Tallinn Old Town, the best preserved medieval town in Northern Europe

“Don’t just stand there, hurry up! Tell me what you want to eat!” barked out the hostess at the medieval-looking restaurant.

Point was, there wasn’t a menu anywhere in sight and she didn’t actually tell me what she had.

She served me my food with change back, “you can drop a Euro here.”

“For what?” I bit back, there wasn’t much to tip, and I wasn’t in the mood to do so.

She raised her head in the direction of the wall, where a sign said I had to tip a euro to the waiters.

We had just been in the line, stopped rampant queue cutters from jumping the queue and struggled to find some seats in the restaurant Ill Draakon, I was starting to wonder if choosing this place was even worth it. More on this in a later post.

On our back to our hotel one of our crew did a Google search,”oh so Ill Draakon is supposed to make you feel as if you were in a medieval tavern having dinner.”

“So basically a cosplay cafe sort of?”

“Yeap… Reminds me of the rude hotdog stand in the US where people pay to get treated rudely…”

The whole of Tallinn old town is filled with kitschy restaurants with cosplay wait staff trying to recreate a medieval experience. But unlike cosplay events world wide that clearly appear to be out of place, because they are located in modern cities, the cosplay play-acting in Tallinn’s old town doesn’t quite feel out of place, especially not when the rest of the city is dressed up in old medieval garb too.

And its not just young people who ‘cosplay’, over here, the locals even older ones dress up in that medieval way, and somehow it feels right. That’s because Tallinn’s Old Town is a medieval town, going back to the 13th century and despite its tumultuous history has never ever been destroyed. It is such a wonderfully reserved old town it has UNESCO World Heritage status.

Gothic spires, cobble-stoned streets and medieval taverns, wooden barns and a host of Middle Ages structures populate the streets of the old town which is itself contained within a high Germanic stone wall, conjouring images of how Tallinn (then called the Reval) looked when it was part of the Hanseatic League.

Even the hotels in the old town, at least the one we stayed in, looked as if they were refurbished to look medieval. I was kitsch, sure, but the medival garb dressing the city helped transport all its visitors back to the medieval era. This was a key element to the magic of Tallinn.

Life in medival old towns were centered on two main areas, the cathedral or parish church and the market square. In Tallinn today, the market square is still the heart of the old town. It is the site of the annual Christmas Market ranked the best in Europe and therefore (by logical extension) one of the best in the world.

Ahhhh Christmas…

There are actually two sides to the old town, a north and a south side. The main tourist attractions are found on the south side, the side that was ccontrolled by the Danish when the city of Reval was first founded. This is the Tallinn that you will find on many vlogs and travel guides. The north side on the other hand, used to be a separate city that was run by the German Teutonic knights and back in the medieval ages travel between both sides was prohibited. It was only after the Danes sold Tallinn to the Teutonic knights that both towns were combined into one.

Now, a short walk around Tallinn Old Town will trick you into imagining that you are in an old German or Northern European town even though you are in the Baltics, Riga and Vilnius looked much more baroque. That’s because the old town of Tallinn was settled not by Estonians, but was built and occupied by Germans and Danes (local Estonians, especially in the middle ages, lived in the areas outside of the town walls.

The Danish King’s Garden, it was during the crusades that the inspiration for the Danish flag reached Danish King Vladimir, and event immortalized in the shield on the wall.

Unlike Riga and Vilnius, whose cultural influence was Catholic, Tallinn’s was strongly Lutheran. The city was therefore built in that vein, as such it doesn’t have the opulence of a Catholic city (such as Warsaw, Gdansk or Barcelona), but rather the earthy feel of a Lutheran old town (such as Stockholm’s). Each occupying power built their own church in the area, as such the Tallinn old town skyline is dotted by church spires from different church types, there is the St Nicholas Chuch built by the Prussians, which is today and arts centre.

St Nicholas Church

St Olof Chuch, a Lutheran Church, built by the Swedes, that is still used as a Lutheran Church today.

St Olof Church in the distance

and Saint Alexander Nevsky Church, a Russian Orthodox Church built by Tsarist Russia and that is still in operation today and is the branch of Christianity that is the most active in the country.

St Alexander Nevsky Church

At risk of romanticizing the past, spending time in Tallinn’s old town is a very mystical and mesmerizing experience. My words do not capture this old town as well as the amazing footage that can be found on youtube, so I shall let them have the last word.

ON THE MAP

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