Tallinn is the capital and most populated city of Estonia. Located on the Gulf of Finland, in Baltic sea, it is most easily reached by a two-hour ferry ride from Helsinki. Not one to travel the easy way, I flew in from Riga in Latvia on an Air Baltic flight. Tallinn retains its walled, cobblestoned Old Town, an almost perfectly preserved piece of history. It’s like stepping into a medieval theme park – just without the rides. Most streets are limited to traffic which makes Tallinn a walker’s paradise. You can wander the streets of the Old Town and not get lost. Mostly the streets are flat or gently sloping and there are not too many stairs. The streets all join up and the only dead ends are when you reach the walls that still remain around the Old Town.
If you keep away from the dozens of restaurants surrounding the Town Square, the meals are cheap and delicious. Many restaurants are located underground with arched ceilings and are
filled with a warm ambience. One of these, aptly named Grandma’s Place is located just a few minutes’ walk from the Knight House, my home-away-from-home hostel in Tallinn. Having to duck
down to enter the cavern in the basement, I ordered a cider (exactly half the price of my lunch drink on the Town Square) and Kana (honey-flavoured chicken fillet in parsley sauce, garlic potatoes, wild mushroom sauce, and marinated onion). Total price was €17.50. Seriously, it was the tastiest, moistest, most tender chicken I have ever eaten! And the free, nutty flavoured brown bread I was given rounded off the meal perfectly. I could have just eaten the bread and butter and have been happy. I think I’ll be skipping lunch and dining here every evening. I intended to try a new place every night, but I don’t think it’s possible to be any better than Grandma’s!
Because Australia is the other side of the world from here and they meet so few Australians, the locals are friendly and want to hear all about Australian life, especially the food and animals. Tallinn lies off the beaten touristic routes so you can enjoy strolling at your own pace and take as many photos as you like without being knocked down. Even when a cruise docks, (just one ship in the week I was there in October), there’s plenty of room for everyone.
Some of the most beautiful objects I have seen anywhere can be bought in the Old Town – linen, woollen clothes, beautiful fabric and handmade tableware and toys. If you need warm hats, scarves or gloves, you’ll get quality here. I bought a beautiful hand-knitted woollen headband in preparation for my upcoming trip to Iceland. If you like museums, Tallinn has many. In Kiek in de Kök, a 15th-century defensive tower, you will find the Fortification Museum, where you can explore historical weapons and try out a shooting simulator and access the underground bastion passages – a great place to visit on a rainy day.
Tallinn also boasts some very unusual museums. The KGB Prison Cells, the Estonian Health Care Museum and I found Raeapteek, a pharmaceutical museum, quite fascinating. As well as being a museum, it is the oldest continuously running pharmacy in Europe, open since 1422! Some interesting facts, or maybe legends, are rampant in Tallinn. The medieval fortification tower Kiek in de Kök (German for ‘peek in the kitchen’) got its name from a story about some soldiers in the tower who liked to peek from the top of the tower into the kitchens in the town below.
Tallinn was called Reval for 700 years. The name Reval is said to have come from the story when the Danish king saw a deer in the forest. The deer chose to jump off a cliff where it had a chance of survival rather than offer itself up to the feasting table of the king (certain death). So ‘re’ means “deer” and ‘val’ means “fall” hence Reval, the falling of the deer. Who knows if these legends are true.
If churches are your thing, the grandeur of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is evident from every angle. It sits opposite a very pretty Parliament House, where the Estonian President still lives. St. Nicholas Church is a medieval former church dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of fishermen and sailors. Originally built in the 13th century, it was partially destroyed in the Russian bombing of Tallinn in World War II but has since been restored and today houses an art gallery. Its 105 metre spire provides a recognisable landmark for me as the Knight House was on the opposite side of the street.
St Olaf’s 123m church tower provides magnificent views over the whole city. Unfortunately, during my stay, it was closed for renovation, so I decided to climb one of the watchtowers of the city walls instead. To say the steps were steep is an understatement, but I was determined to make it right to the top. I did it! What was not quite so achievable without injury was the climbing down again, but that’s another story.
She became a member of Starts at 60 and got access to amazing travel deals, free masterclasses, exclusive news and features and hot member discounts!
And she entered to win a $10K trip for four people to Norfolk Island in 2021. Join now, it’s free to become a member. Members get more.