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Exploring the Medieval Tallinn Estonia

Tallinn is the most populous and the primate city of Estonia. The modern country sees a blend of traditional culture and a modern city living together as one. One with much history, let’s explore Estonia Capital Tallinn with a walking day tour.

A young country with a rich history

As the locals would say, Estonia’s history had been pretty much ruled by “everyone else”. They were part of Denmark from the 1200s, Sweden from the 1500s and part of Russia and the Soviet Union from 1721 to 1940. World War 2 saw the country taken over by the Germans before becoming independent from 1990.

Tallinn Estonia CBD from old town hilltop
Tallinn Estonia CBD from old town hilltop.

Hence, Estonia is pretty much a young nation on the international front. But it has a long rich history and Medieval structures still standing today since the 1200s.

Getting to Tallinn Estonia

Moreover, located in the northern part of the country, Tallinn sits on the shore of the Gulf of Finland of the Baltic Sea. Also, it has a population of about 440 thousand. Moreover, you can either fly in straight into Tallinn. An alternative and more affordable way to get there is by ferry, costing about $60-70 per person for a return trip. Also, you can easily do a day trip to Tallinn from nearby Scandinavian countries such as Helsinki Finland.

Ferry ride in
Bar dining
Ship Shops

A ferry ride across the Gulf of Finland takes about 3 hours. But the ride is not a bore in anyway. It is like a mini cruise ship with plenty to do onboard. The people on-board the ferry are friendly and there are various places of interests, restaurants, bars, duty-free shops and even jackpot machines to keep you entertained. Also, there is a large restaurant as well as one offering buffets which is extremely popular. The ferry transport is both a passenger and vehicle ferry.

Explore Tallinn Old Town (Vannalin) a UNESCO site

Furthermore, Tallinn is a town loaded with history. The Tallinn’s Old Town in Kesklinn is home to one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tallinn old town viewed from hill top
Tallinn old town viewed from hill top.

Upon arrival in Tallinn, the old town is a walk-able distance from the ferry terminal. A short 10 minute walk and across one major road later, you will find yourself strolling along the cobblestones of the Tallinn old town.

Tallinn Estonia Freedom square
Tallinn Estonia Freedom square, place for large events. With St John’s Lutheran Church in view.

Here, do check out the Freedom square and Town square. There is a Victory Column here built in 2009 commemorating the Estonian War of Independence 1918–1920. Here, you can also check out the streets of the town and is a 19th-century St. John’s Lutheran Church nearby. It in built the neo-Gothic style & featuring a large pipe organ from the 1867s.

Victory Column
Tower Bastions
St. Nicholas church

The old town square is a great place for a break. There are several small business, cafes and restaurants you can pop by for a break on your journeys.

Tallinn Estonia Old town main square, buzzing with shops and cafes
Old town main square, buzzing with shops and cafes.

Additionally, I would recommend to join one of the many Tallinn free walking tours, such as those by Sandeman. It brings you through all the main attractions and points of interests around the Tallinn old town.

Tallinn Bastion fortress and tunnels

It is not uncommon to find walls and tower fortifications in the old town. These areas which serves a reminder of Tallinn’s old place as a coastal island fortress. Embedded in the heart of the old town are number of fortified brick towers and forts you can see scatted around the city.

You find these bastions and forts all over the Tallinn Estonia old town. An ole to it's rich history as a fortification
You find these bastions and forts all over the Tallinn old town. An ole to it’s rich history as a fortification.

It often segments the city in parts with gantry gates. A notable place of interest is the Bastion Tunnels passages. It is also the home to the now Kiek in de Kök Museum.

Viru gate in a shopping street
Viru gate in a shopping street.

Also, this archeological site has one of the most well-preserved examples of the Bastion towers as well as the tunnel network which served the city as a fortress.

The iconic Viru gates at the shopping street leading into Tallinn old town
The iconic Viru gates at the shopping street leading into Tallinn old town.

One of the more iconic towers is the Viru gate in a shopping street. Built in the 1300s, theses are 2 large, ivy-covered watchtowers mark the entrance to Tallinn’s Old Town.

Shopping street
Bastion towers
Old town hill top

Churches Tallinn old town

There are several Churches littered around Tallinn itself. Tallinn is one of the few cities with an eccentric mix of Church and architecture styles, taking a following from the country’s various rulers in the past.

St Olaf’s Church
Inside Church
Front side

One to touch on is St Olaf’s Church. It was built in the 12th century and to have been the center for old Tallinn’s Scandinavian community before Denmark conquered Tallinn in 1219. As previously mentioned, Tallinn is largely a neutral country. It saw itself being time and again conquered by various larger countries which stake claim to the lands in each of their conquest.

Tallinn Estonia Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

Similarly, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is orthodox cathedral built to a Russian Revival style between 1894 and 1900. They look similar to the one you can see in Moscow. Also, the church was built dedicated to King Olaf II of Norway during the Norwegian rule.

Cathedral streets in Tallinn old town
Cathedral streets in Tallinn old town.

There was a joke that to fund the upkeep the St Olaf’s Church in Tallinn in the old town, the people of Tallinn had to pass it off as an orthodox art gallery of atheism to finally get approval from the Russians.

The Parliament Of Estonia on the old town hill
The Parliament Of Estonia on the old town hill.

Also, not far off here is the Riigikogu, or the unicameral parliament of Estonia. The parliament sits up here on top of a hill in the old town.

Modern city center and malls

Tallinn is the main financial, industrial and cultural center of Estonia, with a great startup culture to boot. It is also a well digitally connected country. Being one of the first to roll out digital citizen identification systems in the world.

In the heart of Tallinn Estonia Central business district
In the heart of Tallinn Estonia Central business district.

This sentiment of a modern city is echoed through the modern city in the city center and financial districts. Also, all the malls accept Euros as primary payment. Also, if you are up for it, much of Tallinn city itself is walkaway and connected through estates, parks and gardens.

Streets of Tallinn

Additionally, the city is well served by buses and tram which you can take to check out various spots in town. They connect to the city center and harbor area.

Green spaces and botanical gardens

Ponds lake Gardens in the Tallinn people's park
Ponds lake Gardens in the Tallinn people’s park.

Moreover, when you are done with the first half of your day exploring Tallinn Old Town walking tour aside, you can relax and spend the rest of your afternoon in one of the few malls, parks and botanical gardens.

Lush gardens in the people's park with the Kadriorg Art Museum, a Petrine Baroque palace built for Catherine I of Russia by Peter the Great
Lush gardens in the people’s park with the Kadriorg Art Museum, a Petrine Baroque palace built for Catherine I of Russia by Peter the Great.

If you like green spaces, the People’s Park is about a 20 minute slow walk through an estate from the city center. Also, the People’s Park connects to Kadriorg Park via a 5 minute walk. Residing here is the Kadriorg Art Museum resides. It is a Petrine Baroque palace built for Catherine I of Russia by Peter the Great. It has nicely manicured floor beds and statue fountains.

Tallinn Estonia Russalka Monument at the seaside park
Russalka Monument at the seaside park.

Wrapping up, you can finish up your walk back to the harbor for your boat back via the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. Here, you can see the Russalka Memorial. The statue memorializing victims of the Rusalka shipwreck.

On the boat!

Here, it has an angel statue holding a cross on a granite base in the scenic park by the sea popular with joggers and cyclists.

Bye Tallinn
Bye Tallinn!

All in all, you can good in Tallinn for an entire day trip with a Ferry cruise back by about 7pm, where the last ferries typically depart back to Helsinki Finland. Not bad to check out one of the youngest yet a history-rich country in Europe.


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