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Medieval Old Town
Twisting cobblestone lanes and iron street lamps. Gothic spires and medieval markets. Cappuccino and Wi-Fi. This is the city's famous Old Town. If you're looking for that mix of historic ambience and cutting-edge culture that defines Tallinn, you'll find it here.
Built up from the 13th to 16th centuries, when Tallinn – or Reval as it was known then – was a thriving member of the Hanseatic trade league, this enclosed neighbourhood of colourful, gabled houses, half-hidden courtyards and grandiose churches is, quite rightly, the city's biggest tourist draw. And the fact that it's all neatly packaged within a mostly-intact city wall and dotted with guard towers gives it an extra dose of fairytale charm.
From medieval churches to modern towers, Tallinn’s city centre boasts contrasts, and what’s great about it, is that all the major landmarks are a short stroll away from each other. The 19th century industrial complex in Rotermann Quarter has been developed into a contemporary shopping quarter with a very unique urban vibe.
Those looking for a dose of culture and art can visit the historical Estonian Opera House and enjoy a play in what is considered one of the 20th-century architectural masterpieces.
The emergence and development of Kadriorg was influenced first and foremost by the high society of the tsar’s empire. The streets of Kadriorg are as good as a unique architectural museum, weaving together various centuries and cultures. Noble villas and summer estates, functionalist apartment buildings with stately flats are interspersed with cheaper Estonian rented wooden houses.
Kadriorg is one of the more dignified areas even today, and one of the best loved residential regions of Tallinn. The Estonian president’s residence and many foreign embassies are located here. The park is one of the favourite spots for walking of Tallinners young and old. But Kadriorg is famed mostly for its baroque palace and park ensemble, begun in 1718 as the summer palace for the family of Russian tsar Peter I. In February 2006 the Estonian Art Museum opened in Kadriorg. Kumu is the first purpose-built museum in Estonia – KUMU – where both classical and contemporary Estonian art are displayed and exhibitions on international contemporary art are held.
The Village Within the City
Just inside the city limits at the south-western edge of Tallinn is an area that couldn't be any farther removed from the bustle and glass high rises of the metropolis. Nõmme, a quiet, forested, district filled with 1920s- and 30s-era houses, has the feel of a small country town. It boasts its own historic centre complete with a farmers' market, cafés and pubs, and it even has its own castle of sorts, not to mention a number of other attractions.
If Nõmme feels like a village that's completely detached from the rest of the city, there's good reason – before being absorbed into Tallinn in 1940, it was just that. The area owes its existence to the Baltic-German landowner, Nikolai von Glehn (1841 - 1923), who not only succeeded in turning his Tsarist-era estate into a real town, but also earned a reputation for being somewhat eccentric. He was, after all, practically giving away land and the castle-shaped manor house he had built flew in the face of convention.
The frequently running bus no. 36 from down town takes about 25 minutes to reach the Nõmme stop in the area's centre. Alternatively take a train to Nõmme railway station in the heart of the suburb from Balti Jaam station in central Tallinn.
Kalamaja - Wooden houses & Bohemian charm
Architecture and history buffs or anyone who wants to get the feel for the grittier edge of Tallinn’s art scene should pay a visit to Kalamaja, one of the so-called wooden architecture areas and home of the biggest sea centre the Seaplane Harbour.
This quiet neighbourhood has long been known for its colourful hodgepodge of old fashioned, working class houses. Throughout most of Tallinn’s history Kalamaja served as the town’s main fishing harbour. In fact, “Kalamaja” literally means "fish house" in Estonian, and starting from the 14th century the area was traditionally dominated by fishermen, fishmongers and boat wrights. Everything changed in 1870, however, when Tallinn was connected to St. Petersburg by railroad. Suddenly enormous factories started to sprout up in this part of town, and they brought with them an influx of thousands of new workers.
The wooden houses built to accommodate these workers became Kalamaja's architectural legacy and are now what gives neighbourhood its unforgettable charm. The most architecturally unique of these are called “Tallinn Houses”. Built in the 1920s and 30s, these two to three-storey apartment houses are made of two symmetrical wooden wings separated by a stone central staircase. There are about 500 of these in the city today.
Recently it has also taken on a Bohemian atmosphere, becoming the residence of choice for young, creative types.
Visitors will also notice that some of the Kalamaja’s old industrial infrastructure is still intact and operating. The Estonia Piano Factory (Kungla 41) for example, is renowned for producing some of the world’s best grand pianos. Many factory buildings, however, have now been converted for other uses, like providing space for the city’s cutting edge art scene.
Pirita, located 5-7 kilometers from Tallinn's city centre, borrowed its name from the Order of St. Bridget's Virgin Mary Cloisters. In the early 20th century, the seaside town of Pirita began to develop into a destination for Sunday rides and a bathing area.
Today Pirita is one of the favourite places in Tallinn for spending free time, with its bathing beaches, coastline, pine-forested parks, and picturesque Pirita River valley. The whole area offers a spectrum of possibilities for active holidays. Tallinn's Botanical Garden has lands on either side of the Pirita River, near the Forest Cemetery and Tallinn's TV Tower, where you can achieve a view from 170 meters high, over the city and its surroundings.
Rocca al Mare
Sitting at the western edge of the city, Rocca al Mare is best known as the site of the sprawling Estonian Open Air Museum, where 19th-century village life is recreated. But the area also holds some other interesting attractions like the Tallinn Zoo.