Tallinn – Introduction
Tallinn is the capital city of Estonia and an ideal holiday destination if you want to combine the comforts of modern world, versatile nightlife and luxurious adventures with rich cultural scene, historic settings and making the most of your travel.
Tallinn is also the largest city in Estonia where almost 1/3 of the inhabitants of Estonia live. Tallinn with its beautiful Old Town is located by the Gulf of Finland and is the window to the world for Estonia – from the Port of Tallinn ships depart to Helsinki, Stockholm, Sint-Petersburg, etc., Tallinn Airport connects Estonia with the most important airports in Europe.
The history of Tallinn dates back to the 12th century when the city was first mentioned by the Arab geographer al-Idris under the name of Kolyvan. In the 13th century Tallinn was conquered by the Danes who called the city by the name it has today. For centuries Tallinn passed from one conqueror to another – the city has been ruled by the Germans, Swedes, and Russians.
Tallinn – Old Town
Tallinn Old Town is not just a boring museum district you can find everywhere in the world. The Old Town is a natural part of the city, home to both local people and tourists. It has a vivid nightlife and a lot to discover during daytime as well.
Town Hall and Town Hall square
Everyone wandering around the streets of the Old Town will finally end up in the Town Hall Square – centre of the city life. There is one special stone among the cobblestones of the Town Hall Square – this is considered as the belly button of Tallinn. From there you can see all the oldest church towers. In past centuries the Town Hall Square functioned as the centre of city life in another way. It was a place for trading and discussing issues of the city, having big parties and punishing criminals. Tallinn Town Hall is the only preserved Gothic town hall in Northern Europe. The Town Hall was used by city government as early as in 1284, when the Danish king Erik IV Plovpenning (Plow Money) gave the citizens of Tallinn “all rights that citizens of Lübeck had“.
Old Town Streets
Viru, Harju and Vene Streets and the Town Hall Square are undoubtedly most crowded during summer. On the other hand you can enjoy the Old Town in a rather private way. Especially romantic solitude can be experienced walking on Pühavaimu or Laboratooriumi Street, where you meet only a few people even during the high season. This makes the streets of Tallinn exciting and emotionally varied.
Accoring to a legend, Toompea (the Upper Town) is the burial place of Kalev, father of the Estonian national epic’s hero Kalevipoeg. The hill was created by Kalev’s wife Linda. Thus the original historic name of Toompea: Lindanisa. Starting from the 9th century a wooden stronghold stood on the hill. In the 13th century it was conquered by the Teutonic Order that built its stone stronghold there – a local administrative centre. Ever since, Toompea has been the centre of power of Estonia. The symbol of Toompea is a corner tower of its castle – a 50-metre high Tall Hermann, which holds the most important national flag of Estonia.
Tallinn City Walls
Following the example of Visby, building of Tallinn City Wall started in the 13th century. The work was completed in three centuries. The wall was one of the strongest town defence systems of its time in Northern Europe. The circle of the wall had a final length of 2.35 km and 35 guarding towers. The ancient defence system has lasted until now, having 26 guarding towers and a lenght of observable wall of 1.85 km. Many on-ground parts of the wall continue their existence as walls of houses.
St. Olaf’s Church
The silhouette of Tallinn is special due to several beautiful and highly valued churches. The first position could be given to St. Olaf’s Church. Its 159 m tower made it the highest building in the world through 1470–1625.
St. Nicolas’ Church
St. Nicolas’ Church is especially valued because of the exhibition of a very rare seven and a half metre long fragment of canvas of the “Death Dance“ by Bernt Notke.Very little has remained of the work of the famous 15th century painter and woodcarver from Lübeck, one of the most spectacular representatives of late Gothic style in Northern Europe.
Guilds – Hanseatic league
Guilds founded as early as the 14th century were the most powerful organisations unifying the citizens. Also the buildings of the former guilds – the Great Guild Hall (now the Estonian History Museum) and the House of the Brotherhood of Blackheads – have a symbolic meaning in Tallinn Old Town. The Canute Guild Hall has become a centre of modern dance and other performance arts.
