spend here.
Step into an innovative life
Tallinn is a city open to alternatives and innovations. Close to the Old Town, a short walk away, Kalamaja, the coolest part of the city, is a reflection of this. Here, old buildings inspire new ideas, while the city’s hip and modern atmosphere surrounds you. Fishermen and sailors used to live in Kalamaja, one of the oldest districts of Tallinn. Now young hipsters dominate here. Kalamaja has two parts; a heritage of the 20th century left behind by industrialization and old wooden buildings inhabited by factory workers. Today, many young families live in those old wooden buildings, which are among the most popular residences of the city and have become popular over time. Typical examples can be found in the streets like Valgevase, Salme and Kungla. Transformed from an old industrial structure, the Telliskivi Creative City hosts over 300 events throughout the year. Telliskivi has studio spaces, offices of innovative companies, cool restaurants, artistic cafes, workshops, galleries, local design shops, a flea market set up once a week, and luxurious bars. Take the time to study the art of graffiti adorning the walls of the old factory and houses.
Look at the city from the sea
Many visitors reach Tallinn by ship. What you see is the city’s characteristic structures, defense towers, and fortifications when you look at the city from the sea. Tallinn’s city wall is worth seeing, as it is one of the best-preserved areas in northern Europe. These limestone fortifications, which were protected by armed guards, had approximately 2.4 km of length, 8 gates, and 46 towers when they were first built. Although only one pond remains from the impressive moat, 1.9 km of the walls and half of the towers have survived to the present day. Don’t forget to walk on the wall and activate your imagination. It is possible to visit a section of the fortifications and some of the towers. The part not to be missed is in the Garden of the King of Denmark, which stretches to the Maiden’s Tower. Walking through the narrow streets behind the walls is guaranteed to take you to the Middle Ages.