Tallinn, formerly known as Reval, was once part of the Hanseatic trade league. Its colorful, gabled houses; courtyards; and grand churches still stand today. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage destination, and many of its buildings date back to the 11th century. Typically described as a mystical setting, a walk through town can inspire poets, romantics, and history lovers with a sense of being drawn back in time. They can walk upon the original cobblestone streets to get to medieval churches, old barns, and merchant houses all still standing in their original locations, many retaining their original features with some slight renovation where necessary. For the large part, the original details have been left untouched. That's not to say that modernity hasn't entered Old Town. There are an equal number of entertainment options in the form of restaurants, bars, outdoor and cellar cafes, pubs, designer stores, galleries, museums, and more.
Tallinn's authenticity has been preserved largely because of the protection it has been afforded by its high city walls and defensive structures, providing protection against several wars in the region. Fire damage has been kept at bay by the lack of wooden structures. Taking a walk along the city wall, you could count up to 26 watch towers keeping guard over the city. Near the Viru gates, an original section of an ancient wall stands preserved against the test of time. St. Olaf's Church, built in the 15th or 16th century, was once the tallest building in the world thanks to its 159-metre tower; it is currently used for services by a Baptist church. Dating back to the 13th century, St. Nicholas' Church sustained a great deal of damage from Soviet bombs; after its restoration, it was turned into an art museum and concert hall and boasts a famous wall painting by Bernt Notke.
Toompea Castle, home to the Estonian Parliament, is just up a hill. Nearby is Stenbock House, the Estonian prime minister's office, and Aleksand Nevsky Cathedral, the city's largest Orthodox church.
Among the hotels in Tallinn, quite a few stand out for being part of the city's charm; they not only preserve the medieval sense of the city but are often housed in authentic medieval buildings. Living in these accommodations is an experience in itself, and each visit can bring new surprises.
Here are the top authentic hotels in Tallinn, each hotel on this list offers high-quality service and incredible value within its market niche. We will start with the most luxurious and costly hotels and move towards the more affordable options.
5-star hotel, housed in 13th and 14th century buildings
The Schlössle, a 5-star hotel in every sense of the word, is housed in a 13th century building that still stands on the same narrow cobblestoned street, called Holy Spirit Street, where other warehouses and merchant houses from the period once stood. The road was once one of the city's primary thoroughfares from the central market to the city harbor. In this very area, where tourists now walk, was a thriving merchant community that lived and traded here for over 500 years.
The corner of Pühavaimu and Vene Street, once known as Monk's Street, was mentioned in medieval texts all the way back in 1363. At the time, the area now occupied by the hotel was home to large stone warehouses; their original owner, according to the earliest records available, was a Tallinn alderman, or "Consul." He was known for decorating his home in gold-colored stone and coffer-vaulted stairways.
In 1464, the bürgermeister Marquart Bretholt bought the house, and six years later, he purchased the buildings on the corner of Vene Street, which was known as Munga Street at the time. A single entrance to the inner courtyard was available through the gothic arched portal of the gate building, which also held storage rooms and living chambers. Consul Bretholt walked through here each day from the town hall, and it still stands today.
As the centuries passed, the group of buildings passed through the hands of numerous distinguished owners. The neighboring properties were owned by prestigious families of noble origin, such as Blanckenhagen, Viant, Hetling, van Husen, Schlovin, and Intelmann. But then, in 1710, as Russian forces lay siege on Tallinn, the black plague spread like wildfire, leaving the storehouses and grand homes abandoned for many years.
Renowned merchant Wilhelm Brinck bought the twin storehouses in 1739. They both underwent restoration and reconstruction, where extensive changes were made to their design. For instance, the gothic triangular gables were removed, and the cellars as well as the ground floors of both buildings were vaulted.
The ceilings were all replaced, and the facade's stone-framed windows were replaced with baroque ones. Only a few of the original stone framed doorways, windows and ventilation openings were left in the restored building. The base walls were still the same though and the entire structure is considered a baroque-gothic style. As demand for residential space went up, heating became an issue, and tiled stoves with blue paint were added. In some of the rooms, one can still see the paintings of acanthus leaves on the ceiling, where storage spaces were converted to luxury living quarters.
