Where: Tallinn, Estonia
When: September 2019
Hotel: My City Hotel
Why Tallinn: We hadn’t been to the Baltic countries yet, and Tallinn has emerged as of late as a popular destination spot – drawing people in with it’s well intact medieval center and its low, low prices. Not to mention, it is only a 2-hour ferry ride from Finland, so it is easy to fit in both countries at the same time.
The Trip: I booked us on the first ferry out of Helsinki to Tallinn, which meant a very early morning. The ferry is the size of a cruise ship, with multiple levels and cabin classes to enjoy during the trip. Not knowing what to expect, I booked us in the business class section, which included a free buffet and drink bars. Mimosas and bacon to start the day – yes please! 🙂 I did take some time to explore the ferry, and it was not crowded at all. But our section only had eight people total, which was a nice relaxing way to start the day.
We arrived to Tallinn around 0900, and the plan was to drop the bags at the hotel and start exploring. I don’t mess around with hotel locations anymore, and booked one right in the center of Tallinn. Not only was it a great location, but we were actually able to check right in to the hotel. Tallinn is not big, and if you aren’t a museum person, it doesn’t take long to see the main sights of town and then continue to wander on.
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, and despite heavy bombing in WWII, the old town is still well-preserved and has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It dates back to the 15th and 17th centuries – pretty amazing that it has withheld so much of its charm. As always, it’s important to learn about the history of a place before visiting, and what struck me about the country as a whole is how technologically-advanced it is. I would never have guessed it was the birthplace of Skype and is the headquarters for the EU’s information technology agency. Estonia spent centuries under the rule of various countries, most recently the now-defunct Soviet Union, but gained independence in 1991. However, throughout the town of Tallinn, the bitterness and anger towards Russia is very evident in many of the historical markers.
The first stop on our tour was Freedom Square, right next to our hotel and the location of military parades still to this day. It also leads up to the Komandandi Garden, which lies on the outside of the still-standing walls of the city. It’s an easy path to follow to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which opened in 1900 when Estonia was under the rule of the Czarist Empire. We ducked in (but no photos inside), but it is super pretty. It is a must-visit, mainly because it leads to the real jewels of Tallinn – the number of viewing platforms that give wonderful views of the city from multiple angles. We hit a majority of them along the way – while wandering the adorably medieval streets. The two more well-known ones are Kohtuotsa viewing platform and Patkuli viewing platform (which was my favorite). But also try to pop into some of the other small viewing areas (put the map down and just wander).
From there, we climbed down, following the stairs and path that took you from the hill back to the Old Town area, and we passed through 14th-century city defensive wall with towers that you can also climb and walk along. Our next destination was the main city square, but I couldn’t tell you the exact path because we just wandered along and ducked down little side streets that looked cool until we found our way to the main square. The Tallinn town hall is in gothic style and is the oldest town hall in the Baltics, having been completed in 1404. It really is just a cool old town, with very cute little areas.
Not far off the square is St. Catherine’s Passage, which I had read was one of the most romantic spots in Tallinn, as it was where couples we sneak off for a kiss away in older times. But what I liked the best was what was waiting at the end of the 700-year-old alley way, and it was a gigantic market with large booths selling local goods, known as the town wall walkway. It was a fun place to wander and takes you right to Viru Varavad (gate), and Viru street – which is packed with stores and restaurants. (John was especially happy because there was a McDonald’s right at the entrance to the town. I was happy because there was a large flower market!)
At that point, we decided it was time for a quick break at the hotel, but we got distracted by the Harju Street Park (Hill Park), and it’s pretty flower beds and historical markers. There is a church located in the center of the park, and the historical markers show what the surrounding area looked like pre-WWII before the Russians bombed that area and destroyed all the buildings. It is exceptionally interesting to look through and worth a stop. We then made it back to our hotel, and noticed the back terrace as well, where there was half a city wall and the explanation that this area too had been destroyed in WWII.
During our walk-around early in the day, one restaurant caught both of our eyes, and that was Balthasar, right off the main square and advertising its affinity for garlic. I love garlic, so I was definitely not passing up a chance to eat here. Plus it had an adorable little courtyard and good views for people watching.
To work off our dinner, I really wanted to go back up to Toompea Hill and the viewing platforms for the sunset. It also gave us a chance to wander through a view of the streets we had missed earlier in the day. The best part about this is that we were able to wander back through the old town and freedom square, which, while pretty during the day, was super quaint and cute all lit up at night (as most places tend to be!)
Final Impressions: I really enjoyed Tallinn and think we spent the perfect amount of time there. Any more than a day, and I think we would have gotten bored (and we would have for sure looked at exploring options outside of the city. Riga is still my favorite between the two Baltic cities, but I am definitely glad we got a chance to see Tallinn.