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Estonia: Old Tallinn

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Old Tallinn | Estonia | Europe

[Visited: January 2016, November 2003]

After a first visit in early winter, I decided to spend New Year in Tallinn: the heart of winter. When we arrive, temperatures are around freezing, but then they continue to drop until we leave. We dress up accordingly, and spend several days using the little time we have each day for sightseeing - the sun rises after 9am and sets before 4pm, and even during the day, it hangs low in the sky. First thing we do, is walk to the Upper Town, where I remember having visited the late 15th century Kiek in de Kök artillery tower. It is probably the most noticeable tower in Tallinn, if only because it stands by itself and has such a remarkable name. It actually means "peep into the kitchen" in Low German, because from the tower, you could look into the kitchens of the houses below. The tower still looks very sturdy, and currently houses a museum. We walk along the wall with several defensive towers which brings us to the entrance of the Upper Town.

Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): The church tower of St. Olaf's Church towers high above the Lower Town with its watchtowers

Just around the corner is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Russian orthodox church which shines in the winter sunlight. There is a statue of Linda nearby, in honour of the mythical Linda, wife of Kalev; according to some, Lindanisa, the former name of Tallinn, was chosen after her. We walk the cobble stone streets of Toompea, the Upper Town of Tallinn. There are buildings in bright colours, there are more churches, there is a modern sculpture hanging from a wall with a stretched out hand. Apart from the various buildings, there are several platforms in the Upper Town from where you get great views all over the Lower Town and beyond. You can see big ships sailing into the port which is at walking distance. But mostly, the viewpoints serve to make you want to go down and step into the maze of streets of the Lower Town of Tallinn. There are several stairs connecting the Upper and Lower Town, and they bring you to one of the best preserved Middle Age towns of Europe.

Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): Brightly painted buildings in the Upper Town with a black sky in the background

Centrepiece of it all is the Town Hall Square, which at this time of year is occupied by a big Christmas market and a Christmas tree; Tallinn prides itself by being the first town to erect a Christmas tree. The Town Hall itself always holds something new to see: it has a remarkable, slender tower, it has beautiful gargoyles, the vane on top of the tower, and more to discover. We walk the outside of the city wall, with its elegant medieval defensive towers with red-tiled roofs. We look at the slender towers of the city, like the one of the Town Hall. There is Olaf's Church, which some controversially claim had the tallest tower in the world in the late Middle Ages. There is the Church of the Holy Ghost, with its remarkable clock. We enter the old pharmacy, which not only looks very attractive both inside and out, but which also is the oldest operating pharmacy in Europe. There is the curiously named House of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads with its richly decorated door and facade. And then, there are many more buildings that make you pause on your way through town. The good thing about Tallinn is that there are plenty of spots to warm up over a hot drink, and the food is remarkably good. The Old Town is small, and you can superficially see it in a couple of hours, but when we leave after a couple of days, we still feel like there is so much more to discover.

Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): View of the southern side of the Upper Town of Tallinn with Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, part of the defence wall, and a church tower in the background
Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): Modern sculpture with hand and face hanging from a wall in the Upper Town of Tallinn
Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): The slender tower of the Town Hall in the Old Town of Tallinn
Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): Spire of a church towering above a defence tower in the Upper Town of Tallinn
Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): Watchtowers of the Old Town of Tallinn in a row
Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): Kiek in de Kök defence tower seen from below
Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): Lower town of Tallinn with cobble-stone street
Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): The Old Town of Tallinn is rich in typical houses
Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): The House of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads has a richly decorated door
Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): The tower of St. Olaf's church and a row of typical houses of the Old Town
Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): Old clock of the Churh of the Holy Ghost in the Lower Town
Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): Typical houses found in All-linn or the Lower Town
Picture of Old Tallinn (Estonia): One of the quiet corners of Toompea, or the Upper Town

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