Raeapteek – Oldest Pharmacy in Europe
Raeapteek in Tallinn has been open for almost six centuries being the oldest permanently active pharmacy in Europe. You can still buy a glass of claret there – spiced wine prepared following the medieval recipe. According to our modern understandings medieval pharmacies also functioned as bars, clubs and convenience stores. People drank wine and enjoyed conversations with other customers, you could buy paper and ink, tobacco and gun powder, and Raeapteek even offered marzipan.
Tallinn – City Districts worth visiting
The Kadriorg park and baroque palace (1725) were founded by Russian emperor Peter the Great, who gave them to his wife Catherine I, naming the complex after her(Katharinenthal). In 1938 the palace complex was complemented by a neo-baroque presidential palace that until now functions as the so called “White House“ of Estonia.
But Kadriorg is not only a location for this baroque palace. It is the most prestigious park with its much-loved Swan Pond, age-old indigenous trees and baroque flower gardens. Kadriorg also features the monument of Russalka and the modern Estonian art museum – KUMU-.
The Estonian Art Museum, KUMU (abbrevation for “Eesti KunstiMuuseum”) sits since 2006 on the south edge of Kadriorg, near the presidential palace, blended into the limestone glint and stands as the most modern art museum in the Nordic countries, functioning as a heart for Estonian art life. KUMU was designed by a Finnish architect, Pekka Vapaavuori, who won the competition in 1994. Not to mention the constantly renewing content, the art museum is an architectural landmark per se. In 2008 the museum was named European Museum of the Year.
At the eastern edge of the Kadriorg Park are the Song Festival grounds (“lauluväljak”) located. The Song Festival Grounds adorned with a monumental stage gave birth to the Singing Revolution – an important factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union. The real function of the stage is to host joint choirs gathering underneath it every five years for another Song Festival. This is the biggest choral music event in the world.
The symbol of Pirita, a monastery founded in 1436 and dedicated to St. Brigitta, was the biggest nunnery in the Old-Livonia, and the church belonging to it the biggest temple in Northern Estonia. Although only ruins remain of the old cloister it still continues to live. The activities were restored in a new building in 2001.
Today Pirita is also one of the favourite places in Tallinn for spending free time, with its bathing beaches, coastline, pine-forested parks, and picturesque Pirita River valley. Tallinn’s Botanical Garden has lands on either side of the Pirita River and also Tallinn’s TV Tower, where you can achieve a view from 170 meters high, over the city and its surroundings, is located in this neighbourhood. Take bus 34A or 38 from the bus terminal at Viru keskus.
Pirita is also home for a complex built for the 1980 Olympic regatta. Next to it stands the biggest marina of Tallinn. And of course the most popular beach of the capital is located in Pirita.
Kalamaja, but also Kassisaba and Lilleküla are city districts located next to the Old Town and upholding a special spirit of Tallinn. Architecture and history lovers or anyone who wants to get the feel for the grittier edge of Tallinn’s art scene should pay a visit to Kalamaja, one of the so-called wooden architecture areas. With the two and three-story wooden houses built in the 19th and 20th centuries it represents an authentic workers’ atmosphere, wiped out from the rest of Europe by now.
Nõmme is a green garden suburb, where the richer population lived in the 1920s and 30s. Largely it still retains its status today. One of the sights of Nõmme is the Glehn Palace with its distinctive architecture founded by an eccentric estate owner Nikolai von Glehn, and sculptures erected in the park forest of the palace. Another significant sight of Nõmme is its market place – a unique phenomenon in Tallinn.
Nearby is the Nõmme Sports Centre with an outdoor pool in the summer, ski and ice skating facilities in the winter. It also houses an adventure park where visitors can make their way from tree to tree using a variety of clever rope-and-bridge set-ups.
The frequently running bus nr 36 from down town takes about 25 minutes to reach the Nõmme stop in the area’s centre. Alternatively take a train to Nõmme railway station in the heart of the suburb from Balti Jaam station in central Tallinn.