It takes a lot more time than what we had at hand to fully explore the capital of Estonia, but for our first visit, we only had a few hours from 9 am to 5pm. Time enough to gather a first impression and to make plans for a return in the future.
When I opened the curtains of my cabin at the AIDAdiva this morning, I was fascinated by the unveiled panorama, while an unimpressed seagull sat on the railing while the wind dishevels its feathers. Behind the bird on the not-so distant horizon, the medieval towers of Talinn reach for the morning sky.
9 am: From the pier it is only a 15 minute walk too “Fat Margeret”, a mighty fortress tower from the 16th century. Today, it houses the Estonian naval museum. However, our first steps lead us to the tourist information office, where we purchase a TalinnCard. With this, you get free access to many of the sights in town as well as museums and churches and you can use the public transportation system for free. A free guided tour through the city is also included.
9.30 am: Vis-à-vis with the tourist information stands the church of St. Nicolas, built in the 13th century by German merchants and craftsmen. Back then, Talinn was still called Reval and was a major port of the Hanseatic League. Today, the church is a museum, and with the TalinnCard, we get free access. The gigantic high altar and the famed Danse Macabre painting of an artist from Lübeck are two sights that are well worth the visit. With a bit of luck, you can also listen to an organ concert here.
10 am: From St. Nicolas, a steep staircase leads upwards to upper city. In the past, the religious elite lived here, while the merchants and craftsmen live below in the lower city. Today is Sunday, making the queues around the most photographed building of Talinn even longer.
It doesn’t take long until I, too, have made a picture of the delicate cupolas of the Alexander Nevski Cathedral. Between two elderly women with head scarves I enter the church with its precious icons. The heavy smell of frankincense fills the air, and the massive golden decorations are impressive.
10.30 am: Everywhere in Talinn, green signs show the way to the city’s landmarks. The canon tower “Kiek in de Kök” (low German for “Look inside the Kitchen”) is one of them, and well worth a visit. With the Talinn Card you can enter the tower -and the historical museum inside it -for free. By the way, according to local legends, it was once possible to look from the platform of the 38 m high tower directly in the kitchens of Talinn’s burghers. Thus the unique name of the building.
11 am: Only a few meters away lies the rather plain dome church of Tallinn, which houses the crypts of many German-Baltic noblemen. Emblazed heraldry reminds of these past times.
11.30 am: The outlook terraces offer a spectacular view across the town. They are only a few steps away from the dome church – just follow the stream of tourists. The view onto the red tiled roofs of the medieval lower city ward is too precious to miss.
Here again, surprisingly large seagulls sit and wait for something edible to fall to the ground. Obviously, they get their share at this tourist hot spot.
12 am: I am taking the long cobbled Pikk Jalg road down to the lower city. A few local painters present their work outside on the massive walls and paint new views of the old city centre. This medieval city ward is, by the way, a world heritage site. If you are interested in puppeteering and marionette theatre can go to the puppeteer museum at the end of the road. The entry is free with the Talinn card.
12.30 am: See andto be seen seems to be the credo at the main plaza of Talinn. Here at the city hall, everybody sits like on a stage, framed by pastel-coloured facades. Countless cafés and restaurants invite to a rest, and unsurprisingly the prices here are accordingly high. Students in medieval clothes disperse coupons for locales around the plaza, but it is more economic to order a dish from the brief lunch menu in one of the cafés. If you are travelling with minors, it migt be a good idea to visit Hesburger’s, a Finnish fast food chain that offer really good burgers, fries and veggie wraps. For less than 20 Euro you can feed four people with ease, while sitting in the popular shopping lane Viru only between natives. The restaurant is located directly below the two Viru towers, one of the iconic entry points to the medieval city centre.
1.30 pm: Just around the corner lures the mighty Hellemann tower us towards a still accessible remnant of the old city walls. Nowadays 26 towers and roundabout two kilometers of the old city walls are still standing in Talinn. Over steep staircases, I climb up the wall and can see across the lower city ward towards the Cathedral Hill.
Unfortunately, the sky has become increasingly cloudy and the background of the panorama is tinted grey. The more colourful by comparison is the art exhibition in the Hellemann tower, though. But be careful: The stone stairs here are very narrow and steep!
2 pm: Through the narrow Katarina Käik street, I stroll to the city hall plaza. The tiny alleyway houses an equally tiny art store, where I purchase a view of the old town as a keepsake for 10 Euro.
2.30 pm: The city hall of Talinn is the only one of ist kind in Nortthern Europe: a completely sustained gothic city hall. With the Talinn Card, I climb up the octagonal tower, where Old Thomas, the iconic servant of Talinn is decorated on a golden weather vane.
3 pm: I pass through the arches of an old gate to the popular café Kehrwieder. Under the cleard-up sky, I find a table outside and taste one of the offered iced coffees, as well as one of the chocolate truffles from the associated chocolate manufacturer.
3.30 pm: Unfortunately, it is time for me to leave. Quickly I write a few postcards from Talinn to friends and relatives back at home. With the sun peeking through the clouds, I find a place in front of the National Historical museum of Estonia. Medieval merchants already sat here o n this stone bench, watching the people passing by. I sent my mail from a tiny store at the Church of the Holy Spirit. The baroque church tower is also worth of another photography.
4 pm: Taking the marvelous Pikk road down to the harbour, one can see one impressive house after the other. Here you can also well-conserved merchant houses of the Great Guild and the Brotherhood of the Black Heads, another trader’s guild. I also pass the Olai church, the landmark of Talinn. At the dawn of the 16th century, it was the highest building in the world with its 160 m high tower. Unfortunately, the tower burnt down several times.
Passing the “Fat Margerete” and the naval museum (which I really want to visit the next time I come to Talinn), I walk down to the pier. With a last view towards the towers of the old city and a loud blow of the horn, the AIDAdiva leaves the capital of Estonia.
Tallinn Tourist Information Centre
With the TalinnCard, you have free entry to about 40 museums and sights in the city and you can use the public transportation system for free as well. The card also grants access to a free guided tour as wll as taking the hop-on, hop-off bus through the city. It also offers discounts in several stores and restaurants.
And, if you are on a cruise: presenting the TalinnCard in St. Petersburg or Helsinki offers a discount if you want to purchase the city cards there as well.
The Marco Polo travelling guide for Talinn includes the most important highlights and includes a handy map. Particularly useful for a short trip like mine is the chapter ” a perfect day Talinn in 24 hours”.
The travelling book can for instance purchased at shop.dumontreise.de