The city’s old town has been astonishingly well preserved and was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997, it is now in better shape than ever, with the bigger roads converted into fashionable shopping streets reminiscent of Zürich or Geneva.
At the historical and medieval heart of the city is the hill of Toompea, covered in cobbled streets and filled with medieval houses and alleyways. The lower town spreads out from the foot of the hill, still protected by the remnants of a city wall.
The history of Tallinn goes back to the medieval times, and was first seen on a map in 1154. The records say that the first fortress on Toompea was built in 1050, the city prospered as a trading town in the 14th century, this is also the age when most of the historic centre of the city was built.
The Old City
The city’s biggest tourist draw are the Twisting cobblestone lanes, iron street lamps, colourful, gabled houses, half-hidden courtyards and grandiose churches, gothic spires and medieval markets. The famous Old Town was built up from the 13th to 16th centuries.
Reakoja Plats (Town Hall Square)
A natural magnet for tourists with all the cafés and the tables outside, keeping up with history as a gathering and meeting place for the inhabitants in Tallinn. There is a special spot in the square: find the round stone marked with a compass rose in the middle of the square. From this spot, with a little stretching and bending, you can see the tops all five of Old Town’s spires. As always the square is the social heart of the city: in winter a magical Christmas tree and a Christmas Market. In spring the Old Town Days festival where traditions from the Middle Ages are kept alive. And in summer there are handicraft fairs, Medieval markets and open-air concerts.
All the foreign empires that has rules Estonia has used the castle built in 1227-29 as their base. Today it houses the Parliament of Estonia.
The castle has been revamped countless times through the centuries, but still retains the basic shape it was given in the 13th and 14th centuries.
From the Governor’s Garden at the castle’s southern edge, the 46-metre Pikk Hermann tower comes into view. The tower is a vital national symbol: tradition dictates that whichever nation flies its flag over Pikk Hermann also rules Estonia. Each day at sunrise the Estonian flag is raised above the tower to the tune of the national anthem.
All Medieval towns has their underground tunnels and passageways, as does Tallinn. The defensive tunnel systems were built in the 1600s during the time of Swedish rule. Back then attack was a constant worry, so city planners constructed high bastion walls around the outside of the fortified city. During the years some of the tunnels were forgotten, and even as late as 2003 a pentagonal system of limestone-lined tunnels dating to the end of the 17th century was found.
Danish King’s Garden
On the slopes of Toompea hill between the city wall and Lower Town is an open, garden-like area that happens to be the legendary birthplace of the Danish flag. The name is because the history tells that it was here King Valdemar II of Denmark and his troops camped before conquering Toompea in 1219.
More importantly, a well-known legend both in Estonia and Denmark holds that the Danish flag, the Dannebrog, originated right here. According to the story, Valdemar’s forces were losing their battle with the Estonians when suddenly the skies opened and a red flag with a white cross floated down from the heavens. Taking this as a holy sign, the Danes were spurred on to victory.
The pair of ivy-covered towers at the beginning of Viru Street – one of the main pedestrian arteries into Old Town – is often the first glimpse visitors get of historic Tallinn. Passing through the towers is just as stepping into the middle of the 18th.
Most of the gate was pulled down in the 1880s to make room for traffic, but these two towers remained and have since become a symbol of the town.
Museums in the Old Town
There are a number of museums located in the Old Town of Tallinn, some of them are Estonial Doll Art House located in the oldest building in Tallinn, Estonian History Museum, Estonian Maritime Museum, Estonian Theatre and Music Museum, Kalev Marzipan Museum Room and so many more.
From the medieval old town to the modern city, Tallinn is a centre of contrasts.
The 19th century industrial complex in Rotermann Quarter has been developed into a contemporary shopping quarter with a very unique urban vibe.
The City Centre is packed with museums and religious buildings such as the Bank of Estonia Museum, Estonian Firefighting Museum, Museum of the Popular Front, Tallinn Synagogue, Pentecostal Church, Kaarli Kirik and more.
Kalamaja is one of the wooden architecture areas and home of the biggest sea centre in Estonia. This quiet neighbourhood has long been known for its colourful hodgepodge of old fashioned, working class houses. Throughout most of Tallinn’s history Kalamaja served as the town’s main fishing harbour. Everything changed in 1870, however, when Tallinn was connected to St. Petersburg by railroad. Suddenly enormous factories started to sprout up in this part of town, and they brought with them an influx of thousands of new workers.
The wooden houses built to accommodate these workers became Kalamaja’s architectural legacy and are now what gives neighbourhood its unforgettable charm. Built in the 1920s and 30s, these two to three-storey apartment houses are made of two symmetrical wooden wings separated by a stone central staircase. There are about 500 of these in the city today.
Nõmme is an area of Tallinn that is so far removed from the rest of the bustle of the city, it’s a quiet district filled with 1920s- and 30s-era houses which gives a feel of a small country town. Nõmme has its own historic centre, a farmers market, pubs, a castle and so many other attractions to see. It wasn’t until 1940 that Nõmme was part of Tallinn so wonder it feels like a different world from Tallinn.
The streets of Kadriorg are as good as a unique architectural museum, weaving together various centuries and cultures. Noble villas and summer estates, functionalist apartment buildings with stately flats are interspersed with cheaper Estonian rented wooden houses. Kadriorg is one of the more dignified areas even today, and one of the best loved residential regions of Tallinn. The Estonian president’s residence and many foreign embassies are located here. The park is one of the favourite spots for walking of Tallinners young and old. But Kadriorg is famed mostly for its baroque palace and park ensemble, begun in 1718 as the summer palace for the family of Russian tsar Peter I.