Twisting cobblestone lanes and iron street lamps. Gothic spires and medieval markets. Cappuccino and Wi-Fi. This is the city's famous Old Town.
If you're looking for that mix of historic ambience and cutting-edge culture that defines Tallinn, you'll find it here.
Built up from the 13th to 16th centuries, when Tallinn – or Reval as it was known then – was a thriving member of the Hanseatic trade league, this enclosed neighbourhood of colourful, gabled houses, half-hidden courtyards and grandiose churches is, quite rightly, the city's biggest tourist draw. And the fact that it's all neatly packaged within a mostly-intact city wall and dotted with guard towers gives it an extra dose of fairytale charm. It’s small, compact, and very easily explored on foot.
Tallinn’s Old Town is divided into two areas – the lower town and the upper town (also called Toompea). Those two towns were once separated by gates, almost like two different cities. Nowadays, the combination of the upper town on the high limestone hill and the lower town at its foot form an expressive skyline that is visible from a great distance both from land and sea. The lower town (all-linn) is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe, also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.
Probably the biggest tourist attraction here, in the heart of Old Town, is Town Hall Square with the Town Hall and its tower. There has been a Town Hall in Tallinn since at least 1322 and a town square next to it ever since. On Town Hall Square you will also find the Europe’s oldest continuously-operating pharmacy (open since 1422). Today it operates as a museum and modern pharmacy.
Major sights of the lower town also include the city wall and its towers. Originally the almost 4 km-long limestone wall came with 8 gates and 46 towers, today about half of the wall and towers are still standing. Some of the towers are open to the public, offering a chance to climb up, and possibly even visit a museum inside! Visitors who are not afraid of heights may go and walk on the town wall and admire the view from the top.
Besides the towers, Tallinn has more than 20 churches, most of them situated in the Old Town. Be sure to visit Tallinn’s spectacular medieval churches like St. Olav’s, St. Nicholas’, and the Holy Spirit Church, as those are truly magnificent pieces of architecture.
The upper town, Toompea, has always been the seat of power. The major attractions here are the viewing platforms, Toompea Castle (housing the Estonian Parliament, the Riigikogu), and two churches – St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin, more commonly called Dome Church (Toomkirik in Estonian).
Tallinn’s Old Town is also packed with fantastic dining choices. Whether you prefer to try Estonian cuisine or something more familiar, have a look at the list of old town restaurants, and choose your favourite.