Spend a day in an authentic medieval milieu and you will soon realise why so many visitors have described Tallinn Old Town as mystic, addictive and mesmerising. Unlike other any capital city in Europe, Tallinn has managed to wholly preserve its structure of medieval and Hanseatic origin. Here you'll find original cobblestone streets dotted with medieval churches and grandiose merchant houses, barns and warehouses some of which date back as far as the 11th century. Tallinn Old Town today is still very much alive and kicking, with numerous quality restaurants, bars, design shops and galleries making it a bustling centre loved by locals and visitors alike.
Every stone tells a story
Powerful defensive structures have protected Tallinn from being destroyed in countless wars, and its lack of wooden buildings has kept the fire damages low. It is also crucial that Tallinn has not been massively rebuilt or ‘improved’ in the interest of modernising the town and sacrificing the old. In the year 1997, Tallinn Old Town became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and is often referred to as the “medieval pearl of Europe”.
Tallinn Old Town itineraries
Whether you have only a couple hours for a quick stroll or a few days to explore the hidden courtyards and sightseeing spots, there is plenty to see and do. Everything is easily accessible on foot, though you might like to try the tour-train Vana Toomas or a bike-taxi Velotakso, both offering a fun ride for children as well as adults.
One of the places you won’t be able to miss while strolling the centre is the Town Hall Square. Even after 7 centuries, it still continues to serve as the heart of Tallinn. During the summer, Town Hall Square hosts several outdoor cafes, concerts and fairs, and in December is transformed into a charming Christmas Market that has made it to the top of many reputable christmas market listings.
Town Hall at Town Hall Square is the only fully intact Gothic town hall in Northern Europe, and now operates as a museum and a concert hall. On top of the Town Hall tower, you will see a famous vane picturing the historic guard of Tallinn Old Town – Vana Toomas. The oldest continuously working pharmacy in Europe, tiny Raeapteek, is located right across the square. According to a medieval legend, the pharmacy is a birthplace of marzipan, a sweet loved accross the world. Raekoja square is famous for another historical fact: this is where the first ever Christmas tree stood in 1441, a tradition that soon took the Christian world by storm.
To capture the medieval spirit, follow the route along the old city walls including 26 watch towers. Should you have only few minutes to spare, stop by the narrow Müürivahe street (near Viru gates) where the ancient wall is preserved in its original form. You’ll know the place by sales desks of beautiful wool handicraft, where you can buy unique souvenirs for your family and friends at home.
Also among the must-see-sights in Tallinn Old Town are the many churches. While they might not be detailed enough to compete with world’s famous cathedrals, they provide a much more intimate and spiritual experience.
On 15th and 16th century, St. Olaf’s Church (Oleviste) with it’s 159m high tower was the highest building in the world. These days, St Olaf’s Church continues as an active Baptist church while its viewing platform offers a panoramic view over the city, and is definitely the most unique sightseeing spot in Old Town.
St. Nicholas’ Church (Niguliste), near Raekoja square, is dedicated to fishermen and sailors. Originally built on 13th century, it suffered greatly in Soviet bombing and after restoration continues as an art museum and concert hall. The church is famous for its one-of-a-kind wall painting by Bernt Notke. “Dance Macabre” (Dance of Death) is estimated to bare a value of over a billion dollars.
Walk up the hill to Toompea and you will be greeted by the biggest Orthodox church in Tallinn, Aleksand Nevsky Cathedral boasting golden onion roof-tops and luxurious interiors. These days, it is not obligatory for women to cover their hair when entering the church, but it is considered a gesture of respect.
Toompea Castle is a home to Estonian parlament and the nearby Stenbock house is where Estonian prime minister’s office is located.
Patkuli and Kohtuotsa viewing platforms in Toompea are always open to the public and provide great vantage points to admire Tallinn Old Town and Tallinn coastline in their entirety.
Whether you have only few hours to spare or a couple of days to walk around, Tallinn's Old Town is beautiful and enchanting during all seasons. Be sure to enjoy the outdoor cafés during the summer season and cosy cellar cafes during the winter, enjoying chocolate in its many tasty forms.