Cruising has always been a great way to visit multiple cities and countries in one holiday, there is no better way to see the highlights of the Baltic States than on one of our Baltic cruises. A highlight for most is a stop in enchanting Tallinn where medieval and modern are fused with an energetic spirit. Estonia’s capital is a fascinating mix of Scandinavian sleek, Soviet-era concrete and medieval Hanseatic city.
From tumbling down Toompea Hill, the historic old town is a maze of narrow, cobblestone streets, alleyways, turrets and spires. Wrapped within the original medieval wall, which is studded with imaginatively named towers, the Castle, onion-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Town Hall Square and Gothic Town Hall survive along with the aura of the 14th and 15th centuries. With so much to fit in just a six-hour stop what are the top highlights to see and do? We have pulled together, with Visit Tallinn, the top things to do on a day cruise stop.
1. City Wall
While walking around a city wall does not sound like an inspiring way to start your day, when you sail into Tallinn harbour you will be surprised to still be able to see many of the ancient defensive structures that used to guard the city against intruders attacking from the sea. While you’re guaranteed a warm welcome when entering the city now, you still have to pass through the gates of the city wall to gain access. Originally the wall spanned over 1.5 miles with 8 gates and 46 towers, today over 1.1 miles are still open to visitors with most starting their walk near the cruise terminal. For those who are willing to exert a little more energy first thing in the morning, you are also able to climb towers along the route to gain unrivalled views over the city, including; Nunna, Sauna and Kuldjala. In 1997 the old city, its walls and towers were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, which has gone a long way in preserving the character and charm of the city. These buildings have been here since the birth of Tallinn. They have stood through numerous wars over several centuries.
2. Churches and Cathedrals
Also, when approaching from the sea you may be curious to see that some of the highest buildings in the city are still the spires of the churches and cathedrals. A law was passed decreeing that all new buildings in the city could not be built higher than the spire of St. Olav which sits over 405ft tall. If, after climbing the towers on the old city wall, you still have a head for heights head to the top of St. Olav’s tower which offers you the best vantage point in Tallinn.
3. Town Hall Square
Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square) is the beating heart of Medieval Tallinn, with visitors and locals alike using the square throughout summer and winter. Built-in 1404 it is one of the only remaining Gothic town squares in Northern Europe. There is always a concert or festival happening during summer in the square, so a stop can always throw up a different festival each time you visit. Hidden in one of the corners is Europe’s oldest pharmacy originally opened in 1422, while it still dispenses medication to the cities citizens daily, it is also open to visitors throughout the year and a stop at their historic section will fascinate you with its old cures book.
Also, be sure to try and hunt out the paving stone with arrows embossed on it which point to the five old towers of Tallinn!
4. Old Tallinn
The old town of Tallinn is famous the world over as the idyll Medieval fairytale city, however, be sure to remember where you came from as its winding streets and alleys can even leave locals confused as to where they are. A stop in St. Catherine’s Passage is a must as it is home to handcraft and antique shops and is slightly off the beaten tourist track.
A food stop will be much needed during your grand tour so hunting out Rataskaevu street is where the locals of Tallinn go to ensure they have a good Estonian meal. If you are after more of a snack, Saiakang is home to the best cafes including Kehrwieder roastery and Chocolaterie, located right at the heart of Tallinn's Old Town, just a few steps from the Town Hall square. This little coffee shop has an amazing selection of coffee beans from various countries around the world, which they roast themselves in-house. The smell of freshly-roasted coffee is guaranteed! Choose the coffee of the day from Kehrwieder Roastery or opt for something special from the Chocolaterie. You can also buy a bag of beans to take home with you.
5. Toompea Hill
The upper town of Toompea Hill is home to Estonia’s Parliament and Government in Toompea Castle. Originally built around the 8th Century the castle is shrouded in Estonian myth with it believed that Linda built the castle rock-by-rock with her own hands for her son. More likely is that early settlers chose to build a fort as it offered good views over the port and was based on a natural hill so could be easily defended. Over the centuries the castle fell under the rule of many different invaders finally reverting to its governmental use in 1922, two years after independence was declared in Estonia.
Located next to the castle is St. Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral and true to its Russian roots the cathedral is a stunning example of Russian Orthodox decoration with gold emblazoned throughout. However, the smaller Dome Church is more important to Estonian’s than St. Alexander as it contains more history within its small walls.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful sites in Tallinn is Kadriorg Palace, purchased by Peter the Great for his second wife Tsarina Catherine as a summer palace in 1710. Although the palace you can see today is more down to the renovation works undertaken by Tsar Nicholas I in 1827, it still holds many romantic touches from Catherine with her initials hidden throughout the building and it still maintains its original rococo style. The surrounding parks and grounds is the biggest public park in Tallinn, a walk in the grounds is not to be missed in spring and summer although a snowy winter setting highlights the beautiful façade of the palace. Today the Palace is used as an art museum however opposite is the Presidential Palace so if you do visit you may be in with a chance of seeing Estonia’s President.
Finally – Tallinn’s seagulls are as famous as any sight we have listed above, and we have been reliably informed that many visitors queue up to take a picture of the Tallinn Seagull or Steve the Seagull – so it would be amiss of us to not include them on our list!