Estonia’s capital Tallinn is one of the very few places in the world that effortlessly combines living history with modern living. Its amazingly well preserved Old Town and its wonderfully modern infrastructure are sure to capture your heart. As if that wasn’t enough to make you fall in love, there is also a plethora of free things to do in Tallinn. Read on to discover what they are!
Don’t worry, you don’t need to be religious for this one. In fact, less than 20% of the Estonian population identifies as religious. So you may find it surprising that the city has so many churches and cathedrals. These churches and cathedrals cover several religious denominations. Some of them have even switched between denominations at different periods in time.
Religion aside, these buildings cover many different architectural styles and all have immaculate interiors. Some may look rather small and unassuming from the outside but inside are ridiculously ornate. Some, like St Olaf’s and St Mary’s have an entrance fee, whereas others like St John’s are free to enter. Either way, it’s still free to admire and take photos from the outside. The Visit Tallinn website has more information about entry fees and opening hours for churches in Tallinn.
Free Things to do in Tallinn – Old Town
The Tallinn Old town is one of the world’s most well preserved medieval towns, which makes it an absolute treat for the senses. As soon as you step onto its cobbled streets, you really do feel like you’ve walked into another century.
While wandering around the town, there are many things to discover. Like St Catherine’s Passage, Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square) and the Danish King’s Garden, just to name a few. The town also contains Europe’s oldest pharmacy, Raeapteek (Town Hall Pharmacy). It was run by the same family for 330 years!
Vabaduse väljak/Freedom Square
At the south end of the Old Town is a public square with monuments to Estonian independence struggles and victories. The open-air Freedom Square is a local gathering place and has been the site for celebrations and demonstrations.
It’s a great place to visit during the day but at night it comes alive. Flashing lights have been installed on poles in the square and the victory monument gets lit up as well.
Free Things to do in Tallinn – Harjumägi/Harju Gate Hill and Toompea Hill
Harjumägi/Harju Gate Hill lies right behind the victory monument of Freedom Square and offers a great view over modern Tallinn.
If you continue walking away from the square, you’ll hit Toompea Hill. It forms the northern border of the Old Town and is home to the Toompea Castle. The Castle is now used by the Estonian parliament.
City Parks and Gardens
Although Tallinn is a fairly small city, it is packed with green spaces! A lot of them are small sculptured gardens, like Tammsaare Park, where people mainly sit around admiring trees. Others however are important gathering places with monuments and historical remnants. There are also walking trails and lookouts. Probably the most interesting part of some of these parks is how they came to be.
Commandant’s Garden (Komandandi Aed) and Governor’s Garden (Kuberneri Aed)
In between Harjumägi/Harju Gate Hill and Toompea Hill are two small gardens. Commandant’s Garden was named for the house on its corner where the Commander-in-chief used to live.
The Governer’s Garden is beside Toompea Castle and used to be joined with the Castle Gardens until they were destroyed.
Two Parks in One: Linda’s Hill (Lindamäe Park) and Deer’s Park (Hirvepark)
These two parks are historical heavyweights in Tallinn. They are located within the same city block on the embankment of the former Rootsi/Swedish bastion. Linda’s Hill gets its name from A Weizenberg’s sculpture, called Linda, in the north of the park. Memorial ceremonies for Soviet repression victims have historically always taken place near the sculpture. It also has 250 year old trees.
Deer’s Park was the site of the first organised demonstrations against the communist party in 1987. Those demonstrations sparked anti-soviet sentiment and independence protests. A chain of events that eventually led to Estonian independence is 1991.
Police Garden Park (Politseiaia)
The Police Garden Park was previously known as the Military Vegetable Garden. As you can guess, it was used to grow vegetables for the police. It now contains walkways, fountains, a skate park and giant, people-size clay pots.
Children’s Park (Falgi Park)
This park was created in the mid-nineteenth century by filling in a pond with sand and planting some trees. It was bombed then refurbished in the mid-twentieth century as a garden with the ‘Circle For the Flowing Water’ fountain and children’s playgrounds.
The biggest of Tallinn’s inner-city parks, known as Sneli Park or Toompark, creates the northern border of the old town. It was once a fortification for the city and the park’s Sneli Pond is all that remains of the moat that used to protect the city. This park also contains the Kohtuosta, Patkuli and Piiskapi viewing platforms. These platforms offer great views over the city and the Baltic Sea.
The Kadrioru Park was constructed by orders from a Russian Tsar in the 18th century. It’s design elements span three centuries. Aside from cultural monuments, canals, fountains and ponds, it is home to not just one, but three museums. KUMU (the Estonian Art Museum), Mikkeli Museum and the Kadriorg Art Museum. The later is housed within the Kadriorg Palace, a centerpiece of the park.
This park can be found in the historical, yet hip Kalamaja area. It used to be the Kalamaja Cemetery but it got a make-over in the 60s. That’s when it became the park that it is today, a tree-lined, relaxing area with children’s playgrounds and an historic bell tower.
Free things to do in Tallinn – Kalamaja
Kalamaja means ‘Fish House’ in Estonian, so can you guess where this area is, right? On the waterfront of course! The former working-class area is now pretty much hipster-ville. The old factories now house museums, cafes and bakeries. So many bakeries. Kalamaja is known for its pastries.
Aside from food, the Kalamaja district is known for its cute and colourful wooden houses which were originally built to house factory workers in the 19th century. It’s also known for its lively culture and nightlife. The area contains bars, restaurants and even a brewery that attracts locals and visitors from around the city.
The Port of Tallinn or Tallinna Sadam is part of the Kalamaja district. One of Tallinn’s premier fresh produce markets, Sadama Turg, is located there. Kalamaja is also home to the neo-gothic Kalju Baptist Church and its own park, Kalamaja Park (mentioned above).
So this one isn’t free, but purchasing it gives you free entry to many attractions, like churches and museums that normally charge entry fees. It also lets you use all public transport in the city for free. If you are staying for more than a few days and really really want to see some museums, it may be worth it. If you’re thinking of getting it for free transport, it may not be worth it. Tallinn is a small and very walkable city. You can explore everything mentioned above easily on foot. Tallinn is a very pleasant city to walk around.
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