Tallinn Old Town
Guidebook descriptions of Tallinn’s Old Town (Vanalinn) often use the phrase ‘chocolate box’ or ‘jewel box’ because the area is a delight that is filled with treasures.
Pirita is a section of Tallinn located just a few miles west of Old Town and city center. Dating back to at least the 15th century when a convent was founded here, the area hugs the coastline, where many people enjoy spending time on the beaches. Pirita Beach is the largest and most popular stretch of sand, running for 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) and including a good view of Old Town and the ships in the Gulf of Finland. There are ball courts, playgrounds, lockers, chaise lounges, and water sport equipment rentals here, and during summer, up to 30,000 people visit the beach each day.
Tallinn Song Festival Grounds (Lauluvӓljak)
The Tallinn Song Festival Grounds (Lauluvӓljak) was the site of one of the most stirring events in Estonian history. Here, in September of 1988, 300,000 people (more than a quarter of the country’s population) filled the grounds for the Song of Estonia festival. Together they sang patriotic hymns and demanded independence in what later became known as the Singing Revolution. Two years later, half a million people came to the festival grounds for the Estonian Song Festival, which was the last major event before Estonia finally gained its independence.
The open-air amphitheater has an official capacity of around 100,000 and hosts the Estonian Song Festival every five years in July, as well as regular rock concerts. The festival was established in 1869, along with the Estonian National Awakening, a period when the country was still under the rule of the Russian Empire. The festival is one of the world’s largest amateur choral events.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is situated on the hill of Toompea, opposite the Estonian parliament buildings and Toompea Castle. The cathedral is as popular with visiting tourists as it is with people of Orthodox faith. It is dedicated to the Russian hero St. Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod, who saw off German invaders at the 13th-century Battle of the Ice at Lake Peipus.
The cathedral, which is Tallinn’s largest, was built in a classical Russian Revival style by Mikhail Preobrazhensky between 1894 and 1900 – a period when Estonia was part of the tsarist Russian Empire – and strategically placed on the former site of a statue of Martin Luther. As a result, the cathedral is the subject of controversy with some Estonian nationalists calling for its destruction. The cathedral features the onion domes, typical of Russian Orthodox churches, and the interior is filled with mosaics, icons, paintings, and ornate gold leaf decorations.
Tallinn City Wall
A defensive wall around the city of Tallinn was first constructed in 1265 and was around 15-feet high, five-feet thick and a mile and a half long. The walls were enlarged and strengthened in the 14th century when citizens were required to perform guard duty in defense against invasion.
Kadriorg Park is a 173-acre area that was built in 1718 under the orders of Russian tsar Peter I, with additional sections having been designed and created over the past few centuries. Within the park you will find Kadriorg Palace, which was originally built as a summer home for the tsar and his family and now serves as the presidential palace and a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia. While the palace was being built, Peter I, also known as Peter the Great, lived in a cottage on the property, which is now a museum. The rooms are furnished with items from that era, and some of his personal belongings are on display as well.
The area near the flower beds surrounding Swan Pond, as well as the promenade leading from the pond to the palace, are popular routes for a stroll through the park. There is also a newly added Japanese garden designed with plants that were chosen to fit with Estonia’s colder climate.
Tallinn Town Hall
Built between 1402 and 1404, Tallinn’s Gothic Tallinn Town Hall (Tallinna Raekoda) building is the only Gothic town hall building in northern Europe that remains intact, sitting as the centerpiece of Tallinn’s main square. The structure was originally a meeting place for rulers, though today it is mostly used for hosting visiting presidents or kings, as well as for concerts.