Yes, we loved Tallinn, the capital of Estonia!

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The story of our wonderful 5-day stay in Tallinn, Estonia

We immediately answer the most-asked question since our return from Estonia. Yes, we loved it. Not only the capital Tallinn, but the whole stay in the country in late and early . We probably caught the warmest and driest week of the month. And also one of the most beautiful times, when nights are almost gone and you experience daylight for more than 20 hours a day.

There are not direct flights from Bulgaria to Estonia, except some holiday charters in the summer. The most cost-effective and time-effective options we found were through Warsaw or Istanbul. We picked the one through Warsaw and in the meanwhile allowed a 13-hour transfer time to enjoy this city, too. However, if you are coming from another European country, you may be lucky to catch a direct flight and even a low-cost one to Tallinn. Another popular option to reach Tallinn, especially from Nordic countries, is by sea. There are regular ferries to many destinations.

Boarding the small plane between Tallinn and Warsaw

Boarding the small plane between Tallinn and Warsaw

When you land at Tallinn airport, you understand what a small and cosy airport means. A sign there said that it was the cosiest airport in Europe and we would believe it. So we landed, got out of the airport and found ourselves just on the tram stop. Not many airports can boost such comfort. However, we did not need a tram this time and immediately rented a car to another wonderful destination – a countryside manor house.

Well, we returned two days later to experience Tallinn and its full charm. We settled in a beautiful appartment between the harbour and the Old town in a brand new building. It is a matter of a private discussion how we got there because it is not a place where anyone could stay. We will also say that it featured an amazing view towards the old town and now we keep writing about Tallinn itself.

Getting to know Tallinn

Did we have a strategy how to get to know Tallinn in the best way? Not actually. We immersed ourselves in the beautiful city with modest knowledge about it. However, we used the help of a couple of local friends who were happy to share their time with us and act as guides. We also used Tallinn Cards for 48 hours – really helpful if you want to explore the city attractions thoroughly. So with a lot of enthusiasm and new powers after our rest at Saka Manor, we started our exploration in Tallinn.

Tram number 4

Tram number 4

After we landed at Tallinn airport we did not try the beautiful tram because we had to leave for Saka manor. However, two days later we returned at the same place to return the car and this time we boarded the tram that took us to Viru square (Viru väljak). It is probably the most communicative and touristic place in Tallinn. All 4 tram lines pass by here, as well as many other public transport lines. Here is also the first stop of the Hop On – Hof Off buses. And this is also the most popular entrance to the old town.

Viru Gate - the most touristic part of Tallinn. What to see in Tallinn, attractions in Tallinn, museums in Tallinn

Viru Gate – the most touristic part of Tallinn

 

Viru square, Viru street and Viru gate – the most touristic part of Tallinn

All of these names are related to the northeastern region Virumaa with largest city Narva. Viru gate was once the eastern entrance to the town, leading to Virumaa. Today this is the main touristic street, always crowded with visitors and noisy. There are really a lot of tourists in Tallinn, especially in the summer, when cruise ships stop at the Tallinn harbour.

Viru street in Tallinn

Viru street in Tallinn

Sometimes Viru street can be very colourful

Sometimes Viru street can be very colourful

Walking by Viru street, you will reach Vana Turg, the old market. Nowadays there are plenty of restaurants and the area is very popular. Me and Maria did not miss the opportunity to visit several restaurants and now we will tell you about the most touristy among them.

Vana Turg and Olde Hansa restaurant in Tallinn Old Town, Estonia

Vana Turg and Olde Hansa restaurant in Tallinn Old Town

 

Back to the Middle Ages – Olde Hansa restaurant

We reserved our table in advance because Olde Hansa is always very busy – one of the most visited restaurants in Tallinn. It was made with a wonderful idea – to experience the life of 15th century travellers who sit to have a meal in the local inn. And the food is really 15th century style. No french fries, actually no potatoes at all. No contemporary music. You should really think in advance what you would pick from the 15ht century menu. And also, be prepared that there are no LED lights and disco balls – the only lighting comes from the candles.

Maria eating medieval dinner at Olde Hansa

Maria eating medieval dinner at Olde Hansa

All of this entertainment corresponds to the higher prices at the restaurant. However, we were still happy to visit because the restaurant was recommended to us by many people, both local and travellers. For dinner we had meat plates, fish plates and the amazing mushroom soup. Everything was very delicious and well prepared. We also loved the medieval bread with herbs. It was a wonderful experience to escape for a while from the contemporary world around.

