Qalaven, Kesoniemi, Reval
Although this is currently my second time in this city, it was very long since the first time, hence actually glad to be back to one of the most charming place in Europe. Not the best weather in this occasion though. From what was a perfect summer time was back in 2005 to really winter this time. We could not even believe that almost in April, there was still -5 degrees with the feeling at much lower, and the Baltic Sea entirely frozen. One for another, having the chance to have seen the city during these two different seasons was already a plus, enhance for being able to admire the sea completely frozen as my eyes could reach, that was a first in my life!.
When planning your time here, the good news is that two days are good enough to visit everything. The Baltic capitals are in general small and perfect for a weekend trip, or if on a wider tour, still 2 days at each is perfect when talking about cities like Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius or Helsinki. To make things even better, once you are in the Upper or Lower town, you will get to see everything on foot. Most of the streets are pedestrian only, extremely compact and the whole of it listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. One can hardly see any damage from WWII, thankfully it retained what is now one of the best preserved medieval old towns in Europe.
The city walls are so well preserved, and so the many towers that when viewed from the upper town it’s more like a truly fairy tale city. So many towers raising, together with the many churches spires and all right at the footstep of the Baltic Sea not far ahead.
Easy to see is the great wealth this city once had and gained from the strategic position at the Gulf of Finland, positioning itself as one of the greatest and most important ports of the Hanseatic League. Nowadays it is sometimes referred as the Silicon Valley of Europe with plenty of companies growing and consolidating yet still hosting the largest number of startups per person in Europe. A company out of the many you will immediately know, however you would not imagine it was born in Estonia, is Skype. Plenty others in banking, manufacturing, retail, energy, logistics and of course, tourism have made the city and the country very successful ever since.
With regards to food and drink you will find great local places around Town Hall Square. One that is highly recommended is III Draakon, but expect long queues. If that’s the case, literally around the corner you have many other great places serving really nice food at fair prices. Surprisingly this city is quite exceptional in the sense that places are not over-rated nor unnecessarily expensive. To drink do not think hard, beer of course, is another of their great specialties, and so the strong spirits. If you want to get nice chocolates then your very best bet is Kalev. Good chocolate is known in all of the Baltic countries and Kalev is the prime Estonian brand.
For more information about the city visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Latvia’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Tallinn
In a city where pretty much every building is heritage listed, with a huge portion and the entire old town listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site it becomes difficult to enumerate sights on their own. I could take every building if by doing so, hence here I mostly cover both the Upper and Lower Town with their most representative sights.
- Toompea (Upper Town) On the hill towards the west overlooking the lower town and rest of the city, easy accessible from anywhere in town. It is one of the must see areas. Hills up and down, the views from the many viewing points on the higher streets are the best.
-Toompea Castle At the highest point of the hill, is one of the oldest structures in Tallinn, although extensively rebuilt and restored over the time. It’s the current Estonian Parliament.
-Toompark Right at the other side of the castle, designed in semi-circular shape following the trace of the city walls, is the main park in the city. The views towards the castle above and the walls is quite impressive from this area.
-Alexander Nevsky Cathedral The main and largest Orthodox site in the city. Located opposite the Castle, facing each others. Completed in 1900, in Russian Revival style.
-Toom-Kooli Street One of the principal arteries in a north-south axis.
-St Mary’s Cathedral Toomkirk in Latvian, from where the name of the area derives. North from the Toompea Castle along the main street Toom-Kooli. Built in the 13th century by the Danes, it is the oldest structure to have survived the 17th century fire that devastated most of Tallinn.
-Stenbock House Is the seat of the government of Estonia. Located farther north after Saint Mary’s, on the city walls edge.
- All-linn (Lower Town) Just “below” the upper town is where you will find some of the most impressive and historical landmarks of the city.
-Pikk Jalg (Long Leg) The main thoroughfare crossing the lower Town and connecting it with the Upper Town right by the Long Leg Tower and beyond terminating by the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
-Fat Margaret Tower Right by the beginning of the Pikk, one of the widest cannon towers from the old fortifications, nowadays part of the Maritime Museum.
