Many well-kept secrets are waiting to be unearthed about Tallinn, a city mainly known for its Old Town, historic buildings and UNESCO status. When visiting Tallinn, there is a fountain of knowledge to take in, some of which you may only find out from an experienced city guide. Here are some fun facts to help you on your way whilst you explore all that this charming city has to offer.
1. A Beach on your Doorstep
Tallinn is not often thought of as a beach city. However, in the summer all the pleasures of a city break can be combined with a relaxing beach holiday. The Pirita District offers 2km of unspoilt sandy beaches with stunning views out to the Baltic Sea.
2. Secret Passages
Under the Old Town is a labyrinth of 17th century tunnels. During WWII these were used as bomb shelters, but they were not widely known about to visitors until 2010 when 380 of the passageways were opened to the public.
3. The Local Spirit
Each European city has a signature drink. Tallinn is no different. Vana Tallinn is a sweet liqueur, invented in the 60’s. It is tasty whether you drink it hot or cold, straight, in a cocktail or coffee. With the use of natural ingredients, it presents a smooth but bitter flavour, with aromas of cinnamon, toffee, citrus and warm spices.
4. Previously Called Reval
The Estonian capital was not always named Tallinn. Before 1918, when the country gained independence, it was known as Reval, thought to be of German origin. According to legend the origins of the old name comes from a deer hunt, when an animal fell off a cliff and perished. In German Reh-fall means ‘deer fall’. Many historians debate this theory and believe it more likely to derive from the old Estonian county called Revalia.
5. A Medieval Fortress
Tallinn’s medieval fort dates back to the 14th century. Originally it was 2.4km long, up to 16 metres high and three metres thick with 46 watch towers. It is so well preserved that today 1.9km remains, along with 20 observation towers. This wall certainly adds to the Old Town charm of this historic city.
6. Estonia’s Tallest Building
Teletorn, the TV Tower, is not just the largest building in Tallinn but also the whole country. Standing at 314metres, you can not only enjoy panoramic views of the Old Town, and the Baltic Sea, if it is clear enough, views can be enjoyed all the way to the coast of Finland.
7. The Secret Spot of the Church Spires
It is almost impossible to see all of the city’s five medieval church spires at once. A little known secret is that if you find a particular circular stone on Town Hall Square there is one spot where you can do exactly this. Look out for the cleverly positioned hole in one of the roofs, and make sure you find the correct stone as there are some fakes just to throw you off track.
8. Estonia’s Oldest Café
Opened since 1864, Maiasmokk is the city’s oldest running café. Translated literally as Sweet Tooth, this is an appropriate name for the delicious home baked goods served here. The interior décor of the café has remained unchanged for almost a century, and it even houses its own Marzipan Museum.
9. Chimney Sweeps
Chimney Sweeps in Tallinn continue to wear 19th century uniforms. If you come across one, be sure to touch his brass buttons. Myth has it that this brings good luck.
10. Oldest Building
The oldest building in Tallinn is Dominican St. Catherine’s Monastery and dates back to 1246. Unusually, it is one of the city’s best kept secrets, in spite of the fact it is located in the centre and the courtyard serves as a museum in the summertime.
11. Old Town Streets
Take a stroll back in time through the Old Town’s alleyways and winding streets. Here you will discover the narrowest, longest and widest streets in the city. The Old Town is easily visible from the Radisson Blu Hotel, Tallinn and is located just 500 metres away from the hotel.
12. The Man in the Red Cloak
Beware of a man in a red cloak. In medieval times, the city employed an executioner. Folklore had it that it was bad luck to meet him so he was made to wear a bright cloak so he stood out in a crowd.
13. Medieval Prison
The Soviet-era Patarei Prison is a sea fortress built in 1840. It has had many uses over the years but until recently it was a functioning prison. Since its closure in 2004, this prison remains virtually unchanged. In May 2014, this attraction will re-open to the public as a museum and multi-event facility.
There is something special about leaving a destination and knowing that as well as visiting its most famous sights, you have also uncovered several of its, sometimes dark, secrets. Tallinn is an easy place to find many such hidden stories, legends and little fun facts that many tourists never normally get a chance to learn about.
What secrets would you like to uncover in Tallinn?