 

The central square (Raekoja plats) and the Town Hall

Just next to Vana Turg is the large Town Hall Square with the medieval building of Tallinn Town Hall. The current building dates back to the 15th century although it does not host the Town Hall anymore since 1970. Today it is a museum and tourist attraction and you can also climb its 34 m high tower with its 115 steps. We were enthusiastic to start the climb and not so enthusiastic at the end, which brought us the mockings of a group of chinese tourists. Anyway, the view from the tower is amazing.

Tallinn Town hall building on June 1, at 23.56h

Tallinn Town hall building on June 1, at 23.56h

The Town hall square in Tallinn

The Town hall square in Tallinn

 
If you like towers, fortification walls and other tall places to climb, you will have plenty of opportunities in Tallinn. Hundreds and even thousands of steps await you between the town walls. I could not imagine climbing all of them. We climbed less than 10 towers but there are tens of them. Here we will mention several that impressed us the most.
Tallinn central square seen from the top of the Town Hall tower

Tallinn central square seen from the top of the Town Hall tower

While in Tallinn every evening we went at our apartment exhausted by climbing towers. There are tens of them in the Estonian capital, it looks that they were maniacs about towers in the medieval times. And if you decide to climb them all, you could spend whole days by only watching narrow stairways and rooftops. Well, rooftops are a beautiful view, too. And you don’t need a drone at all.

Tallinn Old Town – the Upper and Lower town

When talking about Tallinn, every tourist imagines the Old Town. The well preserved medieval look of the town, together with some newer buildings, create one of the most recognizable sights in Europe. The old town of Tallinn is a World Heritage site and it totally deserves it.

Old town of Tallinn, Estonia

Old town of Tallinn

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Старият град Талин 59.437482, 24.745288

The current old town was once separated in two parts that were different towns until 1878. The Upper town – Toompea, is easily recognizable. It was built on a limestone hill, overlooking the Lower town. You will also see the difference beween the two of them. Toompea looks slightly newer, maybe because it was almost thoroughly rebuilt after a fire in 1684. And Toompea is now highly attractive to tourists because it offers great panoramic views from 4 viewing platforms, all free to visit. So on our first night in Tallinn we headed to these places.

The Pikk jalg tower

The Pikk jalg tower

There are two main ways from the Town Hall square to Toompea – a short one and a long one. The longer one is the Pikk street that crosses the whole town, passes by Pikk Jalg (one of the two surviving tower-gates) and reaches the beautiful St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral. The name of the street means “the long leg”. The shorter way is the Lühike jalg (“the short leg”) which is actually a stairway leading to the same place.

Maria posing at one of the viewing platforms towards the old town of Tallinn

Maria posing at one of the viewing platforms towards the old town of Tallinn

 

The viewing platforms on Toompea hill

There are four panoramic viewing platforms on the hill and of course we visited every one of them multiple times. They are also full of people at any time. The Danish King’s Garden is in immediate vicinity of the two “legs” and the St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral. It offers nice view, not the best though. However, the place is very pleasant.

Piiskopi is a shady platform overlooking the newer parts of the town. It is know as the Bishop’s garden because in 18th and 19th centuries the gardens of the adjacent Dome Church were located here. A calm place and a wonderful escape from the sun in the summer days. From here you can also enjoy the sunset.

Tallinn is really welcoming to tourists

Tallinn is really welcoming to tourists

The next two platforms are most popular among visitors and every traveller has a photo from them. My favourite one is the Patkuli platform from where you can see the fortification walls, together with some of the most attractive towers, including St. Olaf’s bell tower. We enjoyed the view here for several evenings. From Patkuli viewing platform you can go down from Toompea hill by a small stairway built in 1903. This is actually one of the few ways to reach Toompea hill from the town.

View from Patkuli platform

View from Patkuli platform

Гледка от прозореца на една от кулите

The other point of view. One of the most popular viewpoints in Tallinn, full with people. Now we are part of the view, we are in one of the beautiful towers on the walls of Tallinn with view of viewpoint Patkuli.

Our last stop if the Kohtuotsa platform, another very convenient and nice place to watch the old town. You won’t regret stepping by. We were there several times and there always was a seagull entertaining the tourists. I do not know whether it was the same seagull but it was really friendly and not afraid of the crowds. After our visit here, we crossed the Toompea hill with a couple of Estonian friends who took us to a nice local pub, aside from the touristy area.

Night view from Kohtuotsa platform

Night view from Kohtuotsa platform

Kohtuotsa viewing platform, around 11 pm

Kohtuotsa viewing platform, around 11 pm

 

Beer with locals in Tallinn

Our friends took us to  Pööbel pub, a few minutes walk down from Toompea . This was probably the most affordable pub in the city centre and we would recommend having a beer or a cider there. The food was also nice, not too fancy but well prepared. We are actually fascinated by the pubs and restaurants in Tallinn – food was wonderful everywhere and you can try really different tastes and cuisines.

