One of our biggest recent Wandering Memory surprises was a trip to the Estonian capital of Tallinn. Tallinn had never really appealed to me, the only time it entered my radar, surprisingly was when I started planning my Stag/Bachelor do. Tallinn along with Riga, Berlin and Prague have become hotspots for cheapish British stag/bachelor parties. We actually disguarded Riga and Tallinn quite quickly due to security reasons – but honestly having recently visited I have no idea why.
So back to Tallinn, we did some pre-research on the city to see if we should do a tour or not, and honestly it wasn’t worth the money. So armed with our Lonely Planet and fantastic advice from a friend who had recently lived there, we walked from the harbour to the Old City (about a 15 minute walk).
The first thing you notice about Tallinn is the church spires, lifting up from the old city like fingers pointing to the heavens. This is mainly based around the Old Town, that is designated an UNESCO Heritage area. We had also heard that the Old Town is a collection of historical buildings, cobbled roads and medieval architecture. Therefore heading straight towards this area early in the morning was the plan.
I like to plan, I like to know what to see and what route would be best, but this time we took our chances and just wandered. Heading towards the spires, we soon found ourselves on the cobbled streets, which were literally deserted. Getting there early was a great experience, as by accident we found ourselves by the town hall, just as the sun was rising above the buildings – It was deserted. Without the crowds you get a real sense of the historical beauty of the square.
We wandered around the local lanes and stumbled across the entrance to the second level of this beautiful town. At the top of this steep incline, was a stunning cathedral known as the Alexander Nevsky, which has incredible architecture and huge dome shaped roofs. It looks very Russian in origin, but that does make sense since our proximity. Now I am not a huge fan of churches, but this one was very attractive both from the outside and inside. Well worth the visit.
This signified the entrance to the upper part of the old town, for us at least, and wandering around these streets, there are some great views of the city below. The best we visited was called Putkuli viewing platform, and luckily was pretty clear due to the early start. The Wall Turrets and the view of St Oliv’s Cathedral are one of the best in Tallinn – very fairytale like.
We continued to wander the old town, and came across the historic walls which are still accessible in specific locations. Our first was a steep climb onto the battlements to enter Kohvik Dannebrog Café. The Café is extremely small and set along a partial element of the old wall high up. Don’t be fooled here, you don’t pay to ascend to the café but if you’d like to appreciate the view and historic setting, most drinks are 5 Euros and up. We sat and took in the ambiance, happy that we had stumbled across this unique place. We also revisited the historic wall further in the lower town, which gave more of a sense of authenticity, being held up by wooden elements, and less touristy – the Imagination could run wild.
The real beauty of the old town came when wandering the secret quaint pebbled archways and passages, some with old cafes and bars each side, some with buskers playing against the stone walls, it really was like going back in time.
As we finished by the wall we took our friends advice and stopped off for lunch in the Olde Hansa restaurant. This is a traditional pub/restaurants which adheres to a particular medieval theme. Some would find it quite cliché and a little off putting, but Megan and I really enjoyed it. The menu is eclectic and old fashioned, the bar staff and waitresses are all extremely well versed and actually quite funny, especially when we were given our ‘Weapons’ (or as we know them cutlery). The one thing I would say here is try the cinnamon beer, it was incredible. So incredible that I actually bought 2 of the mugs it came in, just to relive the experience with the boys when we have a few beers in. It was an experience we wouldn’t usually partake in, but in the spirit of being there – Why the hell not!
Anyhow we explored more of lower Tallinn, and found alongside the lower wall a wool market, where local lady sellers pitch up. Two nice winter hats were purchased, using credit card no less :-). We also exited the walled town and took a look around the more modern Tallinn, a few nice shops and some great chocolate were explored.
We found Tallinn to be one of the best surprises of our recent trip, as it was friendly, hospitable, scenic and above all very easily explored. Our friend had listed a whole host of other places, including some less touristy places, but we had seen all we had to see (just missing out on the St Olivs as the queue was just too long).
Recently asked would we go back to Estonia? The firm answer was Yes of course we would… So much more to see…