Sailing two days East from Copenhagen, our Capital Cities of the Baltic Cruise closed in on Estonia’s historical haven, Tallinn.
Gangway cleared, we hopped in a taxi to the World-Heritage Site of Tallinn’s Old Town. Detouring, we passed the colossal concrete Freedom Square, featuring a 23.5m high glass Cross of Liberty (Victory Colum) honouring those lost during the Estonian War of Independence.
Running from 1918–1920, the War of Independence saw Estonia fight for freedom first from Russian, then German occupation, before the Tartu Peace Treaty recognised its sovereignty.
Now a selfie hotspot, the square is bordered to the East by St. John’s Church, to the South by an underground shopping center and to the West by the Victory Column.
Keen to see more, we headed North inside the walls of the Old Town.
Starting at the top, we entered St. Mary’s Cathedral, a sublime structure complete with many Med Evil coats of arms and a 69-metre Baroque bell tower. After an awesome ascent we reached the best view in town, which showed Tallinn’s hidden gems shining in the sun; none more so than the golden tops of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Lured by its striking sight, our next stop was to the Eastern Orthodox build. Here stately steps lead to chequered floors, fabulous frescos, chandeliers, and inspiring iconostases. Such splendor made it difficult to focus on any one feature, but soon all heads rose to the sound of the Cathedral’s bells. With 11 bells in its ensemble, Alexander Nevsky’s tower boasts Tallinn’s largest bell, which weighs an impressive 15 tonne.
Seeking a quieter spot we headed away from the Cathedral, to trace the Town Walls. Giving the UNESCO site its fairy-tale façade, the Town Walls feature terracotta turrets, arches and walkways sublime for snaps.
As well as being beautiful, these features allow Tallinn to claim status as one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval fortifications, with its structure dating back to the 14th century and 1.9 km of original wall remaining. To further examine the walls visitors can climb up Nunna tower, but we chose to admire them from afar at the Patkuli viewing platform.
Down the steps, 10 minute’s walk from the platform, is the Town Hall Square, where modern market stalls are edged by ancient architecture, such as the Raeapteek (Old Pharmacy).
The Raeapteek’s unassuming threshold leads visitors upstairs, before revealing two rooms, a working chemist and a museum of Apothecary. The latter room holds ornate wooden cabinets and glass displays of herbs and medicine books from the Middle -Ages.
Dating back to 1422, the building is the oldest continually operating pharmacy in Europe. Its early days saw it function not just a place of healing, but of socialising, where town folk would meet for a gossip and goblet of wine.
Thirsty for our own refreshments, we headed to the nearby haunt Restaurant Troika. With tables overlooking the plaza, this Eastern eatery was perfect for people watching. Once set with tankards of beer, we pondered passers-by and the delectable dishes being served around us.
Then, as musicians struck up from the restaurant doorway, our attention was drawn to the décor within. As we entered, a stuffed grizzly bear stood arms outstretched, ready to greet us. Then, next to it, a life-sized Matryoshka doll stood, begging to be cuddled. The old eastern décor was complete with the waiting staff’s sarafan costumes and hearty hospitality.
Reinvigorated we headed back to the ship, making one last stop at Mercado De Flores. Just three minutes walk from the plaza, the Flower Market was well worth the detour. Bright botanical bunches assaulted our senses, with posies for every price range. Tulips, carnations and wildflowers were just some of the delights on offer. In the end I opted for a bouquet of velvet red roses, accented with cornflowers – the symbol of Estonia.
Once back on the ship we swapped tips for Tallinn travellers: bring walking shoes, a tourist map and spending money for the beautiful boutiques.