Vanalinn, Tallinn’s old town has an authentic medieval feel. Well-preserved medieval fortifications surround this old town in a display of its former trading prowess in a mantle of stories and architecture . More than a medieval beauty, Vanalinn also offers a fully modern nightlife and locally produced souvenirs. Along its main drags or hidden within courtyards are artisan shops that sell jewelry and handicrafts. Also sample the restaurant fare within the old town.
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a can’t miss sight as you simply cannot miss it while ascending Toompea Hill. This is because it is seated right in the center of Castle Square. The 19th century Russian Orthodox Cathedral exhibits all the symmetrical ornateness of Imperial Russia, for which many Estonians regard it as a symbol.
Situated in the Upper Town of Tallinn, the Toomkirik is the dome church that gives Toompea its name. Toomkirk is Estonia’s primary Lutheran church and an important landmark in Toompea. It is also one of the few structures to survive a fire that wiped out most of the area’s medieval buildings.
Also visit the Eesti Vabaohumuuseum for insights into old Estonian lifestyle. The open air museum is actually a rural village reconstructed inside a forest park on Kopli Bay, just a short drive away from Tallinn. The open air museum is open all winter and its buildings include twelve farms, a tavern, church, fire station, watermills, windmills, and a schoolhouse.
Estonia’s largest art museum, the Kumu Art Museum is housed inside a striking glass and limestone building in Kadriorg. The Museum hosts a number of permanent exhibitions, along with temporary modern painting and sculpture exhibits. It also hosts exhibitions on experimental art by younger artists.
Kadriorg Park is a leafy park that’s full of lilac and oak trees and surrounded by wooden houses, many of which house small museums. The Park also houses the Kadriorg Palace, one of the greatest buildings in Tallinn which dates from the early 18th century, as well as the Estonian Art Museum. Plan your visit to Tallinn in spring when you can truly enjoy the splendor of Kadriorg Park.
From Communist-era museums to the quaint cobbled streets of its old town, Tallinn, Estonia’s vibrant capital has much to offer its visitors. Boasting one of Europe’s best preserved historical centers, Tallinn has a vast array of modern attractions awaiting your discovery. Whether you’re into food, the nightlife or just sightseeing, Tallinn offers all this and more, with personality. Tallinn truly does not disappoint.
Officially known as Tallinna Neitsi Maarja Piiskoplik Toomkirik, the Toomkirik is a cathedral situated on Toompea Hill. The dome church was established originally by the Danes during the 13th century and is the oldest church in mainland Estonia. The first church was built on the site in 1219.
Toomkirik is also the only building in Toompea to survive a fire during the 17th century. The church was damaged greatly by the Great Fire of 1684 which destroyed its entire wooden furnishing. It was restored in 1686.
The church showcases a mixture of architectural styles. Its main body is vaulted and dates to the 14th century. The exterior of the dome church dates from the 15th century while its Baroque spire is from the 18th century. The church interiors are fancy yet simple. Most of the interior furnishings date from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Historically, this was the church of the elite German nobles of Estonia. This is evident once you walk through its doors. The interior is full of elaborate funereal coats of arms from the 17th – 20th centuries, along with burial stones from the 13th – 18th centuries.
A marvelous mix of both Late Romanticism and Classicism, the organ of the Toomkirik dates from 1878 and boasts an outstanding position in world organ-history.
The church houses many different tombstones dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries. The church also contains 17th century sarcophagi, as well as an altar, chancel and chandeliers. Two of the 4 bells of the church date from the 17th century while the other two date from the 18th century.
There’s a circular stairway towards the back of the church which leads to the 69m high church tower. The tower offers wonderful views of old Tallinn. From here you can spot St. Olaf’s church, which was the world’s tallest building between the years 1549 and 1625. You can also see Toompea Castle, the seat of the Estonian Republic’s Parliament, as well as the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
2. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Opened in 1900, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is without doubt the most gorgeous church on Tallinn’s Toompea Hill. The largest and one of the most beautiful churches in Tallinn, the cathedral is an outstanding monument of architecture from the period during which Estonia was still a part of the Russian Empire.
