Did you know that the capital of Estonia is a fantastic city with centuries of history and tradition? The thick walls around Tallinn’s Old Town have seen many different rulers pass by, but they have always protected the city and helped to keep it the way it was.
I spent the winter weekend in the old town of Tallinn, a UNESCO world heritage site, as I strolled through the cobbled streets and tried to imagine that I had seen the colonnades a thousand years after the founding of the city.
At this point you will see the historic Old Town of Tallinn and a walk where you can explore the most beautiful parts of the city.
Tallinn’s historic old town: City walls, towers and red roofs of the city
Tallinn, capital of Estonia
Estonia is a small country, mainly known for its capital, with 450,000 inhabitants, one third of the total population.
Tallinn is located on the south coast of the Gulf of Finland, opposite Helsinki. Both Helsinki and Tallinn are well served by international flights, and the two cities are linked by frequent daily ferry services. The journey takes 2.5 hours.
The new city of Tallinn built glass skyscrapers, trendy shopping malls, new large museums and huge suburbs during the Soviet era. The new city is constantly changing and developing, but there is something that remains the same, the old city.
Typical medieval street in Tallinn Old Town
Hiking route in the old town of Tallinn
Since most of Tallinn’s Old Town is a car-free zone, a walk through the Old Town is a way to discover the city. The historic centre is easy to cross, provided you have the right shoes.
This is the old town of Tallinn on the map. Zoom in on the map to see where Tallinn is and zoom in to see the old city in detail.
Walk through the map of the old town of Tallinn…
If you visit Tallinn, the Old Town is the first place you can go, because that’s where most of the sights can be found. At the top of the hill lies the upper town and at the bottom the lower town, around which a medieval wall with many beautiful towers rises. The upper city was for the rulers and the lower city for the citizens.
The two neighborhoods are just as beautiful as each other, but we start with the lower town.
Around the town hall square
Sunday afternoon at Tallinn Town Hall Square (Rajekoja Square)
Since the old town of Tallinn is surrounded by thick stone walls, you have to look for a gate to cross it. The most common entrance gate is the Viru Gate of the new town, followed by Viru Street, the widest and busiest of all the old streets in the city.
On the cobbled square of the town hall (Rajekoja Square) there are fantastic old buildings on all four sides. It is a local meeting place and the heart of the city. In summer the square is full of terraces and in winter there is a Christmas market and most restaurants only serve indoors.
However, some tables are not open even in winter. This small café sets up its tables in the arches of the town hall.
Glögggs seats on Tallinn Rarekoya plates
Viru Street, from Viru Gate to the center of the old town.
Restaurants in Tallinn Old Town: Old Hanseatic League
Tallinn Van Turg
Restaurants in Tallinn Old Town: Pepper
Traditional Estonian restaurant Kuldse Notsu Korts
Walking in the lower town
The architecture of Tallinn’s Old Town has many layers
The lower town of Tallinn is of Hanseatic origin. At the time of the Hanseatic League, Tallinn, together with Lübeck, Stockholm and Riga, was one of the most important trading cities in the Baltic States. It was 14 and 16. For centuries. There are still many beautiful buildings in Tallinn, such as the Great Guild Hall on the Suurgilde plain. However, there were also other influences.
The Danes were the first to give the city a name. The name Tallinn refers to the Estonian-Danish city. After the Hanseatic League came the Swedes and the Russians, and all these eras made the city what it is today.
Tallinn has a long tradition of growing coffee and the Estonians claim to have invented marzipan. It is one of the oldest bakeries in Tallinn, the Maiasmokk Marsepein Hall:
Mayasmoccus marzipan café and large guild hall in Tallinn
Medieval Tallinn: Puhavaimu street
Café-restaurant on Long Leg Street
The work continues, and cities are never prepared.
Before Estonia’s independence, the Russians were the last in power here. In Soviet times people moved to new suburbs and the old city was not like that. A major reconstruction started in the 1990s and is nearing completion. This house is an exception, but I like the way it looks.
