If Disney had to built a medieval village, I’m pretty sure they would use Tallinn as the sample: With its narrow, winding cobblestone streets, plazas with church spires and castle towers overlooking the surroundings, you couldn’t find a more perfect little town. The old heart of Tallinn has been lovingly restored and shows little sign of decades of neglect during the Soviet era. Add in friendly people, great food and beautiful summer weather and it’s almost surprising that it hasn’t been completely overrun by visitors and remains a great place to enjoy on a trip!
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, has been “on my list” for a long time: I’d heard good things ever since the iron curtain fell and Estonia eventually joined the EU. It became one of the key stones of my Baltic Explorer trip and I was excited to go. I arrived from Helsinki by ferry – I love arriving in a city by sea even more than overland: It’s wonderful to see a city slowly take shape in front of you! And while the city of more than 400,000 people is spread out along the Baltic Sea, the old town is very compact making it great to explore on foot!
And the Old Town is where you will likely spend most of your time: A lot of the historic sights and museums are there, giving you a lot to see and do. While the little, winding alleys can be confusing, don’t worry. The Old Town (see my map) is so small that you can easily just let yourself get lost and wander around. Just follow your whims, check out the beautiful, old buildings and many churches or old castle towers. Whenever you get tired or hungry, a cafe or restaurant will never be far and you can sit and relax. If you want some peace and quiet, you can relax in one of the few parks around the town. Or, if you are lucky enough to stay for a few days, just follow some of the alleys away from the major squares, and notice how quickly the tourists fade away, giving you a chance to relax in a sidewalk cafe with a good book or paper and watch life go by… It’s especially nice in the Old Town in the early evening, after the day visitors go back to their cruise ships and ferries, leaving the streets to the locals and overnight guests, making for a calm and unhurried experience, especially on long summer evenings!
If you have a slightly more active day in mind, there are a lot of museums that deserve your attention. From the City Museum that provides an introduction to life in a medieval town and the specifics of Tallinn and the Kiek in de Kok providing background on the old fortification, to the modern history during World War II and the Soviet era at the Museum of Occupations, all the way to modern art, you have a few choices.
If you are looking to go shopping or pamper yourself at a Spa, all the modern conveniences are available just outside the old town in the modern business center of the city. You’ll find malls as well as the Kalev Spa & Pool to relax after a lot of walking in town.
It’s wonderful to see a city that has restored its history – the Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site – and make it so easily accessible. As part of the EU Schengen and Euro zone, there are no passport controls or need to change currency when arriving from elsewhere in the EU. It’s easy to visit no a day trip from Helsinki or other Baltic neighbors or on a cruise, but I’d encourage to stay a little longer and enjoy this beautiful, quiet town for a little longer – you’ll be glad you did!