A popular day stop for the Baltic Cruises is Tallinn.
Tallinn what? Where and what is this place you call Tallinn?
I get it. A lot of people (myself included) have never heard of Tallinn and you know what – that’s almost criminal.
Tallinn was first recorded on a world map in 1154 and is now the largest city and capital of Estonia. It should be your next must-see destination. (See it here on a map)
A medieval, walled-city, this place is full of history, charm and ghosts! Yep, ghosts.
At its historical heart is Toompea, covered in ankle-twisting cobbled lanes, lined with medieval houses and surrounded by guard towers and Gothic spires. The old town has been astonishingly well preserved despite being extensively bombed during World War II. It was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.
But, I’ll be honest with you, history has not been kind to Tallinn – it’s been tossed around like a football for centuries. Its location – on the Gulf of Finland and just 43 miles south of Helsinki- has long been a strategic point between east and west and has been targeted by invaders over the centuries – the Danes, Swedes, Russians, Nazis, the Russians again; they’ve all muscled their way in over the years.
You would think Tallinn would reek of nervousness and well, its architecture does. In a word Tallinn’s exudes defensive.
High walls, gates and guard towers dating back to the 13th century surround the city. By the 16th century, Tallinn was one of the most fortified cities in northern Europe, complete with a network of secret, underground tunnels. (You can still explore them if you’ve got the nerve and don’t suffer from claustrophobia).
The city has a violent past and spooky stories and reports of paranormal activity persist. Hmmmmm, Estonia just so happens to have the highest number of meteorite craters per land area in the world, coincidence …. I think not!
Almost every house in Old Town is “haunted.” Some ghostly accounts are legendary, others are just creepy.
- Neitsitorn (the Virgin’s tower) once a prison for prostitutes now a cafe, employees and customers report hearing eerie footsteps and scratching noises
- #10 Suur-Karja is a house dating back to the 13th century. During renovations in 1928, workers supposedly found a skeleton sealed up in one of the house’s walls and since then residents say they’ve heard strange noises, scratching and mysterious voices
- Gustav Adolf Gymnasium students and staff at the school report hearing ringing bells and seeing women in nun’s habits wandering in the corridors
- Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square) was the scene of public executions and gives many visitors the creepy crawlies
There’s an entire street named for ghosts in Old Town. Vaimu (Ghost) street between Pikk and Lai first showed up in 17th century records. It’s had many names through the years. In German it was Spukstrasse and in Russian it was called Strashnaya ulitsa (scary street). One mayor even wanted to change the name to ‘Evil’ but as you can imagine, the townsfolk shot that down.
For all that ails you
The Town Hall Pharmacy on Raekoja plats, dates back to 1422 and is the oldest in Europe that has continually operated from the same premises. The pharmacy sells today’s medicine and mementos of times past. In its back room, you’ll find its stocks from the 17th to the 20th centuries.
For all that “ales” you
Serving up “historically authentic” cuisine is the kitschy medieval Olde Hansa Restaurant with its bonneted waitresses and merry men. In the summer you can dine alfresco and chow down on bear, elk, wild boar and rabbit. You can chase all that down with beer that is served in heavy earthenware steins. The kids will be delighted and you’ll be a tad nervous when they serve your food and say, “Here are some weapons for your food.”
The beer goes down nicely and will get you in the mood to belt out a tune. You’ll have a huge selection of songs to sing. Estonians have one of the biggest collections of folk songs in the world, with written records of 133,000 folk songs. Move over “Roll Out the Barrel.”
Today old wounds still run deep in Tallinn.
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral aka the “Russian Cathedral” is beautiful – stunning even, but most Estonians don’t like the church.
It was built here in 1900 over the supposed grave of a legendary Estonian hero—Kalevipoeg.
That in itself was a bitter pill…. but it was built to facing the national parliament – a total smack in the face by the Russians during a period of Estonian national revival.
But it is the battle scars from war that have yet to mend.
In 1940, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, conquered by the Nazis and then retaken by the Soviets.
The Soviets bombed the hell out of the city and many Tallinn citizens were deported or imprisoned by Soviet forces for alleged conspiracy and collaboration with the Nazis.
Those in Tallinn will freely talk about Soviet/Estonia relations – but they’re not obsessed. Our guide and others are now focused on the future with hopes of attracting more tourists to this fascinating, colorful and quirky town.
Been there/Done that
Estonia itself is the smallest of the Baltic countries (the others being Latvia and Lithuania). It’s smaller than New Hampshire and Vermont combined. The official language is Estonian but nearly everyone speaks English and the EURO is used since Estonia joined the EU in 2011. ATMs are abundant and major credit cards are widely accepted. Wear comfortable shoes (those cobblestones and charming, but not good for high-heels) and bring along a sweater or light jacket it can be cool even in the summer. Street food is plentiful (try the roasted nuts).
Ghost Tours are popular here are some links: