Best Things To Do In Tallinn, Estonia

things to do in tallinn
Lorna
Lorna 
Updated

Just only 85 km (53 miles) from Helsinki, Finland lies Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Situated near the Baltic Sea, it was formerly part of the Soviet Union and with links to Sweden and Denmark. Estonia has a population of 1.5 million; 450,000 live in Tallinn. The country’s long history and characteristics are all embedded in its tri-coloured flag which symbolises the following:

• Blue stands for loyalty. It also represents the blue skies, seas and lakes.

• Black represents the past oppression and the rich soil of the country.

• White stands for Estonia’s long struggle for freedom and independence. It’s also a representation of the winter snow.

1. What is a mini cruise?

Map

It is called ‘mini’ for three reasons: firstly, it is a short trip, generally five days; secondly, you spend lesser time spent at sea; and lastly, you have land-based accommodation as opposed to having the ship as your hotel. We took a mini cruise that visited the capitals of Scandinavian countries: Stockholm (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), Copenhagen (Denmark) and Tallinn (Estonia). This cruise allotted two days for Tallinn.

2. Free walking tour

Our Walking Tour Group

We started off on a three-hour walking tour along with other tourists, who like us, were also eager to get to know the city. Helen, our tour guide commented that by far this was the largest number of walking tour participants, counted at 160! So, we were split into two groups for better interaction. Helen took us to key locations and shared with us a lot of things about Estonian history, short amusing stories about culture, religion, food, etc. We felt like we have now understood Tallinn and Estonians.

Our tour guide said that in the past, practicing religion was prohibited. Hence, most of the churches were converted to museums. Estonia is one of the “least religious” countries in the world with only 14% of the population declaring religion an important part of their daily life. Though Estonia is not a very religious country, they respect freedom of religion and guarantees separation of church and state.

Estonians love to sing. While with the Soviet Union, Estonians bought lyrics of western songs in black markets, read every line, and judged whether it was a nice song, without even hearing the tune how it was supposed to be sung. Like in many countries in Asia, you can also find many Karaoke bars in Estonia. Yes, they love to sing, they got their independence by singing! The so-called ‘Singing Revolution’ lasted over four years (1987 to 1991) and led to the restoration of the independence of Estonia.

Tallinn is also the home of the first Christmas tree and Skype! In 1441, the world’s first Christmas tree was put up near the Tallinn town hall as part of a winter ritual where people danced around the tree and later set it on fire. In 2003, the Estonians created the Skype software and released the first public beta version.

3. Medieval times at the Old Town

Viru Gate: A picturesque entrance to the medieval old town. This entrance used to have gates that closed off Tallinn to invaders in the medieval times. The gates, wall and towers were built in the 14th Century.

Like a classic fairy tale movie, wander into colourful houses, cobblestoned alleyways, medieval buildings and watchtowers. Despite Estonia’s centuries of successive German, Danish, Swedish and Russian rules, its capital city of Tallinn is famous for its well-preserved Hanseatic architecture and medieval structures. Hanseatic refers to the Hanseatic League, also called as Hansa or German Hanse, an association formed by north German towns and merchant communities abroad during the 13th to 15th century to protect and control trading activities. Tallinn’s intact 13th century Old Town has gain the recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

4. Tallinn Town Wall

Tallinn Town Wall
Source: Lorna Real

These ancient walls give the town a medieval atmosphere. Built as a fortification, the wall enclosed and protected the town from invaders. We have travelled to many places in Europe but I can’t remember seeing intact walls of a medieval city. In most places, only fragments of the walls are left. As per Tallinn Tourism Board, a full stretch of wall (1.9 km or 1.1 mile of its original city wall) and twenty observation towers are still standing. No wonder Tallinn has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

5. Katariina käik (St. Catherine's Passage)

Katariina käik (St. Catherine's Passage)
Source: Lorna Real

A walk in this alluring and winding passageway takes you back to the middle ages. This narrow alleyway is a charming fusion of crafts and religion. On one end, a wide array of craft shops is well-worth the visit.

