I love the Old Towns of Europe, I also like the cities that surround them.
The cobble stone roads, the buildings, the colors, the sounds, the sights of them and the feeling you get wandering around them imagining what history they have been through. I even like the pigeons!
I find them quintessentially European. They are living history.
Being from a Young Nation like Australia, we have none of this old world history or architecture to appreciate in our home land.
Tallinn Estonia – Old Town
Medieval cobblestone lanes and iron street lamps. Gothic roofs and spires, medieval markets, bars, clubs and restaurants. Cappuccino and Wi-Fi. This is the city’s famous Old Town. If you’re looking for that mix of history and Old World feel and ambiance Tallinn is where you’ll find it. In 1997 Tallinn Old Town become a protected UNESCO world Heritage Site and rightly so. It is magnificent, beautiful and welcoming.
Built up from the 13th to 16th centuries when Tallinn – or Reval as it was known then – was a thriving member of the Hanseatic Trade League. The Hanseatic League in the middle ages was like the EU of now. It was comprised of many cities with port access that traded all over Europe. Tallinn Old Town enclosed neighborhoods of colorful, gabled houses, half-hidden courtyards and magnificent churches, is rightly so the main attraction of Tallinn. We would be hard pressed to say their is a better Old Town in Europe. The fact that it is all neatly located in a small compact area within a mostly-intact city wall, dotted with guard towers, gives it an extra dose of medieval fairy tale charm. Another one of the Old Town charms is the atmosphere…it is amazing. Bec, the Girls and I loved wandering the Old Town Square with the shops that sold lace, little hand made wooden toys and looking at the dressed up waitresses in their medieval costumes. Some of the restaurants are themed for medieval times and one of Bec’s favourite shops was one that sold what one would use “back in the day”!
Medieval defensive structures have protected Tallinn from being destroyed, invaded or sacked in countless wars throughout its history. Even today the city wall is still a very impressive structure with its fantastic red roofed turrents! As you wander around the wall you can be completely amazed by its strength and what it must have endured to protect the city and its people. Tallinn’s lack of wooden buildings has kept the fire damages low as well. Something that has also kept Tallinn unique is that it has not been massively rebuilt or ‘improved’ in the interest of modernizing the town and sacrificing the old.
We stayed at Maestro Old Town when we where in Tallinn which we would highly recommend. It is just on the inside edge of the old town and a walk of about 200 meters will have you in the town square ready to explore its magnificence!
Krakow Poland -Old Town
Krakow’s Old Town was among the first sites chosen by UNESCO to be on the World Heritage list in September of 1994
The Old Town is known in Polish as Stare Miasto. The Old Town Square is unique from many other Old Town squares in Europe by the fact that it has a building right smack in the middle of it! In this building, there is a market that is very popular with tourists and sells many traditional Polish Souvenirs. Needless to say, my wife loved it and still kicks herself for things that she did not buy here! It was full of handmade wooden jewelry boxes, cloth dolls, glass-works, amber stone, and lace! The lace was so delicate, soft and made into so many different things.
Most people enter the Old Town via the Royal Road. This road was used throughout history by the Kings of Poland on their way to their coronation. Once through St Florian’s Gate you are entering upon the Old Town Square in a few hundred meters.
We had 2 very good traditional Polish meals in restaurants on this street. It is full of traditional restaurants and the one we ended up in one night was right down under the street level! It was in an old cellar and was decorated in a very rustic way that made it feel like there wasn’t a bustling street above us. Like most Old Towns, there is no shortage of places to eat, drink, buy souvenirs or change money. Remember Poland still uses it own currency, not the Euro.
Krakow Old Town Square is among the largest of any Old Town Squares in Europe.
The Old Square is full of pigeons, maybe the most friendly pigeons in Europe. My daughter Marley has developed a reputation in our family as “The Pigeon Chaser”. She see’s pigeons, she chases pigeons, she scares pigeons. It’s her thing and she does it well. Krakow was a bit of an oxymoron for our Marley. She wanted to chase, she wanted to scare, but those darn Krakow pigeons were just too friendly and stood their ground! They also happily landed on her, they flew around her and in the end they won her over!
The Old Town is also littered with many Churches. Poland has a very high rate of Catholic Church attendees and some of the Churches are well worth seeing. The inside of Kościół Mariacki church which is in the Old Town Square is amazing and a must see.
The Old Town also incorporates Wawel Castle which is a must see in Krakow and the home to Polish Royalty throughout history. You can find a post about Wawel castle in our archives on this website.
We stayed at the Dragon Hostel when in Krakow its about 500 meters from the Old Town, good price, and a nice place to stay. It has a small market just down the road that has everyday items for sale as well as fruit and vegetables, meat and flowers. While walking to the Old Town from Dragon Hostel there are many lovely monuments to look at as you go!
Don’t forget to visit the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine if you are in Krakow for a few days. It is an amazing UNESCO site full of history, sculpture, and art.