When thinking of red roofs, windy cobble stoned roads, and towering city walls, Tallinn doesn’t come to mind…but it should. As I found on my walk through Tallinn’s old town, this area is full of character and quickly became one of my favorites in Europe.
Where is Tallinn?
Before we get into why a walk through Tallinn’s old town is one of Europe’s best, let’s look at where exactly this walled city is. Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, the northern most country of the Baltic states. Although you can easily spend 3 days exploring this great city, visiting Tallinn while bouncing around the Baltics on a cruise is a great way to experience the city and beyond. Tallinn is located directly south of Helsinki and ~380 Kilometers west of St.Petersburg making it one of many great stops on a Baltic cruise.
When I think about medieval fortified cities, Tallinn doesn’t come to mind. Rhodes, Valletta, and Dubrovnik – yes. Estonia’s capital, not so much. That’s why on my walk through Tallinn’s old town I was surprised by 12th-century old guard towers and walls – most of which are in original condition. This is why, and to my continued surprise, a walk through Tallinn’s old town is a walk through a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
During my walk through Tallinn’s old town, I felt as if I was transported back in time. The cobblestone roads. The arched entrances. The open squares. These highlights were unexpected and helped set a medieval tone to the most unexpected day of my journey. The grey and overcast day and quiet streets only magnified this feeling in a very cool way.
Beautiful Vantage Points
What I like most about this medieval town are the beautiful vantage points it gives you. Although the city walls were closed during my visit, a walk through Tallinn’s old town does offer plenty of places to enjoy the views.
First I entered the Maiden’s Tower and enjoyed morning coffee surrounded by armor. From the windows you can watch over the town much like those that protected the city some 700 years ago…with a double espresso and a shot of hazelnut syrup.
Continuing on I noticed that Tallinn’s old town is partially built on a hill. This gives visitors plenty of spots to enjoy the red roofs and many church towers.
Lastly, St. Olaf’s Church Tower – once the tallest building in the world. It offers the best views in town… or so I’m told. On my visit and walk through Tallinn’s old town, the church Tower was closed. Next time.
Right Amount of Quirky
Lastly on why a walk through Tallinn’s old town is one of my favorites is the oddities found within it. Throughout my day I randomly stumbled on street art that seamlessly blended in with its surroundings.
Also on my walk through Tallinn’s old town I came across a few unique museums that made for a fun and interesting day. First, while inside Maiden’s Tower I learned about Estonia’s candy and chocolate history. This exhibit in the towers basement included vintage wrappers an odd shaped sweets through the years.
Next was a creepy walk through the NUKU Puppet Museum. This wonderful display takes you through the ages of puppetry in Estonia with some amazing (odd) dolls that have been resting there for decades.
Lastly, and my favourite stop on this walk through Tallinn’s old town is the Museum of the Estonian Drink Culture Beer Museum. Although a mouthful, this museum is small but full of history.The Luscher & Matiesen Distillery was once Estonia’s biggest winery and after being abandoned during Soviet Union rule, it’s back and open to the public.
On my walk through Tallinn’s old town I couldn’t help but notice the diversity of the architecture. From medieval towers to a Russian Orthodox Church, to wooden houses that look like they would be more at home in Bergen, the buildings here run the gauntlet. With Estonia changing hands between the Swedes, Russians, and Germans, this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Possibly the biggest evidence of this diversity can be found in the War of Independence Victory Column. Although planned in 1919 (originally to commemorate those lost in WWI), the modern glass cross says otherwise. This is because the completion was interrupted by the War of Independence and then World War II. During Soviet Union occupation the idea of a memorial to anything non-Stalin wasn’t going to fly. So, after being on the shelf for 86 years the Victory Column was redesigned and finally erected.
Admittedly, I was walking through Tallinn’s old town with a chip on my shoulder. After reading another bloggers (garbage) experience of the city (more on that later) I was out to prove him wrong. Turns out it was easy. Tallinn’s old town was a quick 3 stop tram ride from my charming Marta Guesthouse and became one of my favorites in Europe. On first sight I’m sure it will become one of your favorites too.