The cobbled streets of Vanalinn lead visitors on a journey through the medieval centuries, with elaborate cathedrals and ornate domes painted in all manner of colours. Situated in the heart of Tallinn, Vanalinn translates into English as “Old Town”. For most visitors, Vanalinn is the essence of Tallinn and a chance to savour the regal design of yesteryear. It’s the most visited district in Estonia and contains many of the city’s most recognisable attractions. Many of the streets are pedestrianised, lined with trendy shops and cafes, along with a healthy collection of restaurants and bars.
Built from imposing stone, Raekoda is Tallinn’s town hall and the centrepiece of Vanalinn. It now houses the excellent Tallinn City Museum, containing many displays on the development of both the Old Town and wider city. Raekoja Plats is the central square beneath Raekoda, a meeting place that can get very lively on summer evenings. From here a road ascends to Toompea Hill, where a castle and watchtower mark the site where the city was founded. Vanalinn’s cathedrals have contrasting styles, and it’s worth comparing the Russian onion-domed style of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral with the elegant aesthetics of St Mary’s, built in the 13th century. For a change of pace, Viru Street is where modern boutiques are encased in the charming brick of 17th century townhouses.
It’s very easy to cover Vanillin on foot, and the district is much smaller than many people realise. Part of the experience is to leave the map behind and explore the narrow streets, where stone archways lead to small boutiques and hidden bars. A tourist hop-on-hop-off bus passes through parts of Vanillin before heading out to Tallinn’s other attractions. When arriving on public transport, there are many buses and trams to Viru Gate and the entrance to the Old Town.
Historically, Vanalinn was encased by a thick city wall. A small section of this remains on the corner of Vaike-Kloostri and Suur-Kloostri. Visitors can climb narrow spiral staircases to the top of the city wall where there’s an excellent view over the red rooftops and the elaborate domes of the Old Town.