The Orthodox Church was built in the typical Russian Revival style between 1894 and 1900. Tallinn’s grandest and largest orthodox cathedral crowns the Toompea hill, and is dedicated to the Saint Alexander Nevsky.
The ornate and stately cathedral was built in the neo-Russian style and decorated with 5 domes. Looking at the cathedral from a height, you will see that the domes form a cross. The dark domes are visible from numerous points in the city.
Its bells can also be heard throughout Tallinn. The cathedral’s bell towers constitute Tallinn’s most powerful ensemble of church bells. It comprises eleven bells, including the largest bell in Tallinn which weighs 15 tons. The largest bell weighs more than the other 10 combined.
The cathedral boasts impressive interiors, including decorations of a gilded ornament of the Virgin Mary. Slightly above on the temple pediment is an ornament that depicts Jesus with the two Archangels Gabriel and Michael. The cathedral interior is decorated in mosaics and icons.
The Cathedral has 3 altars. The base of the structure is in Finnish granite. Inside you will find 3 carved, gilded wooden iconostases, along with 4 icon boxes, which were painted at St. Petersburg on zinc and copper plates. The church windows are decorated in stained glass.
Disliked by many Estonians as a reminder of Russian domination, the Cathedral was scheduled for demolition in 1924, but the authorities never implemented the decision. Instead, the church has been restored meticulously since Estonia gained independence in 1991 from the Soviet Union.
The central location of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral also makes it an ideal starting point for touring interesting sights nearby including the Bastion Tunnels, Danish King’s Garden, the Tall Hermann Tower and the Estonian Parliament building.
3. Kadriorg Palace
Situated just a short walk from the Tallinn center, Kadriorg is a world in itself, a quiet, secluded neighborhood comprising large tracts of forested park that are criss-crossed by paths and peppered with ponds and statues. Kadriorg is home to several intriguing villas from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as some of the best art museums in the nation.
Nonetheless, the jewel in Kadriorg’s crown is the Kadriorg Palace, a marvelous, Baroque structure that is surrounded by fountains and manicured gardens. The Palace was designed to resemble Italian palaces of the period and features a façade in a beautiful blend of architectural styles. The Palace was the center of an estate established by the Russian Tsar as a royal family retreat during the 18th century.
Construction of the summer palace commenced in 1718. The former residence of the Russian Tsar, the Kadriorg Palace is today situated in the heart of the Tallinn suburbs, among a number of grand villas and summer estates. The majestic pink palace was built in the Baroque architectural style and forms an important part of the region’s culture and history.
Kadriorg is also associated with art as it is home to some of the country’s best art museums. The palace complex houses the Art Museum of Estonia and its collection of foreign art pieces with works from dating from the 16th century and the 20th century.
The Foreign Art Museum was opened in 2000 and displays a variety of artworks from all periods. The museum boasts a collection of over 900 paintings of Russian and Western European origins. Visitors can peruse about 1,600 pieces of decorative art including glass objects, historic furniture and porcelain ornaments. About 3,000 gems and sculptures are also on display inside the museum, along with 3,500 prints.
The Museum’s most significant collection includes a series of 100 paintings done between the 16th and 18th centuries by Masters from the Netherlands School of Art. Forming part of this collection are German panel paintings from the same period, and Russian portrait paintings that date from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The area of Kadriorg today continues to be associated with splendor and culture as wealthy families began building their villas close by to the palace right up to the 20th century. The Estonian presidential palace was erected here in 1938 just uphill from Kadriorg Palace. The Kadriorg Palace also serves as a venue for a variety of events including concerts, theater performances, lectures and receptions.
4. Kadriorg Park
Tallinn is a vibrant and modern city with a hard-to-miss buzz that permeates its busy streets. Amid the lively hustle and bustle, the Kadriorg Park offers an oasis of calm and a dignified retreat. While Tallinn boasts a superb range of beautiful architectural attractions, at Kadriorg Park, it’s the open air and nature that take center stage.
The distinguished old park offers the ideal spot to take in the glorious Estonian sun that shines down on Tallinn throughout the summer months. The park provides a popular spot for relaxation in the city, for both residents and tourists. With its meadows, elegant gardens, walking paths, forest groves and the symmetrical Swan Lake, Kadriorg Park is every visitor’s delight.
