Tallinn Medieval Old Town (Self Guided), Tallinn

The Old Town of Tallinn is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site since 1997. The area emerged in the 13th-16th centuries when Tallinn was an active member of the Hanseatic trade league, slowly evolving into an enclosed district of colorful, ancient gabled houses, medieval towers and gates, half-hidden courtyards, and ostentatious churches.

Today it is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe, despite heavy bombardment at the end of WWII. The Old Town retains its charm and is a home to many attractions including, primarily, the Town Hall square complete with a 13th-century Gothic Town Hall crowned with the Old Thomas weather vane – a popular symbol of the city. Just behind the Town Hall is the Tallinn City Museum, covering local history from the prehistoric period until Estonia's independence in 1991.

Behind the Town Hall square is the medieval Lutheran Holy Spirit Church located opposite the Great Guild Hall. The latter houses the Estonian History Museum – one of the most visited museums in Tallinn, recounting the nation's seafaring past up until the end of the 20th century. Another ancient temple nearby is St. Nicholas' Church built in the 13th century and dedicated to Saint Nicholas – the patron of fishermen and sailors. Inside there is a museum of ecclesiastical art.

Marking the entrance to the Old Town is Viru Gate with two towers that were once part of a larger gate system. Among the remaining 26 towers in place, built in the 14th century, there are three: Nunna, Sauna, and Kuldjala, still open to the public.

The cobblestoned Old Town of Tallinn is easily explored on foot and undoubtedly worth a visit. If you wish to do it on your own and in your good time, take this self-guided walk.
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Tallinn Medieval Old Town Map

Guide Name: Tallinn Medieval Old Town
Guide Location: Estonia » Tallinn (See other walking tours in Tallinn)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.7 Km or 1.1 Miles
Author: leticia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Viru Gate (Viru Värav)
  • Olde Hansa Krambude Restaurant and Gift Shop
  • Tallinna Raekoda (Tallinn Town Hall)
  • Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square)
  • Raeapteek (Town Hall Pharmacy)
  • Masters’ Courtyard
  • St. Catherine’s Passage (Katariina Käik)
  • Dominican Monastery Claustrum
  • Tallinn City Museum (Tallinna Linnamuuseum)
  • St. Nicholas' Orthodox Church
  • Holy Spirit Church (Puhavaimu Kirik)
  • Estonian History Museum - Great Guild Hall
  • Nunna, Sauna and Kuldjala Towers (Town Wall)
1
Viru Gate (Viru Värav)

1) Viru Gate (Viru Värav)

At one point in time, there were a total of 45 towers built into the walls that protected Tallinn. Twenty-six of those still remain. Two of the best preserved of the bunch are called Viru Gate. The gate dates from the 14th Century, as do most of the towers, and sits at the entrance way into the Old Town.

Today the two towers are quite lovely, having been covered in ivy over the years. It gives a gentle look to Viru Street. When you first enter the Old Town through the gate, it makes you feel as though you have stepped back in time.

The towers used to be the fore gates to the city, and a larger set was built a little further in, which were held up by a set of square towers. Most of the gate was pulled down in 1880, in order to make room for more street traffic. Since that time, though, the two towers have become a symbol for the Tallinn Old Town, which used to be the most fortified city in all of Europe back in the day.
2
Olde Hansa Krambude Restaurant and Gift Shop

2) Olde Hansa Krambude Restaurant and Gift Shop

Olde Hansa Restaurant creates an authentic medieval dining experience. Olde Hansa means the old tribe. Your memorable meal is served in a medieval atmosphere complete with candlelight. Sit at a wooden table and admire the handmade tapestries and wooden ceiling beams.

Drink handcrafted brews from traditional goblets. Don't miss the delightful cinnamon-spiced mead. Enjoy fabulous dishes from 700-year-old recipes. Contrary to popular opinion, sweet potatoes weren't served until Christopher Columbus discovered them in the new world. Forks also weren't used in medieval times, so you'll use a knife and spoon.

To complete the medieval immersion experience, servers are dressed in medieval attire. Staff play 15th-century music on flues, the fiddle, and bagpipes. Appetizers include cranberries, carrots, apples, and cheese. Hunted game was a staple in medieval times, so you'll find bear, moose, and elk on the menu. Spices include saffron, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom. Apple pie is a popular dessert choice.

