A few hours in Tallinn, Estonia’s medieval capital

Tallinn the capital city of Estonia has a fairy tale quality with narrow cobblestone alleys, red domed towers and a beautiful orthodox cathedral.

Since I last updated this blog, Bill and I have been away  on a cruise from Bristol to St. Petersburg aboard M.S. Magellan with Cruise and Maritime Voyages (C.M.V.) I have long wanted to visit some more of the former Soviet Union countries of Eastern Europe and we were lucky enough to visit East Germany, Estonia and Russia as well as making brief stops in the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden. I hope to share some impressions and photos over the next few weeks.


At the end of our cruise we were given the usual customer satisfaction questionnaire to fill in. One question was “which was your favourite port of call?”. Without any hesitation, I chose Tallinn the capital of Estonia.  I am  certainly not alone in liking this city. In 2018 it was chosen as Lonely Planet’s best value destination.

Tallinn is a UNESCO world heritage site and a former Hanseatic league city on the Baltic sea. It is just fifty miles by ferry from Helsinki but has a very different atmosphere.  Like many Eastern European cities it has a fairy tale quality with red-capped towers, medieval castles and gabled tile-roofed houses. The city had a thick outer wall and moat. The centre of the old town is largely pedestrianised with narrow cobblestone alleys and intriguing small shops and cafes.

The small country of Estonia  belonged to Denmark then Sweden and Russia. It  formed part of the Soviet Union before becoming independent in 1989.  Nowadays the Estonians seemed keen to reject the drabness of the Soviet Union by painting every thing in bright colours.  Suprisingly  Tallinn is also a centre for internet technology especially cyber security and an Estonian helped invent skype


A section of city wall with red tiled towers #Tallinn
City walls photo Bill Fraser

Tallinn is a walled city and I think the towers add to its charm. At times it looked like an illustration from a fairy tale.

Tall Hermatower is part of Toompea castle and overlooks the city
Tall Herman tower photo William Fraser

Toompea castle dominates the old town and this tower affectionately known as Tall Herman has become a symbol of Tallinn.

The beautiful Alexander Nevsky cathedral #visitestonia
Alexander Nevsky Orthodox cathedral

The ornate Russian Orthodox cathedral is free to visit. The inside is beautifully decorated with icons, paintings and mosaics but I was not allowed to take photos. I was surprised that there were no seats but was told that worshippers stand or kneel during services. It is named after Alexander Nevsky a Russian military hero.

The picture shows the main square with a rainbow
Rain on the cobbles

In November and December there is a Christmas market in the main square with fifty wooden stalls circled around an enormous Christmas tree.

Two dried toads #visitestonia
Dried toads luckily you won’t find these on a modern drug trolley

Tallinn claims to have the oldest pharmacy in continuous use dating back to the 15th century. Part of it is now a museum and as a retired nurse I was particularly interested in the display of old medicines and potions.

A narrow cobblestone alleywayleads to a church
Cobblestone alleyway Tallinn

The lower town is full of narrow alleyways and small shops. it is connected to the upper town by two alleyways called short leg and long leg. I was particularly amused to spot the short leg shirt shop.

Practical information

Currency Euro

Language Estonian (this is similar only to Finnish.) English is widely spoken

Getting around: Trams, buses and by foot.  There is a regular ferry service from Helsinki. There are also the ubiquitous red hop on hop off buses.

Shopping  Specialities include amber and marzipan (most shops close on Sundays).

Find out more

Tallinn tourism

Author: Anne Fraser

Hi, I am Anne, I am a retired nurse from Bristol in South West England. I am married with five grown up children, four boys and a girl , a grandson and a cat. I like History, travel and reading. I hope to connect with other people with similar interests.

25 thoughts on “A few hours in Tallinn, Estonia’s medieval capital”

  1. Tallinn looks stunning, I love the towers and the cathedral is stunning. I was already impressed and then I see one of it’s specialities is marzipan, one of my favourite foods! I bet it looks amazing during the Christmas market. Thanks so much for sharing with us #AdventureCalling

  2. It seems like you had a lovely time in Tallinn, and I’ve heard a lot of positive things about the town before, too, from others who have visited it. I’m originally from Sweden, and cruises to Estonia are fairly popular from there, especially during the Christmas market. They do some lovely knitwear, from what I’ve seen, as well as marsipan etc as you’ve already mentioned. #AdventureCalling

      1. When I was little, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Sweden was quite close to the eastern block, politically as well as culturally, to a greater degree than nowadays. We had a lot of kids tv programmes (dubbed to Swedish) that were from the Soviet Union or East Germany. They did some quality stuff, with animations, dolls etc, to be fair. But looking back, I find it a little odd how we were closer to the east than the west. That seemed to shift to the opposite in the mid 80’s x

        1. My husband used to work for kone and went to Finland on a training course in the 80’s. He was suprised at the amount of trade between Finland and Russia. I did not know about Russian television programmes being shown in Sweden so thanks for sharing.
          Our guide in Tallin said that as a child she used to listen to radio programmes from Finland as the language is similar. That was her window on the west.

  3. Tallinn is very high on my bucket list of places to visit – I was hoping to cross over from Helsinki a few years back but ran out of time – looks like a great city to explore, so much history and culture

    Laura x

  4. Estonia is not somewhere that I have ever thought of visiting, it looks like such a pretty place to visit with lovely buildings and lots of charm

    1. Many years ago I worked with a female Estonian metallurgist and she told me stories about her time at Tallinn University and skating on the frozen sea in Winter. I was told last year it was so cold they could drive across the ice to a nearby island.

  5. What a fascinating place this would be to explore, I’m a sucker for cathedrals and castles and can never resist a look. You’re right, there is a bit of fairytale charm about the place from the photos. xx

    1. It was my first visit to a Russian orthodox cathedral. It was interesting to note the similarities and differences. I would love to visit the Christmas market but I expect it would be very cold.

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