Tallinn - a Hidden Pearl at the Baltic Shore
When visiting Helsinki, its proximity to Tallinn inevitably increased my desire to take a leap to the Estonian capital at least for a day. As a child I remember my grandfather speaking highly of the three baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), so I really wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.
The ferry (a cruise ship, actually) takes around two hours and the round trip is around 50 euros per person. The modern city of Tallinn doesn't have much to offer to a tourist, but its Old Town is a fairy tail counter. Happily, there are many hotels inside the Old Town walls, so you don't really need to leave it. It is not so big - we walked all around it in one afternoon, of course without entering in the museums. Because for me, the best museum are the streets themselves - tiny, narrow, with old cobblestone and historic buildings. Reval (the old name of Tallinn) was built between the 13th to 16th centuries and its mostly intact city wall and guard towers give Tallinn a special charm.
Tallinn Old Town is divided into two distinct parts - Lower Town and Toompea Hill, connected by two picturesque streets: Pikk jalg and Lühike jalg.
We started our walk at the Lower Town near the St. Olav Church. Once upon a time this 14th century Gothic church was considered to be the tallest building in the world. In Medieval times its spire was 159m and nowadays it is 124m. In spring and summer it is possible to climb it up to appreciate the views.
After a short walk we got at the Town Hall Square - the historic square at the heart of Old Town and allegedly the best preserved Gothic Town Hall in Northern Europe.
Almost behind the Town Hall is a Medieval-styled restaurant with a crafts shop, named Olde Hansa. It is probably the most touristic place possible to have lunch, but it's worth it. Before entering have a quick chat with the guys outside, as they will give you a souvenir coin. Already inside, showing the coin to the waitress, you get to try a nice warm schnapps.
Tip: the red wine of the house is really, really good! As well as the spicy caramels in their crafts shop.
Also at the Town Hall Square, opposite of Olde Hansa, is the Town Hall Pharmacy - the oldest continuously running pharmacy in Europe - all the way from 1422 to nowadays. Use the main entrance to get to the room on the back that displays a collection of old medical products.
Continuing our walk on the tiny streets we got to the Hallemann Tower, where we were able to walk on the city wall. Dating to the 14th century the tower has been used as a prison and a weapon storage.
Tallinn Old Town is not just a touristic area. There are a few schools, kindergartens and even residential buildings inside the city walls. Have in mind that some restaurants and shops are located in the basements, so while looking around the beautiful buildings don't forget to look down as well.
The Toompea Hill is smaller and has great views not only to Lower Town but also to the modern city.
As much beautiful it is, the Russian Cathedral St. Alexander Nevski looks a bit out of place here, surrounded by all Medieval architecture. It was established in 1900 and is the main place of worship for Estonia's Russian Orthodox faithful.
Lühike jalg starts behind St. Alexander Nevski cathedral and leads back down to Lower Town very close to the modern city's Freedom Square.
If you still don't want to leave the Old Town for dinner, a great place I recommend highly is the Rataskaevu 16 restaurant (the bluecheescake is a delish). Its name is also its address, so it won't be difficult to find it.
In case you want something with more modern feeling, try the Telliskivi area - a former industrial part of the city that now gains more artsy feeling with a market and some nice restaurants and bars. It is just around 15 minutes walk from the Old Town. The F-hoone is a very nice option (the spicy salmon soup is reaaaally good!) and is open until midnight. Kukele is also a nice place, although it closes at 9 p.m. during weekdays.
From this last trip by the Baltic sea (visiting Helsinki and Tallinn), Tallinn was the one that emerged unexpectedly like a hidden gem and surprised me the most. People are very kind (except for the ones working in the hotel we stayed), everybody speaks very good English and the sights were much more beautiful than I anticipated. Can't wait to go back by the Baltic shore and explore more!
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