Olde Hansa Gift Shoppe seeks to recreate the craftsmanship that existed centuries ago. The Gift Shoppe sells authentic medieval shoes, silver jewelry, leatherwork, metalwork, glassware, and ceramics. You'll also find delicious handcrafted sweets.
3
Tallinna Raekoda (Tallinn Town Hall)

3) Tallinna Raekoda (Tallinn Town Hall) (must see)

Tallinn Town Hall is the oldest and only preserved Gothic-style city hall in North Europe. In 2005, the Town Hall was awarded second prize for conservation of Architectural Heritage. Parts of the town hall date to the 13th century. The Town Hall was completed in 1404 and was the center of the town's government for almost 700 years, until 1970. Throughout the centuries, several additions, renovations, and architectural changes have been made.

Tallinn Town Hall was built with limestone. Traditional clay tiles adorn the exterior, which features a 64 meter (210 feet) tall spire that's visible from all over town. Gargoyles decorate the main facade. The Town Hall has an arcade formed with nine arcs and eight pillars. In inclement weather, merchants could gather under the shelter of the arcade. Criminals would be chained to one of the pillars so that townspeople could mock them.

The Town Hall's interior features attractive Gothic arches and works of art spanning the history of Tallinn. Benches were crafted in the 14th and 15th centuries. The largest hall in Town Hall is the Citizens Hall. It can hold up to 100 people and is often used for musical performances.

The Council Chamber features intricate wood carvings dating to 1375. Copies of 16th-century tapestries hang on interior walls. The original tapestries are on display in the Tallinn City Museum.

The Old Thomas weather vane is one of the town's most famous landmarks. The weather vane depicts a soldier who protects the city. Old Thomas was originally placed in 1530. Today, a copy stands on top of the town hall's spire, while the 1530 original is on display in the town hall's basement.

Tallinn regularly hosts concerts and receptions in this historic building. For a great view of the city, bring your camera and climb the tower.
4
Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square)

4) Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square) (must see)

Town Hall Square is a fabulous location to soak up the long and storied history of Tallinn. It's in the center of the Old Town. Markets began opening on this site in the 11th century. Tallinn Town Hall is located in this square. Completed in 1404, it's the oldest Town Hall in Northern Europe.

Other historical buildings surround the square. There is the oldest pharmacy in Europe; it was established in approximately 1415. The pharmacy has a small museum with ancient medical instruments and medicines. The rest of the buildings are painted in attractive pastel colors and were built between the 15th and 17th centuries. Cobblestones throughout the square complete the old-world charm.

In the center of the square, visitors will find a circular stone with a compass rose. The L-shaped stone near the center of the square marks the site where a priest was executed. The priest killed a waitress who had served an overcooked omelet.

During the summer, the square is filled with open-air cafés. Enjoy alfresco dining and people-watching. There are regular outdoor markets held in Town Hall Square. Stalls feature souvenirs and traditional Estonian items.

You will find varied festivals and concerts throughout the year. Tallinn Old Town Days is a week-long festival that takes place at the beginning of summer. During this popular festival, visitors and locals are treated to exhibitions, theater plays, concerts, fairs, and non-stop entertainment.

In winter, the square becomes a winter wonderland with holiday decorations and a massive decorated fir tree. The Brotherhood of the Blackheads first erected a Christmas tree in the square in 1422. This is thought to be the world's first Christmas tree. Visitors can also enjoy a spirited Christmas market.

Why You Should Visit

Town Hall Square is the oldest town square in Northern Europe and has been the center of Tallinn for eight centuries. Visit historic buildings and enjoy the old-world ambiance. There's no better place to get the feel of the town and nation than Town Hall Square.

Tips

This square is incredibly festive over the winter holidays. Have a hot toddy, enjoy the holiday lights, shop for gifts, and admire the Christmas tree.
5
Raeapteek (Town Hall Pharmacy)

5) Raeapteek (Town Hall Pharmacy)

The Raeapteek is one of the oldest continuously running pharmacies in Europe, having always been in business in the same exact building since the early 15th century. It is also the oldest commercial enterprise and the oldest medical establishment in Tallinn. The first known image of the Town-Hall Pharmacy is an oil-painting by Oldekop, showing Tallinn's Town Hall Square in 1800. The first photos of the building date from 1889.

