During my first visit to Tallinn in 2009 I was privileged enough to witness a magnificent spectacle…
25,000 Estonians – young and old – all wearing national dress, standing on a magnificent semi-circular stage in front of a crowd well in excess of 100,000, all singing patriot, historic, emotional songs of freedom more “The National Song Festival”
RMK is an organisation responsible for the upkeep and general preservation of Estonian state-owned forests. With over 2.2 million hectares of forest covering the land (40% of which is owned by the state) this is no small task. more “Keila-Joa Waterfall”
Across the mirror-like lake in Schnelli Park, a small orchestra play a selection of Baroque pieces to a crowd of over a hundred hushed Estonians. A pleasant surprise-ending to another spontaneous evening bike ride. Rule One when exploring Tallinn: always carry a camera. more “Free Evening Concert in Shnelli Park”
Pirita Health Track – Pirita Terviserajad – is a 7.2km track slicing through the picture-perfect forest which characterises this beautiful district to the east of The Old Town. more “Pirita Health Track: A Beautiful Place To Cycle, Walk or Run”
Ever wondered what The Old Town would look like from 50 storeys high? Well, now you don’t have to. This photo was taken from the top of the TV Tower, the tallest building in Estonia, proud member of the World Federation of Great Towers (yeah, I had no idea that existed either) and my favourite building in Tallinn. more “Tallinn Old Town – From 175m In The Air”
News hot off the press: after lengthy refurbishments Tallinn’s iconic TV Tower has finally re-opened its doors to the public. This is very exciting news for a number of reasons more “Tallinn TV Tower Re-Opens”
This is arguably the most famous of all the Old Town legends. Different versions of the tale have been passed down through generations to such an extent that no two tellings of the story are the same. Here is the first version of the story that I was told… more “The Devil’s Wedding”
The steps of Linnahall were originally built to signify Tallinn’s status as hosts of the sailing events for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. As part of a larger regeneration project – which included the building of a brand new highway, the sailing club in Pirita, the famous TV Tower and even the airport – the I.V. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport, as it was originally known, is perhaps the only structure which has failed to live up to its billing. more “Linnahall: Abandoned Soviet-Era Concert Hall”
There are many remnants of the Soviet era still present in and around Tallinn. All of them provide a tantalising but incomplete glimpse into Estonia’s very recent and repressive past but few instil the same level of fear and intimidation as the former KGB Headquarters. more “Former KGB Headquarters”
Find a hill. Grab a sledge. Hold on for dear life. Repeat. One of the great joys of the Tallinn winter. more “Sledging in The Old Town”
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, with its famous ‘onion domes’, is certainly one of The Old Town’s most famous ‘postcard pictures’. Its association with the Estonian capital is very ironic, however, considering it was built during the reign of Alexander III (1845–1894) and is actually a symbol of the Russian Tsar’s attempt to phase-out Estonian culture through Russification.
Estonian folklore states that while the Russians were digging in Toompea to lay the foundations for this iconic cathedral, they stumbled across the tomb of Kalev – a mythological king in ancient Estonia, father of Kalevipoeg. The workers dug so deep into Toompea Hill that they struck an iron door, upon which was inscribed: more “The Tomb of Kalev”
Contemplating visiting Tallinn in winter but scared of the cold? Hopefully these images will convince you to pull on your thermals, grab a warm drink, charge your camera and bask in the glorious winter scenery. The cold is a small price to pay for such beauty.
more “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”
In January 1695, the priest, Elias Christian Panicke, entered the ‘Riga’ Tavern in the corner of the Town Hall Square, sat at the bar and ordered an ale. When the drink was served, he took one sip and then immediately threw the ale to the floor in disgust; the drink was warm. He demanded another beverage to replace the drink that had just been wasted – the bar maid obliged.
After taking a sip of this second beer, the priest was outraged to find the drink was, once again, warm. In his state of rage, he threw the ceramic tankard at the barmaid who fell, cracked her skull on the bar and died. more “Execution in the Old Town”
In 1219, Valdemar II, the Danish King, invaded Tallinn with his fleet. After initially overcoming the Estonian fortress without much effort, the King sat back and embraced the gifts bestowed upon him by the Estonian emissaries. Foolishly, the King saw this as a sign of surrender and declared the fortress conquered. While the Danish forces were celebrating that night, the Estonians unexpectedly unleashed an attack in which many Danish troops lost their lives.
The situation looked hopeless for the King as he and his forces had been driven back considerably by the unexpected nature of this attack. In an act of desperation, the King fell to his knees and prayed to the heavens for divine help in defeating the superior Estonian forces. more “The Danish King’s Garden”
Although executions were not uncommon in olden times, there was a law that forbid any from taking place in The Old Town. Instead, the condemned prisoner would be paraded around the Town Hall Square for all to see before being lead down Harju Street towards their place of execution. As such, Harju Street became known as ‘the last road’ for those sentenced to death.
