Tallin is the capital of Estonia, its largest city, and by far the most touristic. Most visitors come to Estonia only to visit Tallin, only to see the old town, but the city has much more to offer. Discovering the town is like changing channels in the television, all genres are included: medieval, romantic, history, nature and sports, even horror. And I wanted to see them all.
The Old Town of Tallin is beautiful and charming. Walking its streets I felt in another age, it looks so medieval. No wonder it has been declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are cobbled streets, old walls, ramparts, arcs, towers, all very well preserved. The center is very small so everything is reachable on foot, and it is surrounded by some hills that offer great views on the town.
One of my first stops was the history museum: I was interested in learning about this country which is placed in such a geographic strategic area, between Europe and Russia.
Estonia has been inhabited for 11000 years, and during the medieval age had an important role in the commercial routes. All through the centuries, Danish, Swedish, German and Russian fought to occupy and control this land. During the last 200 years, Estonia has been independent for around 40 years.
Estonia gained independence in 1920 and maintained it until Wold War II, when it was occupied first by the soviets and after that by the nazis. At the end of the war, it was integrated to the URSS, and it finally regained independence in 1991.
The history of Estonia is a story of perseverance and survival. Even with all the years of occupation, they have managed to keep their language (one of the most unusual European languages, close to Finnish) and culture alive.
I really liked the Old Town and enjoyed walking its streets without any direction, just taking randomly one street or another. However, after a while, I started getting a different impression: it did not feel authentic. Some restaurant owners and waiters were dressed in medieval clothes. Every street was full of restaurants and souvenir shops, and every hour of the day was filled with tourists. In summer, several ferries come every morning with tourists that will visit the town and leave in the evening. I felt like in a movie, and I wanted to see what was behind the camera: the other parts of Tallin.
Linnahall is an old soviet building, big, grey, ugly, abandoned, situated next to the harbor. The place is no longer in use. This large concrete building was constructed by soviets for the 1980 Olympic regatta, and nowadays, the city does not know what to do with it. Young people gather here to watch the sunset beer in hand, and a few tourists visit it.
The views from the roof were nice, and allowed me to appreciate the contrast between the large grey building and the surrounding area. The old city seemed so colorful and alive. The sea looked so blue and calm. The modern constructions were so new and tall. And Linnahall had a melancholic atmosphere, sad, and abandoned.
The baroque Kadriorg palace was built between 1718-1736 in the period of the Russian tsar Peter the Great for his wife Catherine I. The building is now part of the Estonian Art Museum and, in addition to the paintings, there are three nicely decorated rooms (two classical style and one with wooden decoration). I was there exactly at the right time: in one of these rooms there was live piano and double bass music (they seemed to be practicing for a concert). How lucky!
Behind the palace there is a French style garden which is often used for marriage pictures. The residence of the president of the republic is constructed nearby. Kadriorg is a nice, quiet, residential area that has also a big park in addition to the palaces and museums.
Kalamaja was the place that surprised me the most. It was the last district I visited, on my last day, right before leaving.
Firstly I found the Seaplane Harbor. Due to lack of time I did not enter the museum, but there were some ships in the rear part that could be seen without a ticket (the ticket allows you to enter the ships). There were boats, an icebreaker and several war ships that were operative from the 1960s until early 2000s and were donated to the museum after retirement.
And secondly, I visited the Patarei Prison Museum. The building is an ancient sea fortress converted into a prison from 1920 to 2002. I had heard it was considered ‘shock tourism’, and I understood why the first second I crossed the entrance. If the Old Town was a medieval film, this was a horror movie. It is one of those places that make your heart sink. Abandoned, dark, deteriorated… and the worst of it were not the images: it was the humid cold that you could feel to the bones. It was May, I did not want to imagine… how was it in winter?
I could not have visited the place completely alone. There were a few other visitors so I always tried to be close to someone else. And still, I was shivering. I was surprised to see that they had adult and child tickets. I might be very sensitive, but really, I would not recommend this museum to children.
My initial plan was to visit the Lahemaa National Park (a few kilometers from Tallin), but it was very difficult to reach by public transport and I refused to buy a guided tour ‘all included’. So after discussing for a while with the tourist office guy, he suggested me to go to the forested district Nõmme, in the South of Tallin (so South it does not appear in the touristic maps), where there is a big park with bog trails.
The park was indeed big, large, huge. From my point of view, that was a real forest. There are 4km and 2km trails and some wooden paths on the swamps (the trails were not very clearly indicated, it was a good idea to take a picture of the map at the entrance). Inside the forest, I could hear the birds as only sound.
I did the 4km trail and decided to go back since it was raining heavily. I was amazed by the amount of people I met in the park, hiking or running, even with the adverse weather conditions… I crossed someone every 5 minutes or so. I came back to the district and went to a smaller park were there was a cute tiny castle.
Definitely, Tallin has much more to offer than the Old Town.
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