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Photo by: Mart Vares / EAS

Photo by: Paul Kuimet

These Tallinn nature spots are locals' secret favourite places

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By Stuart Garlick  •  26.06.2019

Tallinn, as you'll be reminded frequently by locals, is a small city in a small country, and that has huge benefits for you when you pay a visit to the capital. Tallinn has always been known for its large expanses of greenery, even amid urban development that continues at a high speed, and so for a nature-spotter who loves the comfort and luxury of staying in a city, it has everything that you could desire. Here are some of the nature spots within the city limits of Tallinn that get overlooked in many of the guidebooks, but deserve to be seen.

Rannamägi (Skoone Bastion)

One of Tallinn’s inner-city parks, Rannamägi sits close to the Old Town and the port, making it perfect for a quick trip into hidden nature straight from a shopping trip or a ride on the ferry from Helsinki. What’s great about it is that, unlike a great deal of Tallinn, it possesses some quite striking undulations, bringing excellent views of Old Tallinn, the sea, and Kalamaja, depending on what angle you are standing at. 

When you enter from the Balti Jaam side, you walk up a steep hill, past a table tennis table, a skate park, and a well-appointed children’s playground. Keep going past those, and you reach a hill overlooking the public sports pitch next to Linnahall tram stop, a place which is almost always quiet, as so relatively few people visit it, compared to the better-known Old Town parks. 

Although the grass and shrubbery was overgrown when I visited, this adds, in a way, to the feeling of being in a place that time forgot. The easy access from Rannamägi to transport links, including tram, bus, and rail, is another reason to break off from your daily routine for a little bit of time with the birds and trees.

Männiku Quarry

For reasons related to its history in Soviet times, when it was part of an increased industrialisation of the Estonian countryside, and because of well-founded rumours about what went on there in the 1990s, the quarry in the Tallinn suburb of Männiku has a complex place in Estonians’ picture of their country. 

In spite of this, or perhaps because of it (it’s not a place that is overrun with people), Männiku quarry is a tremendous place to while away the hours. Get off the train at Männiku, and safely cross the railway line, and you come to uncharted territory, at least to most tourists. This is the end of the longest Tallinn city bus line, number 5, which goes from the area around Kose tee, Pirita, over to Männiku, and used to take workers to their long, demanding tasks. 

These days, the quarry is still active over part of its length, and you must also be aware of areas that may sometimes host military exercises, but the majority of the track bordering the man-made lakes of the quarry is open to the public, and this is fantastic news, as it means vast expanses of sloped sand on beaches that feel as secret as anything from a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, but far more special. If you visit at the right time, you may notice a swan taking a graceful path over the clear lake. 

The utterly striking Rummu Quarry may capture the international headlines, but only around 25 minutes from the centre of Tallinn is another hand-carved treasure to be admired and enjoyed.

Kiili and Mooni tänav (Mustamäe / Kristiine)

Not by any means the first place you would think of as a nature spot, Mustamäe is mostly dominated by Soviet and modern apartment blocks, and by the offices of tech companies, as well as the Taltech campus. There is an exception to this, if you take a closer look.

In between the two main avenues leading from Mustamäe into the city centre (Sõpruse puiestee and Mustamäe tee), there is a series of narrow streets, in which you can find charming little houses, trees filled with birds, and a place that feels like it existed before Tallinn was built up into a metropolis. That’s because it was. These are streets and houses, amid considerable greenery, that are exactly how they were before the mass industrialisation of the city and the building of the 1960s tower blocks. Life goes on in reserved quiet, with the two major trunk roads far enough away to be almost inaudible. Take a walk from Mustamäe up to Endla tänav, then you find yourself back in the familiar comfortable surroundings of central Tallinn. Go there, and you get a time-capsule picture of what life must have been like more than half a century ago.

Close by is Löwenruh Park, which it could be said is equally underrated - it’s a place much-loved by local residents, but rarely visited by tourists, but perfect for an hour’s strolling and chatting, especially if you’ve had your fill of Old-Town Tallinn for the day.

Pae Park

Of the many parks dotted around Tallinn, Pae Park (pae means ‘limestone’) is one of the least-remarked-upon, and that’s partly a result of its location, wedged into the part of the curate’s egg Lasnamäe district, close to the T1 and Ülemiste shopping centres, and the airport, with Kumu art museum a kilometre to the other side. There is also a perhaps understandable tendency of Estonians local to Tallinn to talk up natural landmarks at the expense of equally beautiful post-industrial reclamations such as this.

It’s easy to ignore or miss Pae Park, once also a quarry, because of the yarn-ball of roads surrounding it, but that’s unfortunate, because this overlooked masterpiece of corrective landscape architecture has man-made elevations and a voluminous lake which, while it may not have the cleanest water, is certainly picturesque. There are plenty of vantage points at which to sit and admire the view, and the rare-for-Tallinn undulations are fantastic for dog-walkers who haven’t the energy for the forest.

A tip for those who want to give Pae Park a try: go there in the morning or early afternoon, then round out your day with a couple of exhibitions at Kumu, which is easily accessible by foot. If you’re lucky, you might be in the park at the time of a fun run you can cheer on, or the pastry festival at the end of July, where Pae Park becomes Pie Park, at least in the mind of this author, for a day.

Kalamaja Park & Kopli Park

Both of these parks are situated in the north of Tallinn, and both were built, at similar times, over the top of historic Lutheran graveyards from the 18th century, flattened in the Second World War by the Soviet occupying forces and later repurposed. That should not deter the nature-spotter from paying a visit, as they are lovely oases of calm in the now-bustling hipster parts of the city.

In the case of Kalamaja Park, it forms a great, unchanging, contrast with the endless building projects and expensive apartment blocks being made from factories around it. Arrow-straight footpaths are next to bike tracks, with trees big and old enough to sit under with a good book, and a series of ground-level fountains that children obviously love running in and out of. With the brand-new Noblessner Port regeneration project nearing completion adjacent to Kalamaja Park, you can truly see Tallinn old and new in the one place.

Kopli Park is equally beloved by the long-time residents of northern Tallinn, and while its gates and fences have seen better days, if you want to see the faded, but still present, glory of historic Tallinn, while taking in some nature, Kopli Park is a breath of fresh air, and serves as a pleasant introduction to a district of Tallinn undergoing a rapid revival, similar to Kalamaja ten years previously.

Conclusion

While we still recommend the major tourist venues mentioned elsewhere on this site as must-see places when you come to Tallinn, if you want to take a quiet moment to yourself, or just see how many different varieties of bird and dog you can spot on a stroll through verdant areas, then these overlooked nature spots are just the places to make your visit to the Estonian capital a relaxing and memorable one.

It’s also worth noting that Tallinn has a number of nature reserves and special conservation areas, meaning you don’t have to travel far from your hotel or guesthouse to be among the trees and fresh air. If you want to know more, Visit Tallinn has you covered. 

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