In Estonia it is traditional to drink cider or beer. However, if you are wine lover like us, you will feel very happy. Many restaurants have wonderful wine lists and offer wide variety of wines on glass. A glass of wine costs 4 – 5 euro, the same price as cider and beer.

Discovering Tallinn – museums and other attractions

If you are in a hurry but want to see as much as possible, you can walk the whole old town in less than a day. However, if you really want to get to know Tallinn, I would recommed you to stay for longer. We enjoyed the city slowly by walking it, watching it and tasting it. As I mentioned before, in Tallinn there are many towers that you can climb and many museums, though most of them are small ones.

The bell tower of St. Olaf church which you can also climb

The bell tower of St. Olaf church which you can also climb

 
If you plan yo visit many towers and museums, it is a great idea to buy Tallinn Card. The cards can be bought from the tourist information office and have options for 24 hours, 48 hours or 72 hours. Against the price of the card you receive free entrance to tens of museums and attractions, including the most notable ones. Here you can make a virtual plan of the places you want to visit and check how much you will save if you use Tallinn Card. We had the 48 hours cards and made a rich tour around museums, towers and other attractions. Moreover, the Tallinn Card includes free public transport and the Tallinn Card Plus option include free rides on the Hop On – Hop Off buses.

Main attractions in Tallin

We are not going to write about all the places we visited in Tallinn but we will share our favourites.

June 4th and the Pikk Hermann

It was raining in the morning of June 4th around 6am, Maria was still sleeping but I headed to Toompea. In the upper town are the headquarters of many state institutions, including the Estonian parliament which is hosted in the Toompea castle. The building of the parliament is a newer wing, built by the western wall of Toompea castle. Pikk Hermann (Tall Hermann) is the tallest tower of the castle where the Estonian national flag is being raised daily. So it is a kind of home of the Estonian flag.

The Estonian parliament is called Riigikogu and has 101 members

The Estonian parliament is called Riigikogu and has 101 members with 5-year term

So this rainy Monday was the Eesti lipu päev – the National Flag Day. So I decided to attend the ceremony of raising the flag at the foot of Pikk Hermann. The flag is raised every morning on sunrise and lowered every evening on sunset, except two occasions. They are 23 June – Victory Day and 24 June – Summer Solstice Day. Actually, there are no real sunsets and sunrises on these dates.

The Toompea tower, Estonia

The Toompea tower – Pikk Hermann

 

Quick lunch in the lower town

Before we entered the Pikk Hermann, we had lunch in a very cosy restaurant in the lower town that deserves mentioning. The name is Grillhaus Daube and it is a very nice place, a little bit aside from the crowded central part. There is 10 % discount with Tallinn Card. Grillhaus Daube is a great place both for lunch and dinner and offers mostly traditional local meals.

 

Let’s go back to the Tall Hermann

June 4th is the only day in the year when Pikk Herman is open for visitors and you can climb the tower. This year the visiting hours were between 14 and 19h and we were very enthusiastic and happy that we were there at the time. We joined a group with a guide and climbed the 215 stairs of the 45m tall tower to reach the top and enjoy the stunning panoramic view towards Tallinn.

Wonderful ensemble of the old town wall with the towers of the castle, together with the newer buildings around

Wonderful ensemble of the old town wall with the towers of the castle, together with the newer buildings around

From the top of the tower you can see what part of the fortification walls have been preserved and also a part of the inner yard of the parliament. Of course, you can enjoy the bird eye’s view to the St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral.

St. Alexander Nevsky church, seen from Toompea tower

St. Alexander Nevsky church, seen from Toompea tower – Pikk Hermann

 

Fortification walls and towers

In the Middle Ages the Swedes used to call the city Reval. After it was taken by the Russian empire during the Great Northern War, the city was mostly known as Revel. No matter what its name was, this city had a huge strategic importance and every ruler contributed to the construction of fortification walls and towers. Nowadays are surviving around 20 towers, together with sections of the fortification walls. Every tower has its name and history and most of them are open for visitors.

Towers of Tallinn

Towers of Tallinn

 

Another climb, 170 m above the sea – Tallinn Tv tower (Teletorn)

Tallinn TV tower was built in 1980 and is an interesting building, 314 m tall. You can visit it and climb to floors 21 and 21 at the height of 170 m. On the 22nd floor there is a restaurant (quite pricey as expected). It is nice to visit the tower in not so windy day and enjoy the view from the outdoor terrace. However, visiting is possible even on a very windy day. Then they make the lifts move slower and queues are possible. We were not extremely impressed by this tower but it is quite popular place to visit.

