The medieval city of Tallinn, once a thriving Hanseatic city, has preserved much of its old charm. Church and fortified towers, castles and monasteries, old guild and half-timbered houses in winding old town streets are relics of these bygone eras. Already from the water you can easily see the thick towers of the city wall, which have names like “Kiek in de Kök” or “long Hermann”.
Tallinn is the Estonian capital and has about 410,000 inhabitants. Until 1918, the city was still called Reval. During a walk through the Old Town you can admire the building of the Estonian Parliament, the Cathedral Church or the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevski Cathedral. The Old Town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. The city, located on the Gulf of Finland, actually consists of three parts: the Cathedral Hill with the Upper Town, the Lower Town and the New Town. The climate is quite mild and especially beautiful is the time of the “white nights” in summer, when it hardly gets dark.
Tip 1: Kadriorg Palace
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, east of the city center you will find Kadriorg Park. Construction of the park and palace began in 1718 on the orders of Russian Tsar Peter the Great, who named it after his wife Catherine. The 70-hectare park is considered Estonia’s most important palace and City Park. The flowerbeds around the Swan Pond and the promenade leading to the castle are the most popular places for a walk.
Kadriorg Castle was designed by Italian architect Nicola Michetti, and its magnificent main hall is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Estonia and Northern Europe as a whole. In addition to its magnificent rooms, the palace also houses the Estonian Art Museum’s foreign art collection of Western European and Russian art from the 16th to 20th centuries.
Tip 2: Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a landmark of the Estonian capital Tallinn and is located on the Cathedral Hill (Toompea), more precisely on Lossi plats (Castle Square) between the Estonian Parliament and the residence of the German ambassador. It was named after the Russian national hero and Saint Alexander Yaroslavich Nevsky. Like most Alexander Nevsky cathedrals, it is a symbol of Russification at the end of the 19th century.
It was built between 1894/1895 and 1900 as a Russian Orthodox cathedral by Mikhail Preobrazhensky in what was then the Estonia Governorate of the Russian Empire.
The cathedral is richly decorated and has eleven bells cast in St. Petersburg, the largest of which weighs about 16 tons, more than the other ten combined. It has three altars, the northern one is dedicated to Vladimir I (the Saint), the southern one to St. Sergius of Radonezh.
The base of the building is made of Finnish granite. On the five onion domes there are gilded iron crosses.
Inside there are three gilded iconostases carved from wood. There are also four icon boxes. The icons of the iconostases and icon boxes were painted in St. Petersburg on copper and zinc plates. The windows are decorated with stained glass, also there are paintings and mosaics.
Tip 3: Tallinn City Hall Square
The Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats) is still the lively center of Tallinn’s Old Town, the so-called “Lower Town”. Already in the Middle Ages it was the marketplace and the place for great festivities such as the processions of merchant fraternities, games of arms, and carnival and May Day celebrations. The town’s pillory also stood on the town hall square. A wooden figure by the master carver Elert Thiele was placed here in 1664. From a certain point of the Town Hall Square you can see all five main churches of Tallinn.
Directly opposite the Town Hall is the Tallinn Council Pharmacy from the 15th century, one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe. Other historic buildings bear witness to the medieval prosperity of Tallinn, which joined the Hanseatic League as early as 1284.
Tip 4: City Wall
The old city walls with their many towers belong on your sightseeing program.
The medieval fortifications are two kilometers long and one of the best preserved in Europe. The old city wall dates back to the 13th century and still has about 26 towers. At that time, various construction and reconstruction works lasted almost 300 years. Finally, in the 17th century, the last modernization took place.
In the 19th century, a decision was made to dismantle the wall, so that today the entire old city wall can no longer be seen. Nevertheless, compared to other medieval cities, a lot is still preserved.
Therefore, you can still visit some parts of the old city wall in Tallinn. You can even look at them from the inside. One part is accessible and connected by three towers. From here you can also look perfectly on the old town!
Tip 5: St. Catherine’s Alley
St. Catherine’s Alley (Katariina kaik) is the most picturesque medieval alley in Tallinn. It is framed by the Saint Catherine Monastery, the alleys along the city walls and Soot Street.
Today, monks no longer live in the monastery. It has long been a craft center for local artists. They make glassware, hats, blankets, ceramics, amber jewelry and hand-painted silk in 15th-century workshops.
The studios are open. This allows you to watch the artists at work, take a picture of the St. Catherine’s Alley or eat in a restaurant.