Baltic Cruise – Tallinn Old Town Walking Tour

Next to St Petersburg, walking the walled “Old Town”, with its well preserved 13th Century narrow, winding cobbled streets and fascinating architecture, this was one of our pre-cruise highlights. Tallinn, one of Europe’s best preserved medieval cities, was originally home to wealthy merchants, but now with a plethora of cafes, restaurants/bars, museums and churches, it is now a popular tourist destination.

Being mid-September, it was approaching the end of the season and we were the only cruise ship in town, so the crowds were reasonable. During mid-summer with up to 6 mega cruise ships, it can be extremely busy, as most tours follow a similar route.

In 1997, the well preserved “Old City” was incorporated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Entering the Toompea area of the upper town, the driver dropped us at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Estonian Parliament Building. Wow, stunning architecture and a magnificent start to our walking tour.

Select here for an interactive map of Tallinn.

Estonia’s Parliament Building

We noted the group of school children, all wearing reflective vests, which our guide mentioned is a requirement for school tours.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Entry into the cathedral is free and is definitely worth a visit, as it is simply stunning. The entire walls and ceiling are decorated. No photography is permitted, so I shut down the camera; however, I did find an image on Flickr.

Inside the cathedral – Flickr

Built during the Russian occupation, between 1894 and 1900, it was constructed in typical Russian Revival style. The onion-domed cathedral is Estonia’s largest and grandest cathedral, with the towers housing 11 bells. Weight of the largest bell is over 15 tons. You can hear the bells being played before each service.

This was the first of the many Russian Orthodox Cathedrals we would visit and the inside decor on all of them is amazing. We spent a good 15 mins just taking in all the sights.

Enjoy some of my additional photos of the outside.

Departing the cathedral, we walked up a gradual incline, along Toom-Kooli towards St Mary’s Cathedral.

Narrow cobbled Toom-Kooli St, with tall row houses on both sides

Knowing we are Canadians, our guide pointed to the building at the end of this narrow street – the Canadian Embassy

St Mary’s Cathedral, located in a large square, is a complete contrast to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Where the previous cathedral is modern and intricately decorated on the inside, St Mary’s is considerably older, dating from the 13th Century. Originally established by the Danes, this is Estonia’s oldest church.

St Mary’s Cathedral – Visit Estonia

A much more traditional exterior, it also did not have the extravagant decor on the inside, being more plain white painted walls.

St Mary’s Church, as we headed down Kohtu

We walked along Kohtu to the Toompea Upper Town viewing platform, which provided an excellent view of the lower town and harbour.

Walking along Kohtu Street

One of the stores at entrance to viewing platform

A small selection of my viewpoint photos

Heading to the Danish King’s Garden, we retraced our steps along Kohtu Street, with our guide giving us information on some of the buildings – Justice Ministry, Portugal Embassy and Estonia Academy of Sciences.

Estonia Academy of Science

At St Mary’s Church, we walked along Piiskopi Strret towards the rear of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, where we followed a path through the park to the city walls.

Approaching City Wall and Danish King’s Garden

Path we walked down & entrance through City Wall into Danish King’s Garden

According to legend, in 1219 the Danish forces were losing a battle when a red flag with white cross floated down from the sky. This spurred the Danish forces to victory, resulting in the Danish King ruling Tallinn for over the next hundred years.

Looking across gardens to the Stable & Virgin’s Tower

The small gardens are located by the City Wall, on the slope down to the lower town and consists of trees, plants and flowers. The Virgin’s Tower (in above photo) has a cafe, but our guide advised prices are exorbitant, with better options for tea/coffee in the lower town cafes.

Danish King’s flower garden

One of the 3 Monk sculptures in the gardens

St Nicholas Church in Lower Town

An interesting cafe patio atop the Wall

This completed our tour of the upper town, so we started downhill to explore the lower part of “Old Town”.

The descent downhill ended at St Nicholas’ Church and Museum on Rataskaevu Street, where we turned left towards the “Cat’s Well”.

