Tallinn has made huge strides in transforming itself into a high-tech, cosmopolitan city over the past decade, but as much as Estonian are proud of the forward-looking nature of their capital, there’s no question that the city’s most valuable treasure is its connection to the past.
The jewel in Tallinn’s crown is its medieval city centre, otherwise known as Old Town. This web of winding cobblestone streets and properties, dating mainly from the 11th to 15th centuries, has been preserved nearly in its entirety thanks to a strong defensive wall – much of which is still standing – and a strict ban on the use of combustible building material. That bit of foresight means that 21st-century visitors can still stroll through Old Town’s streets, wandering past the same churches, squares, towers, and rows of peak-roofed houses that their predecessors did centuries ago. Considering that this is the best-preserved medieval city in Northern Europe, it came as no surprise when, in 1997, UNESCO decided to add Tallinn’s Old Town to its World Heritage list. Simply put, Old Town captures the feeling of the medieval era like no other place in the world. But the beauty of Tallinn does not reside only on its old town. Just few kilometres out of the city centre, you will discover some other unique spots like:
Kadriorg is a quiet, leafy area within an easy walking distance from the Old Town. After Russian tsar Peter the Great conquered the Baltics in the early 1700s, he established an estate with a public park on this spot. He named the area Ekaterinenthal (Catherine’s Valley, or Kadriorg in Estonian) after his wife, Catherine I. The Baroque palace he had built – along with the surrounding forests, ponds and fountains – are still the neighbourhood’s prime draw. Over the next two centuries the streets near the park became lined with ornate wooden mansions as Kadriorg developed into the upscale residential district that it remains today. The park is remarkable for its diverse architecture, which is showcased by the various smaller gardens on the estate, such as the Japanese Garden. Enjoy a refreshing cup of coffee and fresh pastries in one of the many cosy cafés in the area. Culturally-minded visitors should note that Kadriorg is home to the nation’s best art museums, the quaint 1920-30’s style houses of many classic Estonian authors, and also the children’s museum – all the more reason to head to Kadriorg for a Sunday stroll. Kadriorg is also the birthplace of Estonia’s spa culture. The first seaside spa was established in Pirita by Georg Witte in 1913. In Kadriog we also recommend the visit of the Kumu Art Museum. A must-see museum, Kumu serves as both Estonia’s national gallery and a centre for contemporary art. The complex itself is a work of art – it was opened in 2006 after nearly a decade of planning and construction, and is considered a modern architectural masterpiece. Curves and sharp edges define the copper and limestone structure, built into the side of a limestone cliff.
A little farther down the shoreline from Kadriorg is the Pirita district. Pirita wins hearts with its breathtakingly beautiful nature. Only a few kilometres from the city centre await a sandy beach, Pirita River and the refreshing scent of pine trees. With its beach, adventure park and yachting harbour, Pirita is best known as a centre for summer fun. A quieter way to enjoy the area is to head across the road to the Pirita River delta, where row boats, canoes and water bicycles can be rented. Enjoy a meal and a view to the sea in one of the numerous pubs and restaurants by the coast. Pirita is also remarkable for its own little piece of medieval architecture – the ruins of St. Bridget’s Convent from the 15th century. The convent is still active today, although it is housed in a modern building beside the ruins. In 1980, the sailing regatta of the Moscow Olympic Games was held in Pirita, and the area was also the heart of the Olympic village. Pirita can also boast the highest viewpoint in the area, from the Tallinn TV Tower. The Tallinn Botanic Garden is also located nearby. Filled with rare plant species, the garden by Pirita valley is a perfect place to go for a walk or do sports.
It is hard to resist Kalamaja’s bohemian, weathered, romantic and bluesy ambience. Trend setting Kalamaja is actually one of the oldest urban areas of Tallinn. During the middle ages, mainly fishermen and pilots lived here and they gave the area its name. (Kalamaja means fish house in Estonian). Between the 17th and the 19th centuries Kalamaja with its defensive buildings was a strategically important area. The end of the 19th century and the 20th century brought fast industrial development. Up until the beginning of World War II, Estonia’s most important fishing port was located here. The area came into its prime in the 1920s and 1930s. Many new houses were built which gave Kalamaja its charm today; the two and three storey dwellings, or so called “Tallinn houses”. Back in the 30s, Kalamaja was idyllic. Inner courtyards behind high fences were full of children’s laughter. There were large patches greenery for gardens and orchards. But from the 1940s the area started to slide into decline. The first decade of 21st century saw the gentrification of Kalamaja. The new arty inhabitants have brought in local businesses and have created a strong local community. We also recommend the visit of the Seaplane Harbour (Lennusadam) This cutting-edge museum tells exciting stories about Estonian maritime and military history with attractions for the whole family. The museum’s multimedia display comprises over 200 large exhibits. The British-built submarine Lembit, weighing 600 tonnes, is the centrepiece of the new museum.
