Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, a country which was under German and then Soviet rule from 1940-1991. It gained its independence in my life time, and was ‘behind the iron curtain’ for a long time. Tallinn definitely captured my heart – from the magical old town to the stories of such strength during its dark modern history, this country and its story are amazing.
1. Tallinn City Walls
When visiting Tallinn, one of the best things to do is ‘walk the walls’. You can do a large section of the walls at Kiek in de Kok (see below), or you could just do a short section at Hellemann Tower. Tallinn’s walls were originally founded for defensive purposes in the 1200s, and almost 2km is still in tact making it one of the best preserved medieval walls in Europe.
2. Toompea Castle & Governor’s Garden
This site has been in use as a fortress since at least the 9th century, and today is home to the Parliament of Estonia. Legend has it that the entirety of Toompea Hill was made by a lady called Linda who built it boulder-by-boulder with her own hands.
Nowadays you can’t enter the castle, but there is a beautiful garden called the Governor’s Garden to enjoy, and to see Tall Hermann (another of the towers in the city).
3. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
This cathedral was built in traditional Russian style, while Estonia was part of the Russian Empire. It is dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky who won the Battle of the Ice on Lake Peipus (part of present day Estonia). Given the cathedral was built during a period of ‘Russification’, it was seen for a long time as a symbol of oppression by the Estonians. However, whilst demolition was scheduled, it never happened – and instead the cathedral has been painstakingly restored and remains one of the main attractions in Tallinn. You can’t take photos inside though.
4. Viewing platforms
There are two lovely viewing platforms quite close together – Patkuli and Kohtuotsa. It’s a little bit of a climb up to them but well worth it for the beautiful views.
5. KGB Prison Cells
This beautiful building is a reminder of Estonia’s dark past. For almost half a century, this house was the HQ of the KGB in Estonia, and its cellars were utilised for a long period as prison cells, torture chambers and interrogation rooms. The exhibition inside tells the story of the people interrogated and murdered there, and shows the shocking conditions in which prisoners were kept, and the even more shocking brutality with which they were treated. A very sobering experience, but a worthwhile one none the less.
6. Old Town Square
This square is the heart of the old town, and is flanked by the Town Hall on one side, and restaurants and bars galore. If you’re visiting in winter, it’s also the site of the Christmas markets. It’s a lovely place to sit and enjoy a drink and watch the world go by.