The Estonians are doing a really great job, they rebuilt the old town of Tallinn to make it the cleanest medieval old town in Northern Europe. Tallinn really is a fantastic city.
Neucitorn, Toompea Hill.
The 2 km long Tallinn city wall extends to the top of the Toompea hill. Half of the original 46 towers of the wall are still there, and some serve as museums. Some of the towers are accessible for climbing, and in some places there is a path at the top of the wall.
Toompea Hill is the place from where Tallinn and Estonia rule. It all started with the Danes who came to build their mighty stone castle on the hill. The castle is still there, in its original state after 800 years. The best view of the castle is at the back of the hill. From the hill itself you only see the pink baroque part, the Estonian parliament building.
On Toompea Hill there are many important buildings such as cathedrals, government offices and embassies, as well as a hidden observation platform on the north side.
The Tallinn skyline of the Patkuli observation platform.
The Tallinn Dome, built by the Danes in 1240.
The dome of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Estonian flag.
View of Toompea, the upper town of Tallinn.
Then comes the amazing and enormous Russian Orthodox Church, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The Russian czar founded it after the battle and put the Estonian national hero Kalev on his grave.
The cathedral is richly decorated inside and out. The interior sparkles with gold and is decorated with beautiful icons, but the Estonians thought of demolishing the building after independence. However, it is located here and is one of the most beautiful sights of Tallinn.
Tallinn Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Estonian parliament building on the roof of the old town of Tallinn
Red roofs of Toompea Hill.
The Tallinn city wall and the towers supported by the Baltic Sea
Memories of Tallinn
Onion domes of the Alexander Nevski Cathedral
Other attractions in Tallinn Old Town
In the lower town of Tallinn there are many good shops.
Our walk in Tallinn now takes us back to the lower town. To get off, take Long Foot. This is the oldest street in Tallinn since the Vikings.
Another connection between Toompea and the lower town is the Korte Been (Luhike jalk) street. If you use my card to walk around Tallinn, take Short Leg up and Long Leg down. Both streets have an arch that crosses the city wall, and there will be other arches in the lower part of the city.
Tallinn’s Old Town has arches and tunnels.
Munga Kelder, another restaurant in the old town…
Catherine Käik, passage Catherine
Katarina Kyke Passage, Tallinn Old Town.
Here you sneak through the white arch: the Katharine Pass. It is one of the oldest cobbled streets in Tallinn, narrow and lined on one side with arts and crafts workshops. On the other side are the gravestones and ruins of the old wall.
It was the largest church in Tallinn, which somehow disappeared, and there are only a few graves left. Few buildings in Tallinn’s Old Town have disappeared over time, but this is one of them.
Tombstones of the Katharinenkirche along the Katharina-Kaik-Gang
Climbing the Tallinn City Wall
Tallinn City Wall and Estonian knitting
Soon we will go back to Viru Gate where we started. Again the city wall and the woollen clothes, which are very necessary in the Estonian winter. Pure wool at very reasonable prices, maybe Christmas gifts for friends and family?
Traditional Estonian wool sweaters
At the end of the street stands the Hellemann tower, the best tower on the city wall to climb. Pay a small fee, climb the spiral staircase and go up the 200 meters of the city wall. It is a fantastic place to see the old and new city from the air, close to Toompea.
In the tower itself there is an art gallery, but since the 14th century there has been an art gallery. At the time of construction, the tower was a prison and an arsenal.
View of the Helleman’s Tower:
Path to Hellemann Tower, Tallinn Old Town
The roofs of Tallinn from the medieval city wall
Observing from a prison cell
The old city wall around Tallinn
My walk in Tallinn ends here, we’ve seen the most important sites. If you are leaving for a day trip, you already have to go back to the ferry or airport. However, if you are staying in Tallinn for a night out, you should check what the night looks like.
At the end of my post, some examples of the charming historic town of Tallinn:
Peck Street at dusk.
Narrow side street
Three brothers on Lai Street.
That blue moment in the courtyard of Tallinn…
Additional information on Tallinn and Estonia
More information about travelling in Northern Europe