Tallinn Card gives you a priority entrance to the TV tower (Teletorn) so you can avoid the queues.

Wine in Estonia and the Estonian Drinking Culture Museum

As you know, we are always looking for wine moments, even in a country where winemaking is not a big industry. Despite Estonia’s climate is not suitable to grow grapes, the country still produces some wine and we were eager to try it. Grapes are grown in the country since just a few years back.  The first vintages of grape wine are now out but in very limited quantities so we were only shown the bottles.

Precious rose wine made from the first grapes grown in Estonia

Precious rose wine made from the first grapes grown in Estonia

So what do they make wine from? Well, from other fruits – apples, blueberries, plums, cranberries, etc. And we found a wonderful place to try it in Tallinn – the Museum of Estonian Drinking Culture. Here you can hear the story of one of the founders of winemaking in Estonia and also try their wines.

Tasting wine from plums

Tasting wine from plums

 

History of wine in Estonia

The museum was founded by spirits producer Luscher & Matiesen. The company once owned a factory near the current building of the museum on Toompea hill. The little museum tell the story of Swiss-born Arnold Lüscher and Estonian Paul Matiesen who initially started a vodka factory in Moscow. However, during the October revolution they had to abandon their business and leave the country. In 1921 they established a wine cellar in upper Tallinn, on Toompea hill. In 1929 here was happening the largest wine priduction in Estonia. The production of Luscher & Matiesen factory reached 400 000 litres of wine annually.

You can enjoy a glass of Estonian fruit wine down here, among old furniture and a little bit weird atmosphere

You can enjoy a glass of Estonian fruit wine down here, among old furniture and a little bit weird atmosphere

In 1940 Estonia became a part of the USSR and the production was put to an end. Luscher managed to flee the country and Paul Matiesen could not survive the loss and died tragically. The third partner in the company – Dmitry Matiesen (Paul’s nephew) was also able to flee. The company was reestablished in 2009 when Dmitry Matiesen made a last trip to Tallinn to celebrate his 100th birthday.

It was interesting to try the Estonian fruit wines. They are not like the grape wines we are used to but still a nice experience.

The colourful quarters of Tallinn

Where do the locals go?

Definitely not in the Old Town, especially younger citizens. Despite it is very nice for walks, it is a territory of tourists. Locals have some other places to go that might not look that attractive but are still nice and romantic.

A former Palace of Culture or a Soviet concrete monster

One of the quite wierd places we visited was the Tallinna Linnahall. From outside, it looks like a monstrous concrete structure just by the sea and next to the old harbour. We would never guess what it was if some local friends hadn’t told us that it had something in common with the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, when the sailing events were held in Tallinn. Our further research discovered that it was actually the former V. I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport. It was built on the occasion of the games to accommodate some cultural events and other mass gatherings. However, after the Olympics the hall proved too large for any local events and was used very occasionally. It is closed since 2009 for renovations.

However, the roof of the hall is nowadays a favourite place for local young people to hang out, drink beer and enjoy the sunset. Skaters can also be seen around.

The prison

Nearby on the coast is another abandoned iconic building – the former prison, known also as Patarei Sea Fortress. Today it is uninhabited but is seen as a memorial of the victims of communism and faschism. You can take a walk by the promenade that passes through its yard and enjoy the exotic seaside view through the barbed wire fence.

Barbed wire for lovers

Barbed wire for lovers near the old prison in Tallinn. For this walk we carried only the Olympus Pen-F camera which made our 3-hour long walk easy and pleasant.

 

Kalamaja – the trendiest place to live in Tallinn

We had a pleasant walk through this quarer with a couple of young friends from Tallinn who told us a lot about the life of young people in the Estonian capital. Initially they wanted to take us to the beach near the former prison but we eventually ended walking through the nearby quarters. We passed by the Seaplane Harbour (Lennusadam) – the Estonian Maritime museum, and continued our walk to nearby Kalamaja district.

Kalamaja, the quarter with beautiful wooden houses inTallinn

Kalamaja, the quarter with beautiful wooden houses inTallinn

Kalamaja is a beautiful quarter with old wooden houses, most of them a century old but well-preserved. This is the trendiest and priciest area to buy a home in Tallinn in the recent years. However, our friends explained that it might look romantic to live in such a house but it is not very practical, especially in terms of heating and maintenance of old buildings. However, Kalamaja is sometimes noted as “hipsters’ quarter” and there are obviously enough people willing to live there. Kalamaja is located west from the Old Town. Before you reach the wall, you pass through another trendy place in Tallinn – Telliskivi Creative City.

