Tallinn Old Town – I lived inside a UNESCO site!

Tallinn Old Town – I lived inside a UNESCO site!

I lived in Tallinn, inside the Old Town’s city walls, for a bit over a year and a half, between 2012 and 2013. It is, so far, the richest place I spent an extended period of time in and this despite its small size. Layers over layers of different cultures and history cover the cobblestone winding roads and colourful walls of the medieval town. The city walls surrounding the Old Town and the reduced dimensions give you a sense of security and intimacy. This must be the first reason why so many come here from all over the world and fall in love with the city – Tallinn offers its visitors a very personal experience.

Tallinn Old Town UNESCO

The Town Hall Square in Tallinn


Tallinn’s Old Town has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1997. The premise: “the origins of Tallinn date back to the 13th century, when a castle was built there by the crusading knights of the Teutonic Order. It developed as a major centre of the Hanseatic League, and its wealth is demonstrated by the opulence of the public buildings (the churches in particular) and the domestic architecture of the merchants’ houses, which have survived to a remarkable degree despite the ravages of fire and war in the intervening centuries.”

Tallinn Old Town UNESCO

View over the Old Town from the top of Tompea hill

I arrived there on a February day, the city was completely covered in a white thick layer of snow and it was snowing some more. The city is empty during the winter months, so I was able to discover the Old Town’s wonders slowly and quietly, bit by bit, getting lost again and again through the narrow streets. Little did I know that such a small place can be the host of so many people, who all come to visit, mostly in big groups, during the summer months. I came to learn that this influx of tourists has been stimulated during the year of 2011, when Tallinn was named Europe’s Capital of Culture.

Tallinn Old Town UNESCO

Pikk Street – two perspectives

Estonia has always been in between big world powers, conquered repeatedely by Germans, Russians and always under the influence of the Nordic countries, the small country of 1.34 million people sets itself distinct from its Baltic sisters, Latvia and Lithuania. Nowadays an important touristic center, its strategic position allows it to be excellently connected. Tallinn has a beautiful medieval old town; even though some of the buildings had to suffer throughout time because of the low quality of the maintenance done and are now unfortunatelly slowly falling apart, the general attitude is of respect for the tradition and this helped Tallinn have nowadays one of the best kept Old Towns in the Medieval Europe.

Given the touristic focus of the city, most of the Old Town’s streets are packed with cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs and souvenir shops, and the city does get ridiculously over crowded during the high season and the winter holidays. This can cause some displeasure in such an otherwise amazing city and it can make the experience less enjoyable, so my sincere advise is to schedule your Tallinn trip for any of the months between October and April, with the exception of the Christmas break, this way you’ll make the most of it (plus everything is cheaper during these times!).

Tallinn Old Town UNESCO

Aida/Laboratoorium Street

Despite the low temperatures that dominate throughout the year the Baltic most Northern capital, Tallinn has a personal feel of warmth to it, a place that you’ll find yourself hard to leave, a town of many mysteries hidden between the walls, all waiting to be discovered.

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This article has been featured also on the Unesco Geek blog.

– Iulia

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