We began our Easter Holiday travels with two nights in Tallinn and we were not disappointed. In fact, we left feeling that everyone should visit the capital of Estonia and we had discovered a hidden gem of Europe. Here are 13 reasons why:
1. Best Preserved Medieval City in Europe
The entire old town of Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Having survived the centuries never being razed and only losing a small section to heavy bombings in World War II, Tallinn is a medieval time capsule. Strolling the streets is like walking back in time 7 centuries – much better than the Renaissance Faire.
2. A Tasty Food Scene
Nothing can beat the ambiance of dining in a 13th century cellar besides delicious and affordable cuisine. Tallinn has a small but delicious food scene that makes your visit savory and sweet. We had two great meals at Põrgu and Väike Rataskaevu – both were winners!
3. Reasonable Prices
Living in Copenhagen for two years, everywhere seems to offer reasonable prices. Still, the euro goes far in Tallinn. We stayed at a 4-star hotel for 60 euro a night, had two highly rated gastropub dinners where mains were 12-15 euro and most of the attractions were 0-3 euro.
4. Good Vibes Only
The atmosphere of the city was one of our favorite parts of the visit. With only 28 years of independence, you found yourself in a country and city with a sense of cultural pride and burgeoning cultural establishment. The stories that we heard from the guides and staff we met had us captivated. Estonians are coming into their own as a country having a window into that process was exciting.
5. Fascinating History
As previously mentioned, the Estonian people have only enjoyed a few decades of independence. The land has been fought over by Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Poland and Russia numerous times over the last 7 centuries. The history lesson that we picked up while completing a walking tour was beyond interesting. One remnant of the Imperial Russian era is this Russian Orthodox Cathedral (Alexander Nevsky Cathedral) that was built across from the Parliament Building as a symbol of Russian victory and influence. When Estonia gained independence the initial reaction was to tear it down, but the beauty of the building prevailed and it stands today.
Freedom Square stands as a reminder to the history and strife of the Estonian people. Estonia enjoyed a very brief period of independence between World War I and World War II where the Freedom Square was established. The Soviet period was the square converted to “Victory Square” and it has since reclaimed the identity of Freedom Square.
6. Barbie’s Dream House
Well at least that’s what one of our tour guides called it. This “salmon colored” building is the parliament building in Tallinn, and across the street from Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The government buildings are atop the hill above the Old Town and make for a great walk around the city.
Our trip included three cities because it is very convenient and easy to add short 2 hour ferry to Helsinki, Finland from Tallinn or an overnight ferry to Saint Petersburg, Russia. The ferry was relaxing, had entertainment and was a pleasant way to travel between cities. Visiting Tallinn is a must, but being able to stretch your trip with either of these two cities makes it an even more attractive destination.
8. Well-Preserved City Walls
The walls surrounding medieval Tallinn took 300 years to build and largely stood the test of time. The walls were about 2.3 kilometers in total and there is about 1.8 kilometers of wall remaining. The city walls add a unique element of character and history to the already beautiful city.
9. Cool “Fish House” Suburbs
We enjoyed the Old Town and even ventured out of the city walls for a few drinks and a nice walk. We loved the hipster vibe of Kalamaja, which translates to “Fish House,” because of it’s history as a 14th century fishing pier. The area was traditionally occupied by fisherman and their families living in cute wooden houses.
10. Hidden Olympic Legacy
A remnant from the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the Tallinn Olympic Yachting Center still sits on the Baltic waterfront. A short 15-20 minute walk from the Old Town, this site is now popular for young people to relax, stretch out and picnic or share a bottle of wine.
11. Tall Hermann
Tall Hermann is a remnant of Toompea Castle sitting in the hill town above Old Town Tallinn. At the top of the tower waves the Estonian flag, which replaced the Soviet flag during the Singing Revolution for Estonian independence from The USSR. The flag atop Tall Hermann is so important because it historically represented the rulers of the land and the Estonian flag has never flown there as long as it has at present, 28 years. Fun fact, the stripes on the Estonian flag symbolize the sky (blue) the soil (black) and hope for a brighter future (white). Our guide also remarked that it sometimes seems like the winter sky, leafless trees and winter snow. You decide!
12. Climb Possibly One-Time Tallest Building in the World
For 3 euro you can climb Saint Olaf’s church tower. It’s a long climb and up a tricky set of spiral stairs. Once you make the ascent, you’re rewarded with fantastic 360 views of the city below and you can see far across the Baltic. When it was built in the 12th century, the citizens of Tallinn hoped the structure would be visible to their Finnish neighbors across the sea – it was not. A controversial assertion, the Estonian people claim that the church was the tallest point in the world from 1549-1625. In 1590 the spire was between 115 and 125 meters tall, but it has been struck by lightening over ten times and subsequently rebuilt. While no one knows for sure, it is a beautiful site from the street and the views from the top are worth the climb and the 3 euro. The Soviets agreed and even used the spire as a radio tower and a KGB surveillance point from 1944-1991.
13. Celebrity Liquor
On the recommendation of our server at Väike Rataskaevu, we tried a delicious after-dinner aperitif that is the side project of a famous Estonian actress, Tiina Tauraite. It was fantastic, and a cool local suggestion to enhance our dining experience.
As we planned our trip to Tallinn (link to our full trip itinerary), we talked to a few people who’ve been there before. Several even messaged us when they saw where we were visiting on social media. No matter the reason, every person who had experienced Tallinn gave the same glowing reviews and said we would love it. They were right – we did. We are excited to plan a return and left some things to come back from like The Singing Grounds, where The Singing Revolution began, Kumu Art Gallery and the Maritime Museum.
There are just some cities in Europe that don’t have the same star-power of Paris, Rome or Amsterdam but they draw you in and make you fall in love. Tallinn did just that, and while it’s not etched in everyone’s must-visit traveler’s notebook, it’s cemented a spot in our wanderlust hearts.