Tallinn faces Helsinki across the Gulf of Finland, separated by 100 kilometres (60 miles) of sea. Several ferries cross daily. The trip by ship takes 2-2½ hours. Catamarans do it in 90 minutes.

St Petersburg to the east is an overnight voyage away. The overland route is via Narva but the roads are bad. Sea is the way to go.Highslide JS

Far to the west of Tallinn are the Estonian isles of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. A dozen of so cruise ships called at Saaremaa in 2011, but Tallinn received hundreds.

Unlike the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland, with its tens of thousands of islands, the Estonian coast is rather plain. The water is deep but the hinterland is flat.

There are few points of interest until the great hill of Tallinn heaves into view and it becomes instantly clear why the first fortress was built at this place, nearly 1000 years ago. Now is the time to go on deck as the spires of the old town come closer.Highslide JS

The Estonians speak a language closely related to Finland's but, living in a more accessible place, their history has been far more turbulent. The population has often been decimated by wars and plague.

The borders have not been constant either, and Estonians have rarely been their own masters. Control passed from Sweden to Russia in the early 18th century, and it was not until after the Russian Revolution that independence was declared.Highslide JS

That period ended in the Second War when Moscow seized control but, in 1988, when the Soviet Union began to collapse, Estonians issued a new declaration of sovereignty. The last Russian troops left in 1994.

Ten years later, Estonia became a member of the European Union.

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