Coming from my previous post about falling in love with my first glimpse of the Baltics in Riga, Latvia, I was ecstatic to see another Baltic city while we were on our Royal Caribbean Cruise. Next on the itinerary was the sovereign state of Estonia, specifically its capital: Tallinn. While I had an inkling about what to expect, I didn’t think I would love this city as much as I did.
My first impression of Tallinn was that it was similar to Riga, exhibiting Northern Europe’s centuries-old architecture, but it still did have its distinctions that separated both cities’ characters, such as Riga being more of an Art Nouveau city while Tallinn’s mix of ancient and contemporary architecture is more apparent throughout the city’s skyline. The Old Towns of both cities, however, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which are testaments to the way both Latvia & Estonia have preserved their history & culture, but of course, for this post: let’s focus more on Tallinn, Estonia.This underrated Baltic treasure is surely one of the most overlooked European cities. What I love about a city being underrated though, is the fact that it is not as crowded as its more popular counterparts, allowing tourists to fully appreciate the local experience without having to battle through the hordes of people – and all this is possible in a short amount of time. Despite having limited time in the city, a full day to be exact, we made sure we saw all that we wanted to see and in this post, I’ll be drilling down my top 6 things to do in the Estonian capital.
1) The Walls of Tallinn
A great introduction to this Baltic destination are the city walls surrounding Tallinn’s city centre. Originally constructed as defensive walls with some sections dating back to the 13th century, they now house many attractions that Tallinn has to boast about. Circling through the rest of the city, I believe the best place to start your walkabout as you explore the Walls of Tallinn would have to be at the Viru gate, exhibited in the photo above and below, as this serves as the entrance to the Old Town, and is a great jump-off point for your day in the city. Throughout the course of your walkabout, keep an eye out for beautiful local paintings that are hung for sale all around the city walls.
2) Town Hall Square
The main square in all of Tallinn is the Town Hall Square, otherwise known as Raejoka Plats. Aside from housing the Town Hall, as evident as it is in its name, this square is as important in history as it is in today’s time. What used to be the grounds for the city’s local market and stood as a meeting place back in the day, it now remains to be the heart of the city as it is a venue for open markets and fairs, concerts, town events, and during winter, the Christmas market. Aside from this, there are several restaurants and cafes surrounding the square, where you can sit outside and watch the happenings with a great cup of coffee in hand. If you’re fortunate, though we weren’t as lucky, you might come across one of the city’s medieval carnivals, where traditions from the Middle Ages are intertwined into modernization, creating one of the most intriguing carnivals you’ll ever come across.
3) Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
This Russian Orthodox cathedral is probably the most iconic structure in the city, at least in my opinion. Initially built in honor of the late Prince of Novogrod – Alexander Nevsky with a few controversies in tow, its existence today is deemed as the city’s architectural masterpiece. True enough, it stands out literally and figuratively. Being the only structure in all of Tallinn exhibiting Russian Orthodox architecture, it is also located at the top of Toompea Hill, an ideal spot for an attraction as iconic as this – definitely one of the top places to visit in all of Estonia.
4) Toompea Castle
Located within walking distance to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is yet another iconic attraction in Tallinn: Toompea Castle. Toompea Castle was used as a fortress way back in the 9th century, but now houses the Parliament of Estonia. While the attraction spans beyond the stone walls pictured below, what is most interesting is the fact that this structure has withstood centuries of political and religious movement, which have shaped the history of what is now known as Tallinn.If you want to get a great view of the city, head on towards the walkway at the top of the Castle Walls, as seen in the photo below. Though we unfortunately didn’t get to do it, that’s one thing that’ll surely be on my list once I get the chance to go back!
5) Old Town
Of course, every city’s Old Town should be on your list of must-visits, as in my opinion, this is the best place to get the local experience. And in this regard, Tallinn’s Old Town holds true. Also known as the Historic Centre of the city, there is much to do in the Old Town. From indulging in the local cuisine, relaxing at the parks, or simply exploring every nook and cranny of this area is an adventure in itself. It’s as if every street was torn out of a fairytale book with its cobblestone streets welcoming you to explore the colorful buildings & houses, medieval towers, and local shops & restaurants that would easily fill-up your day.
6) Cruise Port of Tallinn
As we ended our day trip to Tallinn, we had about an hour or so to spend at the Cruise Port, which I think should be on your top places to see in Tallinn. Should you depart from the city via a cruise ship or not, this is a place I highly suggest you visit, as there is a small retail area lined up with local stores and shops, and even two or three cafes – if I remember right. And from here, you can gawk at the massive cruise ships docked at the port, and of course, admire the shores of Tallinn.My favorite part of the port, however, would have to be when we were already on deck. This was where we got a great panoramic view of the Baltic Sea, as well as the Old Town of Tallinn at a glimpse.
All in all, Tallinn was yet another sweet surprise of this trip, as it once again confirmed my belief that the Baltic destinations should never be overlooked. Despite being on the same continent as its other more popular counterparts, the likes of Riga or Tallinn are unique in its own lovely way. Besides, a short two or three day excursion to these cities in between the main destinations of your trip would be more than enough to greatly enjoy what the Baltics have to offer!