St Nicholas’ Church & Museum

Following our guide along Rataskaevu Street

Approaching Cat’s Well Square & Hotel St Petersburg

We stopped at the square, while our guide discussed the history of the Cat’s Well and the origins of the name.

Our guide at Cat’s Well

In Medieval days, this well was one of the main sources of water in Tallinn. Legends indicate the residents believed an evil water spirit lived in the well and threatened to dry up the water, if not given regular animal sacrifices. Needless to say numerous cows, sheep and especially stray cats were dropped into the deep well to appease the evil spirits. The well has not been in use since the mid-19th Century.

From the Cat’s Well we walked along Dunkri Street towards the main square.

Flower box on Dunkri Street

Beer House on Dunkri Street

We passed one of my favourite shops on Dunkri Strret –  beer house, unfortunately time didn’t permit sampling their wares. While my preference was beer, since I didn’t have to drive, the others preferred tea or coffee!!

Tallinn Town Hall Square

Exiting Dunkri Street we received our first glimpse of the Town Hall Square, but we had more walking to complete, before exploring the square. At the square, we turned right heading down Kullussepa Street, which was one of the wider streets, before turning onto the narrow Raekoja Street.

Raekoja Street, which really was little more than a lane

Raekoja Street opened into a good sized plaza with an abundance of restaurants and cafes, most of which had outdoor seating.

Our guide suggested a short stop at Peppersack for tea/coffee and I confirm, her recommendation did not disappoint. The staff were excellent, even speaking very good English. We both had tea, while I tried their fruit tart and Judi a cream dessert. Departing the cafe, we visited a small trinket shop, again at the recommendation of our guide, where we found a great selection and reasonable prices.

Walking along Vanaturu Kael, we arrived at the Town Hall and Main Square.

The oldest Town Hall in the entire Baltic Region, it was completed in 1404, with the tower added in 1530. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. Local government operations continued in the Town Hall until 1970.

Tallinn Pharmacy

Departing the Town Square we passed Tallinn Pharmacy, which has operated at the same location since at least 1422. It is one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe, probably 2nd to the pharmacy we visited in Dubrovnik, which dates from the 1300’s. Judi was very interested in visiting the pharmacy, which also includes a museum.

Heading through the arch, seen above, we entered Tallinn’s shortest street (unnamed), which opens into a small square with Tallinn’s smallest house.

Tallinn’s shortest street and smallest house

The shortest street exits at Holy Spirit Church and the Marzipan Museum, which we visited.

Holy Spirit Church Spire at end of shortest street

Marzipan Museum

Entering the marzipan museum they have numerous displays with marzipan figures then at the rear of the building they have a cafe with an amazing ceiling.

Walking along Puhavaimu Street

Departing the marzipan museum, we walked along Puhavaimu St passing the Hotel Schlossle, a small luxurious hotel dating to medieval times.

Passing Hotel Schlossle

At Vene St we turned right towards St Peters & St Pauls Cathedral, St Cathrine’s Church and the Telegraph Hotel.

St Peters & St Pauls Cathedral, set back from the street it has a small garden out front

We turned into Katariina Kaik (Catherine’s Passage) walking passed St Catherine’s Church and a number of small stores.

St Catherine’s Passage

Exiting St Catherine’s Passage we arrived at the lower portion of the city wall, which meant we were approaching the end of our walking tour.

Judi on Muurivahe St with City Wall behind the vendor stalls

Lower City Wall with walkway along the top

Exiting Tallinn Old Town at Viru Gate

Our mini-bus picked us up just outside the gate for the short drive back to the port, where we arrived at the scheduled time. This concluded our first Alla Tours excursion, which all 5 passengers giving rave reviews. Chatting with passengers on the ship that booked ship tours, they were most envious with what we accomplished with our small group.

If you are visiting Tallinn, I highly recommend checking out Alla Tours, especially if you book an Alla Tour in St Petersburg, they provide discounts at all other ports.

Next post – St Peterburg and our 2-day Alla Tour


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