Unlike today, Harju Street used to be packed densely with houses and thus was far more slender and enclosed. Hidden between two of the houses houses was a very narrow street called Trepi that lead away from Harju and into St Nicholas Church. more “Condemned Criminals escape through The Eye of the Needle”
There are many different legends offering explanations as to how the Estonian capital got its name but one of the most popular stories is set around the time of the Danish King Valdemar.
Shortly after the King and his forces had conquered North Estonia and converted the population to Christianity the king was taking a stroll in his new grounds. In the upper quarters of the town he spied a tiny deer. Rather than hunt the animal, the new king ordered his courtiers to find and capture the animal so the king could keep him as a pet. more “How a Tiny Deer gave Tallinn its Name”
Cycling is undoubtedly the most liberating and efficient way to explore Tallinn. With numerous cycle paths and amazing natural scenery, a bike is almost as essential as a camera… maps are optional.
This gorgeous forest is located on Rummu tee (near Pirita), a short ride from the TV Tower. Notice the quaint, yet slightly eerie, cemetary on the right hand side of the path. Very Interesting. more “Summer Cycling: Reminiscing”
About 4km away from the Old Town, down the coast towards Pirita sits a very touching monument to the Russian and German soldiers who lost their lives in the second Great War. The striking gateway and sporadic scattering of crosses generate both a sombre and slightly eerie atmosphere while the large list of names creates a very poignant reminder of the price of conflict.
more “World War II Memorial”
The Legend of Old Toomas is one of the most popular and well-known tales in Tallinn folklore:
In old times, there was a famous archery contest held just outside the main city where contestants (only ever wealthy men) tried to hit a small wooden parrot with their crossbow and arrows. During this particular year, despite their best attempts, no contestants were succeeding. All of a sudden, a small boy [Toomas] stepped up, pulled out a wooden bow and hit the parrot off its perch in one shot. more “Old Toomas: The Old Town Weather Vane”
There are so many different spots throughout Tallinn from which to grab the perfect sunset shot. I have been fortunate to visit them on a regular basis; armed with a bicycle, a camera… and sometimes a beer. Simple pleasures.
more “Tallinn Sunsets”
Originally built to provide better communications for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the TV Tower is a fascinating example of Soviet delusions of grandeur. Famously, this huge structure is the site where, in 1991, a handful of radio operators risked their lives to protect the free media of Estonia.
As Estonian independence loomed large on the horizon the order was given for Soviet assault troops to seize the TV Tower, a key pillar of communication to the outside world. Upon hearing this, ordinary Estonians turned out to protect the tower as a small group of brave armed locals barricaded themselves inside, standing their ground against the odds until the tanks were forced to turn back. more “Tallinn TV Tower”
About 50km from Tallinn lies the small town of Riisipere. After a lengthy bike ride we came face to face with this magnificent yet eerie mansion. Dating back to the 1800’s, the building and its grounds have been completely abandoned and left to the mercy of the elements for many years, giving this once grand structure a far more imposing aura.
I have often heard the phrase ‘a wall of silence’ used to describe a stillness so profound that it feels all-consuming. The grounds of Riisipere Mansion were engulfed by silence. No birdsong. No breeze. No rustling of the leaves. No life could be heard. Gardens were overgrown and a solitary rusting bench lay forgotten next to a vast lake that stretched out into the void. more “Stalked through the Abandoned Mansion, Riisipere”
Tallinn boasts many clean, shiny and sterile shopping centres packed with the typical array of vastly over-priced clothing stores, chain restaurants and miserable faces but for a truly unique experience nowhere compares to the Russian market.
From second hand socks to chunks of raw meat, antique cameras, stuffed eagles and a staggering array of old Soviet knives and Nazi uniforms, the Russian market is the place to find almost anything your heart desires. So, step into the time machine and travel back to the Soviet times with a visit to this fascinating cultural locale. more “The Russian Market”
Back in 2011, thousands of people flock to Freedom Square to hear a speech from the Dalai Lama, who was on a tour of the Baltic region at the time. This image, taken from the hill overlooking the vast square, really gave a sense of scale. So many people standing in silence just to hear one man speak.
As Estonia continues to stride purposefully into the twenty first century such high profile visits serve primarily to cement the ever-growing reputation of this tiny Baltic country as a forward-facing and progressive nation. The glistening freedom monument towering proudly behind the Dalai Lama perfectly encapsulates this journey from Cold War oppression to self-determined destiny. more “Dalai Lama Speech in Freedom Square”