If you want to feel the romance of an old city, Tallinn is the right destination for you, although I fully understand that some of you may disagree with this, especially the big fans of Prague. As the majority of my acquaintances who have been to Prague always said that the capital of the Czech Republic is just incomparable if we are talking about a romantic old town destination. Sorry to say, I have never been to Prague and, due to its popularity, I don’t have any intention to visit it in the near future. Really, the more popular a destination is, the less interested I am in visiting it.
That sounds unfair though, to judge something that is unfamiliar to you. Maybe someday, after the pandemic is over, I will pay a short visit to Prague if I have an opportunity to do so. But, for now, let’s talk about Tallinn.
As a part of my “circle” journey with full routes consisting of Moscow-St.Petersburg-Pskov-Tartu-Tallinn-Moscow, Tallinn was the last destination before we finally went back home. After making a list of what to do and what to see, we decided that 4 days was just long enough to explore this old city. In the end, we turned out to be wrong. My suggestion as usual: don’t dare to decide how long is enough to explore a city that you haven’t been to before, especially if the city is like Tallinn – old and exotic. You will have much to explore, even though Tallinn is not such an appropriate town for museum aficionados as they don’t have much to offer in that regard.
So, what is an appropriate way to spend a short time in Tallinn?
Tallinn Old Town
Ambling down the street and stopping occasionally to snatch some pictures is the best plan to start your day. If you love to watch the locals’ activities during the morning, be an early bird. Tallinn old town is not just about an old town full of millions of tourists, but also a part of town where locals go about their daily routines. You can find some interesting stores, cafes, restaurants, churches, and even schools. As the oldest part of Tallinn, the capital city, the old town has successfully preserved its medieval structure.
For your information, the majority of its structure were built during the 13th–16th centuries, creating an impression that you might be a part of that era, especially when you are strolling along its silent pathway with the old brick walls surrounding you. However, even though you feel that the ambiance has thrown you back to the past, please don’t dare to think that you can do what other people in that era did – for example, pooping on the street (ew!). That’s a big no no. The best way to enjoy the town is having a sip of coffee in one of the cafes that are all around.
Tallinn Town Wall
As a medieval defensive wall, the size of the wall itself is quite immense. There are around 1.85 kilometres of walls, along with 26 defence towers. It surrounds most of the old city, although according to what I read, some parts have been diminished, broken, or destroyed. To have a better view, you can watch through the Patkuli Viewing Platform ( https://www.visitestonia.com/en/tallinns-city-wall-1). As for ourselves, we prefer to meander around the streets of the old town, enjoying its medieval ‘aroma’.
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Being an orthodox cathedral that was built when Estonia was under the Russian Empire, this iconic site was so disliked by so many Estonians due to the fact that it reminded them about the era of repression. There was even a plan to demolish it in 1924, but it was never implemented (otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to see it today).
Alexander Nevsky himself was known as a key figure of medieval Rus, a legend for his victories over Germany and Swedish invaders during that time. He was canonized as a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1547. So, you will find other Alexander Nevskys in other cities that were part of the USSR, whether it is a church or an alley.
The church is also open to tourists without any fee.
Kiek in de Kook
In Low German, it means “peep into the kitchen”, as the occupants of this artillery tower will be able to peep into the kitchens of nearby houses. Once I was there, I tried to prove it. And, yes, I can see the nearby houses – their roofs to be exact, but not their kitchens, let alone their bathrooms.
In my opinion, this site is worth a visit, as you can not only peep into someone’s house, but also enjoy the museum, which exhibits many interesting things, from the diorama of the medieval era to the artillery itself, along with the armours and swords. They also have a basement where they show what was left from the real tower itself before remodeling, a model of a bunker during World War II, along with its dim light and saddening sound effects, and even a model of jail where the prisoners were imprisoned during the medieval era. Before going down to the basement, don’t forget to take a blanket, which are available at the entrance, as the basement was freezing cold.
Tallinn Town Hall and Tallinn Town Square
As the oldest town hall in the Baltic or Scandinavian region, Tallinn Town Hall has become one of the main symbols of Tallinn. Although it stopped fulfilling its function since 1970, UNESCO has heralded this town hall along with the town square in which the town hall is located as World Heritage Sites since 1997.
Besides taking an iconic picture for your instagram on the path right in front of the town hall, doing some window shopping is also recommendable when you are in the town square, as it also serves as a marketplace where you can find some souvenirs for yourself, from clothes and tablecloths to a magnet for your refrigerator. After strolling around and feeling that your stomach is rumbling, you can have a break and try the available restaurants around the square while observing other tourists or locals going about their business.
Vabaduse väljak, with a victory column which was established in 2009 to commemorate the Estonian War of Independence (1918-1920).
Tips for exploring the old town
- Plan for 2-3 days to explore all parts of the town.
- Start from one specific gate, and don’t forget to use a map (Google maps works well here).
- Don’t forget to turn on your camera. There are lots of good spots for taking pictures.
- Bring warm clothes and an umbrella, as the weather in Tallinn can be quite unpredictable.
- If you want to dive deeper into history, a guided tour is always available. Also, I heard that they have a special night tour for horror aficionados, as Tallinn old town observes not only its history, but also ‘an unseen history with its unseen habitants’ along with them. Boo!
Best time to visit
Be an early bird if you want to enjoy the serene atmosphere of the old town. Regarding the season, surely summer is the most comfortable: considering how close Tallinn is to the sea, I am sure they have rainy and windy autumn!