The modern-day Schlössle Hotel allows visitors a close look at these authentic structural details, from the central chimney to the stone portals and tiny spiral staircases. Even the bedrooms have eccentric features such as niches in the walls and irregular corners. Decorated with antique furniture in addition to modern conveniences, including iPads and free WiFi, these hotel rooms are the perfect place to reconnect with a historical setting while enjoying a luxury vacation. Some rooms focus more on modernity, while others incorporate a highly rustic design. Even the public spaces greet guests with murals covering stone walls and tiny twinkling lights setting the mood alongside crackling fireplaces. At night, candles line the perimeter of the open courtyard, adding to its romantic appeal. In the public dining room, guests will find wooden furniture and a warm hearth, adding a cozy touch. St. Petersbourg Hotel
Posh 5 star hotel, recently refurbished
The St. Petersbourg Hotel is said to be the oldest hotel in Tallinn. Dating back to the 14th century, its name came up in 1373 for the first time in association with the widow of Burgermeister Peter Stokstrop. It was redesigned by Christian August Gabler, a famous architect, in 1850, which made it the oldest hotel in operation in the area.
The revolution in Estonia during the 1940s saw the hotel falling under the control of the Soviet Union, which nationalized it on November 22, 1940. During this era, the hotel was used as the primary accommodation of government officials, including Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet party leader and head of state. At the time, the hotel was called "Hotel Rataskaevu."
Once the Soviets left, the hotel was renovated in 1999, at which point, its name was changed to "St. Petersbourg." Renovations began in 2013 and were completed by early 2014. The interior decor was updated during this time as well under the guidance of the British interior design agency, Andrew Martin. The Three Sisters
Luxury boutique accommodation in a medieval style hotel
The Three Sisters is another group of old buildings that was converted into a hotel. In its original incarnation as three individual merchant houses dating back to 1362, ownership passed between guild elders, burgomasters, and town councilors. Many of them travelled overseas often. Today, the hotel welcomes visitors from across the world, continuing this tradition of cross-border relationships.
In 2000, architect Martinus Schuurman, a Dutchman who lived in Helsinki, and interior designer Külli Salum decided to work together to restore the three buildings and turn them into a single hotel, despite the challenge of its varying floors. There was no entrance hall or central lobby, so a traditional hotel format would not have been possible. Rather, based on inspiration from Zurich's Widder Hotel, Schuurman allowed the hotel's design to flow with the inherent irregularities of the buildings when joined. What results is an organic flow of walkways, staircases, galleries, and rooms.
Legal restrictions were applied to these renovations to ensure that the original nature of the structure was preserved. This is done with all historical sites throughout the city. As a result, modern materials such as chrome, glass, and plastic had to be kept to a minimum, while the new staircases and doors had wood finishes. A team of carpenters hand-built the staircases, doors, and window shutters in line with designs and methods used in the medieval era but incorporating clean, modern finishes.
Local law mandated that skylights cannot be visible from St. Olaf's Cathedral's tower. Since this tower is right next door to the hotel, this law created a challenge when the builders tried to find ways to improve the amount of natural daylight filtering into the structure.
Once Schuurman had created the singular structure of the three buildings, Salum got to work on decorating the interiors in a way that maintained its distinctive characteristics. Using the tools of furnishings, color, light, and layout, the houses were given the attributes of three women. Under the designer's plan, the youngest sister, as the family bohemian, holds five rooms. Her love of art is seen in the photography adorning the walls and her eclectic preferences are alive in the contrasts between contemporary and medieval furniture. The second sister, with seven rooms, has a chic personality. Her preference for classic beauty is seen in the rooms' collection of antique furnishings from all parts of Estonia. The eldest sister, with eight small rooms, has a lively party-loving personality. As a result, her rooms reflect contemporary furnishings, with some pieces coming from Casamilano and various designs being contributed by Le Corbusier.
In the rest of the hotel, oiled natural oak planks are found in the corridors along with the original limestone. Wool/jute carpets from the Netherlands can be found on the floors. The guestrooms have oiled oak parquet flooring and oiled merbau parquet, which is a dark wood that intensifies as it ages. Even the sales office hasn't escaped the medieval touch, boasting an authentic 15th century limestone floor.
Plaster and natural water-based paints are used on the walls, and all the doors have been painted with natural linen oil-based paints.
Original elements discovered throughout the original buildings have been restored and added to the decor. These include a wooden crane that was once used to carry stores into the house as well as intricate ceiling frescos that were discovered accidentally under as many as 14 layers of paint and wallpaper.
The classical furniture and some of the contemporary pieces have mostly been imported from Italy. These include chairs from Vibieffe and sofas from Pianca. The cowhide loungers are based on an original design produced by Le Corbusier. The counters, full-length mirrors and red wardrobes in the guestrooms were designed by Salum, who had them custom-built in Estonia. The Angels' Room features rococo chairs that were found in local antique shops along with the chandeliers featured in the breakfast room and the lobby.
