Tallinn in Estonia is a city I had heard of through the Eurovision Song Contest, I am embarrassed to say. I knew very little about it before visiting and so once there I discovered a treasure trove of facts and surprising facts.
Observations and learning about Tallinn
- It is the home of Skype! Skype was actually created in Tallinn, which is a major digital centre and has a highly connected city with free Wi-Fi all around the city.
- It’s a relatively small city with less than half a million people.
- Tallinn is only about 50 miles from Helsinki across the Baltic Gulf and a regular schedule of day trips run between the two.
- Because of its position it is strategically important and so been a focus in times of war and regional tensions. Estonia was occupied for large periods of the 20th century. In the 1940s it was annexed by the Soviet Union when World War II broke out. It was then occupied by the Nazi Germans from 1941 to 1944 and once the Nazis left, the Soviets made it part of the U.S.S.R. It only became independent after the breakdown of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.
- In the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow the sailing event were held in Pirita, which is just outside Tallinn. Around and about Tallinn and in Pirita are legacies of them like the Olympic Hotel and marina.
- It is very beautiful along the coast of Tallinn. Yet during Soviet times the coast line was restricted and civilians were not allowed to walk along the coast.
- As you come into the city you observe a chocolate box like skyline with the peaks of the various cathedrals of the city. It reminded me a bit of Prague in feel. It is very beautiful when you come in from the sea. I think Tallinn’s probably best seen from the sea.
- The Old Town is well maintained and retained. There is a more modern part of town where they’ve built skyscrapers, but no building in the old part of Tallinn is allowed to be higher than the St. Olaf’s Church steeple.
- Those of you that follow the Eurovision Song Contest will remember that in 2002, Tallinn hosted the Eurovision Song Contest when Estonia won. It was also European capital of culture in 2011.
- Estonia is part of the EU and the currency is the Euro.
My tips for travellers visiting Tallinn:
- Tallinn is a very popular cruise stop and in the summer it’s a busy port. It is about a 15 minute walk from the port area into town, although there are also shuttle buses normally running. There’s a very nice market by the cruise port consisting of wooden huts selling homemade crafts, beautiful wooden boxes, Christmas decorations, Estonia football gear (I guess football is very popular in Estonia!), and knitwear.
- It is also easy to fly into Tallinn with regular and low cost airlines, and as a result it has become quite popular for Stag weekends which is not always a good thing!
The bus service is good and easy to use. It has a fixed price for any trip and can either buy tickets beforehand or you pay on the bus – but one of the things we noticed is the bus drivers never have change. So although it was €1.80, we always ended up handing over a five Euro note because they never had change.
There is a Tallinn Card which is a discount card which includes use of public transport, access to museums and other discounts.
Must do things to see and do
These are the main things I recommend you do:
- Upper Town which is called Toompea
- Lower Town or the Old Town
- Kadriorg Palace
- Pirita, which is where the Olympics where held and you can go to the beach.
- Maritime Museum
- Tallinn Tower
- Soviet related tour
Upper Town / Toompea. Here you can visit the Russian St. Alexander and Nevesky Orthodox Cathedral, which display lots of incredible icons. Then walk down cobbled alleys to a 13th century gothic cathedral called The St. Mary’s Cathedral, which is a big domed church. You also get beautiful panoramic views of the Lower and Old Town’s towers, steeples and the marinas. The Estonian Parliament building is also here, but you cannot tour it.
The Old Town is the most popular place to visit and is an absolute must do. The guide books talk about it being one of the best preserved old towns in Europe, because despite all the occupations it was never destroyed. The highlights include the tall Hermann tower, cobblestone lanes and narrow alleyways and medieval houses. You also can tour the town square, town walls and the famous St. Olaf church and tower. It was one of the tallest buildings in the world when it was first built back in the 1500s. The Old Town is usually busy because it is where all the tourists focus on.
If you get a chance, I recommend you go out to Kadriorg. It’s about 2 kilometers east of the center of the city and is a former palace of Peter the Great. It is now part Art Museum of Estonia and Presidential residence.
The other place that is worth going to is Pirita about 2 kilometers from the center. The beach is very popular with locals even though the sea is quite cold because it’s the Baltic!
Of course with my interest in all things maritime, I also recommend the Maritime Museum, which is in an area called the Seaplane Harbour. There are hundreds of exhibits housed in seaplane hangars that were built right back in 1900s. Charles Lindbergh, the American aviator who was the first to fly solo across the Atlantic actually landed there in the 1930s. It was originally part of the Naval Fortress. Exhibits include the Lembit submarine, the Suur Toll icebreaker and seaplanes, all sorts of stuff. In the area there are many things for the family to do including an aquarium.
The last thing that you should consider is going to the Tallinn TV Tower. The TV tower provides 360 degree views of the city and has a restaurant. It is the highest building in Estonia at 314 meters tall.
There are a couple of Soviet related tours where you explore more about the city’s Soviet history. It includes a Museum of Occupation, which is a permanent exhibition reflecting Estonia from 1940 to 1991. There is also a really quirky tour on an old Soviet bus that takes you around the Soviet era buildings.
The Tallinn episode of the tips for traveler’s podcast is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. The guides that show you what others only tell you. For more on the guides and to buy guides linked to the destination of this podcast visit tipsfortravellers.com/DK.
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