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Tallinn's Must-See Sights

Top Sightseeing Attractions in the Estonian Capital

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The entirety of Old Town Tallinn is visually appealing, from its proud towers and medieval walls to its lofty churches, to its squares, courtyards, and passageways which are full of curiosities. As a first-time visitor, however, you may find it logical to visit the old town’s top sights, especially if your time in the Estonian capital is limited.

City Walls and Towers

Tallinn Wall and Tower
Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
The city walls, with their gates at towers, are the first sight that visitors to Old Town Tallinn will encounter. These impressive structures date to a period in history when Tallinn was a part of the Hanseatic League, a European organization of merchant towns in the Middle Ages. Protecting these merchant towns required strong walls, towers from which to watch for attackers and fend them off, and well-guarded gates. Almost 2 km of Tallinn’s original walls remain, some sections 3 meters thick. Visitors to Tallinn are able to enter the wall or walk along it to gain an elevated view of Old Town Tallinn and recall medieval times.

Twenty towers of the original 46 are still standing. Some contain cafes, art galleries, or museums.

Town Hall Square

Town Hall Square, Tallinn
Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
Town Hall Square, the heart of Old Town Tallinn, draws travelers for its historic significance, its orientating location, and its level of activity, emphasized by markets and festivals that occur here. Tallinn’s Town Hall, the medieval pharmacy (which still works in its traditional manner and also contains a museum) and, during the holidays, a Christmas tree, are found on Town Hall Square.

Kiek in de Kök

Kiek in de Kok
Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
Kiek in de Kök means “peek into the kitchen” because men guarding the tower were said to be able to see down the chimneys of the city into its kitchens. This tower, with its 4-meter-thick walls, bears evidence of Ivan the Terrible’s attack on Tallinn in the 16th century: 9 cannonballs are embedded in its stone, symbols of its impenetrable strength. It’s possible to view the inside of the tower along and take and accompanying tour of connecting passageways.

St. Olaf's Church

St. Olaf's Church, Tallinn
Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
St. Olaf’s Church, once the tallest building in Europe, is still the tallest building in Old Town Tallinn; no buildings may exceed its current 124-meter height. Legend surrounds this Gothic church. Its spire acted as an excellent lightening rod, endangering its continued existence several times throughout the centuries. Some say that its great height (which reached almost 160 meters into the air in the in the late 16th, early 17th centuries) acted as a marketing ploy to attract travelers to Tallinn. The story of its construction is connected with a mysterious builder who hid his name from the townspeople as a sort of bargain: if they guessed his name, he would wave his fees, but if he could retain his secret, he would receive a large sum for his services.

Toompea Castle

Tallinn Parliament Building
Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
The pink façade of the parliament building faces Castle Square on Toompea, initially the most noticeable section of Toompea Castle. Around the back of the castle, what remains of its medieval architecture, including the Hermann Tower, can be seen by descending the hill and viewing it from its posterior.

Holy Spirit Church

Tallinn's Holy Spirit Church
Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
The Holy Spirit Church, in the Lower Town near Old Town Square, boasts a histoic clock that visitors can’t resist snapping photos of. An entry fee of 1 euro permits views of the wood-carved interior.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Tallinn
Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is less of a must-see sight and more of a can’t-miss sight—you simply can’t miss it when you ascend Toompea Hill because it sits directly in the center of Castle Square and blocks the view across it. This 19th-century Russian Orthodox Cathedral exhibits all of the symmetrical ornateness of Imperial Russia, for which many Estonians see it as a symbol.

Toompea Viewing Platforms

Old Town Tallinn from Viewing Platform
Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
The Toompea viewing platforms offer the classic postcard-perfect angles of Old Town Tallinn, as well as a view of the sea (and if you’re lucky, or prone to hallucination, an image of Finland on the distance shore). The platforms can be crowded even in the slow season, but it’s worthwhile to elbow through to the railing to snap the photo all of your friends want to see.

Freedom Square

Tallinn's Freedom Square
Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
The glass-paneled cross on Freedom Square commemorates Estonia’s first independence in 1918. Visit it at night to see it glow from within.

Dome Church

The Dome Church gives Tallinn’s Upper Town, Toompea, its name. The main Lutheran church in Estonia is a main feature of Toompea and one of the only structures to survive a fire that wiped out most of the medieval buildings in the area.
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