Tourists often overlook Tallinn’s Soviet past. The era of communism left behind Soviet relics that may not seem impressive but have a colorful history. Here are five Soviet sights that are off the beaten path for your average cruise tourist.
I can guarantee you have never seen anything like it. It is hard to understand what this grey concrete building next to the harbor was used for. Was it a shop? A prison? An apartment building? The building is actually a palace, believe it or not! It was a sports and culture palace that was built for the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics which partly happened in Tallinn. It housed a concert hall, ice rink, and cafés and was actively in use until 2004. At the moment it is possible to climb the stairs and enjoy a beautiful sunset on the roof.
From the roof of the City Hall, you will see one of the most recognizable landmarks in Tallinn – Hotel Viru. It was the first high-rise building in Estonia that was built specifically to house the foreign tourists visiting the city during the Soviet era. 60 hotel rooms were bugged and the KGB eavesdropped from their secret lair on the top floor of the hotel which is now a museum. The museum can only be visited by a guide so I recommend booking your visit in advance through their website. The stories give a glimpse into the life of a Soviet tourist and the museum boasts the best view of Tallinn!
It was built in 1820 as part of a sea fortress and became a prison in 1920 which remained in operation right up until 2005. It was the official prison for the KGB and a lot of the government members of the first Estonian Republic were imprisoned or executed between these walls. Patarei is unfortunately not open to visitors and the city is currently looking for funds to restore this unique prison complex. There is a walking path on the seaside that will take you through the prison grounds to the maritime museum right next to it. That is the closest you can get to see the prison, but even from the outside, it is already a sight to see.
If you have seen everything there is to see in the Old Town, then take a bus out of the city center to visit the so-called mountains of Tallinn. These 3 Soviet districts are the biggest districts of the city and have a large Russian population. By walking around in these districts you can mostly see high panel blocks of flats that were built in the 1970-1990s. By going there you can get the glimpse of the actual living conditions for most of the locals.
The Bronze Soldier in Tallinn is a Soviet monument dedicated to the soldiers who fought in World War II. It is the most controversial statue left of the Soviet legacy in Tallinn. It used to stand in the city center, but when the government decided to move it in 2007, it triggered violent protests from the ethnic Russians. It is now in the cemetery of the Estonian Defence Forces and Russians are still putting flowers by his feet on 9th of May when they celebrate the end of the war.
If you are interested in the backstories of these sites and if you want to know more about the everyday life during the Soviet Era then you are welcome to join our Free Communist Tour every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!