The historic heart of Estonia's capital city is referred to as Old Town. This part of the city is centuries old, build between the 13th and 16th century. At the time it was known as Reval and a member of the Hanseatic trade league. With its twisting cobblestone lanes, Hanseatic architecture, gabled houses, half-hidden courtyards and many churches, Tallinn's Old Town has earned its place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
In the past Tallinn's city centre was divided into two areas. The lower town, locally known as All-linn, is one of Europe's best preserved medieval cities, whereas the upper town, Toompea, has always been the seat of power. Toompea sits on a high limestone hill, while All-linn sits at the foot of the hill. Together they form an beautiful skyline which is visible from both land and sea.
In the centre of Old Town, you'll find the city's biggest tourist draw, Town Hall Square with its Town Hall and its tower. There has been a Raekoja plats, as it is known in Estonian, in Tallinn since at least 1322. Tallinn's Town Hall is a Gothic building with a tall spire dominating the square.
In summer the square is packed with café tables and is the site for open-air concerts, fairs and medieval markets. Each winter, the square is home to the town's Christmas tree and a Christmas market. In early June the square hosts the Old Town Days Festival, a modern version of a medieval carnival with concerts, exhibitions, theatre plays, fairs and plenty of other fun activities.
One of the major sights of the lower town include the city wall and its towers. The limestone wall was originally almost 4 km with 8 gates and 46 towers. Today almost 2 km of the wall and 20 defensive towers remain standing.
In the northwest corner of Old Town, you will find the Nunna, Sauna and Kuldjala towers and the wall connection them open to visitors. You can climb up at Nunna tower and if you are not afraid of heights walk on top of the wall, which reaches as high as 14 to 16 meters.
Tallinn has more than 20 churches, most of them can be found in Old Town. On Toompea Hill you'll find two of the cities best known church sights, the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the St. Mary's Cathedral, also known as the Dome Church.
St. Mary's is a medieval church in the centre of Toompea Hill. First established before 1233, the cathedral has been rebuilt multiple times since then which has resulted in a mix of architectural styles. Its vaulted main body dates back to the 14th century, while its Baroque tower was added in the late 1770s.
The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Estonia's main Russian Orthodox cathedral. The onion-domed structure is perched atop Toompea Hill. Built in 1900, the church is richly decorated with mosaics and icons. The church's towers hold Tallinn's most powerful church bells, consisting of 11 bells. You can hear the bells playing before each service.
The southwest corner of Tallinn's Old Town has always been the seat of power of Estonia. The first stone fortress was built here by the German Knights of the Sword in the early 13th century and every foreign empire that has ever ruled over Estonia has used the castle as its base. Today, Toompea Castle houses the Estonian Parliament, the Riigikogu.
Due to continued rebuilds and redesigns the castle looks very different depending on where you stand. From the front, the castle looks like a pink, Baroque palace dating to the time of Catherine the Great. From the back, at the base of the hill, the castle shows its medieval side. And at the castle's southern edge, from the Governor's Garden, the 46-metre Pikk Hermann tower is easily recognisable. According to tradition, whichever nation flies its flag over the Pikk Hermann rules the country.
Aside from its many historical sights, Old Town is also home to many of Tallinn's cultural sights. The city has a long-standing café culture, which has always revolved around the Old Town. From Maiasmokk, the city's oldest café to Pierre Chocolaterie in the hidden Master's Courtyard and a great number of others. Old Town's café's are not to be missed.
Finally, Old Town is home to many museums, some are housed in old defensive towers. One of the most impressive of these is the Kiek in de Kök Fortifications Museum. Once this was the mightiest artillery tower in the Baltics, today it tells the story of the towns fortifications with underground passages and cannons.
Other museums Tallinn's Old Town include the Niguliste Museum, the Estonian Theatre and Music Museum, the Tallinn Museum of Ordes of Knighthood and the Museum of Photography in the Town Council's former prison.