By the time of writing this post I am living in the city for more than two months. Originally I planned to share some kind of first impression of the city but that didn’t happen as the impressions I have are already mixed from visiting lot of places here. Hopefully you will like the short Tallinn series anyway. Today let’s start with old town and how to enjoy the cityscape if you come for a daytrip.
Since 13th century until the beginning of 20th the city was known by its german origin name Reval. You can see the Hanseatic style of the city in the center and also it has quite preserved the medieval feel. That’s also probably the reason why you decided to visit Tallinn anyway. During the history the entire area was under rule of many nations, which I am not going to cover here. I just want to point out that Tallinn actually means Danish city which is quite interesting.
One of the most likely points where you enter is Viru gate, one of the original entrances to the city. Entering the old town be prepared to travel back in time. You will be leaving today's world and heading back into the time of Hansa, city states and punishing people by hanging them on gallows. But don’t get over excited or scared, depending on your interests, you are not going to see hangmen around the streets.
Following the Viru street you are coming to the Raekoja plats which is the main city square. At the head of the square you can visit the old gothic city hall building[1:1]. During summer one can even climb the tower. It’s very touristy area and as proper tourist you should try to find five towers seen from one spot in the center of the square.
Still being at the main square you can briefly visit the old pharmacy with exhibition of medieval practices to cure people. Kinda disturbing I would say. Anyway it’s the oldest pharmacy still in operation in Europe. At least that’s what Tallinn people will tell you. Apparently they have some dispute about that with Dubrovnik in Croatia. Once cured from all your old troubles you can continue to explore the lower old town. At this point it’s best to wander for a while through the narrow streets and look for interesting details.
Once you have enough of narrow streets you probably want to see them from above. There will be nice places for that in the upper town as well, but since you are down in the streets I’ll take you to the St Olaf's church[1:2] which is the highest building in Tallinn center. It even used to be tallest building in Europe once, but then it burned down and also we started building skyscrapers elsewhere.
Since you came with me to the west edge of the city walls you should see the Fat Margaret tower. It’s another entrance to the city and you can see the fortification at that part very well. There is a museum as well, but I will keep that for museum post. Following the walls southways enjoy a little bit of park and prepare for ascend to Toompea. Patkuli stairs that will lead you up the hill start down bellow the government building.
Tompea[1:3] is small hill in the middle of the city, where most of the government buildings are located. The exception being president's palace which is in Kadriorg park outside of the city center. But before we get to Toompea castle which houses the parliament let’s see the viewpoints. There are three of them. The best one probably being the Kohtuotsa platform also called “The times we had”. From there you can observe the old town with the port in the distance.
With all the views absorbed it’s time to explore the “inlands” of Toompea. With all the noblemen that used to live here, all the buildings have this noble architecture and that’s why a lot of them are used by government or embassies. Unfortunately some of them are not very well maintained. Probably the most interesting are the two churches that are up here. St Mary’s Cathedral (Toomkirik in estonian) being the catholic and orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is really richly decorated and is located right in front of the Toompea castle.
Toompea castle is very important place in the history of free Estonia and houses the parliament today. The original castle is around thousand years old. The part you can see from the street is actually baroque palace from 18th century. Next to the castle is small garden from which you can see another view of the city and also check out who is at power in the country. The Pikk Hermann tower holds a flag that’s being risen every morning to show Estonians that it’s still Estonian government at the wheel of the country.
We will close the circle today by going back down to the lower city through Danish king’s garden[1:4] where the legend tells the Danes got their flag when it felt from sky during a battle in the beginning of 13th century. This makes it the oldest flag still in use. When you check out the sculpture reminding this even you can choose to either go straight down from there through the building or using Pikk Jalg (Long leg in Estonian) street to walk back down from Toompea hill.
Once back down, it’s just a short walk back to the Raekoja plats where we mostly started. Next time I’ll take you from there to the newer parts of Tallinn center, checking out the history of free Estonia in the process. Until then enjoy your travels.