After an easy 2 hour ferry ride south from Helsinki, we arrived in Tallinn, the capital and largest city of Estonia. Tallinn was founded in 1248 but the earliest human settlements date back 5,000 years making it one of the oldest cities in Northern Europe. Tallinn, with its prime location on the Baltic, was swept up by the geopolititcal games of its more powerful neighbors. It was conquered by Denmark and then sold to the Hanseatic League in 1285. Then it came under Swedish rule in 1561 and then Russian rule in 1710. Finally, Estonia gained independence in 1991 and Tallinn once again became its capital. We spent our day wandering around Tallinn’s Old Town which is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Outside the Old Town, Tallinn has often been referred to as the Silicon Valley of Europe and the techie vibe here is unexpected given the beautiful cobbled streets and well preserved medieval architecture. There is free wifi everywhere and I didn’t realize Tallinn is home to Skype.
There are frequent ferry crossings from Helsinki to Tallinn. We took the Tallink Silija Line. Make sure you choose either the Star or Megastar cruise ships because they are faster and newer. You can book to sit inside one of the lounges or alternatively you can book a table at the restaurant on board. Otherwise, there are no assigned seats and sometimes may be hard to find a seat for the 2 hour boat ride. Upon arrival in Tallinn, it is a easy leisurely stroll to Tallinn’s Old Town.
As we approached Tallinn, we could already see the skyline of the Old Town set on a hill with medieval buildings sprawling down the slopes in all directions. Tallinn’s two-tiered Old Town is one of Europe’s most charming walled cities. The many narrow streets and staircases surrounded by medieval city walls make the Old Town seem like a labyrinth. The most important political and religious buildings are located at the top of the hill and the lower areas are mainly for residential and commercial use.
We made the mistake of taking one of those cycle rickshaws from the port to the Old Town. It is a tourist scam! We approached the line of cycle rickshaws and asked how much it would cost for the 2 of us to go to the Old Town which is only about a 10-15 minute walk. The driver didn’t answer but pointed at a printed price list on the side of the seat. There was a list of prices to various places and on the top was the price to Old Town at €25. We thought okay that’s not too bad so we got on. When we arrived at the Old Town and gave the driver the €25, he pointed to the very bottom of his pricelist and in fine print, it said all prices are per person. This means that our stupid 5 minute ride cost us €50! Plus there was nothing at all to see along the way from the port to the Old Town. What a scam! But it definitely gave us a terrible first impression of Tallinn.
Make sure to take a walk along the medieval city wall that encircles the Old Town. There are only a few sections open to visitors. One is via the gate on Suur-Kloostri. From the wall, you can climb up to the old watchtowers. The stairways are steep and narrow but well worth the view when you get up to the top. 26 towers out of 45 still remain today with Viru Gate being the best preserved and many others converted into museums. This area is known as Lower Town and is where the merchants and artisans used to live. It is still Tallinn’s busiest shopping area till today.
I had a truly pleasant day wandering the cobblestone streets of Old Tallinn. The setting cannot be more fairytale-like where every pastel colored house seem to have a story to tell. Tallinn is a photographer’s dream. I could stay here for days wandering the windy streets, looking at the colorful medieval houses, and sitting in the central square and watching the world go by.
From here, my summer holidays continue in Iceland. Stay tuned for my next post!
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