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Tallinn, a return to the dark ages

Adventure travel tales in North East Europe:
Berlin, Germany
Warsaw, Poland
Vilnius, Lithuania
Sigulda, Latvia
St Petersburg
Other European Tales:
Prague, Czech Republic
Sighisoara, Romania
Peloponnese, Greece
Venice, City of Water
Cappadocia, Turkey

Skyline of Tallinn in winter

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, the third Baltic state we visit, and our gateway to Russia. Like the other Baltic capitals, it has a medieval city center. But Estonians have a different ethnic background than the people of Latvia and Lithuania. There are supposed to be more Scandinavian influences here. We wonder if we can notice the difference

Eurolines bus

To regain our confidence in the bus, and because there is no direct train from Riga to Tallinn, we get on a Eurolines bus. This bus and its passengers are completely different from our experience in Poland. We enjoy a quiet ride and at the end of the afternoon we arrive in Tallinn.

Two City centers

Within the city walls of Tallinn are actually two city centers. The low part of the city is centered around the main square, with the gothic town hall.

On a hill at the edge, however, is where the elite used to live. And still, the government is located here in a big, albeit not medieval, palace. Next to the palace is a cathedral and a few towers of the wall from where the lower part can be viewed. The name of one of these towers denotes just that: “Kiek in de Kök” which means Peep into the Kitchen.

Because the bus station is located just outside the city center, and not on our map, it takes a while before we know where to go to. The youth hostels are located outside of the center, and so we choose a budget hotel. It takes a tram and a long walk to reach it, and as we arrive a old woman, knitting in front of a TV, appears to be the reception desk. We check in and get a large, but cold room, so we activate the heating and go out for some food.

Streets from the dark ages

As in Vilnius and Riga, Tallinn has an old historic city center, surrounded by walls. Very few cars drive through the winding streets, which is very pleasant. Less pleasant is the thaw after a period of frost. Water is dripping from every roof and ice comes falls from the gutters. What remains of the snow has turned into dirty slush and we practice the hop, step and jump to stay dry and clean. The dark and the cobble stones complete this rather eerie walk through the city. But soon we find a nice traditional Estonian eatery where we enjoy a good meal, before we head home again.

Typical street in Tallinn, Estonia We only have one full day to see Tallinn and so we start early. We expect a lively city center, as we experienced in Vilnius, but this is not the case here. Apparently, as in Warsaw, the city center is mostly tourist area. But right now there are hardly any tourists around, just us. Actually, there are other people here, but it just doesn’t have the “feel” we expected.

Nevertheless, Tallinn is beautiful. There are a lot of old buildings along the cobble stone streets. Here the guilds of different occupations were located. Currently, they are converted to museums or reastaurants, mostly in medieval style.


Walking both inside and outside the city walls, there are many beautiful sights. The skyline, taken from outside the city walls, is just amazing with the towers of the wall still intact, and the pointy St. Olav’s church behind them. Long ago the highest tower in the world, it still is the highest building in Tallinn.

In one of the towers, Fat Margaret, we visit the maritime museum. Here is also the monument commemorating the disaster with the ferry Estonia in 1995, when over 800 people were drowned. On top of the fat Margaret we enjoy a nice look-out over the sea and the harbor of Tallinn, where the ferries from Helsinki arrive.

We also visit the upper part of the center, around the palace. Here are more people in the streets. But it seems that they are working here, and not residents. It still doesn’t have a friendly feel to it.

The old city of Tallinn has a lot to offer. But somehow, we do not experience a friendly mood. Is it the time of the year, is it the scandinavian influence, or is it just part of the "Dark Ages" experience that is Tallinn? Guess we have to come back in summer to find out.

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