Tallinn – a jewel box undiscovered

St Olav's church and Tallin city walls

I always find it unfair when my backpacker friends tell me how they will travel all over Europe and visit Paris, Madrid, Rome and EVEN Vienna. Of course those destinations are a must when visiting the old continent, but how about the small gems that noone seems to care enough about? This post is dedicated to one of my favorite European cities, Tallinn. With its medieval charm, its touches from the Russian era and in the crossroads of west and east, it is truly an interesting spot to discover.

A large number of visitors don’t fly to Tallinn, but rather take a ferry either from Stockholm or Helsinki. I did that myself and I can only recommend this option. In a few days you can cityhop these nordic gems and if you plan well, not only will you find cheap tickets but your accomodation will also be settled travelling on a night ship. Check out the offers of Viking Line or Tallink here and here.

Raekoja Plats or Townhall square
Townhall square in the center of old town

Once you arrive, head directly to the Townhall Square (or Raekoja Plats). You will feel like Marty McFly travelling back in time. The medieval square boasts 500 year old merchant houses, the old town hall and Europe’s oldest pharmacy operating uninterrupted in the same building for over 5 centuries. What I loved about this square is that any time I visited, there was always something going on. Either a Christmas market, a spring festival, or just a wide selection of restaurants serving local specialties like sprat sandwich or a bear quiche – both amazing by the way. Some tips about what to eat and where to eat here.

After taking some rest, fetch a map in the tourist office and discover the old town. Head north, towards St Olav’s Church. Look for an incredibly tall steeple and you won’t miss it. When its construction finished, actually this building is said to have been the tallest of the world. Inside it is rather a puritane church, but you can climb up the tower and enjoy a fantastic view of Tallinn.

Tallinn city walls and St Olav church
The city walls and St Olav Church from outside old town

From here, following the old city walls could be a good option. Outside the walls, from Towers’ Square you will see one of the symbols of Tallinn, the long line of fortified towers that seem like the set of a fairytale movie. If you keep walking along the park, you can re-enter the old town from the south and reach the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a spectacular orthodox church with its five onion domes. A 100 years ago Estonia was part of the Russian empire, and locals wanted to destroy the church, which for them was a symbol of the Russian opression. Luckily they didn’t, and after Estonia gained its independce, the church was beautifully restored. It is one of my favorite sights and a must see in Tallinn.

Where I remember also spending quite some time are the Patkuli and Kohtuotsa look-out points. The best pictures of the city can surely be taken from these two spots. The citywalls, churches, towers can all be photographed from here, and the sea will serve as a great background to your pictures.

Tallinn old town street with colorful buildings
Winding streets and colorful buildings surprise you along the way

If you have more than one day in Tallinn, make sure to pay a visit to the Kadriorg Palace. It was built for Peter the Great as one of his extravagant residences. Now it houses several museums and the Presidential Palace is situated also in its park. Another trip I also loved was to the Estonian Open Air Museum. Near the seaside, in a forested area a traditional village is showcased for the public where you get to see how local people lived centuries before. There are farms, a church, a school and also a windmill on display. It’s a great location for families as the park offers interesting programs, traditional Estonian food and has designated picnic spots. Nightlife is also great in Tallinn. I will never forget the fantastic feeling of barhopping at around 2 or 3 am with the sun already rising over Tallinn.

If you plan to visit Estonia, here you can find a couple of ideas where else it is worth visiting. Anyways, once organizing a trip to the nordic region make sure not to leave this Baltic gem off your list. It will surely not disappoint anyone arriving with open eyes and hearts.

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Tallinn city center from above