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World > Estonia > Tallinn
City Guide Tallinn
General Information
Tallinn (officially Reval until 1918) is the capital of Estonia and lies at the Finnish Bay of the Baltic Sea, approximately 80 km from Helsinki. Tallinn was founded as an Estonian settlement with the name Lindanise. In 1219 it was conquered by the Danish and expanded into a city. Where the name Tallinn comes from is not yet known. It might come from the old Estonian word "taani linna" (castle of the Danish) or "tali linna" (castle of the winter). The term "Reval" comes from the old Estonian word for region, "Rävala". In 1285 Reval became a member of the Hanseatic League and gets included into the trading of the Baltic Sea. At the historical heart of the city is the hill of Toompea, covered in cobbled streets and filled with medieval houses and alleyways. The lower town spreads out from the foot of the hill, still protected by the remnants of a city wall. Around the city wall is a series of well-maintained green parks, great for strolling. While the old town has been astonishingly well-preserved and is now in better shape than ever, the new town sprawling all around is largely built in typical concrete Soviet style. Recently, Tallinn has received a boom in tourism, especially by daytrippers from Helsinki.
The climate in Tallinn is characterized by a fairly cold winter, a cool spring with little precipitation, a moderately warm summer and a long and rainy autumn. However, some summers have weeks at a stretch of temperatures around +30°C, and a warm, sunny summer can keep autumn at bay until mid-October.
Estonia's official language is Estonian. Russian, Finnish, English and German are also understood and widely spoken.
The largest denomination is Lutheran (30%) followed by Russian Orthodox (28%), and Catholic (3%). However, only about 20% of Estonians practice any religion.
The national currency of Estonia is the Estonian kroon (EEK), made up of 100 cents. The smallest currency in common use, however, is 1 kroon. Notes come in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 kroon. 1 EUR= 15.65 EEK.
Tips for waiters are already included in restaurant bills, but if you feel like it you can give an additional tip if you are very happy with the service. The prices for taxi drivers are also already including tips, so additional tipping is unnecessary but optional.
Travellers coming from outside the EU are able to buy products from the tax-free shops without VAT. Exemption from VAT can be applied for when the total price of the purchased goods extends to an amount of 2500 EEK or more. When buying, travellers are supplied with a certain document that confirms the purchase, and which must be handed over to Customs when leaving the EU. The buyer has to export the purchased products within three months. Unwrapping of the goods is not permitted before leaving the EU. On request the goods need to be presented to customs for inspection. The local customs office provides further information: +372 696 7435.
To call Tallinn from abroad, dial your international access code and 372 for Estonia and then the telephone number. Within Estonia, you can make local and international calls from card-operated public payphones. Telephone cards costing 50 and 100 EEK are sold at newsstands, post offices and tourist information centres.
Public internet access points have been set up all over Estonia. They are often located in local libraries and post offices. There are also over 100 free wireless Internet zones around the country, many of them in rather unexpected places - beaches, Old Town squares, stadiums, and concert halls.
Emergency Numbers
Police: 110 Fire Brigade: 112 Ambulance: 112
Opening times
Banks are plentiful and easy to find in Tallinn. Most are open from 9:00 to 18:00 on weekdays, while some offices are also open on Saturday mornings. All banks offer currency exchange services. Exchange offices can also be found in larger hotels, the airport, harbour, railroad station and major shopping centres. The Central Post Office in Tallinn is located in Narva maantee and is open from 7.30 am – 8 pm during the week and from 9 am – 6 pm on Saturdays and from 9 am – 3 pm on Sundays. The Toompea Post Office in the Old Town is open on weekdays from 9 am – 5 pm. Opening hours for shops are from Monday to Friday 10 am – 6 pm and Sundays 10 am – 4 pm. Most of the city’s markets are open every day.
Public Holidays
1 January New Year''s Day 24 February Independence Day: the 88th anniversary of the declaration founding the Rebuplic of Estonia (1918) 14 April Good Friday 16 April Easter Sunday 1 May Spring Day 4 June Whitsunday 23 June Victory Day 24 June St. John''s Day 20 August Day of Restoration of Independence: Estonia regains independence after Soviet times 24 December Christmas Eve 25 December Christmas Day 26 December Boxing Day
In general the capital of Estonia is a relatively safe city which has some minor crimes that are especially high during the summer months when tourists populate the city. Pick pocketing is a common crime that can easily be prevented by carrying your belongings in a safe way or leaving them at the hotel.