The bathtubs came from Jacob Delafon of France, while the chrome tabs and fittings were from Godio of Italy. Brazilian slate floors and white Carrera marble wall panels are found in all the bathrooms.
As for the neighborhood, The Three Sisters is located on Pikk Street, which was the city's main thoroughfare during the Middle Ages. Paved in the 15th century, it was once a trading hub where spices, grains, and meats were sold as bargains were negotiated and horse carriages drove past. The area has borne witness to plagues, fires, economic crises, wars, and civil unrest, and the hotel, formed in 2003, is one special part of its ongoing history.
The CRU Hotel
Luxury boutique hotel in the Old Town
CRU Hotel is one of many that features late medieval architecture. Housed in a 15th century merchant home, the four-star hotel is decorated with antique furnishings and wooden accents but offers all the necessary modern conveniences in its 16 guest rooms. Every single one of the rooms is perfectly unique in its theme and style, just as one would see in a boutique hotel, but they all offer a modern bathroom with luxury toiletries and bathrobes, free WiFi, a flat-screen TV, a private safe, and a minibar. Guests can choose a room design based on a need for intimacy or luxury.
The public areas are all air conditioned, and one gets to the rooms via long winding hallways and staircases; disabled guests are given special rooms on the ground floor for their convenience. The panoramic view at the top though is spectacular. From here, you can look out at the city of Tallinn and take in the view in almost the same way as the house's original owner would have done centuries ago, though some of the cityscape will have changed a bit.
For an excellent street-level view of Tallinn, guests can head to Restaurant Cru, where they'll dine on authentic French and Estonian cuisine made by award-winning chefs. The buffet breakfast is served here each day; it includes bacon and eggs, cold cuts, fruit, and cereals, served with sparkling wine. Special orders can be taken with advance notice for business lunches. Only the best quality, freshest ingredients are used in these dishes, as a nod to the hotel's vision to provide a down-to-earth, atmospheric but cozy atmosphere combined with first-class service, balancing the old with the new.
When renovating the house, the hotel management paid due respect to the original architecture and to the government's strict national heritage protection requirements, which mandate that both the location and design of the rooms must stay true to the house's original concept. In fact, it boasts being one of Tallinn's oldest, most authentic houses, featuring the original stone and wood architecture. Design elements in some of the rooms are more than 600 years old, with centuries-old limestone walls and wooden beams. The Merchant's House
Great value boutique hotel
Merchant's House possesses two properties: one dating back to the 14th century and another to the 16th century. Guests have the option of an atmospheric accommodation, surrounded by living history, or a more contemporary environment.
Boasting 37 rooms, this boutique hotel features a whole range of interesting design elements, from wooden-beamed ceilings, winding passageways, hand-painted fresco molds, balconies, and hidden staircases to its elaborate medieval-era facade, fully restored fireplaces, and a courtyard dining area that opens during the summertime.
From the rooms, guests can look out onto the cobblestone streets of Tallinn or the hotel's inner courtyard. The rooms themselves vary in design, with some bearing brick walls, wood-burning fireplaces, niches, and more. All of them are very elegantly decorated for maximum comfort and most come equipped with free WiFi, depending on the thickness of the old walls. For an even more historic feel, guests can take one of the double rooms with courtyard access or the courtyard suite, which features original limestone floors, an open-period fireplace, and old brick walls; as a modern touch, it also offers a private sauna for two.
Even the bathrooms come in a range of styles, with some featuring clawfoot bathtubs, steps into a lowered bathroom, and farmhouse sinks. The merchant suite has an open-plan bedroom and lounge area, a French-style bath with a standalone screen for privacy, a built-in wardrobe in a 14th century stairwell, and the hand-painted wooden-beam ceiling. Perhaps the grandest suite is the Presidential Suite, featuring the original facade wall, dating back to the 14th century, inclusive of the original wooden frame windows. There's also a wooden staircase leading down to the suite's second floor to a balcony overlooking this facade. Another staircase right next to it will take you to the suite's children's room.
Less expensive options for accommodation
Among the more inexpensive choices for a medieval experience in Tallinn are the Meriton Old Town Garden Hotel
, which was built in the 16th century as a merchant house, and St. Olav Hotel
, which is housed in a 15th century house. Although the latter has not made as much of an effort as The Three Sisters and Schlossle to preserve authenticity, it does provide decent accommodations for a good price where the rooms and facade feature pseudo-gothic design. Rooms at Meriton Old Town Garden Hotel can go for approximately 60 euros as a starting price, while rooms at St. Olav tend to be priced at around 100-150 euros.
