I’ve always been fascinated by the renaissance. Medieval castles, knights of the roundtable, kings and peasants. I don’t take my interest as far as some folks, by dressing up in period costumes at the local renaissance fair, but I do love attending and imagining what it was like back in the day. Many times a renaissance faire will have buildings and shoppes built to look like the real thing. But what if you could visit the real thing for REAL.
I discovered a true, living ren fest in Tallinn Estonia. Complete with castles, cobblestone streets, and yes, people dressed in period costume to help drive home the fact that Tallinn is the real deal.
First appearing on a world map in 1154, Tallinn is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. Many of the buildings of the old town are still fully intact. Step through the Viru Gate, the entrance to Tallinns Olde Town, and you’ll almost believe you’re strolling the walkways of an ancient era filled with knights and faire maidens.
The entrance to Tallinns Old Town, is at Viru Gate. The two towers welcome you onto Viru Street featuring many shops and restaurants. Built between 1345-1355, these two majestic towers have become a symbol of the town. I loved my first glimpse as I strolled onto Viru Street.
Viru Gate sits at the beginning of Viru Street, which is the start of the very charming old section. Viru street is a cobblestone walking street filled with outdoor cafes, fashionable boutiques and mounting anticipation to more amazing discoveries.
Even ancient cities are not immune to some modern luxuries, and the shops fit very nicely into the old buildings. There is even a McDonalds sitting right next to the gate, but this is a very rare instance where you’ll see such a contrast of old and new.
These gates were once part of a much bigger gate system built in the 14th century, which was torn down in the 1880’s to make room for more traffic.
Stroll up the shop lined path that is Viru Street and you’ll soon come to the town hall on your right. You won’t miss it. It is spectacular! Its spire ascends over 200 feet into the air. This fully intact gothic town hall dates back to 1322 where it has been the center of life in Tallinn since.
The town hall sits next to a large, open square, the Tallinn Town Square, which often holds a market filled with local crafts. This square is said to be the spot of the very first Christmas tree display in 1441 and has had a display every year since. Over 570 years now!
The Tallinn Town Hall, along with the town square is an amazing central spot, lined with some incredible architecture. Streets run off in all directions from this central location. At the edge of this important square, you’ll find the Raeapteek, the oldest continuously run pharmacy in Europe. It has been in business at this very spot since the early 15th century.
Tallinn is very easy to explore by foot. Its charming old town is centrally located and mostly foot traffic and pedestrians walking its cobblestone paths. I always find time to stop at my favorite coffee shop, Reval Cafe. Serving good coffee and free strong wifi, this is always a stop for me. There are several locations around Tallinn, and the old town location has a very cool charm.
After you’ve been refreshed at Reval Cafe, its time to head down one of the many hidden side streets where you might find some great deals on local souvenirs. Make sure you find St. Catherine’s passage. This side street is a must see when visiting.
This small medieval street is packed with artisan shops and cafes, you’ll truly feel like you’re walking through a medieval time. Bring your camera here.
Walls of Tallinn
Tallinn is an ancient walled city. Surrounding all of this goodness are the historic defensive walls built to protect the city from its enemies. Most of the walls, gates and towers are still standing today, giving Tallinn the look of a medieval castle!
The first wall constructed was built in 1265. This wall sits near Viru Gate and is known as the Margaret Wall because the construction was ordered by Margaret Sambiria. You’ll see this wall as you enter the old town.
Along the walls of Tallinn are many historic and charming towers. Among them is a large tower known as Fat Margaret. A defensive tower used to protect the harbor, later used as a storehouse of weapons and gunpowder, this tower is now the Estonian Maritime Museum.
Jutting off of Fat Margaret and connected is the Great Coastal Gate. Drive through this if exploring by car. The Tallinn walls really give the city a feel like an old castle. I love this town!
I like to say that Tallinn Estonia is one of the best kept secrets in Europe. It is my favorite city in Eastern Europe for many reasons. The old town plays up its historic past with costumed locals trying to get you into their restaurant or by setting up a cart in the street.
Estonia is a leader in technology. It is the country where Skype software was developed, as well as music sharing software Kazaa and other IT tech. Just across from the old town is a busy thoroughfare. On the other side lies a modern, thriving city with shopping malls, city parks and skyscrapers. I often venture to the other side to do some shopping. Tallinn really is a great mix of old and new.
I love Tallinn Estonia. Don’t tell too many people about it, I don’t want this secret revealed to too many people. Its charm will make you swoon with its mix of history and modern.