Reader Essential Experience of the Week

Surprising Tallinn Springs to Life
Tallinn, Estonia
Posted by Kathryn Fuller
March 29, 2011

Not having heard much about Estonia, I did not have any high expectations. Was I ever surprised!

Tallin's skyline is dominated by the spire of St. Olav's Church.

This jewel of the Baltic still retains its medieval character with its great wall around “Old Town” Tallinn, the fort and castle ruins, and the narrow cobblestone streets.

It was Sunday morning as we strolled through the city gate while the church bells rang.  Shopkeepers were just opening their shops and cafe owners were setting up the chairs and tables around the perimeter of the town square. Vendors opened their stalls to display beautiful handmade linens, woolen mittens, scarves and sweaters, as well as leather goods and the usual souvenirs. The fragrance of flowers and aromas of spiced nuts filled the air.

Handcrafted goods in Tallinn's marketplace.

When we first arrived, we felt like we were walking on an empty set at Universal Studios, but as though the director shouted, “Lights! Camera! Action!” the sleepy little town woke up before our very eyes. The men ran the cafes, the older women sold the end products of a long winter spent in knitting and weaving. The young people sold the post cards, the guide books, nuts, and handled the public relations with their beautiful English. Each had their part to play, and they did it well.

The medieval Old Town seems almost like something from a fairytale, with winding cobblestone streets and well-preserved buildings perched above the sea.

The onion-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is perched atop Toompea Hill.

Even further up is Toompea Hill, the heart of the “Upper Town” where the government buildings and Toompea Castle set the stage.  Gothic St. Mary’s Cathedral, the oldest church in Tallinn, is fascinating and thankfully, now that Estonians can practice religion freely, is still used today.

The city’s Russian ties are obvious from the Alexander Nevsky orthodox cathedral, which is just across from the palace founded by Peter the Great.  As it was Sunday, churches we visited were full of worshippers.

This little Estonia has only been free from the Soviet Union for 20 years, but they’ve come a long way in that time.  We learned that Bill Gates gave all the school children computers to help them on the road to technology. They learned and modernized quickly.  As Tallinn is still a fairly small town, most Estonians live in the country and have minimal social contact. So, it was here that they developed Skype technology so that they could communicate with each other, and today the company has a large presence here.  The government also has incentives in place to encourage people to have children. The birthrate is rising once again.

This surprising city charmed us at each turn but all too soon it was time to leave.  As the day closed, I’m sure all the little players returned to their homes to rest up for a new day and a new beginning for Estonia.

Dating from the 1400s, Tallin's Town Hall is the only intact Gothic town hall in Northern Europe.

Tallinn's Town Hall Square is the heart of the Medieval Old Town.

See cruises that visit this destination