Crossing into Estonia was a big travelers milestone for me. Four years prior I had visited Krakow, Poland and fell in love with Eastern Europe. I promised myself that I would visit every country in East Europe, which included the Balkans and Baltic States. It took me four years of solo traveling back to Europe from the United States to complete it, with Estonia being the last. The city I visited was Tallinn, the country’s capital, and my god did I take a lot of photos!
Tallinn and its old world charm is located on the Gulf of Finland shores, along the Baltic Sea. It is the capital of Estonia and the main cultural, financial and industrial center of the country. Tallinn is also home to the DM Barr and the oldest pharmacy in Europe, read on for more on that.
The Historic Center “Old Town” of Tallinn was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, noting “The Historic Centre (Old Town) of Tallinn is an exceptionally complete and well-preserved medieval northern European trading city on the coast of the Baltic Sea. The city developed as a significant centre of the Hanseatic League during the major period of activity of this great trading organization in the 13th-16th centuries.” – UNESCO website.
The cobblestone streets and medieval town plan was enchanting to walk through. I have been to numerous medieval towns during my travels and have always enjoyed exploring them. The layers of centuries with the narrow shadowed streets, colorful baroque and medieval buildings, the little quirky details, the market squares and the fortified walls that surround it- I am in love with all of it! Tallinn had it all, plus several more surprises.
As with many medieval towns, Tallinn has a city wall and towers. The Tallinn walls with its many gates and towers are still in existence today and is a main reason it became a World Heritage Site. The first wall around Tallinn was constructed in 1265 by Margaret Sambira and the reason it is referred to as the Margaret Wall. Over the centuries that original wall had been enlarged and strengthened. What I found interesting was during the 14th century, Tallinn citizens were required for guard duty wearing armor and demonstrating battle readiness.
Town Hall and the Market Square of Tallinn
The Market Square of Tallinn is located in Lower Town and is one of the best preserved medieval areas in Europe. The old Town Hall was constructed in or around 1322 and since then the market square was built. Today, the square is a lively area of old town Tallinn that is filed with tourists, shops, restaurants and the oldest pharmacy in Europe.
Tip – While I was in Tallinn, I took a walking tour and I highly recommend taking one. There are good free walking tours that are tipped based, and last a couple of hours. Do a little online research and sign up for one that suits your interest and time frame.
Cats Well – I had learned many interesting facts as well as town legends while on my walking tour. The layers of history Tallinn has from Medieval, to Soviet time, until current day was fascinating. We made several stops and learned of ghost stories, local legends as well as visiting the Cats Well.
The well (shown above) is part of a medieval story of an elemental creature or spirit that lived in the well. Citizens would feed this entity in order to keep it pleased, so the town’s well would not run dry. The animal sacrifices consisted of cattle and sheep carcasses, but mostly stray cats. Some of the cats were alive when thrown down the well, and it was such common practice that it was soon called “Cats Well”. The well had stopped being used in the 19th century, and not because the well went dry. As you could guess, the quality of the water became unusable with all the dead animals at the bottom.
Toompea Hill – There was much to explore in old town Tallinn including Toompea Hill. There are easy steps that lead you up the limestone hill which gives you access to lovely views of the red roofed city, Toompea Castle, an impressive section of the city wall and the stunning Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was consecrated in 1900 and was built in the typical Russian Revival style of the time. It was constructed during a period when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire. Although later when the country was part of the USSR, many places of worship were neglected due to the non-religious beliefs. After Estonia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the cathedral went under meticulous renovations and is now a breathtaking site to visit in Tallinn.
The city views from the hill were gorgeous on both sides. From the top you can see the winding cobblestone streets and the charming architecture of the medieval city below. My favorite views were of the red roof tops, spires and cone tops of the towers- it was very peaceful and beautiful.
It’s all in the details, one thing that I admired about Tallinn was a bunch of little things, all the particular details of the city. As with anything, I believe that it is all in the details and Tallinn perfected the details. I have always noticed the small things, which can be a gift and a curse.
I think in this case it was a gift because I saw the most amazing details from the door knockers, architectural details, light fixtures and even a dragon spout on the Old Town Hall. My suggestion is to keep your eyes open, look up and down and you will notice all the beautiful and ornate details of Tallinn.
Oldest Pub – If you follow my blog then you know that I have a knack for running into the oldest establishments, or have already planned on going prior to my trip. Hell Hunt, boasts to be the oldest pub in Estonia and was established in 1991. I cannot confirm or deny that, but I assume it opened after the city gained independence from the Soviet Union.
What attracted me when I walked by it was the bright canary yellow building with a nude lady riding a hell hound, and a sign reading “Hell Hunt”. I knew that was the place for me!
🐺 More information – Hell Hunt | Estonia’s First Pub
DM Baar – When I was walking the streets just outside of the Market Square, my eyes looked up to see a familiar sign. I would know that Depeche Mode red rose anywhere! Yes, there is a DM Baar in Tallinn and of course I went in for a drink.
I had written a blog on the bar awhile back and to my surprise it gained thousands of hits. For those who missed that post, here it is:
Oldest Café – I was not expecting to run into the the oldest café in Estonia but as I mentioned earlier, I have a knack for walking right up to them. Maiasmokk Café is the oldest café in Estonia that dates back to 1864. I had come in several times during my trip to have marzipan desserts and candies, plus to check out the marzipan museum with all the pretty hand painted sweets.
Oldest pharmacy in Europe – So noted in Tallinn, there is the oldest pub and café in Estonia but the city also has the oldest pharmacy in Europe. Raeapteek or Town Hall Pharmacy in English, dates back to1422 and is located at house number 11 in the Market Square.
There is a fascinating museum adjacent to the current pharmacy that has displays of medieval healing methods, historical chemist tools, medical instruments and oddities.
🔬For more information: Raeapteek – Europe’s Oldest Pharmacy | Discovering Tallinn, Estonia
While traveling I always take food photos, I have been for almost two decades- even before it was considered cool! Although I ran out of time and did not get to try the modern Nordic cuisine that I was hoping for, I did eat and snack quite well.
There were little pancakes in the Market Square, pub food from the oldest pub in Estonia and much more. If you are looking for fun bites in Tallinn, be sure to check out my food journal.
🍽 My food journal of Estonia ➡ What I ate in ESTONIA – A Food Journal
My few days in Tallinn was just a taster for me and my dream to visit Estonia again. There was more to explore and more food to eat, that I cannot wait until my return. Until that day… I will keep calm and travel on!
There’s a piece of me on the other side of the world…
🌎 Thank you for visiting my website and NEVER STOP EXPLORING!
📸 All photos are taken by me and are my intellectual property – Trixie Navarre