As the capital city of Estonia and one of the oldest cities in Northern Europe, Tallinn has a diverse history and culture that dates back several hundred years. The city has some truly wonderful museums that can help tourists get a better understanding of the vibrant history and culture of Tallinn and Estonia in general.
Here are some of the best:
Address: Vene 17, Tallinn
Picture: Diego Dolso
Tallinn’s City Museum offers great insight into the history of the city itself. The museum is actually made up of many smaller exhibitions that are located throughout 10 different sites, with the main one of these being set in a 14th century merchant’s house.
The rich and detailed exhibitions offer a great amount of information for visitors, and much of this is available in English too – so you can avoid the audio guide to save a few bucks! The top floor in particular is worth visiting, as it offers a look at life under soviet rule in the city, including a thrilling documentary about the fall of the regime in Tallinn.
Estonian History Museum
Address: Pirita tee 56, Tallinn
Image: Shoestring at wts wikivoyage
The Estonian History Museum provides a fascinating look into the very psyche of the Estonian people. Found mostly in the gorgeous Great Guild Hall, a gothic building first built in 1410, the museum is spread over several locations in the city.
‘Spirit of Survival – 11,000 Years of Estonian History’ is the main exhibition on display here and is one that is definitely worth checking out. It puts forth thoughtful and provoking questions regarding the people of Estonia.
For example, the question ‘have Estonians been happy in their own land?’ would presumably be false, but the exhibit argues otherwise, using strong facts and figures to back up the statement that Estonians are a generally unhappier populace than much of Europe.
Estonian Museum of Occupations
Address:Toompea 8, Tallinn
Picture: Mark A. Wilson
This museum offers a look into the horrors that Estonians endured under the occupations of two foreign regimes, beginning with Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union. Collectively lasting five decades, this period of occupation is shown through numerous artefacts and photographs to paint a vivid picture of how harsh life here was for such a long time.
The video displays in particular are very moving. While quite lengthy, they offer a great amount of satisfaction in the fact that there was a happy ending for this time of hardship, and how it helped to strengthen the resolve of the Estonian people.
Non-surprisingly the majority of the displays focus on the long-lasting soviet occupation, and while there is a plenty covering Nazi occupation, it can feel much less detailed than the soviet counterparts.
Saint Nicholas’ Church Museum
Address:Niguliste 3, Tallinn
Picture: Guillaume Speurt
This 13th century church building had suffered massive damage in 1944 and the 1980s, from soviet bombings and a fire respectively, but has since been restored to its former beauty and now houses medieval religious art for the Estonian Art Museum.
Berndt Notke’s masterpiece Danse Macabre is housed here. The 15th century piece depicts dancing skeletons in relation to the Dance of Death theme – an allegory for the universality of death. It is unquestionably one of the best of its kind and is a must-see for lovers of art.
Various other artefacts from the middle ages can be found on display here, from pained altarpieces to engraved tombstones.
Estonian Maritime Museum
Address:Fat Margaret Tower Pikk 70, Tallinn
Learn all about the maritime history of Estonia at this museum, which can found within Fat Margaret, a bastion tower set in the thick walls that guard the port entrance to the Old Town of Tallinn.
Here there is a diverse selection of old charts, diving equipment, model ships, and countless other seafaring artefacts available for viewing. There are even ships residing in the Seaplane Harbour, including an old icebreaker and submarine!
Kadriorg Art Museum
Address:A. Weizenbergi 37, Tallinn
Image: Pierre Andre Leclercq
Art aficionados will surely want to visit Kadriorg Art Museum, which is currently a branch of the Estonian Art Museum that houses art exhibitions devoted to paintings from Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, and Germany.
Residing within the 18th century Kadriorg Palace, you will find art here that ranges from the 16th to 20th century, resulting in a magnificently diverse selection of displays that are a sight to behold.
Kumu Art Museum
Address:A. Weizenbergi 34 | Valge 1, Tallinn
Image: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
Anyone in Tallinn that is on the lookout for a museum housing contemporary art needn’t look further than the Kumu. This brand new seven-storey building was opened in 2006 and showcases a Finnish design consisting of limestone, glass and copper that is beautifully blended into the surrounding landscape.
It is home to the largest collection of Estonian art in the city, with an ever-changing selection of exhibitions displaying the best contemporary art Estonia has to offer. There is also a massive selection of classical works feature in the permanent collection of the museum, including pieces from the 18th century onwards, WWII, and the more recent Soviet occupation era.
Rocca Al Mare Open Air Museum
Address:Vabaohumuuseumi tee 12, Tallinn
What can be more fun than a museum combined with outdoor activities? That is the essence of the Estonian Open Air Museum, which is a life-sized reconstruction of a rural village from 18th century Estonia.
Historical buildings are present from that time and can be explored in their entirety, including a church building, schoolhouse, farmsteads and farmyards and even the 19th century Kolu tavern which serves traditional Estonian cuisine!
There is horse-drawn carriage available for hire along with bikes, and during the summer months you can find various celebrations being held involving singing, dancing and a big bonfire. Staff dress in period costumes during this time and are seen ‘working’ in the traditional buildings to help make it seem you have travelled back in time!