IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

Tallinn: European Green Capital 2023

September 25, 2023

In January, after a highly successful year as the European Green Capital, the French city of Grenoble passed the title to Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia—and the birthplace

of the European Green Capital concept back in 2006.


As Tallinn embraces its year as the European Green Capital, it embodies a profound truth: the title of European Green Capital is more than an accolade—it's a testament to the transformative power of sustainable practices, a beacon of hope that illuminates the path towards a greener, more resilient Europe.


The title is, as European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius stated, "reserved for the best – the cities at the forefront of change." With over 70% of Europeans living in cities, the title was launched in 2010 to encourage cities to become 'greener and cleaner'—improving the quality of life of their citizens and leading environmental and economic transformation as they implemented the European Green Deal.


With so many European cities forging ahead with a green agenda, what qualities made Tallinn a worthy recipient of this year's title? And what changes is it making?





IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

"Tallinn gained the title of sustainability and innovation champion due to their systemic approach to green governance and interlinked strategic goals, which reflect the ambitions of the European Green Deal," states the EU Commission.


The strengths that it highlighted for praise included:


  • 'Tallinn 2035', an ambitious development plan covering carbon neutrality, climate adaptation, innovation, health, mobility, biodiversity, circular economy, sustainable energy and food production.
  • The city's impressive biodiversity, and its determination to improving it further. Tallinn is already home to nearly 200 protected species, from birds and orchids to lichens and fungi. Tallinn is rightly proud of its pollinator-rich green corridors, prime birdwatching site, and its large green spaces that even attract some passing lynx, bears and wolves.
  • Tallinn's Commitment to climate adaptation and resilience. Tallinn already has many measures in place, such as stormwater management systems and street remodelling, any many more are in the pipeline. They include Green Twins, a project helping the city better integrate urban greenery into city planning.
  • The city's forward-thinking approach to urban mobility. Tallinn introduced free public transport for citizens in 2013 (the first European capital city to do so), and its aim is for citizens to be no more than 15 minutes away from all necessary infrastructure by soft transport.
  • The use of digital tools to optimise nature-based solutions in renovation projects.




IMAGE: Kadi-Liis Koppel

During its title year, Tallinn's main themes are biodiversity, sustainable governance, and climate and green innovation. Its past and planned events include everything from small-scale actions by residents to formulating sustainability goals with other European cities. Its mission is to ensure everyone is included in the push to make the city 'more sustainable, adaptable, smarter and more inclusive'.


Tallinn is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, when you visit Tallinn for the first time, you'll discover its mosaic of varied habitats, geological features, and land usage, which all contribute to the city's rich biodiversity.


Alongside its medieval streets, you can find more modern buildings—and parks and forests, lakes and rivers, bogs and meadows, and the tiny island of Aegna. The city sees greener urban planning as essential to the health and wellbeing of its residents, both human and non-human! 80% of its human residents are already within 300 metres of a green area, and the city is an increasingly popular destination for nature enthusiasts.


13.8% of Tallinn's footprint is protected, with more than half of it belonging to the NATURA 2000 network. These are impressive figures for a capital city. But Tallinn isn't resting on its laurels; with biodiversity as one of its four themes for its Green Capital year, it has big plans for improvement.





IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

Creating New Nature Reserves


Two new nature reserves are planned, further protecting and enhancing over 200 hectares that already brim with wildlife and interesting features.


Astangu-Mäeküla is a proposed protected area in the Haabersti district. The area includes forests, limestone cliffs and calcareous meadows, and studies have suggested it's one of the most biodiverse areas in Tallinn. It's one of the top bat hibernation sites in Estonia, and has a species-rich population of bumblebees, butterflies, birds, amphibians and reptiles.


The planned Reserve will cover more than 162 hectares, aiming to offer not just species conservation but also the potential for recreation, nature education and foraging activities. The area also has cultural and historical significance, with old tunnel warehouses of Peter the Great's sea fortress to explore.


Kakumäe is a subdistrict of Haabersti, at the top of the Kakumäe Peninsula, and a popular area for outdoor sports enthusiasts. The area has a peaceful sandy beach, a small shingle island, a marina, and wooded areas. It's already a favourite haunt of birdwatchers, as it's a great place to sight migrating birds as well as local species.



IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

Tallinn's Green Corridors


Putukaväil: the Pollinator Highway


Pollinators are essential to human wellbeing and health. They play a vital role in the ecosystem, not least by ensuring the crops that we eat—and the crops eaten by the animals we eat—grow successfully (or at all).


