Tallinn free tour
I found out about the Tallinn free tour ahead of time and penned it into my schedule for my first full day in the city since it begins at noon, and it would’ve been too much of a rush to try to do it after I landed.
I didn’t realize that there was a second tour starting at 3pm from June through August: perhaps there would have been fewer participants had I waited till then to show up at the Tallinn Tourist Information Center. Many of the ~100 attendees at the noon showing had to return to their cruise ships by a certain time. At least there were two guides who split the horde into two.
Marii, our guide, started us off in front of Niguliste Kirik (St. Nicolas’s Church), which is also known for having the most costly park in Tallinn. There used to be buildings where the park currently is before the air bombings, and they lay in ruin for a long time before the city drew up plans and cleared it out. In the winter, there’s an ice skating rink that must be fun to use. Estonia is a predominantly atheist country, so the church is actually a museum.
Aleksandr Nevski Katedraal (St. Alexander’s Cathedral) is a Russian Orthodox church still operating today and is the most visited church in Tallinn. I felt like I could skip visiting Russia at this point since it has the iconic Tetris-shaped rooftops.
Riigikogu (Parliament Building, a.k.a. Toompea Castle) is yet another pink landmark in Tallinn. On one end, you’ll see Pikk Hermann (Tall Herman), and whoever’s flag is flying on it indicates who is in power. The tower of power, so to speak.
On the way to Toomkirik (St. Mary’s Cathedral), we passed by a couple of buskers, both of whom were women and playing instruments I hadn’t seen before. Maybe they’re from medieval times! The clock on St. Mary’s Cathedral is beautiful, so I stopped to admire it.
At the Patkuli viewing platform, you can take in a great view of the northern part of the city, as well as some graffiti reminding you there’s more to life than selfies.
Towards the end of our tour, we stopped by a little park on Nunne Street with a little waterfall and a bronze deer statue. It’s actually a replica since the original has been stolen a few times. The original now resides in the Tallinn City Museum to prevent future kidnappings. Above the park on the back of the Parliament Building is a graffiti rendition of the current members of the Estonian government, including Taavi Roivas, the youngest prime minister in the EU (34 years old when he was sworn in in 2014).
Marii left us in Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square), which is known for having the world’s first Christmas tree in 1441 and still hosts a Christmas market every winter. She pointed out the tiny figure who serves as the weather vane on top of the Town Hall tower. Vana Toomas (Old Thomas), and he was a peasant boy in the 1400s. In an archery contest organized by the aristocratic elite, he was the only one to hit a wooden parrot on top of a pole. Despite having won, he wasn’t awarded the contest prize because of his low-born status. Instead, his reward was to serve as part of the city guard for the rest of his life. He was immortalized in copper in 1530, and even today, people believe that nothing bad will happen to Tallinn as long as he’s up there keeping watch.
I enjoyed listening to Marii’s stories about the history of Tallinn and Estonia. It’s really such a shame that many original buildings are no longer standing because of bombings and lightning! If you end up doing the free walking tour, please remember to bring a cash tip for the guide. They are usually college students doing it voluntarily, so you can show your appreciation by giving them €5-10 if you think they did a good job.
After the tour ended, I checked out Raeapteek (Town Hall Pharmacy), per Marii’s recommendation. The pharmacy is in the same building as an antique store, so be sure to turn left into the pharmacy to avoid being barraged with kitsch. It wasn’t called out specifically, but I noticed a small bottle labeled “cannabis” with what appeared to be seeds inside. And another bottle was labeled “sun-bleached dog faeces”. I have no clue what it was used for, but that’s gotta come back and be the next silicon valley in San Francisco.
And here’s an interesting-looking building for your viewing pleasure.