Which are Tallinn’s must-see attractions? Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn is also the largest urban agglomeration in the country and a must-visit destination if you want to discover this country’s history and lifestyle. The town boasts a wide range of attractions: romantic medieval castles, beautiful sandy beaches, exquisite gardens, gastronomic restaurants, etc. The city was listed among the top 10 digital cities in the world and it was also dubbed one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2011.
With such a well preserved cultural heritage and landmarks whose history goes back to the forgone eras of the cold war, you will be entertained all throughout your stay in this picturesque town. While Tallinn certainly deserves a few days if you want to understand the city and to explore the whole country by means of day trips, there are some landmarks in Tallinn you should not miss, not even if you are in Estonia for only one day.
The Old Town
Known among the locals as Vanalinn Tallinn’s Old Town is undoubtedly the city’s, if not only the country’s most popular tourist attraction. Estonia’s medieval jewel lets visitors discover its heart while walking up and down its narrow, cobbled streets. You will feel like going back in time and stepping into a fairy tale, and the pubs in the area will certainly help with their staff wearing charming medieval costumes, just to complete the atmosphere. Take the time to explore this part of Tallinn, stop to admire the architecture of the old merchant houses, catch your breath in its medieval courtyards, admire sweeping views over the city and take lots of pictures.
The Old Town is divided into two areas (Upper and Lower), each with its distinctive atmosphere. Regarded as the birthplace of Tallinn, the Upper Town is home to some of the must-see historic attractions in Tallinn, including the 15th century Tompea Castle and the Alexandre Nevsky Cathedral. Contrasting the sumptuous splendor of this Russian Orthodox cathedral, the Gothic St. Mary’s Cathedral is also located in the Upper Town. Built in the 13th century, after the Danes invaded Tallinn, the Dome Church as it is also known is the oldest religious edifice in Tallinn.
The tangle of streets of the Lower Town bustle with bars, crafts shops and street traders offering local specialties. One of the most picturesque streets here is St. Catherine Passage lined with charming craft workshops. Here you can observe artists at work as they produce jewelry, glass items and ceramics. You may even be tempted to buy a souvenir. The Town Hall Square is the true heart of the city as well as the perfect place to have a beer, a cup of coffee and soak up the atmosphere.
Tallinn Town Hall
The most impressive building is, of course, the Town Hall with its slim tower and its Renaissance roof. Built in the thirteenth century, this building has taken its actual appearance during the renovations made in 1402-1404.
After serving for 700 years served as headquarters of the local government, the City Hall is now open to tourists who can admire the antique pieces of furniture, the vaulted ceilings and the brightly decorated colonnade.
Opposite the Hall, there is another building with historical value – the oldest pharmacy in the world, built in 1422, which now houses a museum with exhibits in this field.
Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral
Climbing Pikk street, visitors can admire Gothic and Baroque houses, the church of St. Olaf (the highest in the world in the thirteenth century) and leaving Vanalinn (the lower part of the old city), they move on to Tompeea (the upper part, perched on the hill with the same name). On top of the hill is Toomkirik, the first church in Tallinn (1240), rebuilt in Baroque style in the eighteenth century, after a fire. It has a wonderful collection of wooden shields, reminiscent of the local nobility.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral with its majestic domes can also be found on Tompeea hill. There are no words that are befitting to describe the beauty and majestic splendor of the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral, yet another of the must-see Tallinn landmarks. The Orthodox church, decorated in different historical styles was built in 1900, when Estonia was under Russian imperial influence on the former site of a garden dedicated to Martin Luther. The building was named after the Prince of Novgorod, under the command of which, in 1241 during the Lake Tchoudsky Battle, the Russian troops defeated the Teutonic Knights.
Adorned with precious works of art and other jaw-dropping artifacts and memorabilia, this splendid example of Russian Revival architecture certainly makes an interesting discovery. However, you should know that the highly photographed majestic cathedral raising its imposing domes on top of Toompea hill is a controversial subject for the locals. While some argue that it was erected on the place one of the folk heroes – Kalevipoeg – was buried, others resent its Soviet style and connotations.
Built in the 14th century, Toompea castle is one of the oldest architectural Tallinn landmarks, and certainly a must-see. Erected some 50m above the sea level, it happens to be one of the most potent symbols of the reigning powers that conquered the country along the centuries. The castle’s history is reflected by its eclectic mixture of architecture styles: while the western wall and the Tall Hermann tower conserve their medieval appearance, the Riigikogu building (currently housing the Estonian Parliament) and the southern wing have a classic style.
While strolling along it, you will get amazing views over the Old Town’s skyline. For a panoramic view from above, get on top of the 314 meters Tallinn TV Tower, located in the same district. While in Pirita, you can visit the Estonian Film Museum and take a stroll in Tallinn Botanic Garden.
Pirita neighborhood is also worth paying a visit to as it happens to be one of the most prestigious districts in Tallinn. The area is abundantly endowed with natural beaches, a yachting harbor that is said to attract over 30k visitors per year thanks to its breathtaking parks, and many cycle and walking tracks. A splendid promenade goes along the sea shore connecting this neighborhood with Kadriorg.
Outdoor lovers will be delighted to tour Kadriorg neighborhood. Located right outside the Old Town, this quiet area owes its beginnings to the Czar Peter the Great, who even had a family retreat cottage here. Actually, the district’s name in Estonian means “Catherine’s Valley” – the Czar’s wife.
Time permitted, there are quite a few landmarks you should see in Kadriorg. Culture lovers will certainly appreciate a visit to Kumu Art Museum. The receiver of the European Museum of the Year Award in 2008, Kumu impresses by the modernist style of architecture as well as by the variety of exhibits. The perfect example of the Czarist extravagance, the Baroque Kadriorg Palace is a must-see Tallinn landmark.
The current home of the Kadriorg Art Museum, the palace is a good place to admire paintings and other works of art belonging to Russian and Western artist, but also an enchanted destination if you want to take a stroll. The royal building is surrounded by landscaped gardens dotted with sculptures and little ponds.
To complete your cultural discovery, stop at the nearby Mikkel Museum for some elegant exhibits of foreign art, at Eduard Vilde or Anton Hansen-Tammsaare Museums if you want to penetrate deeper into Estonian cultural heritage. Miia-Milla-MandaMuseumis another optional stop in Kadriorg area, especially if you are traveling with your little ones. While strolling along the beaches of Kadriorg district, take the time to admire Russalka – an example of classic Estonian art erected in the memory of the armored ship bearing the same time and of its crew, who died during a storm in 1893.
Rocca al Mare
Located in the Western part of Tallinn, Rocca al Mare is the place to go for more outdoor activities as here you will find Tallinn Zoo as well as the Estonian Open Air Museum – a charming recreation of the 19th century Estonian village. Harku Beach is the perfect destination if you want to have some fun while rowing or paddling on the lake.