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Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia's capital city, Tallinn, has become one of the most popular destinations in the Baltic States. It is only 40 miles by ferry from Helsinki, two hours by air from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vilnius, Stockholm or Copenhagen, and three hours from London, making it a perfect short break destination.
Tallinn Card â€“ Getting Around
Getting around is easy. The old town is very compact and easily conquered on foot, although the hill is steep. The Tallinn Card can be purchased at Tallinn City Tourist Office and provides the best way to see Tallinn. The card entitles the holder to free admission to forty museums and tourist attractions, free sightseeing tours, and use of public transport. Holders of the Card also receive discounts in many stores and restaurants.
Tallin â€“ Highlights of the Old Town
For most visitors their first sighting of the Old Town is through the Viru Gate at the eastern entrance to the lower town. The Upper Old City, or Toompea Hill, is the oldest part of Tallinn and boasts some of the finest medieval and post-medieval architecture in the region.
Aleksandr Nevsky Cathedral
Crowning Toompea Hill is Aleksandr Nevsky Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church built between 1894 and 1900 in a typical Russian Revival style. At the time, Estonia was part of the Russian Empire and this symbol of Czarist power was not popular with Estonians. It was earmarked for demolition in 1924 but, in the event, the building was not demolished and left to decline. Following independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 the church has been painstakingly restored to its former glory.
Opposite Aleksandr Nevsky is Toompea Castle.The castle has had many facelifts and currently wears a shocking-pink Baroque faÃ§ade from when it was revamped by Catherine the Great. Built on the site of the original Danish fortification in the early 1200s, thisis one of Estoniaâ€™s most treasured landmarks. Toompea Castle is the seat of the Parliament of the Republic of Estonia and guided tours are possible.
Toomkirik â€“ Lutheran Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin
Toomkirik, the Lutheran Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin, was built in 1223 and is a burial site of German and Swedish noblemen. Founded by the Danes in 1219, it is the oldest church in Estonia. The tower was built in 1779 and most of the interior dates from that period although the main structure of the church is 15th century.
The cathedral's organ is the largest in Estonia. The ornate tombs and seventeenth-century pulpit, and the many carved coats of arms, reflect the history of the area. There used to be a strict hierarchy within the congregation. So-called "normal" people sat in the pale green pews, and important families had glass-enclosed family boxes to separate them from the hoi polloi!
Raekoda â€“ Town Hall
Town Hall Square, is the centre of the Lower Old City. The Raekoda, (Town Hall), is the most important building on Raekoja Plats. Dating from the 16th century it is one of the oldest surviving Gothic town halls in Europe.
The Raeapteek, (Town Council Chemists), is also on Raekoja Plats. This drug store opened in 1422 selling medieval remedies such as bat powder and snakeskin, and has traded continuously ever since.
Tallinn should not be judged only on its medieval Old Town. The view through the Viru Gate reminds us that the modern new city has its fair share of attractions as well. The Estonia Opera Theatre and the Estonia Concert Hall sit side by side, and not too far away is the Russian Drama Theatre. The buildings in this part of town range from Gothic and Baroque to modern glass and steel tower blocks.