Discovering Tallinn
Tallinn has a beautiful medieval Old Town with city walls and towers. The city hall, which was first mentioned in 1322, can be seen as the centre of the city. It is enclosed by many other old buildings. The viewing platform of the city hall offers an amazing view over the city, the port and the bay. The emblem of the city, the figure of the city servant “Old Thomas” (Vana Toomas) adorns the peak of the tower. Close by, you can find one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, the "Raeapteek,“ which was first mentioned in 1422. Also worth a visit is the Church Nikolai (Nigulsite kirik), a nice example of the old common merchant churches whose truss was usually used as a storage room, the Holy Ghost Church (Pühavaimu kirik) with an late medieval winged altar, the Olai Church (Oleviste kirik), named after the Norwegian king Olaf II, as well as the Russian orthodox Alexander-Newski Cathedral (Aleksander Nevski katedraal) with its distinctive onion towers. It was built between 1894 and 1900 as a sign of Estonia becoming Russian. But Tallinn has even more to offer, for example the medieval castle on the same hill as the cathedral, which has only the walls in the north and west and three towers still standing. There is also the representative castle, which is today the seat of the parliament and the government.
Dominican Monastery
This monastery was founded in 1246 and is one of the oldest buildings to survive in Tallinn. It is accessed through a small courtyard where you can see the façade of the monastery, and after you go through the entrance you can walk through its many passageways. Here there are many 15th and 16th century stone carvings on display. The inner rooms are also accessible through the Claustrum, open during the summer. It is also possible to tour the monastery during non-summer months, but only by groups that make an appointment in advance. Opening times: May 15 - Sep 1 10 am - 6 pm Entrance price: 90 kr
Town Hall
One of the most famous, landmark sites of medieval Tallinn is the Town Hall, located right on the city''s main square. The Gothic building that stands there today was built in 1404, but it replaced an earlier town hall built around 1322. This location was the centre of city government in Tallinn from the Middle Ages until the early 1900s. It''s impressive exterior is matched by its vaulted halls and ornate historic carvings inside. The weathervane on the top of the hall, known as "Old Thomas," has become one of the symbols of Tallinn. Opening times: Mon- Sat 10 am- 4 pm Entrance price: 40 kr
Town Hall Square
The main square of Tallinn, right in the heart of the old centre, the Town Hall Square has served as a market and meeting place for more than 800 years. The Town Hall is on the southern side of the expansive, cobble-stoned square, and it is surrounded on the other sides by many other beautiful historic buildings and nice restaurants and cafés. In the centre of the square is a circular stone with a compass rose marked on it, and if you stand here, you can see the tops of all of Tallinn''s famous five spires.
Town Hall Pharmacy
This interesting establishment on the Town Hall Square is one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe, and has been running continuously since before 1422. In the middle ages it sold strange cures such as mummy juice and burnt bees, as well as serving treats like spiced wine. The pharmacy is now modernized and sells all the usual over-the-counter drugs and health products, but also contains a musuem dedicated to its long history. Visitors can see old medical instruments and artifacts and other curiosities. Opening times: Mon - Fri 9 am - 7 pm, Sat 9 am - 5 pm
Toompea Castle
This castle was built in the 13th century on the same spot where an ancient wooden fortress stood until 1219, when the Danes invaded Estonia. Toompea Castle has been the seat of government in Tallinn for more than seven centuries, occupied for long stretches of time by the city''s foreign rulars. Now it is finally in Estonian hands and home to the Riigikogu, the country''s parliament. One great view of the castle can be had if you go around behind it and down the opposite side of the hill. Admission to the interior of the castle is with a guided tour only.
Kiek in De Kok
One of Tallinn''s distinctive landmarks, this stone fortress with a red tiled roof was built in the late 15th century to defend the city. One of the most mighty fortresses of its time, it is 38 metres high and the walls are 4 metres thick. Soldiers firing cannons from here were virtually untouchable, and because of its height, the fortress became known as "Kiek in De Kok" or "peep into the kitchen," because they could see into the pantries of the houses below. Today you can climb up the tower, giving you an excellent view over the city, and look at the exhibitions about Tallinn''s history and important military events.