The Pollinator Highway is being developed as a 14 km-long linear park passing through six of Tallinn's eight districts. This green corridor park aims to provide:


  • Increased leisure opportunities for residents.
  • Untouched, wild areas that will increase biodiversity.
  • A peaceful, scenic route through the city, both for animals and for human walkers and cyclists.


In order to create a pleasant environment and thriving ecosystem in the park, some experimental projects are underway. In order to improve the public space and biodiversity together, landscaping projects have been developed and are being gradually carried out. Urban meadows and wildflower areas are being created or enhanced all along the corridor and some areas are being left unmowed.



IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

This project is making good use of former industrial areas and transport infrastructure, such as the old railway embankment and where overhead power lines are being replaced by underground cables. It's also providing climate improvement and climate change readiness benefits, as overgrown meadows absorb more rainwater than mowed lawns.


Citizen and partner participation has been encouraged and valued from the start. Local people have been invited to offer their ideas and opinions on the development of the park.

For example, they chose their three favourite works from 19 submissions to the 'Place Buzz' urban art competition, to be completed over the summer, and Academy of Arts students have submitted ideas for new uses of high-voltage masts in Putukaväil.


IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

Klindi Park


Klindi Park is a nine-kilometre-long linear park, which runs along the Baltic Klint and connects three city districts. It includes a lush forest area at the foot of the limestone cliff and diverse calcareous grasslands at the top. The planned development aims to increase recreational opportunities in this green corridor, while also protecting and encouraging nature. A new pedestrian bridge is part of the plan, and the idea is to make the park a linear, coherent space while also giving each section its own unique character.


Preserving Pääsküla Bog


Pääsküla, a mere 30 minutes from the city centre, is one of the few bogs nestled within a European capital city. It became a protected area in 2013, and is home to over 300 species of plants, 140 species of birds, and more than 60 protected species. You can explore it via trails of varying lengths, including a boardwalk that takes you to the observation tower. From here, you can enjoy wonderful views over the bog and its surrounding forests.


In the past, the bog has suffered the effects of wildfire and damaging peat excavation. Work to restore the bog is ongoing and began with the building of dams to encourage growth in the former bog areas.


IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

The Green Tracks Project


The 'Green Tracks' project is an umbrella for a host of activities to improve urban green spaces, ranging from minor actions to major measures. Following the precepts of the Tallinn 2035 and Climate Neutral Tallinn documents, it aims to improve the city environment, increase natural diversity and climate change adaptation, and promote sustainable practices. District governments, businesses, educational institutions and citizens are all encouraged to get involved. The project relies heavily on 'tactical urbanism' methods—significant improvements that can be made without long planning processes.

Examples include:


  • Creating new spaces in Tallinn's coastal areas around Linnahall and the cruise port.
  • Improvement and greening of spaces in transport hubs and high-use locations.
  • Replacing grass plots with wildflower meadows by large roads and parks.
  • Introducing trees to provide shade along pedestrian and cycling paths.
  • Adding greenery to traffic islands.
  • Adding green roofs to bus stops.
  • Establishing food forests in multiple residential areas.


Spatial experimentation is a vital aspect of the project, and it employs constructive feedback from citizens to assess their enthusiasm for and acceptance of innovative solutions. As an integral part of Green Tracks, the Town Hall Square will temporarily undergo transformation into a vibrant pop-up park, while students at the esteemed Estonian Academy of Arts will be actively trialling climate-sensitive spatial solutions on the bustling Lauteri Street. Concurrently, they will also be flexing their creative muscles to create pioneering prototypes for improved street furniture and more effective traffic signs.



IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

Raekoja Plats temporary park


Tallinn European Green Capital 2023 has unveiled a dynamic temporary park nestled in the heart of its historic Old Town. As part of the innovative "Green Tracks" project, the new park breathes new life into the iconic Town Hall Square, transforming it into a verdant leisure space from June through September.


The park, designed by Ann Kristiin Entson and Hannes Aava, features comfortable seating, an outdoor stage, and a diverse array of plants, including historical species from old town monastery gardens. Visitors can engage with the plants, encouraged by informative signs inviting them to smell, touch, or taste, depending on the plant.


By Midsummer's Eve, the park will expand to include more trees, a relaxation area, and a reading pavilion, courtesy of the Estonian National Library. Once the park closes in autumn, the greenery will find new homes within Tallinn's urban landscape, underscoring the city's dedication to enriching its green spaces and urban environments.


IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

Community Gardens and Participation Projects




The number of city-supported community gardens in the city is growing every year. There are now 29, offering the opportunity to grow communal food and a venue for workshops, concerts and lectures. There are also 129 educational gardens, not just in kindergartens and schools but also in cultural centres, museums, youth centres, and other social and welfare institutions. Another learning garden is being created on the Pollinator Highway for local schools and kindergartens.


