Tallinn - a gem on the Baltic shore
by Triinu Keskküla
Sunday, November 13, 2016
However you arrive to Tallinn, whether it is a ferry from Helsinki or Stockholm or a plane from somewhere Central or Western Europe, you will find surprises everywhere in here. Firstly – the capital of Estonia – Tallinn – is small. Well, compared to many other metropolitan areas in the world. The port is just 10 minute walk from the city center and the airport is not further either – only 15 minutes by bus. But it’s smallness doesn’t mean it is an uninteresting place. Tallinn, I have found, is a perfect blend of the old and the new.
As I have understood from the brief glimpse of history, there has always been someone living in Tallinn ever since the glaciers melted away. The oldest proof of settlement goes back around 5000 years. It has been said that the first “town” such appeared around 10th century and the first mention of Tallinn was in 1154. by a map maker Al-Idrisi.
Tallinn Old Town
You can see the history of Tallinn in the Old town. To my knowledge, the whole old town is under the protection of UNESCO as the biggest fully preserved Middle-Age city. And it shows. When you walk down (or up in many cases) the cobblestone roads, you can look around and feel the medieval vibe around you. And of course, the Estonians fully embrace it buy adding tourist snares everywhere – people dressed in medieval garb who are inviting you
into their Medieval restaurants. Even though in some cases, you might not want to do that. But in Tallinn, you should. Some of the restaurants are pretty good at mimicking the olden times (like Olde Hansa and Peppersack). One could just stay there and enjoy the weird and wonderful food and medieval music.
Of course, as a main tourist spot, the Old Town is full of souvenir shops and every kind of restaurants you can imagine. I wouldn’t recommend to but souvenirs from random big-signed shops you can find everywhere. I would more suggest you go to handicraft shops like “Hää Eesti Asi” which allows you to buy real hand made souvenirs and it supports the Estonian handicraft society as well.
Away from the centre to Kadriorg
If you have time, you really should wander further than Old Town. The City Center is full of “new” buildings – which means glass and metal towers. Some of them hide a shopping centre in them, others hide restaurants and hotels. I would certainly recommend to peek into one of the oldest parts of the city (except the Old Town) – to Kadriorg. It’s full of small wooden houses built a century ago. From Kadriorg, you can walk to the Kadriorg Park – which is one of the oldest and prettiest parks in Tallinn. And probably one of the largest parks as well. Kadriorg Manor
and the park was created by Tzar Peter I to his wife Catherine the Great as a gift, since Catherine was in love with Estonia and it’s countryside. Thus the name of Kadriorg as well – in Estonian it’s “Catherine’s Valley”.
From Kadriorg, it’s only a short walk to the Statue of Russalka and the seaside. In summer evenings, you can see magnificent sunsets in there and if you are lucky, you can even see Aurora Borealis, when it’s the right time. From Russalka, you should head to the Song Festifal Grounds.
Estonian pride – the Song and Dance Festivals
Every 5 years, Estonians celebrate their nationality buy having a Song and Dance Festival. The tradition has been here for over 150 years and by the looks of it, it will only continue to grow. It’s awesome to be on the Song Festival Grounds during the Song Festival – to see around 30 000 people on the stage and around 70 000 to 100 000 viewers on the grounds.
You don’t have to understand Estonian to grasp the beauty of the song and celebration. And even when the Song Festival Ground is empty, its still a amazing thing to look at – to grasp the largeness of the stage and of the grounds. Certainly a must go place when you are a tourist.
Not far from the Song Festival Grounds and from Kadriorg Park is the Estonian Art Museum (KUMU). It’s definetly another place one should look into. They are always updating their exhibits and bring in the new stuff. Of course, they keep all the best art from different parts of Estonian history there as well. It’s a nice overview of Estonians and their mindset.
Away from the City
If after visiting the Old Town and Kadriorg you still have more time, you should check up the Open Air Museum in Rock Al Mare. It’s a park full of old Estonian farms and buildings from different times and different places in Estonia. Walking around the Open Air Musem should give you a nice view of how Estonians came to be and how they became the way they are.
I personally loved the Open Air Musem – lots of clean air and lovely views on the Seaside. Sometimes it felt so weird to be walking among the trees and bushes and you knew that there is a city around you. But as being in there, you couldn’t see or feel anything else but calmness and history around you.
After coming back from the Open Air Museum, there should be enough time to catch a bus to the port or the airport. Or in many cases, check in to the hotel. If you have more time to spend in Tallinn, I would recommend to visit some of the museums like Lennusadam (which is one of the best museums in Estonia I might add) and Estonian History museum.
You want more?
If you do not like museums and you prefer bars and music, the nightlife in the Old Town is awesome. Lots of pubs, bars and nightclubs are open during the night and since they are all really close by, you do not have to travel far to get full enjoyment of the night.
One day is a really short time for visiting Tallinn. To get to know it properly, I suggest to plan at least few days in here. It is a town full of wonder and views. I have visited this city many many times and I still find something new every time I visit it. So, come visit my homeland and the city we love!