Can anyone tell me in which country Skype was invented? In which country the Prime Minister married a Superstar? In which country you can vote online in elections using an E-Governance Card? In which country the President regularly releases mixtape of his favorite music from the 1960s? That’s right, Estonia.
We don’t hear much about the three small Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania — unless we are seeking information on the USSR. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a good thing; that means that nothing “bad” about these countries is making the news. Bravo!
For a country under foreign rule in recent times, I applaud Estonia for their perseverance and rehabilitation efforts. For a country that’s been occupied by the Danes, Germans, Swedes, and Soviet Union over the years, they’ve made remarkable progress. It’s crazy to believe that Estonia only gained it’s true independence on August 20, 1991. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonia was always occupied by a foreign territory. 5FT Fun Fact: Until the 19th Century, Estonians just called themselves “People of the Land.”
If you’re making your way across Scandinavia and down through the Baltics, but only have one day in Tallinn, here are Tallinn's Top 10 Photo Stops:
- City Walls. Tallinn’s city walls were constructed during the 13th and 16th centuries. There used to be 44 watchtowers, but today there are “only” 26 incredibly preserved towers. As far as city wall standards going, these are some of the most authentic city walls that you will find in Europe.
- Town Hall Square. From Town Hall Square, everything in Tallinn’s Old Town is within a ten minute walk in each direction. Town Hall Square has always served as a market place, and remains one today as well. Dotted with cute cafés, vendors, stalls, and the Town Hall itself, you cannot miss the Square.
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This Cathedral, constructed between 1894 and 1900, commemorates Alexander Nevsky, a canonized saint of the Russian Orthodox Church. This Orthodox Cathedral is an ever-present reminder of the Soviet Occupation, and so many people dislike(d) this Cathedral.
- Toompea Hill. Home to the Parliament and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The “Upper Town,” located on a hill above Tallinn, once ruled the country, while the “Lower Town” (the Old Town) was where the traders and merchants resided. Today, Toompea still functions as the Center of Government. The tower located behind the Parliament building is part of what remains of the Toompea Castle — the flag on top signifies whomever is in power. The same ruling party has been in office for the last 10-15 years.
- Viewpoints! If you do one thing in Tallinn, take in the incredible viewpoints of Kohtuotsa and Patkuli. Ask around for directions to the platforms. As it’s in Toompea, you have to climb uphill, but I promise the views are worth it! If you can, try to go up to the viewpoints for sunset. If you only have one day in Tallinn, be sure not to miss this! 5FT Fun Fact: The below photos were taken at sunset…which was at 11:30pm!
- St. Nicholas Church. St. Nicholas Church was originally built in the 13th Century, and heavily fortified. Most of what remains today was rebuilt in the 16th Century, and it is no longer a functioning church; rather, St. Nicholas Church is a museum that showcases the most precious artifacts that were preserved from the 14th and 15th Centuries.
- War of Independence Victory Column. The War of Independence Victory Column, located in Freedom Square, commemorates those who fought for their freedom in the Estonian War of Independence from 1918-1920. This 77 foot (23.5 meter) monument appears a bit too modern to be situated in Tallinn’s Old Town, but it’s symbolic nonetheless.
- St. Mary’s Cathedral. Constructed in the 13th Century, St. Mary’s Cathedral was the first church to be built in Tallinn, and remains the oldest church in mainland Estonia. Originally only German nobility could enter the church; it is now, however, a museum decorated with 100 German Coat of Arms designed with rich detail
- St. Olaf’s Church. Believe it or not, St. Olaf’s Church was burnt down 5-6 times due to lightning! The church that stands today was built in the 16th Century, and the iconic spire offers the best 360 views of Tallinn. 5FT Fun Fact: During the Soviet Occupation from 1944 to 1991, the KGB used the spire of St. Olaf’s Church as a radio tower and surveillance point.
- Eat at the Olde Hansa. If wandering this beautiful medieval city, it’s only right that you experience what real medieval Tallinn felt like. Be sure to take part in a medieval feast at the Olde Hansa! If you only have one day in Tallinn, you might as well splurge a bit, right? And, before you tell me this isn't on of Tallinn's “Top 10 Photo Stops,” just wait until you enter…The restaurant is located in a rich merchant’s guild and utilizes 15th Century recipes and cooking methods. In the mood to try some bear cooked over the fire in honour of Waldemar II, the brave King of Denmark? What about some of the finest elk fillet in honour and glory of the noble Master of the Order? Or, even some Pepper Schnapps, homemade by the Olde Hansa’s resident monks? This is, hands down, the most authentic and memorable dinner that I have ever had.
Where to Sleep?
Tallinn, being the most popular destination in the northern Baltics, naturally sees floods of tourists. When a city has a decent amount of tourism, it’s usually reflected in the prices of accommodation.
In searching for an affordable place in Tallin to crash for the night, we stumbled upon Red Emperor Bar and Hostel and it was great! Located just outside the city walls, it is within walking distance to everything in Tallinn’s Old Town. I was a bit worried about the word “bar” being attached to the name, as I had wanted to sleep and not be kept up all night by drunkards, but the staff does an impeccable job at shutting down the common room before midnight and moving everyone to the bar.
While, yes, the bar is technically part of the hostel down the hall, we didn’t hear a sound. For those looking to cook, there’s a nice kitchen and supermarket across the street, or for those looking to eat out, there’s a burger place right on the corner (along with many other restaurants!).
The staff was as friendly as could be and made themselves available at all hours of the night with their 24/7 reception. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again!