Tallinn, in my opinion, is the most memorable of the 3 Baltic capitals (Riga, Latvia and Vilnius, Lithuania are the others). Located on the Gulf of Finland, Tallinn is the largest city in Estonia with a population of about 450,000.
Most tourists visit Tallinn for its impressive old town which was once enclosed by a 2.5km-long stone wall containing 45 towers. Incredibly, 26 of the original towers remain along with large sections of the wall!
Various gates surround Tallinn’s old town and upon entering, you’ll happily stroll through cobblestone streets and into the heart of the tourist action!
Although one-third of the city was destroyed by Soviets in 1944, only 10% of the old town was affected.
Finally achieving independence in 1991, the current level of freedom has been the longest stretch of self-rule in Estonia’s troubled history.
- The above monument celebrates their initial independence from Soviet Russia at the end of WWl until Estonia was re-occupied in 1940. Erected in 2009, the monument cost 7 million euros – something Estonian’s aren’t overly pleased about..
After cruising around the lower section of old town, you’ll undoubtedly want to head to the upper part, called Toompea. From here, views of old town and the harbour are impressive. Furthermore, you can burn some calories while getting a better feel for the whole city!
Outside of the main area in Tallinn lies a really cool attraction, an old Soviet prison. While guided tours are available (for about 6-8 euros), you can also walk around the grounds on your own. Give yourself a few hours to explore this creepy area.
Also, you may want to go during the day ; )
- Originally designed as a sea fortress in 1840, these buildings turned into a prison in 1919.
- In fact, inmates were held here from 1919 up until 2004 when it was abandoned!
As you can see, there has been virtually no effort to renovate the building and it remains completely intact with how it was left in 2004. It’s a pretty creepy place to walk around, that’s for sure!
Overall, Tallinn is a unique city that stands out amongst some of the other capital cities in Eastern Europe. It’s a 2-3 hour ferry ride to Helsinki, Finland; a 6-8 hour bus to St.Petersburg, Russia; and a 4-5 hour bus to Riga, Latvia. Nice hostels can be found for 9 or 10 Euros and the food is relatively cheap as well! So definitely get there soon, before it becomes too touristy!
Here are a few other things I found interesting about Estonia:
- It was the birthplace of Skype, and in general, is super technologically advanced. You can even vote online.
- Oak is the sacred tree.
- Military service is mandatory for a period of 8-11 months, however, you have the option to join anytime between the ages of 19-28.
- The entire population is 1.6 million and only 14% follow a religion. This makes Estonia among the least religious countries in the world.
- Tallinn was named a UNESCO city in 1997.
- Estonian’s are notorious for having a great sense of humour and they don’t take themselves too seriously!
On that note, Terviseks! (cheers)