Tallinn is having a moment. Once overlooked in favour of other blockbuster Baltic cities, the colourful, capital of Estonia is becoming a popular minibreak destination. But how much do you know about the city? From one of the best-preserved medieval walled cities in Europe to a mysterious red-cloaked man, here are a few interesting facts about Tallinn you might not have heard before
7 Interesting Facts About Tallinn
1. Tallinn boasts one of the best-preserved wall cities in Europe
Tallinn’s historic heart is so impressive that the entire area of the Old Town is a Unesco-listed Heritage Site. It’s one of Europe’s most complete walled cities and one of the best preserved medieval areas in Europe. The Old Town dates back to the 13th century. Crusading knights of the Tuetonic Order build the castle, and from the city developed to become the centre of the Hanseatic League. The living museum is brimming with centuries-old architecture, including 20 of the original 14th-century towers dotted along its 1.85 km (1.14 miles) walls. It’s magical here all year round, but particularly so during Christmas when the entire Town Hall Square is taken over by the Christmas Market.
2. Tallinn used to be Reval
The capital only became known as Tallinn around a century ago. When Denmark conquered Estonia in 1219, they renamed the city Revala. Before this, Tallinn went by a few different names, like Lindanaise.
No one knows exactly where the name comes from, but there are a few theories. Some say its roots are Germanic. In German, ‘Reh-fall’ means ‘deer fall’, so some claim it takes its name from an accident involving a deer falling off a cliff. Other historians claim it simply derives from the name given to the ancient Estonian city. When the city gained independence in 1918, it became Tallinn.
3. There are hundreds of tunnels buried beneath the Old Town
Known as the Bastion Passages, these mysterious tunnels date back to the 17th or 18th centuries. Throughout the years, they’ve played an important role in the city’s defence system. After the Swedes invaded in the 17th century, the city was nearly always vulnerable to attack so city planners installed the passages under the base of the high bastion walls so they could safely manoeuvre soldiers and ammunition without being seen. They were used as bomb shelters during World War II too.
The tunnels lay largely forgotten and ignored until the beginning of the 21st century. Today. you can visit the tunnels through the Kiek in de Kök Fortifications Museum.
4. It’s bad luck to bump into a red-cloaked man
At some point during the medieval period, the city started dressing their executioners in a red cloak, perhaps to make them stand out more. To this day, local lore tells that if you bump into a man dressed in a red cloak, you’ll meet a sticky end – fast. Thankfully most people have moved on from wearing that sort of garb, so you’ll be able to spot any mysterious clothed
5. Tallinn is a beach city
Tallinn doesn’t usually spring to mind when considering beach getaways, but it should. There are five public beaches in the city. You can swim at each of these too, making it ideal for those looking to beat the heat. One of the city’s most popular beaches is Pirita Promenade, located slapbang in the middle of the city with views overlooking the Old Town.
6. Tallinn has a sweet local spirit
Vana Tallinn is one of the city’s hallmark products. It’s a sweet and spicy liquer made from all-natural ingredients, including Jamaican rum, herbs, spices oranges and lemons. Master distiller Ilse Maar invented the syrupy spirit in 1960. You’ll find it served hot and cold, straight with ice or mixed into cocktails or coffee. With 45% alcohol content, it will get you quietly sozzled quickly too.
7. There’s a 500-year-old pharmacy in Tallinn
Suffering from blisters with all that pounding the pavements? Hayfever playing up in the summer sunshine? Hotfoot to the Tallinn Town Hall Pharmacy in the Old Town. It’s been open for more than 500 years, so you could say they know what they’re talking about.
First mentioned in records in 1422, the pharmacy is the oldest in Europe that has been continually operated on the same premises. Back then, the city’s dignitaries would have been pharmacists here. For a deeper insight into the pharmacy, there’s a museum next door.