Situated 2km east of Tallinn’s old town, Kadriorg Park was built in 1718 under the orders of Peter I, the Russian Tsar, with additional sections being created and designed over the last centuries. In the Kadriorg Park, visitors can see design techniques characteristic of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
In 1714, a project was launched to create a park on a large tract of land on the outskirts of Tallinn. From the very beginning, the royal park at Kadriorg was a public space because the Russian Tsar ordered that the park and its carefully tended gardens be open to the public.
The 290-year old park was designed with the aim of astonishing visitors with its artistic cascade and numerous sculptures and water games. The Kadriorg park and palace ensemble turned out to be the most stylish and largest Baroque structure in Estonia that served as a model for Estonian nobility in designing manors and parks on their own farms.
The Park boasts several delightful features, which include a perfectly symmetrical Swan Pond, a Japanese garden and vast grassy areas that are ideal for sunbathing or having a picnic. At the heart of the park, walkers will encounter the magnificent Kadriorg Palace, a sumptuous Baroque mansion that has housed Russian nobility throughout the ages.
Some of the popular routes for taking a stroll around the park include the area close to the flower beds that surround Swan Pond, and the promenade that leads from the pond to the palace. There is also a Japanese garden that was designed with plants chosen to survive Estonia’s cold climate. Today 30 ancient trees, older than the palace itself, continue to grow in the Park’s oak grove.
Once a mighty, fortified town, Vanalinn is the old town of Tallinn. Today, more than half of Vanalinn’s thick medieval walls remain standing, in addition to tower structures surrounded by legends about their ability to repel attackers. Inside its historic center, old Tallinn unfolds in a series of cobbled roads, cozy courtyards and dramatic architecture.
But even in the old town, Estonia’s modern edge blends with its antiquated atmosphere to give Vanalinn character and personality.
Vanalinn is comprised of 2 sections. Toompea is the upper town that houses a castle, palaces, the orthodox cathedral and the parliament building. All-Linn is the lower town which is comprised of churches, the town hall, defensive towers and merchant and guild houses.
Visitors to Vanalinn should make a point of seeing both parts of the former fortified city. The contrast in architectural styles will be clear, with All-Linn exhibiting older-style buildings representative of the period when Tallinn was a member of the Hanseatic League.
Toompea is the cathedral hill that crowns Vanalinn with its castle, palaces, churches and government buildings. Many of the buildings found here are newer than those in the All-Linn because of a fire that destroyed the medieval buildings, necessitating construction in a newer style.
Many tourists are impressed by the 19th century orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral that draws attention with its numerous domes and architectural decorations.
Toompea Castle features elements from different historical periods. Sections of this castle such as the Hermann Tower date from the medieval period. The castle houses the government administration building and the parliament building which faces the pink façade of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Toomkirik is the dome church for which Toompea is named. This is the oldest surviving building in Toompea and Estonia’s oldest Lutheran church.
Toompea has viewing platforms that offer much-photographed views of the Lower Town and the sea. It is said that in the right weather conditions, you can see Finland from across the water, although some locals believe this to be somewhat of an exaggeration.
All-Linn is the lower town of Vanalinn that contains buildings older than those found in the upper town, including walls, gates and towers from the medieval period that once served as defenses for the city’s inhabitants.
All-Linn is also the site of the Tallinn Christmas Market that runs from late November into early January. Town Hall Square is the heart of Lower Town and home to the Town Hall, in addition to Gothic buildings that house pubs, restaurants and shops.
The Kiek in de Kok is a sight of history and legend. The name translates to “peek in the kitchen” because it is said that guards manning the tower could look down chimneys into the kitchens of Vanalinn’s houses.
6. Tallinna Botaanikaaed
The largest botanic garden in Estonia, the Tallinna Botaanikaaed covers 110 hectares and houses over 8,000 species of plants. Here you can indulge in flora from all over the world, displayed inside arboretums, open fields, thematic gardens and glasshouses. In just a couple of steps, you will be transported from the meadows of Europe into the African tundra, and from the rainforest to the desert.
Situated in the garden town of Pirita in northeastern Tallinn, in the Kloostrimetsa area, the garden is divided by the Pirita River and embraced by a large sandy pine forest.