-St Olaf’s Church Hosting the tallest spire for a church in the city creating a great part of the famous city skyline when viewed from the distance.
-House of the Brotherhood of Blackheads The oldest standing house to have survived almost intact to our days.
-Great Guild Hall Built in the 14th century in Gothic style, nowadays the Estonian History Museum.
-Maiasmokk Cafe Located in the ground floor of the yellow building in between the Great guild and the Holy Ghost Church. The oldest still operational cafe in Estonia, from 1864.
-Church of the Holy Ghost Opposite the Great Guild and just a block north of the Town Hall Square. Dating from the 13th century medieval times.
-Lai Street Parallel to Pikk and starting at the same point the Fat Margaret Tower, terminating at the edges of the Upper Town. Lots of medieval and buildings of all eras along it.
-Laboratooriumi Running parallel to the city’s walls, this narrow street is one of the greatest to enjoy the views and architecture. It starts by St Olaf’s Church.
-Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square) The main square in the city and major sight itself with fine buildings all around, plenty of cafes and restaurants.
-Town Hall The oldest across the entire Baltic area and Scandinavia. Designed in Gothic style. Notice the vane of Old Thomas at the top of the tower, one of the symbols of the city since it was placed in 1530. Of course the one you see there is the replica, the original is guarded in the basement.
-St. Nicholas’ Church South from the Town Hall Square. Another of the best known landmarks in the city’s skyline. Although much destroyed during the WWII, it was rebuilt and now used as a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia.
-Viru Street The major street cutting in a west to east axis the lower town from near the Town Hall Square and St Nicholas’s Church towards the easternmost walls and city’s gates.
-Viru Gate The most symbolic of the ancient city’s gates to the Old Town, it is greatly preserved among the walls at both sides.
-St. Catherine’s Passage Between the walls is this narrow brick passage, another of the famous stamps of the city. If you head north from the Viru Gate just by the walls, you’ll reach this place.
- Kadriorg East of the Lower Town, characterised by elegant parks and broad avenues as contracts to the old town areas. Large shopping malls and an overall wealthy neighbourhood.
-Tammsaare Park Right outside of the city walls near the Viru Gare, The largest green area in this area, opening to other grand buildings and more landscaped gardens.
-Estonian National Opera Imposing building from 1913 along the southwest side of the Tammsaare.
-Estonian Drama Theatre Next to the Opera, completed in 1910 in German jugendstil (art-nouveau).
-Kadriorg Palace Easily accessible by tram or bus this is a beautiful Petrine Baroque style construction with nice gardens built for Catherine I of Russia in 1718.
-Presidential Palace Right behind the Kadriorg Palace, with the beautiful gardens in between both.
- Pirita Convent Located farther along the coast after Kadriorg, you can access by bus or tram. Built in 1417, now the outer walls is all that remains with beautiful gardens, and specially beautiful when snowed.
Tallinn International Airport is barely 5 kilometres southwest from the city centre, hence very simple and easy to reach day and night no matter when. The airport bus, easily spotted from outside the arrivals terminal building goes through to downtown with convenient stops along the way, every 15 minutes or less.
Coming overland from elsewhere in the country is nowadays easy and comfortable due to new upgraded transport system, however can be lengthily from neighbouring countries as Latvia and Lithuania, and especially Russia due to the very strict border. In the other hand there is a country right across the narrow Baltic stripe opposite Tallinn which can sometimes be consider as the twin city, Helsinki in Finland. Day trippers in both directions is constantly, and a great way to explore both cities thanks to the frequent and rather cheap ferry options available,
Within the city there is a wide fleet of trams, trolleys and buses covering absolutely every possible corner of the city and beyond all the neighbourhoods; yet the good news, all within the UNESCO old town and the surrounding new town is mostly pedestrian friendly with short distances in between. The need for any public transportation over here is none.
There is a good choice of big and small properties, mainly as it’s the capital city of the country and because Tallinn it is a major tourist destination and what is becoming the small Silicon Valley of Northern Europe. Finding a good deal is not difficult. Unfortunately I misplaced the booking confirmation email for this hotel and cannot remember the name hence cannot really recommend you any particular one. As usual anyway, a good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo or Ebookers.