Destination Estonia: why not choose… Tallinn?
This seaside city full of contrasts is sometimes compared with Helsinki, and sometimes with other European cities. But Tallinn is a unique city with its own personality and a surprisingly rich history. Discover all the facets of this picturesque yet modern city, on a tour through the ages.
Historical and architectural treasures
Start your tour of Tallinn in the beautiful Town Hall Square, which has been the unchallenged centre of the city’s social life for eight centuries. Look for the circular stone in the middle of the square that is decorated with a wind rose. The impressive Town Hall, with its 64-metre high belfry, the beautiful stone Middle Age houses and one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe, all make the square a particularly picturesque place. This medieval charm and the mysterious narrow winding streets of the old city act as a magnet for visitors.
Visit Saint Catherine’s church, then take the street of the same name, which is probably the most beautiful thoroughfare in the old city. Nowhere else in the city of Tallinn combines creativity and the medieval atmosphere in such harmony.
The numerous viewing platforms offer some magnificent views of the city. Make sure you don’t miss the Kohtuotsa viewing platform. The view of the ramparts from the Patkuli, or Tower Square, viewing platform is even more impressive. The ramparts add to the charm of the city and help to create the fairytale-like atmosphere.
The Kalamaja district in the west of the city is home to many wooden houses that used to be inhabited by fishermen. But today, the quarter has been invaded by hipsters. History lovers will enjoy a visit to the seaplane harbour, which tells the fascinating story of Estonia’s maritime and military history.
You should also visit the ultramodern Rotermanni quarter, to the east of the old city. This former industrial park has been converted into a vibrant shopping and cultural centre and its avant-garde architecture is the perfect symbol of the reinvention of Tallinn in recent years.
Slightly further east, in Kadriorg, the magnificent baroque Katharinenthal Palace houses the Museum of Fine Arts. A must for all art lovers.
And just when you think that you have seen everything there is to see in Tallinn, take a walk along the breathtakingly beautiful Pirita promenade.
Top 10 Must-Sees
The Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin: originally built before 1233, this church has been reconstructed several times and now represents a mixture of architectural styles. The vaulted knave dates back to the 14th century, while the baroque tower was added in the 1770s. Climb up the steps of the 69-metre high baroque bell tower to enjoy a splendid panoramic view of the city.
Saint Catherine’s Passage: this narrow passage between Vene and Müürivahe streets is particularly picturesque. It is the home of the Saint Catherine’s Guild and different shops where craftsmen exercise their traditional trades. You can admire the work of these traditional craftsmen, who sell glassware, hats, eiderdowns, ceramics, jewels and painted silk.
The Estonian History Museum: housed in the 15th century Great Guild Hall, this museum depicts the history of Estonia, from prehistoric times to the end of the 20th century. The life, combats and survival of the inhabitants over the last 11,000 years are exhibited in films and interactive slide shows.
The Town Hall Pharmacy: first opened in 1422, this curious store on the corner of the Town Hall Square is Europe’s oldest pharmacy, and has remained in activity since the day it opened. In the Middle Ages, it sold many curious remedies, such as snake skin potion, mummy juice, unicorn horn powder to boost men’s virility, as well as produce such as jam, tea and wine.
The Tallinn Ramparts: Tallinn boasts some of the best preserved medieval fortifications in Europe. The ramparts were started in 1265, but the current walls date back to the 14th century. At the height of the city in the 16th century, the ramparts were 2.4 kilometres long and measured between 14m and 16m in height and 3m in thickness. The city walls also had 46 towers. Today, 1.9km of the ramparts and almost half of the towers are still standing over the old city centre.
The Kohtuotsa viewing platform: situated at the eastern corner of Toompea hill, this spacious platform offers some unforgettable views of the medieval city, against the backdrop of the more modern districts. From here, you can see most of Tallinn’s church towers, and even the TV tower that rises in the distance. This viewing platform is a favourite spot for photographers.
Katharinenthal Palace and the Museum of Fine Arts: built in the baroque style in 1718 by Peter the Great for his wife Catherine 1st, this grandiose palace and its refined gardens are a fine example of the extravagance of the Czars. Today, it houses the Museum of Fine Arts, with hundreds of paintings by western and Russian masters from the 16th to the 20th century, as well as engravings and sculptures.
The Song Festival Grounds: in 1988, it was here that the Singing Revolution started, a powerful musical protest against the Soviet regime that propelled Estonia onto the road to independence. Every five years, the Festival of Song and Dance takes place in these grounds, in the presence of up to 34,000 performers and 200,000 spectators.
The Seaplane Harbour: this harbour, in the Kalamaja district, tells the fascinating story of Estonia’s maritime and military history. The museum’s main attractions include the 600-tonne Lembit submarine that saw active service in the Soviet navy in the Second World War, and a life-sized replica of a Short Type 184 pre-war British seaplane.
The Viimsi Peninsula: this rocky peninsula, just 15km from the centre of Tallinn, is a haven for lovers of nature and history. Walkers and cyclists will love the superb pathways, while the Estonian War Museum and the Viimsi Open-Air Museum, in a traditional seaside farm, offer plenty of opportunities to discovery the country’s history.
Seasonal tastes and savours
With the spring come rhubarb, radishes and goat’s cheese, while a favourite in the summer is a salad of fromage frais, tomatoes and cucumber, accompanied by new potatoes. The woods bear their fruits - strawberries, raspberries and cranberries - in the autumn, when the orchards are also full of apples, plums and pears. In the winter, traditional stews and soups made with peas, beans and cabbage and smoked meats, and pork and barley sauerkraut are enough to satisfy any appetite.
February: The opeNBaroque baroque music festival, On the occasion of this festival, numerous world famous Estonian artists come to pay homage to baroque music.
May to August: The Tallinn International Organ Festival. This is the Estonia’s oldest festival. Every year, it attracts the world’s greatest organists. The concerts take place in the churches in the old city, such as Kihlekonna church, famous for its 200-year old organ.
July: Õllesummer - the summer beer festival. The largest festival of its kind in Estonia, indeed in all the Baltic States. This open-air festival takes place on the esplanade of the Lauluväljak. It is an opportunity to taste all kinds of beers.
Every five years: Laulupidu (the song festival). On the occasion of this great celebration that takes place every 5 years, choirs and dance groups come from all over the country to produce an unforgettable show. Like the equivalent events in Riga and Vilnius, this festival has been listed as part of the UNESCO immaterial world heritage.
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