Time flies when you’re having fun – it’s already been a few weeks since I spent 2.5 days in Estonia. Half of that time I spent visiting Estonia’s capital: Tallinn. It’s not really the best known city trip destination yet, but that definitely has to change! What a beautiful medieval city! I took the ferry to get there from Helsinki, which cost me about €35 for a trip that took two hours. From the harbour you can make your way into the city center of Tallinn in no time. Because of the small size, you won’t need more than a day, day and a half to visit Tallinn. Here are the top 9 things to do in Tallinn, Estonia’s gorgeous medieval capital.
Sightseeing in Tallinn
I’ve been to many medieval cities, but Tallinn really ranks high! It has a beautifully preserved, old city center. It’s like wandering around in a fairytale! No wonder the Old Town is on the Unesco World Heritage list. Tallinn dates back to the 13th century, when a castle was being built by knights from the Teutonic Order. Tallinn’s history is actually quite complex. Our guide gave us a short summary: “Basically someone else conquered us every twenty years.” Tallinn was a very rich harbor city in the Medieval times, because of its location at the Baltic Sea, in between Scandinavia and Russia, which allowed for lots of trading.
This square, often referred to as the Town Hall Square, is the central point of Tallinn. For centuries now, this is the place where life happens in Old Town. You can find the city hall on this square, built in 1322, and one of the proudest things in Estonian history is the Christmas tree that stands here every winter, and has been standing here every year since 1441! According to my guide, this makes Tallinn the first city ever with a Christmas tree. You’ll also find a lot of restaurants and cafes here, and it’s a great place to start your discovery of the city.
St Nicholas Church
This church, built in 1230, used to be Roman Catholic a long time ago, but was turned into a Lutheran church later on. The St Nicholas Church and surrounding buildings got hit pretty badly by bombs during World War II, and most buildings were completely destroyed, but the church was eventually rebuilt. The adjacent square used to be full of houses, but those were never rebuilt. Eventually the church was turned into a museum.
This is one of the cutest places in Tallinn, a square completely dedicated to artisans. It’s filled with workshops and little shops, and during summer you can sit down at one of the many terraces.
St. Catherine’s Passage
Me and my fellow blogger Derek were wandering around the city center of Tallinn when we randomly took a left and suddenly ended up in St Catherine’s Passage: a wonderful medieval passage underneath stone arches. Back in the day, you would find workshops by artisans here too, and you can still buy all sorts of things here.
Kohtuotsa viewing platform
One of the most beautiful spots in the city: a viewing platform! Not only is it perfect for taking some Instagram worthy selfies; it also offers you a view of the historical city center, you can count the church tops, and on your left you’ll even see the ferries and cruise chips docking in the harbour.
Kiek in de Kök
If you happen to know some Dutch and might think this name sounds a bit Dutch: you’re not too far off! This is actually the Low German (Nederduits) name for this tower, which means as much as “a peek into the kitchen”, because visitors of the tower could look directly into the kitchens of the surrounding houses. It’s possible to climb this tower, which was built in 1475.
You could also climb the city walls of Tallinn, to give you a new sense of the city. It’s actually the city wall with its many towers (26, to be exact) that gives Tallinn its typical, medieval look that it’s so famous for. Nowadays there’s still 1.85 kilometer of city wall left, after it got strengthened in 1300 to protect the city for outside attacks (judging by the history of the many conquerers, it didn’t help much…).
St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Personally, this was my favorite church in Tallinn, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m quite a fan of the architecture of Russian Orthodox churches. Estland is located right next to Russia and even belonged to Russia for quite some time, so it’s not a surprise to find some Russian churches here. The church dates back to 1900 and when Estonia declared independency in 1920 there were actually plans to demolish the church, because to many inhabitants the church was a symbol for the suppression by Russia. There wasn’t enough money to demolish the church though, so in the end it stayed. And we’re quite happy it did :-)
Hotel in Tallinn
I stayed at the luxurious Three Sisters Hotel in Tallinn, which has a great central location inside the city walls. I had a wonderful suite with a balcony and a vide with my bed on it. The boutique hotel is located inside a beautiful historic building and looks like it walked straight off the pages of a design magazine. The breakfast was amazing too! Highly recommend it :)
What are your best tips for a city trip to Tallinn?
I was in Tallinn as part of NBE Finland, by invitation of Visit Estonia. I obviously only recommend things I personally use and choose as well.