Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, retains the magic of a walled Hanseatic medieval city. Its history is beautifully told through a collection of interesting museums. The Estonians love their museums and convey this emotion to their visitors, especially in the Old Town of Tallinn.
Inside the City Walls of Tallinn in Estonia
Inside the complete circle of medieval walls is the popular Town Hall Square. Colourful merchants’ houses flank an impressive fifteenth-century Gothic Town Hall that is open to visitors during the summer. The most important medieval merchants in Tallinn were members of the Great Guild and their meeting place, the Great Guildhall has been tastefully renovated to house the Estonian History Museum. Here, visitors can learn about the history and traditions of Tallinn, including its world-famous song festival.
The square is also home to Raeapteek reputedly the oldest working pharmacy in Europe. A guide, in period costume, explains how it became involved in the production of claret and marzipan. These products were originally considered to be medicines but have since become popular for other reasons. (I’ll say–Ed)
Two museums are incorporated in the city walls themselves. A guided tour of the seventeenth-century bastion passages is a journey through several layers of Tallinn history. And Fat Margaret Tower, a bastion, is part of the Estonian Maritime Museum. The other part is outside the city walls.
Beyond the Walls of Tallinn in Estonia
Seaplane Harbour (Lennusadam) on the austere seafront of Tallinn is a second site of the Estonian Maritime Museum. It occupies a huge steel and concrete shell without supporting columns inside. This unique building was part of a naval fortress created by Peter the Great. Inside there are three levels, under, on and above the water. A major exhibit in the underwater area is the submarine Lembit. Visitors can clamber aboard to explore the interior of Estonia’s only surviving submarine. It was built in England, launched in 1936 and remained active until 2011. A replica seaplane is suspended in the area above the sea. The wooden originals also came from England but none of them survived.
Moored in the harbour outside the museum is Suur Tõll. Now over one hundred years old this steam-powered vessel was once one of the world’s most powerful icebreakers and served several different countries. Visitors can wander freely through the labyrinth of corridors and cabins.
Kumu, the national art gallery, is an insight into the way individuals were affected during periods of occupation and repression in Tallinn. And the KGB museum on the top floor of the Hotel Viru is informative and funny. (‘Really?-Ed) Our guide, purporting to have worked there during the Russian occupation, delivered an amusing account of surveillance techniques during that period.
Where to Stay and Eat in Tallinn in Estonia
The five-star Savoy Boutique Hotel would be my hotel of choice in Tallinn. In the heart of the old town, it lives up to its description of a boutique hotel and boasts the excellent MEKK restaurant.
However, my favourite restaurant is the more casual Restaurant Leib resto ja Aed serving traditional Estonian cuisine accompanied by a selection of hand-crafted beers and ciders. But in a city that is rapidly becoming famous for its gourmet food, I have yet to be disappointed.
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