Founded in 1961, the Tallinna Botaanikaaed is Tallinn’s only botanical garden. During its first 20 years, major plant collections were planted within the gardens. The outdoor gardens were opened to visitors in 1970, while the greenhouses opened their doors to the public in 1971.
Tallinna Botaanikaaed currently has the following departments: Open Area Collections; Tropical and Subtropical Plants; and Environmental Education. Presently, the garden spans an area of 109 hectares. There is a herbarium and library on the garden grounds.
The garden collection features plant material gathered from 30 floristic regions. The living plant collections are distributed in the arboretum, the rose garden, the rock garden, the bulb collection, the succulent house, the subtropical house and the tropical house. The greenhouse plants are spread out on display in 6 houses.
The Arboretum is arranged systematically into individual sections including the Main Arboretum, the Rose Garden, the Heather Garden and the Garden of Ornamental Conifers.
The Main Arboretum comprises 1,136 taxa. The Heather Garden dates from 1970 and is planted in the shade of a stand of oaks and pines. The Garden of Ornamental Conifers has 63 cultivars of ornamental conifers. The Rose Garden comprises of a historical display of 355 varieties of hardy outdoor roses from 14 variety groups.
Bulbous plants number about 1,000 in total and are arranged inside 8 outdoor display areas. Many of the bulbs were collected from their natural habitats and include lilies, tulips, daffodils and crocuses. There is also a collection of ornamental grasses.
Special exhibits are changed each month. The garden has previously held special exhibitions on irises, orchids, exotic fruits, and fragrant plants and spices. Plan your visit during summer to attend the popular summer night aroma tours and the rose days. You can also enjoy the nature trail that traverses the different habitats of the botanical garden.
7. Eesti Vabaohumuuseum
The Eesti Vabaohumuuseum was founded with the aim of introducing rural architecture and landscape, and showcasing the architecture and way of life of rural Estonia. The Museum is situated in the Rocca al Mare district, within a spacious wooded park that overlooks the sea.
Inspired by the open air museums of Scandinavia and Finland, including Sweden’s Skansen, Estonian intellectuals decided to establish an open air museum in 1913. However, this dream was only realized in 1957 when the Eesti Vabaohumuuseum was founded on Kopli Bay. The museum was opened to the public in 1964.
The Museum territory today houses 74 exposed buildings, with fourteen farms offering insights into the different strata of society that lived during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries in Estonia. The preserved buildings were collected from different regions in the country. The Museum is home to most of the oldest buildings in Estonia and offers a great opportunity to see traditional wooden architecture.
Visitors to the Eesti Vabaohumuuseum can also get a glimpse into rural Estonian life over the last 200 years. As you would expect to see in any proper village, the Museum has a tavern, church, mills, a shop, fire station, school house and fishing sheds by the sea. Visitors to the Museum can purchase local handicrafts or sample some traditional Estonian dishes at the tavern.
The word “Museum” is perhaps something of an understatement for a project that spans an area of 80 hectares, and contains 72 separate buildings. In fact, the Estonian Open Air Museum is a life-sized reconstruction of an 18th century rural/ fishing village, complete with farmyards of pigs, sheep and chicken, inns, and much more.
Visitors to the open air museum will enjoy traveling back in time to an idyllic era, blissfully free of consumerism among other modern inconveniences. There are plenty of fun activities to take part in while here. Wander about on the nature trail or visit the rustic theater for a performance.
Visitors can also watch bread and handicraft making demonstrations, as well as have a taste of some traditional recipes. Sample the pea soup and other hearty, traditional foods at the Inn.
8. Hotel Viru and the KGB Museum
While skyscrapers are today an ubiquitous sight in modern Tallinn, almost 4 decades ago, there was only one building dominating the skyline of the Estonian capital. The Hotel Viru was an architectural jewel in the Soviet Republic of Estonia.
Built by the finest of soviet minds, with help from their Finnish comrades, the Hotel stood as a monument to the ingenuity of the Soviets and to the fact that the USSR could offer a similar level of comfort and decadence that was the norm in the Western World.
