Where exactly is Estonia?
I didn’t know the answer as well – until it was included as one of the destinations that my 3-night Baltics cruise would head to. Intrigued, I started to do more research. Nestled in the northeast corner of Europe, Estonia shares a border with both Russia and Latvia; and is located east of Sweden. To my surprise, the Skype software was invented by Estonians, and Tallinn – the capital of Estonia – also has more startups per capita than any other European city. How’s that for size!
The heart of Tallinn, however, lies in its old town. Despite years of violence, Tallinn has managed to completely preserve its old town’s medieval and gothic architecture – earning it the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.
Enter the old town through the Viru Gate, which comprised part of the city’s defence system back in the 14th century. Once through the gates, you’ll step into a world of winding cobblestone streets, bell towers, spacious courtyards, pastel medieval houses and more.
The Town Hall Square is the centrepiece of the old town, lined with a slew of restaurants and cafés. These are especially busy in the summer, when the al fresco dining areas become a bustling hive of activity.
Look closely at the Tallinn Town Hall and see if you can spot a pair of protruding dragons.
If you don’t wish to sit down for a meal, you can grab some nuts or a pastry from one of these adorable food carts stationed around the old town.
Head to the Kohtuotsa viewing platform for a different perspective of the town; it’s often said that this platform offers the best view of Tallinn! Located atop Toompea Hill, feast your eyes on panoramic views of the surrounding area. The platform is popular among local musicians as well – if you’re lucky, you might even be treated to a live busking session.
Take a walk down memory lane at the Tallinn Town Wall, a section of which is open to the public. The wall previously had a total of 46 towers and was 2.4 kilometres long; now, only 20 towers and 1.9 kilometres worth of wall remains. Take your time to stroll along the top of the walls and enjoy the views.
Completed in 1900, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox church known for its iconic black domes.
The St. Olaf’s Church, on the other hand, is Tallinn's largest medieval building. Built in the 1200s, its church tower has been struck by lightning multiple times over the years. Entry to both churches is free of charge.
Built in the 14th century, the Church of the Holy Ghost has been preserved entirely in its original form. The first Estonian sermons were preached at this church and Johann Koell, a pastor at the church, is known as the author of the first Estonian book. It has a beautiful medieval clock on its exterior, which still tells time to this very day.
Pay a visit to the Eduard Vilde monument, which pays tribute to the famous Estonian writer. He had many outstanding achievements throughout his career, where he created a total of 33 volumes – inclusive of short stories, novels, plays and so on.
Perhaps one of the best things to do in Tallinn’s old town is simply to cast your map aside and simply wander aimlessly along the streets. Who knows what you’d find?
Even the signboards are something to look at!
Pop into a shop or two – I even stumbled upon this shop underground that was built to resemble a cave.
Aren’t the doors of the buildings unique? It’d feel as if you’ve travelled back in time.
Tallinn is also incredibly easy on the pocket. Pamper yourself and indulge in a 3-course meal – all at a budget-friendly price. Many restaurants are located in the basement, requiring you to descend a flight of stairs to reach the dining hall – which only adds to the intrigue of it all!
Tallinn is truly a city full of surprises around every corner. The old town can be easily reached on foot from the harbour but if you have the time, do venture out of the old town to check out the Telliskivi Creative City, Tallinn’s hipster quarter, and the street art along the ‘Cultural Kilometre’ which leads from the harbour to the city centre.
Tallinn can be visited as part of a 4D3N Baltics cruise, which will also bring you to Stockholm in Sweden, Helsinki in Finland and St. Petersburg in Russia.