Since the restoration of Estonia’s independence, the ever-improving air and sea transportation links with the rest of the world, as well as the country’s membership in the European Union, have made Tallinn easily accessible to foreign visitors. The exciting novelty of the destination and the lovely historical centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attract crowds of tourists. World-class facilities have been developed to meet their needs, and those coming with expectations of seeing a city still struggling to recover from years of isolation are in for a major surprise.
The main tourist attractions of Tallinn are located within the two old towns, known as the Lower Town and Toompea, both of which can be easily explored on foot. The area of the Lower Town is the site of the original Medieval Hanseatic town, which at the time was often referred to as the City of Citizens because of its administrative independence. At its peak, it was a very prosperous trade centre. Today, the Lower Town holds one of Europe’s best-preserved old towns, now under careful restoration after long years of neglect. The main sights in the area include Town Hall Square, fortifications with notable towers like Fat Margaret and Kiek in de Kok, and the 12th Century tower of the Church of St Olaf.
Tallinn’s other old town, Toompea, also once constituted a separate town. Built on a hill overlooking the surrounding districts, it came to be known as Dom zu Reval. Over time, it served as the residence of Roman Catholic bishops of Tallinn, the Chivalry of Estonia, as well as the country’s Lutheran superintendents. Today, the most important attractions include the defensive walls and bastions of the imposing Toompea Castle, the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, erected in the times of the Russian Empire to replace a former monument to Martin Luther, and the Lutheran Cathedral of Toomkirik.
The districts located outside of the historical centre are also well worth a visit. Two kilometres east of the centre lies a district known as Kadriorg, proud home of the former palace of Peter the Great. The magnificent residence was completed just after the Great Northern War of 1700 - 1721. Today, the premises house the presidential residence and The Museum of Estonia. The extensive surroundings hold a beautifully kept garden and a small forest.
Two kilometres north-east of Kadriorg, visitors will find a delightfully picturesque district called Pirita. The coastal area features a marina built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, lovely Botanical Gardens and the high-rising Tallinn TV Tower, from the top of which visitors can admire breathtaking panoramas of the city. Further away from the centre, in Rocca al Mare, lies the Estonian Open Air Museum, known as Eesti Vabaõhumuuseum, faithfully reproducing artifacts of the country’s rural architecture and culture.
According to statistics, Tallinn is home to the largest number of non-EU residents of all European Union capital cities; it’s estimated that nearly 28% of its population are not EU citizens. This cosmopolitan spirit is clearly visible in the streets: apart from the country’s native Estonian language, Finnish, Russian and English are also widely understood by locals.