Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is located on the country's northern coast. Its atmospheric historic quarter is considered one of the best preserved Hanseatic Old Towns in Europe, brimming with history and charm. It is pure pleasure to stroll its cobblestone streets and explore its centuries-old merchant houses.

The city of Tallinn dates back to the 13th century, when the Teutonic Knights constructed a castle at the site. It later developed into a major trading center within the Hanseatic League. Also known as the Hansa, the Hanseatic League was a European trading alliance established by prominent merchants in the Baltic region to protect their mutual interests against rival traders and rulers. The city prospered, leaving behind a legacy of lavish architecture in its public buildings, churches and domestic merchant homes.

Through the centuries, numerous countries have ruled Tallinn and given it many names. Today, the city goes by its original name, Tallinn, which translates to “Town of the Danes.” But it has been called Reval by the Germans, Räffle by the Swedes, and Revel by the Russians. Its name reverted back to Tallinn following Estonian independence in 1918.

Tallinn was awarded the title of European Capital of Culture in 2011. Each year, the European Union bestows the title upon a European city, which then hosts events throughout the year to celebrate its unique culture.

Tallinn Sights and Landmarks

Tallinn’s historic Old Town is recognized throughout Europe as an exceptionally well-preserved medieval trading city. Much of the area was developed during the most robust and prosperous period of the Hanseatic League, between the 13th and 16th centuries. Many of its structures still stand today as stunning examples of the architecture of the period.

Tallinn’s skyline is unique for the contrast between its Upper Town (or Toompea), which is home to its sprawling castle and beautiful churches, and the Lower Town, with its many church spires, city wall and Town Hall square. The Old Town has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox church on Toompea Hill, opposite the Castle and Estonian Parliament buildings. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod, who defended the city against German invaders in the 13th century. Tallinn’s largest cathedral, it was built by Mikhail Preobrazhensky between 1894 and 1900 – when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire – in the classical Russian Revival style. The cathedral features iconic onion domes and has an ornate interior filled with icons, gold leaf decoration and mosaics.

Considered the crown jewel of Tallinn, the magnificent baroque Kadriorg Palace was constructed by Tsar Peter the Great in 1718 for his wife, Catherine I. Italian architect Niccolo Michetti designed the palace, which features a grandiose façade and beautifully manicured gardens. Today, the Kadriorg Palace houses the Art Museum of Estonia, which boasts a large collection of paintings by Russian and Western artists from the 16th to the 20th centuries, as well as fine sculptures and other works of art.

Tallinn Entertainment and Activities

Though marzipan, the sweet treat made from almonds and honey, is often associated with Germany or Austria, it has Estonian origins. Legend has it that in the Middle Ages, a wealthy merchant fell ill and ordered a famous pharmacist to concoct a medicine for him. However, the pharmacist was himself taken ill, and ordered his mischievous apprentice Mart to make it instead. The boy switched the ingredients of the medicine, adding almonds and honey in an attempt to improve the flavor. The merchant liked it so much that he ordered it served at every meal. The treat soon became an international success. Today, at the Kalev Marzipan Museum Room in Tallinn’s Old Town, you can learn more about this sweet delight and watch its resident artist paint marzipan figurines.

The Kalev Chocolate Factory is located in the same building. The oldest and largest confectionery in Estonia, the factory dates to 1806. You can join a two-hour lesson here to learn the skills of a master chocolate confectioner while enjoying coffee, tea and snacks. Best of all, you can take your delicious creations home with you.

Just 15 minutes from Tallinn’s city center is the Estonian Open Air Museum. Its twelve farms showcase the country’s pre-Industrial Revolution architecture and lifestyle. The village museum features a school, chapel, inn, fire station and village shop. All-in-all, the outdoor exhibit includes 74 buildings, many of which date back more than 200 years. It’s a unique glimpse into how Estonian families from all walks of life thrived and eked out a living during the 18th century.

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