It is midday on a Thursday. I should be wolfing down a quick lunch while scrolling through my friends’ Instagram posts, with a heavy sigh of holiday envy. Not today. Today I am in the fairy-tale land that is Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn. When I told my friends of my latest travel plans, they all looked at me blankly and asked “Where’s that?”, so naturally I have made it my mission to show them what they are missing out on. Do you go for the quirky angle? The artsy filter? Whatever your style, you are sure to find something worth snapping in Tallinn. Here are my top five photo-worthy spots.
St Catherine’s Passage (Katariina käik).
Finding this snug alleyway between Vene Street and Müürivahe street is a bit like being part of a secret club. Trust me, it is worth hunting around for. Running behind what used to be St Catherine’s Church, this narrow street is full of history. Take a moment to simply stand at one end of the passage looking through the many terracotta-tiled archways. You would be forgiven for feeling that you have stepped onto a fantasy film set or a time long since forgotten. At one end of the walkway there are enormous tombstones, remnants from St Catherine’s church, and at the other end is St Catherine’s guild where you will find artists and craftspeople at work in their open studios. This secret passageway has a very special ambience to it that can’t be captured on camera, so be sure to allow yourself time to soak it up. Continue along St Catherine’s Passage to Master’s Courtyard, where you will find a delightful Chocolate café with an enormous stuffed bear in a straw hat sitting outside.
The Town Walls
Tallinn has the cosy feeling of being enveloped by its remaining 1.9km of town walls, and they are a sight to behold from whatever your vantage point. From the inside, they are the sturdy walls that protect the bubble of otherworldliness within. From the outside, they are a force to be reckoned with, with 20 defensive towers still standing, most of which are probably inhabited by damsels in distress and guarded by dragons. Alright, I haven’t checked my facts on that one, but I could easily believe it. In the section of the wall connecting Nunna, Sauna and Kuldjala towers, to the North West of the town hall square, you can climb up and explore the towers and the wall. Pause for a moment here to take in the view over the picturesque Old Town, and of course, snap the perfect shot of it.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Originally built in 1900 as a symbol of the Russian Empire’s dominance over Tallinn, this onion-domed cathedral is instantly recognisable as Russian design. Being placed so close to Toompea Castle really highlights the differences in architectural style. Since Tallinn’s independence in 1991, the controversy has faded, leaving behind a building that can be appreciated for the architectural masterpiece that it is. It can be a little difficult to get a full view of this cathedral due to its size and the amount of traffic in the area, so I went for the artsy angle myself. It is also well worth stepping inside. Russian Orthodox churches are known for their opulence, detailed mosaics and bright colours and this is no exception.
Town Hall Square (Raekoja Plats)
Made up of brightly coloured and quaint old buildings reminiscent of Scandinavia, Tallinn’s town hall square looks pretty all year round. Not only is it gorgeously photogenic, it is also the perfect place to pause for a coffee and a spot of people watching. This is where you are most likely to see the interesting juxtaposition of locals going about their usual business and fellow tourists enjoying the scene. The town hall itself is very impressive and for a small fee, you can go inside. In my opinion, though, the beauty is in how it perches amongst everyday buildings like shops and cafes, without looking out of place, like a fairy-tale princess who has donned a disguise to browse the marketplace in peace. During your time in the square, be sure to visit the pharmacy. This is said to be one of Europe’s longest running pharmacies, an old favourite of the Russian Tsars and an excellent place to stock up on your powdered unicorn horn and dried toads. Yes, really.
Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform
Gazing over the patchwork quilt of red-roofed medieval buildings and imposing towers offset by the glimmer of the Baltic Sea on the horizon, it is hard to feel that there are better views to be had. I would recommend going here very early in the morning if you can. This way you can capture Estonia’s sleeping beauty with that drowsy haze over her, before she wakes and the platform is packed with others, all trying to get the perfect shot too. As an added bonus, you may find yourself treated to a photo shoot with the famous Steven the Seagull. A much-loved resident of Tallinn, Steven has his own hashtag (check out #steventheseagull if you don’t believe me) and is usually only too happy to pose for his adoring fans. When I visited, Steven had a friend and I must admit to not knowing which, if either, was the real Steven. Still, I managed to snap the pair of them preening as if they were models on the cover of a magazine.
If you’re looking to wow your friends and followers with gorgeous Instagrams, add Tallinn to your bucket list. A hidden gem on the Baltic shoreline, Tallinn may be the lesser-known cousin of Oslo and Copenhagen but what it lacks in fame it more than makes up for in its immense beauty and medieval charm. But don’t take my word for it, visit Tallinn and see for yourself. While you’re there, see if there really are damsels locked in the towers, will you?