Historians have not been able to determine when exactly the pharmacy opened, but the oldest records available show that the Raeapteek was already on its third owner in 1422. Some scholars consider the opening year to be 1415.

In a town council's notebook, there is an entry by a chemist named Nuclawes who stated that the owners of the pharmacy are 10 honourable men, the majority of whom are aldermen. Other documents dated after 1422 refer that the first chemist here was Johann Molner and that medicines were already being sold at the pharmacy in the second half of the 15th century.

Hours: Monday–Saturday: 10:00 - 18:00
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Masters’ Courtyard

6) Masters’ Courtyard

The Masters’ Courtyard in Old Town is a courtyard devoted to the masters and craftsmen of Tallinn. Here you can buy original handicrafts and beautiful jewelery, as well as view art exhibitions. While at the Masters' Courtyard, make sure you sample the delightful and mouth-watering confections created in the Chocolaterie Café.

Hours: Monday - Sunday 10 am - 6 pm.
7
St. Catherine’s Passage (Katariina Käik)

7) St. Catherine’s Passage (Katariina Käik) (must see)

If you want to get a chance to really glimpse what life was like in the Old Town of Tallinn, you will want to visit St. Catherine’s Passage. It is located just a short distance from the Town Hall.

The old passage connects Vene and Muurivahe Streets in town. On the northern end of the passage you will find the remnants of St. Catherine’s Dominican Monastery Church, which is one of the oldest church in the city. In fact, the passage derives its name from the church. Many people like checking out the old tombstones that are an integral part of the sanctuary there. Many famous Estonians are buried at St. Catherine’s cemetery.

The southern end of the passage will take you past some of the best artisan shops in Tallinn. You can watch the artists at work. It’s one of the best places to get a memento of your visit to Tallinn. The whole passage is a nice morning’s hike for the exercise alone. If you want to stop for a moment, you will want to get a cup of coffee at one of the quaint little cafes that are scattered down the passage.
8
Dominican Monastery Claustrum

8) Dominican Monastery Claustrum

The Dominican Monastery Claustrum is located in the Old Town of Tallinn, not very far from the Viru Gates, which are the official entrance into this part of the city. The Monastery here was first formed in 1246, during a time period when the city was a thriving.

From a historical perspective, the building is one of the most important in all of Tallinn. The clausure holds the most important rooms in the old building, and they were used for many purposes during the years. During the 14th and 15th Century, the meetings of the leadership of the Hariju and Virumaa Knighthoods took place here. The Old Capital Hall used to be here also.

One of the first libraries in Tallinn was also located inside the Monastery. In addition to being able to see the old library, you can visit the old sacristy, vestry, and dormitories used by the monks and leaders of the city.

There is an extensive collection of medieval and Renaissance art and artifacts to be seen. You will especially want to check out the stone carvings, particularly those on some of the old tombstones. The relief of the angel, set in a triangle, is also quite stunning and was designed by Arendt Passer. He was a famous stone mason who did other work in the area, like the Pontus de la Gardie in the famous Tallinn Cathedral.

Just to the south of the monastery lies a narrow alley that is known as Catherine’s Passage. The wall here was from the original Monastery. There is a series of craft shops where you can watch artisans at work, just as in the days gone by.
9
Tallinn City Museum (Tallinna Linnamuuseum)

9) Tallinn City Museum (Tallinna Linnamuuseum)

The Tallinn City Museum is a parent organization for nine different museums across the city of Tallinn, Estonia.

The main campus is housed in a building in the Old Town that dates all the way back to the 1300’s. It is a good representation of what dwellings were like in the Medieval days, which its lancet arched portal and double windows display so well. The building was owned by many famous merchants and politicians over the years.

The permanent collections on display here are designed to give the viewer a good history of the old city, beginning with the conception of the town and ending with the Independence movement for the country of Estonia in 1991.

There is a small café located in the museum and a gift shop where you can stop and have a bite after visiting the main campus.

Opening Hours: (October – April) Tue: 10.00–20.00; Wed–Sat: 10.00–17.00; Sun: 10.00–16.00; (May – September) Mon–Sun: 10.00–18.00.
10
St. Nicholas' Orthodox Church

10) St. Nicholas' Orthodox Church

St. Nicholas Church is a medieval former church in Tallinn, Estonia. It was dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron of the fishermen and sailors. Originally built in the 13th century, it was partially destroyed in the Soviet bombing of Tallinn in World War II. It has since been restored and today houses the Niguliste Museum, a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia, focusing mainly on ecclesiastical art from the Middle Ages onward.

