We explored the city of Tallinn as part of a day trip starting from the city of Helsinki. Due to the short distance of these two capitals and the good connections by ferries and even air connections, it is a great opportunity to combine these two cities on a sightseeing trip. Ferry Terminal D is just a 15-minute walk from Tallinn’s Old Town.
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The Old Town of Tallinn – a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Tallinn has about 420,000 inhabitants and is the capital of Estonia. It is located on the Gulf of Finland of the Baltic Sea, about 80 kilometres south of Helsinki. The Old Town was included by UNESCO in 1997 in the World Heritage List as “an exceptionally complete and well-preserved example of a medieval northern European trading town“. Tallinn welcomed us in the best sunny weather – what luck 🙂
The sights in the old town
We wanted to explore the city from the north, so we first passed Fat Margaret’s Tower, which was once built to defend the city from attacks from the sea and is now home to the Estonian Maritime Museum. As soon as we walked through the old city gate, we stood in the middle of cobbled streets and old houses, which give the city a great flair. By the way, this picture runs through the whole old town of Tallinn.
Via the Pikk, a street with a length of about 1.1 km, you can also pass the Town Hall Square, which forms the centre of the old town with the Tallinn Town Hall. There are plenty of restaurants, cafés and souvenir shops in the Town Hall Square. When we were here around noon, there wasn’t much going on, so the place seemed very empty.
At the foot of the Domberg is the Nikolaikirche and the Freiheitsplatz. The square is dedicated to estonia’s independence and is one of the most important squares of the city. Today it is a transport hub and venue for numerous public events. St. Catherine’s Passage at the eastern end of the old town is a small medieval street that connects Vana Street with Müürivahe Street. In the picturesque street there are many small craft shops where artists offer their home-made goods (glassware, hats, quilts, ceramics, jewellery, hand-painted silk, etc.).
The city wall around the old town
Tallinn today has one of the best preserved medieval fortifications in Europe. The old city wall, of which 1.85 kilometres and 26 towers (of original 46) remain today, gives the old town a great charm. There are some ways to climb the wall or look at the towers from the inside. On weekends from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., this option is even available completely free of charge in Laboratooriumi Street in the northwest of the city. Here you can climb the tower Grusbeke Tagune Torn and at least take a small look at a part of the city wall.
The Domberg “Toompea”
A highlight of the city is the Domberg, which is located in the southwestern part of the city centre. At various points you have a beautiful view of the lower town and the sea.
Centrally located on the Domberg is the Tallinn Cathedral, which is kept in all white. A few meters further on, the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is perched on the Palace Square between the Estonian Parliament and the seat of the German Ambassador. The orange-white colour and the 5 onion turrets on which gold-plated iron crosses are located can be seen from afar.
To get back to the lower town from here, you have to walk past the old cannon tower Kiek in de Kök, which houses part of the Tallinn City Museum. Outside the old town there are also some sights to discover. The large Estonia National Opera is located east of the Old Town and is considered one of the most important cultural institutions in Estonia.
Der Kadriorg Park
Another highlight of the city is the Kadriorg Park, which is about 2 km from the old town. With a tram we could drive from the opera directly to the park within 15 minutes. At the tram stop there was a small map on which you can get a first overview of the park. The castle and city park spreads over an area of about 70 hectares and invites you to walk on beautiful days (as today). We first made a round around the swan pond decorated with flower beds and then walked towards the castle.
Kadriorg Castle, or Katharinental Castle, dates back to the Tsarist period and is the tourist magnet throughout the park. With its beautiful park and fountain, it is a popular photo motif. The castle now houses part of the Estonian Art Museum. In the then Russian Empire it was built by Peter the Great for Catherine I. Over the northern part of the park we came to a busy road (Narva maantee). Crossing them, one stands in front of the Russalka monument,which commemorates the sinking of a Russian naval ship in which 177 sailors died. From here it is then only a few meters to the Baltic Sea. We even saw a man who was in the water in the temperatures – crazy!
Shopping in Tallinn
From the beach we walked a good 3 km back into the city to the transport junction Viru Väljak, where the large shopping center Viru Keskus is located.
The view over Tallinn from the Olai Church
At the end of this great day we wanted to see Tallinn again from above. In the northern part of the old town is the Olaikirche, whose then 159 meter high tower was intended as orientation for arriving ships. The church tower was repeatedly struck by lightning over time and burned down several times. The current height of 124 meters dates back to the 16th century. With its height, the church tower still towers over most of Tallinn’s buildings and is still an important landmark of the city. For just 2 euros per person you can climb the church tower from April to October – of course we didn’t want to miss that. Via several spiral staircases we went towards the observation deck. Since there is only one staircase for the ascent and descent, it sometimes became quite narrow. In the bell room of the church you could take a little breather. From here you have to climb a short very steep ladder until you are finally up. And the ascent was definitely worth it, because from up here you have a fantastic view of the old town, the Domberg and the harbour.
Around 6.30 p.m. we walked comfortably from the old town back to the ferry terminal, from where our ferry M/S Superstar departed from Tallink towards Helsinki.