medieval towers, grand cathedrals, trendy eateries, fancy boutiques and an endless array of museums and art galleries. This is certainly not a place for a fleeting visit: with so much on offer you’d be doing the town, and yourself, a disservice.
When first constructed, the Old Town city walls measured two and a half kilometres in length, 15 metres in height and were supported by 46 towers in total. The depredation of century long battles have resulted in only 1.9 kilometres of walls and 26 towers now left standing; still an astounding amount by anyone’s standards.
The winding maze of narrow cobblestone streets, which date back to the 13th century, is a beautifully preserved UNESCO heritage site and offers the discerning traveller a chance to literally step back into medieval times. Unlike most other European cities, which offer clusters of ancient ruins to visit, the whole town centre here is one enormous historical retreat. Book your Tallinn apartment in the Old Town, and dive straight into a mystical and alluring bygone era.
While ditching the guide book and getting hopelessly lost is by far your best bet for an authentic adventure, we do fear you may miss out on a more comprehensive experience. Instead, visit the Tourist Info Centre on Niguliste Street and have a chat to the young students who run it: they are full of helpful info and they’ll gladly provide you with an English language brochure. You need not follow a mapped walk necessarily, but you may well appreciate the historical info of the places you’re likely to come across.
For a splendid overview of the Old Town, and to get your bearings on your first day, take the leisurely long walk up to the top of Toompea Hill. The most important ‘hill’ in Estonia has been the centre of the country’s government for centuries, and retains its old charm while still serving its purpose.
As you start ascending from lower Old Town, you’ll come face to face with the city’s biggest Orthodox Church: the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. Complete with black onion-shaped domes and intricately carved exterior, this magnificent cathedral (among 16 others worldwide) was built as a tribute to Saint Aleksander Nevsky. Although it is one of the city’s most beloved tourist attractions, it is still seen by some Estonian nationalists as a symbol of Russian oppression. The interior is equally impressive and a visit here will astound even the most architecturally-unenlightened folks.
Toompea Castle, the pretty-in-pink epicentre of Toompea Hill is the country’s Parliament House and regarded as the birthplace of Tallinn, with its erection dating back to the 10th century. The castle’s Pikk Herman tower was built a few centuries later, and is the town’s tallest. While the tower contains 215 internal steps which lead to a truly amazing viewing platform (actually the platform is nothing special, but the views are breathtaking) this is only accessible with a guided tour. For the record, it isn’t unheard of for someone to ‘hitch a ride’ with a visiting tour group, so try your luck on the day you visit.
For splendid city views, head to Toompea Hill’s viewing platforms, the most notable ones being Kohtuotsa and Patkuli. From here you can admire sweeping views of the city’s rooftops, all the way to the sparkling Baltic Sea.