The consensus in our group was that Tallinn was the most enjoyable port on our Baltic cruise. The food, the people, the historic buildings, the convenience and the shopping made it very inviting. Over half a million people live in Tallinn’s metropolitan area (over a third of Estonia’s population), but the historic center is small, well-preserved and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking off the ship, it is just over half a mile to the entrance at the tower known as Fat Margaret. Some have compared the walled city to a fairy tale.
The buildings are a mix of the medieval and other styles as recent as Art Nouveau. Many streets are cobbled and pedestrian only. When we arrived in the morning the crowds were light, but it got moderately crowded by late morning. There were three cruise ships docked there the day we visited.
As part of the Hanseatic League during the late middle ages, Tallinn was wealthy and international in it’s population with many Germans, Danes and Swedes living there. Once Peter the Great won his war with Sweden in the early 18th century, Russia came to dominate Tallinn and Estonia. But after independence in 1991, Estonia progressed rapidly. It is the wealthiest (per capita) of the former Soviet republics and was the birthplace of Skype and is home to a vibrant high tech economy. (Estonians have free Wifi even in the forests!)
The population of Tallinn is just over half Estonian and over one third of the population is ethnically Russian. So the old city’s historic churches include Lutheran, Estonian Orthodox and Russian Orthodox. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Russian Orthodox – 3 onion domes above) is in the small upper town next to the Toompea Castle. Huge crowds jostled to get inside to see the impressive gilt iconostasis and mosaics – no photos allowed inside. We also visited the Church of Holy Ghost (Lutheran) in the lower town (altar and tower above) which was just off the main square.
Mainly we just wandered around, shopped and had a lovely lunch. Estonia has the lowest prices of all the Baltic ports on our itinerary, so if you are in the market for amber or even Russian items, this is probably the place to make your purchases. Our group purchased sweaters, t-shirts, purses and linen.
Now lets get back to that lunch – always my favorite part of any visit. The most popular bread in the whole eastern Baltic seems to be a dense, whole grain black bread. And in Estonia they like to fry strips of this bread and serve it with a mayonnaise like sauce. Everyone loved it. I had a local pork barbecue with a berry sauce. The others ate soup and salads and offered excellent reviews. I did not write down the name of the restaurant, but it is near Toompea Castle and has a brass boot hanging outside.
Cruising is a great way to discover lots of places in a short period. Some places you will want to spend more time in. Tallinn (and Estonia) is certainly on my list now.