Strangely, the further north I went into the Baltics, the less comfortable the intercity coaches became. At least they were fairly empty which allowed me to stretch out on every ride. This time I had travelled from the Latvian capital of Riga to the Estonian capital of Tallinn. Now it was time to discover old and new Tallinn.
As I exited the bus, I saw ‘Tallinna Bussijaam’ written on the top of the building. While I presume that this is Estonian for bus station, ‘bussijaam’ is also very close to the Cantonese for bus stop. Aren’t languages fun?
I had decided to walk the 4 kilometres from the bus station to my accommodation near the old town. I’d already been sitting down for several hours so a bit of physical activity was in order. I’m not sure if it was because I was finally acclimatising to the northern European winter weather but Tallinn didn’t seem to feel as cold as Vilnius and Riga had.
Discover Old and New Tallinn – Finding the Old Town
As I do in many places I visit, I’d decided to head straight for the old town. It’s no secret that I love old towns but the old town in Tallinn is particularly special. It’s one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe. This was probably a huge factor leading to its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.
When approaching from the west or the south, Vabaduse väljak or Freedom Square marks the beginning of the Old Town. The Independence War Victory Column can be seen looking over the open-air square.
If you follow the small set of stairs up to behind the column, you can look back over the square from the Komandandi Garden and see St John’s Church. Actually, if you’re feeling lazy you could take the ramp to the left of the stairs. But seeing as there are less than 50 stairs, it has to be the easiest climb to a viewpoint that I’ve ever encountered!
The ratio of effort to awesomeness-of-view factor here is pretty low. Stepping even further into the garden will give you a view over a lot of the new city. You’ve really got to love low-rise cities!
Freedom Square at Night
It’s also worth revisiting the square at night. The whole area gets lit up and has a completely different feel.
Even some of the trees in the area get to shine at night.
Discover Old and New Tallinn – Toompea Castle and Russian Orthodox Church
The Komandandi garden and its viewing area are on Toompea Hill. An historic castle, Toompea Castle (Toompea loss in Estonian) sits behind the garden. The Castle has been standing since the 9th century! It currently houses the Estonian Parliament.
Right next to that is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Aleksander Nevski Katedraal). It quite obviously stands out in the area, as a Russian style building.
The building was left to rot during the USSR rule over the area, but since Estonian independence in 1991, it has been lovingly restored and looked after.
It actually forms quite a stark contrast to some of the other buildings of the old town.
Walking Around The Old Town
As mentioned before, the Tallinn Old Town is one of the most well-preserved in the world. So it is literally like stepping into another century.
The first things to capture your attention are the cobbled streets and stone walls.
Locals have definitely capitalised on the old-world feel of the town. This has ensured that the Tallinn Old Town is the most touristy of all the Baltic old towns. That’s really saying something considering I was there in winter. I would guess winter is not the high tourist season in the Baltics.
While this town board is cute, it’s definitely heading towards cheesy. The cheesiest thing about this old town was all the locals dressed up in medieval clothes. At first, I thought it was rather endearing. Then they just seemed to be everywhere and it started to feel too gimmicky. Especially as many of them were just trying to get you into their establishment.
That doesn’t mean that the town was without charm. In fact, it was quite lovely walking through the cobbled streets and admiring the buildings. Once you get away from the centre of the town, the gimmicky stuff disappears.
The Old Town becomes even more appealing at night.
Churches and Religious Diversity of the Old Town
There are quite a few churches and cathedrals representing different religious denominations throughout the Old Town. The aformentioned Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Lutheran St John’s Church are two of them. Then there’s the Baptist St Olaf’s Church and the Roman Catholic St Peter and St Paul Cathedral near the centre of town. To name just a few.
All have amazing interiors showcasing different ornate styles. Some even have towers you can climb to get a view over the old town. Visiting them is, of course, restricted during services. To find out more about the churches of the old town, go to the Visit Tallinn website.
One of the most important and prominent features of the old city is the Viru Gate. This 14th century gate was once a major defensive feature of Reval. That’s Tallinn’s historical name, used until 1918.
The Viru Gate essentially represents the start and the end of the Old Town, depending on which side of the gate you stand. From inside the gate, you can look out onto modern Tallinn and the markets just outside the gate.
Discover Old and New Tallinn – Modern Tallinn
Beyond the walls of the Old Town is a vibrant, modern Baltic city. The transport options in the city are amazing. With modern buses and trams running regularly.
There are also quite a few green spots around the city. Although, they’re more like grey spots in the winter.
I would assume that the Kadrioru Park, pictured above, would be lovely and green in Summer and Spring. A walk through this park will bring you to the Kadriorg Palace (Kadrioru loss) which contains the Kadriorg Art Museum.
Behind the palace are some gardens, which I’m sure look lovely in summer and spring. In winter they are a work in progress.
Discover Old and New Tallin – The Port Area
Perhaps one of the most surprisingly happening areas in Tallinn is the port area. Although everything is quite spread out, there are several waterside restaurants and pubs dotted throughout the area. There’s also a local fresh produce market, Sadama Turg or Harbour Market, at Terminal C.
In front of the port area there’s a decent size shopping centre called Nautica. It has around 60 shops, including a cinema, cafes, restaurants, bars and a mini golf course!
Something else that caught my attention when leaving the port area was this building. So much so that I just had to stop and stare for a while.
Ferry to Helsinki
I was told by a ticket lady at Terminal B that there were only two options for sailing to Helsinki. Viking Line and Tallink. They also happened to be quite expensive for a two hour ferry ride. So I walked to Terminal A where I found out that there was in fact a third company, Eckeroline, with ferries serving the route. They were much cheaper too! It’s best to purchase the tickets online as the ticket offices at the port seem to have very short opening hours.
The ferry ride was comfortable enough and there was free WiFi onboard.
Stay tuned as the adventure continues into Finland
The northernmost Baltic country of Estonia has a lot to offer, both scenically and historically. I think the only thing left to say is, if you get the chance visit Estonia!
You might want to have a look at our list of Free Things to do in Tallinn
Check out all the destinations visited on this trip –
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