We arrived in Tallinn from Helsinki having spent a couple of days in the Finnish capital. Tallinn was the fourth stop of our Russia, Finland and the Baltics trip. Read about the overall trip itinerary here and the individual city guides here: Moscow, Golden Ring, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Riga.
We took the 1:00 pm Viking Line ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn which was a 1hr 45m ride on the Gulf of Finland. But as luck would have it, the waters decided to be particularly choppy that day and after lunching on freshly grilled salmon and roasted baby potatoes at the onsite restaurant I was thankful to the almighty that all of it managed to stay in the insides. My husband and my sister were not that lucky though. Although my father was the cheeriest of us all five, sipping his glass of wine and chuckling at our dire states.
We reached Tallinn at about 2:45pm and after collecting ourselves adequately (because we were besides ourselves with nausea), we hailed a local taxi and started towards our apartment. By the time we had reached our apartment, the skies has opened up and it was raining fiercely.
Before I take you on a tour of Tallinn, a few words to orient you to the layout of the Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site in itself. Below is a snapshot of the Tallinn City map that I referenced and marked in Red is where our apartment was – ‘KOHTU’. Tallinn Old Town is largely divided into two parts – Lower town and Toompea Hill. Our apartment was in the Toompea region and was right across from 3 of the most important viewing platforms. There is a short cut into Lower Town from the opening into the Danish King’s garden. Else just follow the cobbled street of Pikk Jalg to lead you into Town Square. Navigating the Old Town is really easy but there are just hundreds of places to see on your way.
More on the apartment and the area in a separate blog.
Anyways, once inside the apartments and all dried up, we took our umbrellas and headed into the Old Town (it was still drizzling very slightly). So this is how our Day 1 went:
The Alexander Nevsky church and the Dome church were just round the corner from our apartment.
Just opposite the black onion domed church of St Alexander Nevsky is the Danish King’s garden and the Maiden’s Tower.
If you enter this and then turn on your left, you will find a narrow flight of stairs going down – thats the short way to the Lower Town.
Tallinn is a remarkable city of contrasts because as much as it is a birthplace of Skype, it is also where you will find Europe’s oldest running pharmacy – and its right in the Town Square. We couldn’t get in as it was closed already but didn’t miss a chance to get a snap before we moved on.
We called it a day after we walked down to the Viru gates, which is where the modern part of the town starts. Just across the street is the Viru shopping complex – you can grab a bite or just stroll through the mall for a feel of what modern Estonia looks like.
Most of our sight seeing was on Day 2 as we had a full day to ourselves. We started with a walk down the Town Hall square and into St Nicholas church which was right opposite the Tourist Information centre. Once in the Lower Town, besides the Town Hall square and the other churches that dot the area, an interesting place to spend an hour would be the KGB Museum (not to be confused with the Museum of Occupation which is mentioned in the map nor the exhibition that runs in the Viru Hotel). It wasn’t in any of the tourist maps and even the person at the Tourist Information centre wasn’t too aware of it because it had opened only about a month ago (we travelled in Aug 2017). If you still don’t find it on the map, just ask or look for Pagari street and its right at the corner. These museums are a must see especially because the one in Riga was under renovation.
Leaving the horrors of the Soviet occupation behind, we headed towards the Viru gates to walk around the town wall on the outside. After meandering a little bit more and a couple of churches later, we reached the Viru gates and started walking north till we reached the other end of the town wall. We spotted a wonderful monument the ‘Broken Line’ dedicated to the memory of 852 people who lost their lives in 1994 in a ferry accident.
Once we entered the confines of the Old Town, we headed straight to the St Olav’s church which was once considered the tallest building in the world. We climbed its 124 m high church spire and were honoured with a fabulous view for our daring feat.
After a full day of walking through Estonia’s history, we finally made our way back home but the day had not ended yet. We decided to walk past our apartment to where a bunch of tourists were headed and chanced upon the most spectacular viewing platform in all of Tallinn. We later figured out that there were two other view platforms around the house, but truly nothing beat this one.
With that, our trip to Tallinn came to an end. We were headed for our final destination Riga in the morning via the 11am bus from Tallinn.
But before I sign-off, below are some of the tips to your Tallinn visit:
- Avoid the cruise ship crowds: Tallinn is a major port for cruise ships to dock and for thousands of flag bearing tourists to rain down on the cobbled streets of the Old Town for a day out. The crowds will start pouring out at 9am in summer so you may want a slightly later start to the day, if you want to avoid the rush
- 24 hours market: There are two 24 hours mini supermarkets new the Town Square. You can pick up almost anything at these stores
- Economical lunch options at Viru mall: While there are plenty of options to eat and drink within the Old Town, some of them can be pricey. You can head out to the Viru mall and catch some awesome food at pretty decent prices for a change
- Avoid the KGB exhibit at the Viru: This is pretty much a sham where the tour guide will take you through some rooms which were allegedly used by KGB agents. Not worth your money. Visit the KGB exhibition at Pagari 1 instead