The last of our Baltic capitals, Tallinn has the most intact medieval city wall, a historic old town and an almost Disneyland vibe, making it a fun place to explore yet more removed from everyday Estonian life.
The main attraction of Tallinn is walking the streets of old town. The cobbled lanes, some of which are pedestrian only during the day, wind around and up a hill with views overlooking the city. The Lonely Planet and Rick Steve’s guide books both have suggested routes.
The historic center is also popular with tour groups and cruise ships. Even at the tail end of September I found the pedestrian streets too crowded to be enjoyable. Thankfully, the next day we didn’t see any signs of cruise ship tours and although there were still a few tour groups around, strolling the lanes was a much more pleasant experience.
Several of the churches have notable interiors.
Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral has the most conservative rules with a strict adherence to silence, modesty and no photos. Entry is free. The interior, while not as elaborate as many Catholic cathedrals, is more adorned than the Lutheran churches. At the time of our visit services were being conducted in one corner of the large space with the devout, mostly women with heads covered, bowed in prayer.
St Mary’s Lutheran Cathedral charges 2 Euro for the church and 5 for a visit up the tower. An otherwise plain white washed interior is covered in Estonian coats-of-arms, the details of which are mostly hidden beneath a dark grime and are difficult to see in the dim lit.
The Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, also dimly lit, boasts 17th century painted wood panels depicting scenes from the life of Christ, the Old Testament and many others I did not recognize. Painted wood carvings connect the panels. The carved wooden altar piece is from the 14th century.
The City Museum was surprisingly good. Tallinn claims its origins as a modern city in the 13 century, but it sits on land occupied by man since at least 3000BC. The museum chronicles the evolution of the city with artifacts from various periods dating from prehistoric times through 19th century, drawings of daily life and a model of the city as it was in 1825. Each drawing includes the intentional placement of one item inappropriate for the time period, such as a cell phone or a beer bottle. The model is particularly interesting after you have toured the town and can recognize the various buildings that are still standing today. I was most interested in the Hanseatic trading route from the 14th to 16th century that connected the ports of London, Bruges, Hamburg Lubeck, Reval (Tallinn), Veliky Novgorod, etc.
Note to Photographers
If you are planning an early morning shoot of the city before the town is bombarded by tour groups note that the streets are filled with delivery vehicles until 10AM. In summer you may be able to have a peaceful moment before the streets become a parade of white cargo vans, but in late September with sunrise not until 7:30 this is a very narrow window.
September 29 to October 1, 2019
For links to all the posts in this series see the Baltics Road Trip page.