The church was founded and built around 1230–1275 by Westphalian merchants, who came from Gotland in the 13th century. While the city was still unfortified, the church had heavy bars for closing the entrances, loopholes and hiding places for refugees. When the fortifications around Tallinn were finished in the 14th century (the town wall enclosed the church and the settlement in 1310), St. Nicholas Church lost its defensive function and became a typical medieval parish church.

In 1405–1420, St. Nicholas Church obtained its current appearance, when the central aisle received a clerestory above the side aisles in the form known in architecture as a basilica. In 1515 the tower was built higher and covered with late-Gothic spire. In late 17th century the tower was strengthened and secured. The spire was replaced with a Baroque spire with airy galleries, which was raised higher stage by stage through several centuries. The tower is now 105 metres (344.5 ft) high.

Saint Nicholas was the only church in Tallinn which remained untouched by iconoclasm brought by the Protestant Reformation in 1523. The head of the congregation poured molten lead into the locks of the church, and the raging hordes could not get in.
Sight description based on wikipedia
11
Holy Spirit Church (Puhavaimu Kirik)

11) Holy Spirit Church (Puhavaimu Kirik)

There is a lot of city history associated with the Holy Spirit Church of Tallinn. In 1531, they became the very first church to hold regular worship services in Estonian. The pastor at the time was Johann Koell, who also happens to be the person who authored the oldest surviving book known that was written in Estonian. With the assistance of Pastor Simon Wanradt from the St. Nicholas Church, they compiled a short catechism for the people in German and Estonian. It was published circa 1535.

Pastor Balthasar Russow of the Holy Spirit Church is another famous author/clergyperson from the organization. He wrote a history book on the countries of Estonia and Livonia, as well as the war that happened between the two countries in the 16th Century.

The building dates back to the 1200s and it also served as an almshouse for the magistrate of Tallinn. From an architectural perspective, the locals call the church the museum of styles, because the sanctuary and altar have artifacts from the medieval, Baroque, and Renaissance periods. You will also want to see the woodcarvings on the balcony, as well as the arch and pews. The church bell here is also the oldest surviving in the country, dating back to 1433.

The church holds services in English every Sunday at 3.00 p.m.
12
Estonian History Museum - Great Guild Hall

12) Estonian History Museum - Great Guild Hall

The Great Guild Hall is a wonderful old Gothic style structure that is located in the Old Town of Tallinn. It is not very far from Town Hall, and is just a couple of blocks south of St. Olaf’s Church. You can find it directly across from the Holy Spirit Church.

It was built over a three year period that started in 1407. It was first used as a meeting place for Tallinn’s Merchant’s Union. During medieval times, local craft guilds controlled most aspects of business and commerce. The merchants of Tallinn banded together and became quite wealthy in their own right. Several old rooms in the building have been renovated and opened to the general public.

The hall now houses the Estonian History Museum, which brings to life over eleven thousand years of history of this part of the world. The displayed objects include archeological pieces, archived materials, ethnography, photography, glass and porcelain.

Opening Hours: 10:00 -18:00 (May - Sep) and Tue - Sun 10):00–18:00 (Oct - Apr).
13
Nunna, Sauna and Kuldjala Towers (Town Wall)

13) Nunna, Sauna and Kuldjala Towers (Town Wall) (must see)

The Nunna, Sauna, and Kuldjala Towers are three of the remaining 26 towers that surround the Old Town of Tallinn. In the late 14th century, a massive project was started to build a fortified wall around the city to protect against invaders. By the 16th Century, the walls were raised to sixteen meters high with a thickness of 3 to 4 meters. This made it possible to defend against canon fire. During the 16th century, Tallinn was one of the most fortified cities in the entire world. The wall stretched 4 kilometers around old Tallinn.

These three towers are among the few that are still open to the general public. Visitors can come and walk through all three. In addition, there are some connection paths that are adjacent to the historic standing walls. It gives you a real sense of what the old town was like. Climbing the towers also gives you a great view of the city. You can imagine what it was like to be a guard on the towers. Admission is free.

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