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.
22 thoughts on “Tallinn’s historic centre”
I never knew Tallinn looked so beautiful. I’ve only ever heard about the city from people who went of booze trips from Helsinki. Your posts about the Baltics make me realize there’s a lot to be discovered there. To be honest, the picture of the door on the left gave me the final push to go visit the city. I love colourful doors and windows and the green one looks like something I’ve never seen before! 🙂
Ha – yeah, you always hear about the booze trips but I didn’t see any of that when I was in Tallinn. It was quite a peaceful place, albeit with plenty of cool places to eat and drink.
When I see these photos I’d like to get back to this beautiful place… it’s like stepping into a fairytale.
Yes, it feels a bit like that! I hope you get a chance to go back sometime.
Your photos are very beautiful! Makes me want to visit Tallinn.
Oh, you should! It’s a really cool place. As well as the Old Town, it’s got a really vibrant hip/tech scene emerging.
Do venture into the countryside of Estonia–specifically to the island of Saaremaa. It’s filled with beautiful farms and landscapes (much like Wisconsin where I am.) and the town of Kuuresaar is darling. An old castle, many walking paths and a brand new hotel with an excellent restaurant is what you’ll find there. And–my cousin’s floral shop. 🙂
I love the sound of all of that – especially the floral shop!! 🙂
Seriously, I love hiking and it sounds like there could be some good paths in Estonia. Especially when you can visit a castle on the way and end up in a great restaurant. I look forward to going back and seeing more.
I really enjoyed this post. It’s nice to know that they have stayed true to their history and preserved so much of this beautiful city, and that there are a few local spots to get away from the main tourism-centered areas.
Yeah, it’s certainly not as touristy as it could be or you might expect. Of course there are tourists there but most of the old city is authentic and there are plenty of quiet areas to explore away from the main square, where you see most of the foreign groups.
I’ve always wanted to venture to the Baltics, especially Tallinn. A city with such rich history, I’ve heard all about Tallinn’s medieval mantra. Thanks for sharing. I’m pleased as punch to have fallen onto your travel blog. What is Romanian cuisine like? Cheers from Korea.
Thanks for stopping by! I’ve never been to Romania so I’m not really sure what the food is like there. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to find out – I’ll be sure to let you know!!
This place seems like the town of Robin hood or Hercules. Your photos are alive, these make me a dream to visit there.
Oh yeah, I hadn’t thought about it like that but it does look like the kind of place from a Robin Hood story – I’m just not sure whether he would be stealing from the people here or giving to them? 🙂
This is amazing is a place that you can see history in the buildings
Oh yes indeed. Lots of history and it’s all on display in the buildings!
I kept looking at the pictures and all of them looked like paintings to me. What a phenomenally beautiful place! The whole place seemed tied together like a fairytale. I feel like booking my tickets to this place right now!
Sometimes it felt a bit like walking through a painting, I have to say. There were some beautiful little streets. Hope you get there!!
A beautiful city that is finally getting the attention it deserves. Loved Tallin and especially the people there. Positive, happy and proud.
An awesome city and, yes, quite underrated I think. I don’t know what it is like in the middle of winter (bitterly cold and dark, I imagine) but in the warmer months it has such a great atmosphere and I would happily have spent more time there!
I loved wandering Tallinn! Even though it was winter and freezing when I visited. My favourite city in the Baltics easy.
I really enjoyed your post. Thanks a lot! There is a surprise around every corner, so you can easily spent a day walking around in the old streets and look at the unique old buildings.