St Olaf’s church offers one of the best views of Tallinn’s old town that you can find. Which is great if you’re not scared of heights – like Bernie.
I’ll admit it. I hate heights. They hate me too. I’m a little scared of them. OK. Petrified. So why in God’s name would I willingly part with a few Euros to stand precariously on wooden planks at the top of 600-year-old cathedral? Well I had no idea it was going to turn out this way.
From below we could see people the size of ants walking the steeple
The last time we’d gone up to the top of a historic bell tower was in Prague. That church had been retrofitted with a modern lift, safety guards, all the mod cons. It was the yardstick by which we expected all to at least match, if not surpass. After paying our dues, we followed other climbers through a small door into a stairwell. Maybe the lift access is on the next level.
No sign of a lift
A steep and narrow spiral staircase wound around the innards of the steeple. The only support was a rope rail, that moved when the person above and immediately behind gripped it at the same time.
To make it more intense, there were also people coming back down the same spiral stairs. With some steps as high as a foot apart, and the inner side ending at a narrow point, it required the plié skills of a prima ballerina. Puffing from a combination of exhausting and stress, I limped up the staircase, finally getting to a wooden platform at the bell level. This area was actually a secret listening station for the KGB and a radio transmitter between the 1950s and 80s.
The KGB worked in all sorts of weird places
The final climb is up a tall ladder – straight up. Biting my lip and trying not to look down, I freeze up on the top rung, unable to go up or down for a moment. Jess helps me up and out, but it’s far from safe or reassuring. The steeple’s viewing platform is a small track of planks that bend as you walk. I grip the rail with white knuckles and point my camera vaguely in the direction of the horizon, hoping to at least get the shot.
Returning to the safety of the wooden platform, I catch my breath and we make our way back down. Thankfully it’s much easier than on the way up. I haven’t quite conquered my fears, but I’ve had the chance to do something I never would have.
St Olaf’s Church has been part of Tallinn since the 1200s, with the Scandinavian-built church named in honor of King Olaf II of Norway. As the world’s tallest church (back in the 1500s), it was struck regularly by lightning, leading to fires in 1625, 1820 and again in 1931. The latest incarnation is 124 meters high (more than enough to scare me senseless). Originally Roman Catholic, it was where Zacharias Hasse preached, leading to the start of the reformation in Tallinn in 1523. It was a Lutheran church until 1950 and it is now serves a Baptist congregation.
St Olaf’s Church is a Baptist church that has been part of Estonian life since the 1200s.
Lai 50, 10133 Tallinn, Estonia
The church is open daily between 10am and 6pm. There is no disabled access to the steeple. Wear sensible shoes and do not attempt the climb if you have heart issues or anxiety (unless you are prepared to laugh in its face). Don’t just take our word for it. Check out other reviews on Tripadvisor.