On the other end, the remnants of St. Catherine’s Church along with tombstones from the original sanctuary can be seen. The church is said to be the largest church in medieval Northern Europe. In the present days, ruins of the church have become a venue for concerts, plays and exhibits.

6. Medieval restaurants

things to do in tallinn | medieval restaurants

We had a medieval meal of an ox rib, elk soup and meat pie. Everything was very well laid together. With servers dressed in medieval costumes, the setting felt very authentic!

7. Churches

Church of the Holy Spirit

Tallinn, yet small has many churches. Take a look inside and you may find it interesting to participate in a church service in another country’s language.

We visited Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, a modest yet beautiful church with a courtyard setting. It is said to serve Tallinn’s very small Catholic congregation. According to www.katoliku.ee, the Catholic population of Estonia is approximately 6,000 adherents. Being the only Catholic church in the Old Town, we stumbled into this church and attended the 6:00 pm Mass. The Mass was said in Russian but the priest also gave a homily in English after noticing us in the pews.

The Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin (Dome Church’s) Tower was originally established as a Roman Catholic cathedral by the Danish, this historic church located on Toompea Hill has served as a burial place for noble families since the 13th century. It became Lutheran in 1561 and is now the seat of the Archbishop of Tallinn, the leader of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The Church of the Holy Spirit is also a Lutheran church located in the Old Town district. It is the only sacred building that preserved its original medieval form and is recognizable by the blue and gold clock on the wall above its entrance. The clock is said to be carved in the 1680’s and the oldest public clock in Tallinn. We paid a small fee to go inside, but it was wellworth to see the main altar, suspended pulpit, choir stalls, pews, and decorative stained glass.

Last but not the least is the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the grandest five black onion-domed Russian Orthodox church was completed on Toompea Hill in 1900, when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire. It is just across the Estonian Parliament. It stands out on Toompea partly because of its massive and richly-coloured design as compared to the pastel-coloured medieval buildings surrounding it. It’s free entry; but since this is a working church, visitors are expected to dress appropriately.

8. Historic buildings

Schloss Kadriorg (Presidential Palace)

The Kiek in de Kok or the cannon tower gives an insight into Estonia’s past and the vast range of defences it used to protect itself. Inside this tower is a museum of the town’s armours, weapons and medieval-era life. This is also the starting point for touring the hidden tunnels that run underneath the Toompea hill. Kiek in de Kök literally means “Peek into the Kitchen.” Due to its high structure, it was a well-recounted joke that medieval guards could see right down the chimneys and into the kitchens of the houses below.

While Estonia has a Parliamentary form of government with their Prime Minister as the head. They also have a President for ceremonial events. We learned from our tour that the President’s Palace is not guarded, and it was true! We ended having photo shoot there.

9. Viewing platforms

things to do in tallinn | viewing platforms

We went to Kohtuotsa and Patkuli vantage points. They are just a short work from each other and two of Tallinn’s many viewing platforms at the Toompea Hill. We were there at the peak of the day and so it was difficult to get the perfect spot for a picture. But once the crowds settled, we had fine views of old and new Tallinn: the red roofs of the Old Town with its ancient walls and towers and the modern Tallinn harbour where you can see ferries travelling to and from Stockholm and Helsinki. We also saw the towers of St Olaf’s Church (which was said to be the tallest structure between the year 1549 to 1625) and Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin.

From the Patkuli viewing platform, we went down around 150 Patkuli steps connecting the Upper Old Town (dominated by Toompea Hill) to the Lower Old Town (with the Town Hall Square as its heart).

The times we had

Prior to this trip, we have not heard so much about Tallinn. Seldom does it appear in travel destinations. But knowing us, we could always turn this trip into something worth our while. And we did it! A visit to this medieval city was a pleasant surprise. It made us realize how truly magical and enchanting Tallinn is. Definitely, worth a return visit!

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