Indeed, any foreigners visiting Estonia would be accommodated at the hotel where they could enjoy the finest nightclubs, restaurants and other amenities on offer. And the fact that the hotel housed a KGB listening post that was stationed on a secret floor was of course only a minor detail.
At the Hotel Viru, there’s so much more to discover than room service. In fact, the KGB had sixty of the hotel’s rooms wired up with listening devices so as to catch any juicy tidbits of knowledge that unsuspecting foreign dignitaries might let slip.
The listening post is a fascinating room that serves as a grim reminder of the lengths the KGB was willing to go to ensure that no one stepped out of line.
Visiting the dull grey office of the listening post today, you can only imagine the type of information that the KGB gathered there. The office remains perfectly preserved inside the Hotel Viru and the KGB Museum exhibition. The Hotel Viru and the KGB Museum is situated at the Sokos Hotel Viru. The Museum is a testament to the machinations of the Russian secret police.
Visit the secret spy rooms on the 24th floor and learn about the KGB. See the room that served as the KGB “nerve center” for almost 20 years. There are many fascinating objects and details here including a red phone without buttons.
One of the more interesting stories you will hear at the KGB Museum is the one behind wallets with a color “bomb” inside. Little leather wallets were used as traps for hotel staff who were instructed to report all found items to their superiors and it was strictly forbidden to open anything.
The wallets were left lying around and if someone decided to open one, they were met with a colorful puff. The dye from the “bomb” colored the clothes and faces bright pink, later turning into purple. The dye was also so strong that it remained on human skin for 2 weeks in a row and washing it off was very hard.
Removed from its political and cultural context, the exhibition also serves as a great example of 70s and 80s Soviet kitsch. From the tote bags to the 80s brochures, some of the items on display intrigue amongst the more somber messages they convey. Visitors can also enjoy the scenery from the 23rd floor of Hotel Viru and take great photos. From the top you can see pretty much the whole of Tallinn.
9. Lahemaa Rahvuspark
Estonia, a tiny country within a stone’s throw of Russia, Finland and Latvia has more than half its land mass covered in forest. One of the best places to enjoy Estonia’s forests and nature is on a visit to the Lahemaa Rahvuspark. Established in 1971, the national park was the first anywhere in the former Soviet Union. The sea makes up almost one third of the park, while two-thirds of its land covered in forest.
Lahemaa is the land of bays that was named after the bodies of water found between its peninsulas. Estonia’s largest and first national park, Lahemaa Rahvuspark offers a great overview of most of the cultural and natural landscapes that are characteristic of Estonia.
Situated just an hour’s drive from Tallinn, the Lahemaa nature reserve was founded during Soviet rule. When you visit here, you are likely to agree that preserving and protecting the landscape of northern Estonia with its high trees, lakes and the soil, covered in rampant grasses and moss is very important.
One of the last untouched places in the Baltic region, Lahemaa is very enjoyable, not only for its diverse nature, but also for its rhythmic stories passed on and cultivated for generations by the locals.
The nature you will find here is very special and diverse, characterized by thick woods, hill moors, waterfalls, lakes, along with wild boars, elks and about 200 bird species to discover. There are also peninsulas reaching very far into the sea and some wonderful bays here. At the same time, 8 splendid feudal manors give a classy touch to the landscape.
Situated on Estonia’s northern coast, Lahemaa has sandy and stony seashores, pine forests, cliff forests, old-growth forests, picturesque bogs, alvars and rivers that have cut into the limestone cliff. There are also numerous architectural, historical and geological monuments to be seen here.
Visitors will also spot many erratic boulders that were brought over from Finland by continental ice. Plenty of stories and legends are associated with the boulders.
Lahemaa is one of the most important forest conservation areas of Europe which is home to many large mammals. South of this national park are large areas covered in forests and mires, expanding the habitats of boars, foxes, lynxes, moose, brown bears and more.
Go on the beaver trail that’s located in a picturesque valley between two rivers to discover more about the lives of beavers. Here you will find a variety of common birds such as owls, woodpeckers and cranes that come to feed on the fields in autumn.
Just as it was 4,000 years ago, today in Lahemaa, visitors can find historical villages perched on the limestone cliff running through the park. On the cliff, you can also discover special plant communities or alvars that exist only in Estonia and Sweden, where snowdrop anemones bloom during the spring time. Below the cliff are rare forests that grow perennial honesty.
