The Old Town of Tallinn
If you were to approach Tallinn by sea, perhaps on a ferry from Finland, you would see the skyline of the Old Town well before you arrived in port. This is by design, planned hundreds of year ago by those who grew the Estonian capital into an economic powerhouse in the Baltics.
The Old Town of Tallinn is set on a hill with the medieval buildings climbing up the slopes in almost every direction. It was founded in the 13th century and grew in size as it grew in wealth.
At the top of the hill, the most important buildings were erected and this is where the political and religious power was wielded. The lower areas were mainly for residential and commercial buildings.
Interestingly, that is still the case today.
One of the reasons the skyline of Tallinn is so recognisable from so far away is because of the number of churches built in the Old Town. Their spires rise up towards the sky from every section.
Not only are they useful for navigators at sea, I’m sure I’m not the only person who has used them to navigate through the winding streets of the city itself.
For a visitor, Tallinn’s historic centre is a dream. It has been extremely well preserved and even the buildings destroyed by war or fire over the years have been faithfully reconstructed.
You can walk through the small streets of colourful houses, sit in the central square with a view of the impressive town hall, visit the churches throughout the town, or even walk along a stretch of the old city wall.
There is this excellent local tour that will give you a good overview of the city. Or there are a few other options to make the most of your visit here:
Much of it is touristy, which is a bit unfortunate but not surprising. There’s the man dressed as a knight busking in the square, the medieval-themed restaurants with serving wenches, plenty of souvenir shops and overpriced cafes.
As I spend a few days here, though, I discover plenty of areas of the Old Town of Tallinn which are much more local.
Smaller restaurants of excellent quality set a bit further back from the main streets, nice spots to sit outside in the sun for a coffee, and even some medieval tourist sights that are virtually empty – they mustn’t be on the itineraries of the tour groups.
The Old Town offers the best vision of Tallinn’s history and its streets, buildings and museums tell the story well of centuries’ of civilisation here.
You can really delve into the medieval history with this good local tour.
But venture just outside the foreboding stone walls and you’ll find an emerging tech scene, vibrant young communities, deep cultural institutions and remnants of the soviet years. (The abandoned Patarei Prison or the Soviet statue graveyard, for instance.)
Those are all stories for another day, though. I have loved my time here in Tallinn and find it to be a beautiful city, rich in offerings with a wonderful blend of historic and modern.
On this trip, I don’t get a chance to see any other parts of Estonia. I do wonder what else is out there and how the rest of the country compares to the capital.
It might be interesting to find out… but I can’t imagine anything competing with the skyline of Tallinn and the streets beneath it.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN TALLINN
Although there’s more affordable accommodation in the suburbs, I recommend staying in the historic centre for the atmosphere.
There’s a great backpacker vibe at Tabinoya – and you can’t beat the location.
If you’re on a budget, I think Hotel Bern is great value for the historic centre.
For a gorgeous boutique experience, I suggest St. Petersbourg Hotel.
And there are a few nice luxury options, but I think Schlössle Hotel is one of the best.