More contemporary hotels The Telegraaf
5 star spa hotel
The Telegraaf Hotel was built in the Old Town on Vene Street 9 in 1878. The architect Peter Schreiberg from St. Petersburg designed it as a four-storey house, and the two uppermost floors were added much later.
As Tallinn's economy started booming, the citizens were in need of appropriate banking services. To meet this demand, the famous Handelsbank, which had branches across Germany and Russia, occupied the ground floor, and the upper floors were turned into elegant apartments.
The bank closed at the start of World War I, and in resisting the Bolshevik Revolution, Estonia gained its independence. In 1918, the Telegraaf House became the main centre of communications, offering postal and full telephone services to the public.
The telegraph exchange station also played a significant role in the December 1924 coup attempt. Early in the morning on December 1, local Communist hit squads, guided by the Soviet Union, attacked strategic sites in Tallinn, planning to take over the post office and send a telegram to Soviet troops, who were waiting nearby for their signal. The plan was foiled when Estonian General Ernst Põdder, who happened to be in the neighborhood, saw what was happening and took back the station with the help of a handful of officers. On the staircase in the building, he shot a rebel taking aim at him from a higher floor. His officers killed another five, two of whom were trying to send the telegram. Thus, the coup failed, and the Republic of Estonia was saved.
After a period of peace, World War II broke out. In 1944, Tallinn was under fire from the air. Vene Street and Telegraaf House suffered a great deal of damage. However, telegraphic and postal services continued right up until 1991, when parts of the building were turned into offices, and the rest was used to store what was left of the telecommunications company. In 2005, the damaged wing was rebuilt. Eventually, the hotel opened its doors in its latest incarnation as a five-star luxury hotel.
The Baltic Hotel Imperial
Enjoyable stay on a small budget
The Baltic Hotel Imperial was built in 1877 and part of it rests against an original section of the historic town wall. This is unusual because until that period, city authorities had placed strategic importance on ensuring there was sufficient free space between the city wall and the buildings within the city. Once the city wall lost strategic importance to the bastions, circa the 17th century, the first data on residences touching the wall were recorded.
By the second half of the 19th century, the von Stackelberg family had gained ownership of the building. In 1919, the hotel, featuring 13 rooms, and the restaurant Imperial were opened. The most frequent guests were Finnish volunteer soldiers sent to Tallinn by the headquarters of the Estonian Relief Organization once the war had ended. In celebration of the cessation of the fighting, the Imperial was often filled with people dancing and singing. This didn't last long, as the Soviet-Russian embassy moved into the hotel only a year later. However, as of 1924, the Imperial was known as Tallinn's most famous dancing venue. A popular girls' orchestra performed in the evenings, adding to its allure. On the ground floor of the hotel was a beer restaurant that remained in place until 1980.
During Soviet times, the hotel was called "Balti." The Baltic Hotel Imperial has operated as a hotel under its current name since the early 20th century. After some light restoration work, it reopened for business in June 2003, offering business class rooms with luxurious furnishings. All items of historic value in the hotel have been carefully preserved in line with regulations. The Von Stackelberg
Eco-friendly spa hotel
Another excellent hotel is the Von Stackelberg. It isn't priced too high, making it accessible to the average traveler in search of a historical experience while in Tallinn. The Stackelbergs were first mentioned in historical documents as a vassal family based in Dorpat (Tartu). Henricus de Stakilberg and Dorpat citizen Johannes Dives were both mentioned in a bond issue, dated February 15, 1306, listed on a debt register for Riga. A Reval document from 1341 contains the seal of Knappen Arnoldus Stackelberg, who was a co-representative of the City of Dorpat. In 1389, Bishop Dietrich lent Belgel house and its surrounding lands to Johann Stackelberg, the son of Arnolds Jr.
The officially documented family line starts with Arent Stackelberg. His son, Peter Stackelberg acquired the manors of Lynepith in the parish of Camby (Kambja), Camby, along with other properties in 1504 before his death in 1545.
He had four sons, and their descendants travelled throughout Estonia, Livland, and Ösel. Many were recorded in the region's knights' matriculation register before the Brotherhoods of Knights were even founded. Some branches of the family have spread to Russia, Sweden, and Finland.
Unique Hotels Tallinn has a long history of association with the von Stackelberg family in Estonia. Baron Theophil von Stackelberg commissioned the house in 1874, and it was completed in the following year. The baron lived in the house with his family for six years. It was then sold in 1881 to Dr. Johannes Fick.
The conference facility, which is located in the hotel courtyard, was once an old horse stable on the original estate; it was built alongside the rest of the house, which was considered a city estate.
Various members of the von Stackelberg family had previously owned similar city estates across Tallinn, as well as numerous manor houses and estates in parishes across Estonia.