Rocca al Mare
Rocca al Mare is nestled on the shores of Kopli Bay. Its waterfront location is reflected in its name, which translated from the Italian means ‘rock by the sea’. The name was first borne by a summer manor built in the area in 1863, but later expanded to take in the entire district. Rocca al Mare has become something of a recreational drawcard in Tallinn, offering cultural events, opportunities for relaxation and a wide range of options for sports and shopping. The suburb is home to the Estonian Open Air Museum, the Tallinn Zoo, the Škoda ice rink, the Saku Suurhall arena and trade fair centre and the massive Rocca al Mare shopping and recreation centre.
Source: “Tallinn City Tourist Office & Convention Bureau”
There is never a shortage of cultural events in Tallinn. Here’s a sampling of major yearly recurring events in Tallinn’s cultural calendar.
Tallinn Music Week
Music festival and networking event featuring dozens of concerts from both upcoming and established musicians.
For more info visit the official website http://tmw.ee
Tallinn Handicraft Fair
The three day fair at the Son Festival Ground is aiming to introduce local, traditional handicraft and food. On offer are knitwear, ceramics, handmade candles, jewellery, leather goods, preserves, honey and other foods by small local farms and producers.
For more info visit the official website www.xn--tallinnaksitmess-3nb14aa.ee/index.php?page=3
Jazzkaar International Jazz Festival
Exciting international guest performers meet with local talent to put on the largest annual jazz fest in the Baltics.
For more info visit the official website www.jazzkaar.ee/en/
Night of museums
Once a year, Estonian museums and other heritage sites open their doors to visitors for later than usual and free of charge. The event is affiliated with the Night of Museums programme across Europe. Each year, the Night of Museums is dedicated to a specific theme. Over the years, the event has become a highlight of the cultural calendar attracting tens of thousands of visitors both from Estonia and abroad.
Next event is planned for the 14.05.2016
Old Town Days
Old Town bursts into a frenzy of celebration as musicians, Medieval characters, markets and events fill the streets.
Period: May or June
For more info visit the official website http://vanalinnapaevad.ee/homepage/
St. John’s Day Celebrations
On the whitest and most beautiful night of the year the Estonian Open Air Museum invites you to take the most of it. Flaming bonfires, music from the best folk musicians, dancing and swinging with big village swings, children playing old time folk games.
Summer solstice or Jaanipäev in Estonians is one of the highlight events of the year which traditionally marked the change in the farming year. Spring sowing was completed as well as the hard hay-making.
For more info visit the official website http://evm.ee/eng/home
The summer beer festival is the largest entertainment event in Estonia, with more than 10 years history, for people of all interests, from jazz to rock, kids to seniors. World Music has been added to the programme, making it one of the largest and most diverse international events in the entire region.
For more info visit the official website www.ollesummer.ee
Medieval Tallinn comes to life as costumed characters demonstrate their crafts and sell their wares on the streets of Old Town.
For more info visit the official website www.folkart.ee/eng/tallinn-medieval-days
Tallinn Maritime Days
The city’s biggest maritime festival features water-related attractions including boat trips, concerts and activities for kids.
For more info visit the official website www.tallinnamerepaevad.ee/uus/en/
International Organ Festival
This Festival is among the oldest Estonian music festivals with its centre in the historical Tallinn St Nicholas’s Church since its beginning in 1987.
Period: July or August
For more info visit the official website www.concert.ee/index.php?lang=eng
A unique festival program that features works steeped in the spirit of its setting at the medieval convent. The extremes of the opera offerings are a traditional picture of bel canto opera with one of the world’s leading sopranos in the main role, and a shocking production of the classical opera brought to a movie set.
For more info visit the official website www.birgitta.ee
One of the region’s most popular sporting events with over 15,000 annual participants.
For more info visit the official website www.jooks.ee/en/tallinn-marathon/
St. Martin’s days fair
National handicraft workshops and sales accompanied by traditional culinary offerings and folk music.
For more info visit the official website www.folkart.ee/eng/st-martins-day-fair
Black Nights Film Festival (Pöff)
Tallinn’s largest film festival presents a comprehensive selection of world cinema in all its diversity, with an emphasis on European films. It encompasses a main feature film festival, with sub-festivals for animated films, student films and children’s/ youth films.
For more info visit the official website http://2016.poff.ee/eng
Christmas market in the Old Town
The charming Christmas market brings magic to the heart of the Old Town. Its medieval atmosphere brings old traditions to life and lifts the spirits. Visitors can buy Estonian handicrafts, enjoy a cultural program and taste traditional food and drink.
Period: from November to January
For more info visit the official website www.christmasmarket.ee/eng/
The candlelight and warmth of the old farmhouse fill your heart with a cosy Christmas feeling. You can go to Christmas concerts, play traditional games and make your own Christmas decorations.
For more info visit the official website http://evm.ee/eng/home