Forget the map in Tallinn Old Town.
Dating back at least 1,000 years, the Estonian capital’s well-preserved Old Town is a jumble of cobblestone alleys, squares buzzing with cafes and bars, attractive shops, medieval merchant houses and churches crowned with tall Gothic spires.
The Old Town is perfect for soaking up its years of history by strolling aimlessly – and letting your curiosity guide your feet.
Tallinn Old Town has a 1,000-year-old history
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic Old Town of Tallinn is divided into two sections – Toompea Hill (upper town) and the lower town.
We started our walking tour of Tallinn Old Town in Toompea Hill.
But it doesn’t really matter where you start. Two narrow, steep streets – the “Long Leg” (used by horses in days gone by) and the “Short Leg” (an alley with stairs for people) connect Toompea with the Lower Town.
Tallinn is also small enough that you won’t get too lost. (If you do, just ask a local to point you in the direction you want to go.)
Pictures of Tallinn Old Town
Okay, let’s go on a photographic walking tour of Tallinn!
1) Toompea Castle
Perched on top of Toompea Hill, the tower of Toompea Castle flies the blue, black and white flag of Estonia.
Toompea Castle dates back to the 1200s, but the pink Baroque-style palace is an 18th century add-on built by the Russians.
Today, Toompea Castle is home to Estonia’s parliament.
2) Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The splendid, onion-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral faces Toompea Castle.
We were told most Estonians don’t really like the cathedral, as it was built in 1900 at a time when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire. But it’s beautiful to look at. And in true Russian Orthodox style, it’s richly decorated inside with mosaics and icons.
3) Eye-catching oddities and decorations
When sightseeing in Tallinn, you never know what you’ll see by looking up!
Be sure to look out for the drain pipe shaped like a large cowboy boot, complete with spurs.
And don’t overlook the wrought-iron street lamps and gates.
4) Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin (Dome Church)
Also known as the “Dome Church,” this is Estonia’s oldest church, built sometime before 1233. The inside is decorated with elaborate medieval coats of arms, and tombstones pave the floor.
You can climb to the top of the 226-foot spire for incredible views of Tallinn Old Town below.
5) Raekoja Plats (Tallinn Old Town Square)
The Town Hall Square bustles with life.
Thankfully, benches invite you to sit down and engage in some interesting people watching!
We saw a young maiden dressed in period costume, tied to a cart and being dragged along the cobblestone square – advertising for a museum or medieval dungeon attraction?
The Tallinn Old Town square is also home to the oldest pharmacy in all of Europe, still operating today.
We popped in to buy throat lozenges and Sudafed (for the inevitable travel sniffles). The Burchardt family established the pharmacy in the 1500s and ran it until the mid-1800s. As a sideline, they also invented marzipan which, in addition to being delicious, was originally used as a cure for many ills, including flu, headache and jealousy.
In Olde Hansa, a restaurant/shop lining the square, we couldn’t resist trying their famous spicy, sugared almonds.
By the way, you won’t go hungry in the city – there are many great cafes and restaurants in Tallinn.
6) Saint Olaf’s Church
When Saint Olaf’s Church was built in the 12th century (rebuilt in the 14th century), the idea was to erect a church so tall it would attract ships (and commerce) from miles around.
And at one time – between 1549 and 1625 – the church was indeed the tallest building in the world.
Today, at over 400 feet high, it’s still a recognizable landmark – and one of Tallinn’s most photographed sites! If you’ve seen photos of Tallinn, you’ve seen photos of Saint Olaf’s Church!
7) Shopping in Tallinn Old Town
You’ll pass lots of cute little shops in Tallinn Old Town.
What catches your fancy? A sweet pastry? Amber jewelry? Cloth dolls or matryoshka (nesting) dolls from Russia?
We usually don’t collect too many souvenirs when we travel, but we do end up collecting lots of photos!
We hope you’ve enjoyed these…
Tallinn Old Town map
You can zoom in or out on this map…
Photo credits: 1, 3, 6 to 8, 10 to 12, 14 to 21, 25, 26 and 28 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase