The Danish King's Garden is an open, garden-like area at the Toompea Hill. It is hidden behind remains of the old Tallinn City Wall and two of the defensive towers; Neitsitorn (the Virgin's Tower) and Tallitorn (the Stable Tower).
The place is called the Danish King's Garden because it was here that Danish crusaders – led by King Valdemar II - camped before conquering Toompea Castle in 1219. But the garden also happens to be the legendary birthplace of the Danish flag... According to a story, the Danes were losing the battle against the Estonians when suddenly a flag (red with a white cross) fell from the sky. A holy sign from heaven, resulting in a Danish victory... Today, there is a monument - honoring the legend - with an iron sword and a shield with the Danish flag.
There has been a castle here on the top of Toompea Hill since the 10th or 11th century. It was taken over by Danish crusaders – led by King Valdemar II – in 1219, and they called it "Castle of the Danes" or "Town of the Danes", which in old Estonian can be translated as "Taani(n) linna" = "Tallinn".
Only the walls of the old castle and the Pikk Hermann tower remain today. Instead a new and modern palace was built in 1922, and it houses the Parliament of Estonia (the Riigikogu). I don't know if it is open to visitors...
Definitely worth a look on a sunny day is Toompea, the hill to the southwest of the Old Town. Stroll up the hill, past the Russian cathedral, and on to Toompea Castle, home of the Riigikogu, or Estonian Parliament. Enjoy the architecture and the various scenic viewpoints along the edges of the hill. The castle itself can be toured free of charge (see the website for details), but it was a nice day (plus it was a Sunday morning when I visited), so I stayed outside and enjoyed the views.
Toompea Castle is a medieval castle and is now the seat of Estonian parliament. Every invader to Estonia had used the castle as its base. The castle has been destroyed by different invaders but the original castle the Tall Pikk Hermann Tower still standing and today proudly flies the Estonian flag. The baroque architecture pink color building is not the original castle, and it was built by Catherine the Great of Russia.
Toompea is a steep hill at the top of the old city. The Danes built Toompea Castle here in 1219, but nothing remains of it today. The Knights of the Sword rebuilt it in the 13th century and some of their towers remain - especially Pikk Hermann (Tall Herman).
We did not get a photo of Tall Herman, but when you climb the hill, you start seeing the buildings of the current Toompea Castle with the current Parliament Building of the Republic of Estonia - the Riigikogu when you are at Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which is opposite it.
The castle complex is made up of several parts: the west wall and the Tall Hermann tower belong to the medieval fortress of the Order of the Brothers of the Sword, the Government Administration building represents the Czarist era and is classic in style, and the building of the Riigikogu, in the castle courtyard, was built in the beginning of the 1920s.
You can get to Toompea Hill from 2 rather funny-named streets, Long Leg & Short Leg street. The slanting road of Long Leg was suffiently wide & paved with cobblestones, it was used mainly for horses with carts. Short Leg was built in the 13th century, because of the steep gradient, this street is suitable only for pedestratrians and is now covered with stone stairs. For the safety of the people living there then, gate & gate towers were built on both streets.
Toompea is connected with the lower town throught these 2 streets. On the map, the 2 streets (or 2 legs) are of apparent distinct length, hence, Tallinn was jokingly called the "limping town".
Toompea Castle sits 50 metres above sea level on top of Toompea Hill in the Upper Town of the Old Town. Nothing exists of the original Danish castle built in 1219, but three of the corner towers of the later castle, built between 1227 and 1229 by the Knights of the Sword, still stand today. The most impressive of these towers is Pikk Hermann which is topped by the Estonian National Flag.
The castle itself still retains an important function in modern Estonia as it is the seat of the Riigikogu - Estonia's Parliament.
From the front of the building, the castle looks more like a stately masion than a castle, due to the pink baroque facade, which was built in the 18th century, during refurbishment work during the time of Catherine the Great.
From the otherside, which you can view from the beautiful gardens laid out on the west side of Toompea Hill, you can see the more stereotypically 'castle' look of the building!
You can visit the interior of the castle but through appointment only.
The other 'half' of the Old Town of Tallinn is Toompea or the Upper Town, which sits on a hill overlooking the Lower Town.
Toompea was the traditional seat of power for Medieval Tallinn and still contains Estonia's Parliament Buildings.
As well as the interesting sights around Toompea, such as The Russian Orthodox Church, Parliament Buildings, Parts of the town wall and towers, Kiek-in-de-Kok Tower, Toomkirk and the Castle to name just a few, the Upper Town also offers spectacular views out over the Lower Town and further on into New Tallinn. There are several great vantage points to take in the views.
The Upper Town, like the Lower Town, also offers a maze of old cobblestone streets and lanes which are great to expore on foot. Many of the majestic buildings on Toompea are embassies of different nations.
The following tips give more detail on individual sights in the Upper Old Town
From Toompea Hill you can see the castle and the magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. And you can also access some of the best views not only of the Old Town but also of the New City of Tallinn and the Harbour.
The castle of Toompea is both old and new. One side of it with Tall Herman tower is medieval and another side is more new - even from beginning of XX century. Construction of medieval brick castle started in 1219, when Tallinn was conquered by Danes. Much later, in 1767-1773, when Estonia's territory was ruled by Tsarist Russia, the Estonian government administration building was added to Toompea. In 1922 on some parts of demolished Toompea castle Parliament building was constructed - now it was at independent Estonia times.
At the moment Toompea castle is the seat of the Parliament of the Republic of Estonia. I think it is not possible to go inside as to museum.
Toompea hill is the birthplace of Tallinn. The oldest fortress stood on this hill and gradually the old town and the city grew around it. The Toompea and the old town have only a couple of open passages, and otherwise they are separated by walls. In fact, the place has been a separate town with its own administration and special rights. Toompea was joined with Tallinn ("lower town") in 1878.
Nowadays, Toompea is the home of Estonian parliament and government. The hill is not very large, so it can be explored by feet in a couple of hours. There are magnificent views over the city from several viewpoints. There are two churches, one Lutheran and one Orthodox that are both worth of visit.
The “short way” to access Toompea hill is more like a sequence of stairs. They start close to Niguliste church. Like Pikk Jalg, also this one has a beautiful medieval gatehouse. But this one is said to be haunted, people say that a crucified monk or a black dog with burning eyes have appeared there. You see, almost every old building in Tallinn has its own legend.
Pikk Jalg is the “long way” to access Toompea hill. This street starts down in the lower old town at Pikk Jalg gatehouse and ends close to the Alexander Nevsky cathedral. Although it is the only road connecting Toompea Hill with the rest of the old town, cars are seen quite seldom here. However, many tourists use it on the way to the sights of Toompea. The beautiful gate house was finished in 1380.
Not the grandest castle on earth, but from Toompea Hill, you will get amazing views over old town, and wider Tallinn, including the harbour.
Can be a tricky walk up the cobbles in winter.
There are a maze of back streets and alleyway to explore as you head on up to the top.
Also up here is the (I think) Canadian embassy which is meant to be haunted. We didn't see any ghosts, it was far too cold for them.
Toompea Castle is seen as the oldest part of Tallinn, but unfortunately not much remains of the original castle. A wooden fortress is said to be here since the 9th century, but under danish rule, a stone castle replaced it in 1219. Today’s watchtowers were added around 10 years later and these are (together with the western wall) the only true remains of this old castle. The pink baroque palace was added by Catherine the Great and completed in 1773. A parliament building was added in 1920 after Estonia became an independet state in 1918. That one is located in the inner court and not visible from outside. The Riigikogu (estonian parliament) did not came together during the time of Soviet occupation (1940 – 1991), but after estonia became an independet state again, also the Riigikogu came back to life.
Visits are only possible by appointment. To find out more about the most famous of the remaining towers, check out my tip about “Pikk Hermann”.