Tallinn''s Underground Tunnels
One of Tallinns unique features is its network of historic underground tunnels, running all over the city. They were built by the Swedes in the 17th century as a way to help protect the city from invaders, and are really interesting to explore. If you go on a tunnel tour, make sure to bring warm clothes, as the temperature there is almost always between 6 - 8¢ªC. Times of tours: By arrangement, Tues - Sun 11 am - 4 pm Entrance prices: Adults 50 kr, children 25 kr
Cat''s Well
This famous old wheel well dates from the middle ages, and was once one of the main sources of water for the city. It has some strange stories associated with it, and legend says that at one point the townspeople became convinced that an evil spirit lived in the well, who had to be appeased by sacrifice or all the city wells would run dry. So people started regularly throwing animals into the well, many of which were stray cats. The well never did run dry, and apparently no one was bothered by the thought of dead animals in the city water. The well was in use until the 19th century, and has since become a well-known relic of times past.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
This church is one of the dominant landmarks of Tallinn, located on Toompea hill. It is an enormous, ornate Russian Orthodox cathedral with onion towers and a lavishly decorated interior. The cathedral was built on the orders of Tsar Alexander III between 1894-1900, and is named after the duke who attacked southern Estonia and Pskov in the 1200s. According to Estonian legend, the church is built over the grave of the national hero Kalev, and because of this is not structurally sound. Opening times: Daily 8 am - 7 pm
Kaarli Church
This is a 19th century church built in imitation of the Romanesque style, and construction of it took twenty years, from 1862 - 1882. The church is built entirely from limestone, one of Estonia''s best natural resources. The interior is striking, with a massive mural by Johann Köler decorating it, the largest mural in Estonia. The church also features Estonia''s largest church organ. Opening times: Mon and Fri 9 am- 1 pm, Tues- Thurs 9 am- 1 pm and 2 pm- 4 pm, Sun open for services at 10 am
Church of Our Lady of Kazan
This is another Russian Orthodox church, dating from 1721. It is a small, quaint, cross-shaped church and is the oldest wooden structure to survive in Tallinn. The building was altered in the 19th century and given a neoclassical façade and a more neoclassical interior, both of which remain today. Opening times: Daily 8 am - 4 pm
St. Michael''s Swedish Luthera
The building housing this church has had a very interesting history. It was built in the 1500s as a hospital with a spinning factory within it where "fallen women" were sent to work. It was later taken over by Swedes and turned into a church. While Tallinn was under Soviet control, however, the church was used as a weight-lifitng room, and it wasn''t until 1993 that it became a Swedish church again. It has recently been undergoing extensive renovations to bring back some of its historical elements that were destoryed. Services on Sunday are given in both Finnish (10 am) and Swedish (12 pm).
Holy Spirit Church
This impressive church is the oldest surviving church in Tallinn, built in the 1200s. It is located right next to the Town Hall Square and is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. It has an ornate Baroque tower and an amazing outdoor clock that is photographed by just about every tourist who comes to Tallinn. The interior of the church is also breathtaking, with lots of intricate carved wood and a beautiful Renaissance pulpit. Classical music concerts are often held here on Mondays at 6 pm. Call the church or check the website for details. Services on Sunday are given in Estonian at 10 am, Finnish at 1 pm, and English at 3 pm Opening times: Mon - Fri 10 am - 2 pm, Sat 10 am - 6.30 pm, Sun open for services only Entrance price: 10 kr
Tallinn Botanical Garden
A refreshing an beautiful place to visit, the Tallinn Botanical Garden is not very well known as a tourist attraction, and is a bit of a well-kept secret. It contains the richest, most diverse collection of living flora in Estonia, with more than 8,000 different kinds of plants. The gardens are spread out over 123 hectacres and contain outdoor exhibits and gardens and greenhouses featuring tropical, subtropical and desert plants. Opening times: Daily 11 am - 4 pm (6 pm in May), and outdoor areas stay open year-round until 7 pm
Tallinn Zoo
The Tallinn Zoo features a wide variety of exotic, far-away animals as well as some interesting northern European ones. They are organized according to type of animal, with birds of prey in one section, Siberian tigers and poler bears in another, a "Tropical House" full of chimps and crocodiles, an Elephant house, and much more. Opening times: Daily 9 am - 5 pm (7 pm in May) Entrance prices: 50 kr in May, 90 kr in April