Tallinn is the capital of Estonia and a European Capital of Culture for 2011. As the second stop on my big adventure, it brought me one step closer to Russia but was also a delight to experience in its own right (when I wasn’t busy getting lost). It was easy to choose my five favorite things in the city.
From my experience, open air museums can often seem a bit cheesy and less than authentic. Usually, they consist of a handful of buildings which were either moved from their original locations or reconstructed as replicas of such original buildings. The Estonian Open Air Museum, though, located on the outskirts of Tallinn, just had a different feel to it. It is set up as a small village, with 12 farms spread across the grounds and a school, church and tavern.
I stumbled upon an Estonian folk dancing demonstration the day I visited, which I believe takes place at 11:00 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday during the summer season. If you can time your visit to see this, I highly recommend it. Lasting nearly an hour, the demonstration featured a variety of dances involving children, adults and even spectators.
2. The tower of St. Olaf’s Church
The church itself is not really much to see, but the tower is pretty incredible. As is the norm when climbing up church towers, you ascend up a spiral stone stairwell until reaching a wooden platform and final ascent of steep wooden steps (so narrow that I had to walk sideways). Upon reaching the top, you step out onto the narrowest viewing platform I have ever seen.
I initially thought we could only enjoy the view from one side because it did not look as though there was room to turn the corner around the top of the tower. I soon realized I was wrong as I saw a woman ahead of me duck around the corner to my right. I proceeded to follow her, stepping carefully over wooden planks with gaps that threatened to swallow one of my shows if I wasn’t careful. From that tower ledge, I was able to enjoy sweeping views of all sides of the city, as well as get a bit of an adrenaline rush from the sheer height of the tower, which at one time was the highest church tower in Europe.
It isn’t a huge museum or a particularly attractive museum, but it is superbly interesting in terms of the perspective it gives on Estonia’s history of being occupied from 1940 to 1991, first by the Soviet Union, then by Nazi Germany and then by the Soviet Union again. If you have the time to watch them all, the museum runs multiple videos covering various stages of the occupations.
4. Pirita Convent
This isn’t in Tallinn itself, but rather the suburb of Pirita. The convent dates back to the early 15th century and was destroyed by the Russian army on 1575, leaving just its shell remaining. It leaves a rather eerie feeling and walking through the ruins reminded me a bit of exploring the ruins of Pompeii, but on a much smaller scale. Pirita is an easy bus ride from the center of Tallinn, but it is also a relaxing walk, almost entirely along the waterfront – if you have about an hour to kill.
5. Old Town
I suppose it is a bit cliché or typical to list the entire Old Town area, but it really is what makes Tallinn tick. Step outside of the town walls and you might as well be in any other city in any other country; nothing stands out. But inside the walls, the city feels alive and welcoming. Outdoor restaurants and cafes line the cobblestone streets and buildings date back hundreds of years. Although your drink or meal will undoubtedly be overpriced, it is worth it to at least once just sit and soak it all in.
Have you been to Tallinn? What did you enjoy the most?