Telliskivi Creative City

Here you will find many new cafes, restaurants, bars and a lot of creative stuff. Some of the cafes are hosted in old train cars or train depots. The area is home to many cultural events and street culture. This is actually one of the places most loved by young people in Tallinn recently. We were recommended to have a meal in the Frenchy restaurant but time was not enough.

 

Rotermann quarter

We were staying in an appartment very close to Rotermann district. The quarter is located just between the harbour and the Viru square. It is not a large area but a nice one, with many new business buildings and fancy restaurants and cafes. This is not the place for a budget dinner but you can have really nice and interesting food. We had lunch in Platz restaurant – a place with very cozy atmosphere and Asian-style food. There is also budget lunch menu on weekdays (5 – 6 EUR for a main course).

Rottermann quarter in Tallinn

Rottermann quarter in Tallinn

Rotermann quarter

Rotermann quarter

 

Kadriorg, Peter I the Great and other local stories

During the Great Northern war (1700 – 1721) Estonia became a part of the Russian empire after the fall of Tallinn, then known as Ravel. In 1711 Rissian tsar Peter I arrived in Tallinn with his wife Catherine and bought a small manor near the seaside, with a view to the construction works of the harbour. The house looks really small for a tsar residence today, but it had other service  buildings around. Today this house is in the shadow of the larger Kadriorg palace that was built on the orders of Peter I.

Portrait of Peter I in Kardiorg palace

Portrait of Peter I in Kardiorg palace

 

Kadriorg palace

Peter I obviously liked the area and in 1718 he ordered the construction of a larger palace nearby for his wife Catherine. However, he did not live to see the palace completed and after his death in 1725 Catherine lost interest to the palace. Later Russian monarchs were also not too interested in the place and the palace was used only for occasional visits by members of the royal family.

Kadriorg palace in Tallinn

Kadriorg palace in Tallinn

Nowadays Kardiorg palace is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Tallinn. It hosts some of the exhibitions of the National Art Gallery of Estonia, particularly the foreign art from 16 to 20th century. Here you can see many impressive works but our favourite room was the one with the portraits of Peter I, his wife Catherine and their daughter empress Elizabeth Petrovna, known also as Yelisaveta or Elizaveta. The park around the palace is also very beautiful despite we saw it on a rainy day.

Kadriorg park in Tallinn, Estonia

Kadriorg park in Tallinn, Estonia

 
In 1938 was completed the building of the Estonian presidency, just nearby Kadriorg palace. Nowadays you can see the honour guards and a small weird attraction – the presdent’s bees. They live in three beehives just in front of the building and you will see a sign kindly asking you not to disturb them.

KUMU – the museum of modern art

In the same park is the other building of the Estonian art museum – KUMU. It hosts the exhibitions of Estonian art from 18th century until nowadays. If you are fans of art exhibitions, the Kadriorg area is your place in Tallinn and you could easily spend a cultural half-day.

The house of Peter the Great

Do not miss to take a quick walk around the modest house where Peret I used to live for several summers. Despite no original furniture has survived until nowadays, the place has emotional value. It will take you just several minutes to walk through and it really does not look like a royal residence.

However, let’s remember that during the times of Peter I, the manor was surrounded by many other service buildings, including a sauna and bath. Some of them were removed because of the construction of the president’s palace in 1938.

What we left for next time?

I am sure that there were other wonderful places we did not visit in Tallinn. One of them is the Open-air mnuseum but the weather was not fine for any open air activities during our last two days in Tallinn. On the way to the museum is also the zoo – another place we wanted to see but skipped because of the weather.

Tallinn and the St. Olaf church tower, once the tallest building in the world in 15-16 century

Tallinn and the St. Olaf church tower, once the tallest building in the world in 15-16 century

The bell tower of St. Olaf church – we had a strange encounter with the lady on the door here. She insisted that there was some problem with our Tallinn Cards that provide free entrance to the tower so she would not let us in. We never understood what the problem was because the cards were working anywhere else, but eventually we did not climb that tower.

We also wanted to take a tour of the parliament, not only climb the Pikk Hermann, but this was not so easy either. The official English language tour is on Fridays at 10 am when we were not in Tallinn yet. On the weekdays there are also tours but mostly in Estonian. To ensure your visit to the parliament, you should call and book at least a few days in advance. Tours of the parliament are guided and free.

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