The cultural heritage and shoreline of Lahemaa are intertwined. It was from here that fishermen sailed to the islands of Finland to catch seals and fish. The sea was used for friendly trade, as well as for smuggling spirits and salt. The most famous fishing villages were Altja, Kasmu and Viinistu, the village of spirit smugglers which today houses an art museum.
Lahemaa is home to numerous pine forests and shipbuilding was previously popular here. During the old days, ships built out of Lahemaa pine sailed the seven seas. The area is also home to 4 big historic manors, Vihula, Sagadi and Palmse, being the only ones that are renovated.
In Sagadi, you can browse the forest museum. In Oandu, visitors can participate in the activities of the nature school. Vosu is a former resort area that is great for beach holidays.
Don’t miss out on Lahemaa’s nature trails and the many fun opportunities they have to offer. Visitors can explore the park on a day-trip and go on foot or by bike along the nature and hiking trails. Go exploring the national park on bicycle to find fascinating spots that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible by car.
During your exploration of the area, you are certain to notice many odd, round stones that are mostly covered in moss. These are the boulders that characterize the nature of northern Estonia. Possibly thousands of these boulders are spread out over the entire park, some being very large with a perimeter of more than 30 meters.
10. Kumu Art Museum
Tallinn exudes a form of culture that is uniquely Estonian, and nowhere else is this more apparent than at the Kumu Art Museum. The largest and most impressive exhibition venue in Estonia, the Kumu Art Museum is also the headquarters of the Art Museum of Estonia.
The Museum exhibits the world’s largest collection of Estonian art that comprises 60,000 works. Here you will find classics of Estonian art, alongside works of artists who cultivate modern trends. The Museum is a must-visit for tourists who are interested in learning more about the culture of Estonia.
The Museum exhibits its impressive art collection on 3 floors. The first exhibition is entitled “Treasury” and features a variety of artworks dating from the 18th century to the end of the Second World War. The other collection is entitled “Difficult Choices” and features works from Estonia’s period under Soviet rule, exploring the depths of the relationship between the Soviet state and art. The final exhibit showcases a changing variety of temporary exhibits of contemporary art from Estonia and abroad.
The collections of Estonian art beginning from the early 18th century are displayed on the 3rd and 4th floors, and a modern art gallery situated on the 5th floor. Art that pre-dates the Second World War is exhibited on the 3rd floor, while the 4th floor houses an exhibitions of works from the period of Soviet occupation. On the 5th floor of Kumu you will find contemporary art exhibitions by artists from Estonia and abroad.
But this contemporary art gallery is not just an exhibition space but also an idea laboratory, a place where creativity enjoys the freedom of experimentation. In addition to its permanent collection, the Museum hosts exhibitions and cultural events throughout the year.
The international dimension is very important to the activities of Kumu. Half the rotating exhibitions focus on Estonian art, while the other half is on international modern art and historical art. A total of eleven or twelve large exhibitions are annually organized in Kumu’s 4 exhibition halls.
Kumu Art Museum has a 250-seat auditorium that hosts a film program, concerts, performances, conferences, seminars, an educational center and a library that offers Estonia’s largest selection of art literature.
The Museum building came about as the result of an international architecture completion, with a design that reflects the forward-looking agenda and beliefs of the cultural institution. The spectacular building offers a vibrant showcase for a range of excellent art exhibitions. Go on a pleasant stroll around the museum to enjoy its clean and simple architecture, and the spacious, light-filled exhibits.
Situated on the edge of the picturesque Kadriorg Park, the Kumu Art Museum building creates a lasting impression with its interesting layout and striking angles, while the artworks it houses are just as memorable. A visit to the Museum will take you through the charming Kadriorg Park where you can also visit the magnificent Kadriorg Palace and art museum.
Opened in 2006, the Kumu Art Museum would already two years later in 2008 receive the European Museum of the Year Award. Kumu is today a contemporary art museum dedicated to collection, exposition and conservation of art. There is also a café on the Museum grounds, which offer a wide array of food items and beverages, while the Museum Shop sells publications and souvenir items.