The well-preserved Hanseatic buildings, medieval towers, and stunning Gothic churches of Tallinn make the city a perfect destination for travelers who want to immerse themselves in history, architecture, and culture.
The area of Tallinn has been settled since the Stone Age, in the 3rd millennium BC. In the 11th century, the first fortress named Lyndanise was built on top of the limestone plateau of Toompea. The earliest written mention of the city dates from 1219, after a successful raid of Lyndanisse led by King Valdemar II of Denmark. Tallinn received city rights under Lübeck law in 1248; it has been the capital of Estonia since 1918.
Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia and the 23rd largest capital in the European Union. It has close historical ties with Helsinki (Finland), Stockholm (Sweden), and Saint Petersburg (Russia). In 1997, the astonishingly well preserved Tallinn Old Town became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
The daily and artistic life of Tallinn takes place in streets and quarters full of historical monuments. Let’s explore the 10 best things to do in the capital of Estonia.
1. The Lower Town
The medieval Lower Town, or All-linn, is located around Town Hall Square, between Toompea hill and the harbor. It has an area of 0.3 km² (0.1 sq mi).
The site was a separate political entity governed by the Lübeck law and mainly inhabited by city dwellers, merchants, and craftsmen. The structure of the Lawer Town streets formed naturally, without any prior plan.
2. Town Hall Square
Surrounded by elegant merchant houses, the picturesque Town Hall Square is the main square of Tallinn. In summer, it is packed with cafe tables; in winter, it becomes home to a colorful Christmas Market – in 2019, Tallinn Christmas Market was named the best Christmas market in Europe! – and the town’s Christmas tree.
3. Tallinn Town Hall
The Tallinn Town Hall is the oldest surviving town hall in the Baltic and Nordic states. It is located on the south side of the square. The Gothic building was erected at the very beginning of the 15th century.
The hall is open to visitors as a concert venue and a museum, where you can get to know the historical and architectural value of this stunning medieval edifice. It is possible to climb up into the Tower and see the city from a different angle. Its height is 64 m (210 ft).
4. Fat Margaret tower
Fat Margaret, attached to the Great Coastal Gate, is one of Tallinn’s most impressive defensive structures. It was built in the first half of the 16th century to defend the city from the seaward side of town – the cannon tower itself has walls up to 5 m (16 ft) thick! Since 1981, the Maritime Museum has been housed in the Fat Margaret tower.
5. Gothic Church of St. Olaf
The height of its tower is over 123 m (403 ft) – in the Renaissance, it was the world’s tallest building! To get to the tower’s observation platform you have to climb 232 steps.
6. Medieval Latin Quarter
The area at the end of Vene street, right in the core of Old Town, became known as the “Latin Quarter” thanks to the presence of St. Catherine Dominican monastery that operated here between the 13th and the 16th century.
The district features Dominican Monastery Museum, Tallinn City Museum, the prominent Master’s Courtyard, and the beautiful St. Catherine’s Passage.
7. Maiden’s Tower and Kiek in de Kök
Kiek in de Kök is a stout, five-story cannon tower. It is 38 m (125 ft) high and has walls 4 m (13 ft) thick. The Maiden’s Tower – a medieval prison for prostitutes – is a part of the Kiek in de Kök Fortification Museum. Both of these towers date back to the 15th century.
8. St. Nicholas Church
St. Nicholas Church is located in the southern part of the Old Town of Tallinn, between Town Hall Square and Toompea Hill. It was built in the 13th century by German merchants from the island of Gotland.
Today it houses the Niguliste Museum, a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia, where ecclesiastical art can be enjoyed in its historical context.
9. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral
The spectacular, onion-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the largest Orthodox cathedral in Tallinn. It was built on the Toompea hill between 1894 and 1900. Its Russian Revival design belongs to Mikhail Preobrazhensky, a well-known Russian architect born in Vabalninkas, Lithuania (that time in the Russian Empire). In 1995, the building was entered in the State Register of Cultural Monuments of Estonia.
10. Rotermann Quarter
The Rotermann Quarter is a former industrial district located in the heart of Tallinn between the Old Town, the port, and Viru Square.
The old factories have been renovated here concerning the ultra-modern architecture. Locals love this area as a place to shop, eat, and relax.
Tallinn is located on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, 80 km (50 mi) south of Helsinki. Geographically and culturally, it is part of Northern Estonia.
I have been on vacation in Tallinn several times, also visited this northern beautiful city a couple of times to take a ferry to Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Tallinn, although small, has many Gothic features, which makes it always interesting and beautiful. I recommend visiting this city in the summer, especially in August, as it is located on the shores of the Baltic Sea and has excellent sandy beaches.
I hope you enjoyed my 10 best things to do in Tallinn post. If you like European cities with a unique atmosphere and historical heritage, here are a few more posts that I recommend you read next:
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