The well-preserved Hanseatic buildings, medieval towers, and stunning Gothic churches of Tallinn make it a perfect destination for travelers who want to immerse themselves in history, architecture, and culture.
The capital of Estonia, Tallinn is the largest city (~ 434,000 inhabitants) in the country 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.
Are you planning to visit the capital of Estonia? Here are my top 10 things to do and see in Tallinn.
Where is Tallinn?
Tallinn is located in the northern part of the country, on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland of the Baltic Sea, only 70 km (43 mi) south of Helsinki.
Interesting historical facts about Tallinn
- The area has been settled since the Stone Age, in the 3rd millennium BC.
- In 1050, the first fortress named Lyndanise was built on top of the limestone plateau of Toompea.
- The earliest written mention of Tallinn dates from 1219, after a successful raid of Lyndanisse led by King Valdemar II of Denmark.
- It received city rights under Lübeck law in 1248.
- Tallinn has been the capital of Estonia since 1918.
The top 10 things to do in Tallinn
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 square kilometers (72 acres). 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 in a natural way, without any prior plan.
Town Hall Square
Surrounded by elegant merchant houses, the picturesque Town Hall Square is the main square of Tallinn. In summer, it 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.
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 in 1402 and 1404. 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 meters (210 feet).
Fat Margaret tower
Fat Margaret, attached to the Great Coastal Gate, is one of Tallinn’s most impressive defensive structures. It was built in 1511–1530 to defend the city from the seaward side of town – the cannon tower itself has walls up to 5 meters thick! Since 1981, the Maritime Museum has been housed in the Fat Margaret tower.
The Gothic Church of Saint Olaf
The Church of Saint Olaf, located in the Lower Town, is the biggest medieval structure in Tallinn. The construction began in the early 14th century and was completed in 1330. The height of its tower is over 123 meters (403 feet) – in the Renaissance, it was the world’s tallest building! To get to the tower’s observation platform you have to climb 232 steps.
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 Saint Catherine Dominican monastery that operated here between the 13th and the 16th century. The district features Dominican Monastery Museum, Tallinn City Museum, the prominent Masters Courtyard, and the beautiful Saint Catherine’s Passage.
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.
Saint Nicholas’ Church
Saint Nicholas’ Church is located in the southern part of the Old Town of Tallinn, between the Town Hall Square and the Toompea Hill. It was founded and built around 1230-1275 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.
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.
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 with respect to the ultra-modern architecture. Locals love this area as a place to shop, eat and relax.
I have been to Tallinn three times and have discovered new things every time I go. I admire cities with history and wonderful old architecture, and Tallinn is definitely one of them! A step into Tallinn’s Old Town really is like taking a step back to the Middle Ages.
If you are looking for a nice, small, not too expensive European city to visit for a few days, then I can certainly recommend – Tallinn!
I hope you enjoyed my guide on what to do in Tallinn! Please share it with your friends on your social media. Here are a few more informative and interesting articles that I recommend you read next:
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Have you been to Tallinn? If so, what activities did you enjoy? What do you think of my list? Feel free to post a comment below.