As a further development in the Pollinator Highway, the city will open its first official allotment garden in autumn 2023.


IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

Biodiversity Events


European Day Dedicated to Biodiversity


150 trees will be planted in cooperation with the Estonian Song and Dance Festival  Foundation. Seedling and seed fairs, as well as workshops and seminars for residents, are being planned in cooperation with the EC Estonian Representative office.


Biodiversity Action Days


This is a year-long programme of events designed to get residents involved in the recording and promotion of biodiversity. Activities range from the installation of bat and bird boxes to the removal of invasive plant species and litter in green areas.


Save our Sea campaign


From 31st August to 16th September, Tallinn will run an international campaign to clean up the Baltic Sea coastline together with the Let's Do It Foundation. Tallinn will invite all the other cities around the Baltic Sea to participate in the campaign and raise awareness of the environmental issues affecting the Baltic Sea.


IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

Your Nature Break in Tallinn


Tallinn's biodiversity and variety of green spaces make it a paradise for nature lovers. If you're feeling inspired to visit and experience the richness of its nature for yourself, then here's our guide to some of the other unmissable sites around the city. If you can't find accommodation nearby, don't worry—they're all easy to reach via the city's excellent transport system.


The Beta Promenade through Kalamaja to Kopli


This 2-km seaside walking and cycling trail runs from the Kalasadam Harbour to the Noblessner Harbour district. As well as passing places of cultural and historical interest, it provides wonderful views over the Gulf of Tallinn. Kalamaja offers its charming cemetery park with its bell tower, while Kopli has several parks, including the large cemetery park with its many paths, and Kase Park with its alder trees.


Paljassaare Peninsula


The Paljassaare Peninsula, which stretches from Kopli to the sea, was originally two islands. The Paljassaare Conservation Area is a designated NATURA 2000 site. Its diverse habitats offer an array of attractive flora and attract beavers, reptiles, butterflies and over 240 bird species, including bitterns and marsh harriers. There's also Pika-kari beach to enjoy and the ruins of the old fortifications to explore.


IMAGE: Anna Grigorjeva

Kadriorg Park


Kadriorg Park is one of Estonia’s grandest green spaces. Covering 70 hectares, it includes a baroque palace, museums and sculptures. There are sweeping meadows, groves of ancient lindens, ashes, and oaks, a lovely swan pond and a thriving bird population. It's also an important habitat for seven species of bats: the pond bat, Daubenton's bat, the northern bat, the brown long-eared bat, Nathusius' pipistrelle, the common pipistrelle, and the common noctule. Alongside the natural areas, there are more manicured areas to enjoy, such as the rose garden and Japanese garden.


As an ecotourism destination, Kadriorg Park combines natural beauty, rich biodiversity, and environmental education, making it a haven for nature lovers and conservationists alike.

IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

Open Air Museums


Tallinn's two open-air museums provide a great way to enjoy nature and the outdoors alongside a cultural experience. Viimsi Open Air Museum, just outside of Tallinn, centres around a carefully preserved 19th-century farm and seaside village, with a wealth of woodland trails to wander. The Estonian Open Air Museum on the coast of Kopli Bay includes dozens of preserved and reconstructed buildings set on 72 hectares of countryside.


From Stroomi Beach to Rocca al Mare: A bird-watching walk along the promenade


The Stroomi Beach, between Kopli and Rocca al Mare, is a long sandy beach and park famous for its diverse bird population. For the best views, climb the Bird Tower, a short walk from the beach. A 2 km-long walking and cycling path connects it to Rocca al Mare, where there's another great bird-watching spot near the sea by Rocca al Mare school. Look out for grey herons, red-backed shrikes and many more.


Aegna Island


Tallinn's Aegna Island, lying 24 km off the coast, is only 3 km2. Its wild landscape consists of forests, dunes, bogs, boulders and beaches of various kinds: sand, gravel and pebble. This diversity of habitats in a small area has made this tiny island species rich; you may spot red squirrels, oystercatchers, and flourishing crowberry and cowberry bushes. This abundance of wildlife, coupled with its other attractions, such as its stone maze and historical ruins, make the island well worth a visit.



IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

Pirita River Valley


The 703-hectare Pirita River Valley is a conservation area of terraces, outcrops, and 150–200-year-old pine forests, and a former bog,  Kloostrimetsa. It's also home to Iru Hill Fort, Metsakalmistu Cemetery (where many notable Estonians are buried) and Tallinn Botanic Garden. This Botanic Garden is an attraction in its own right, and a lovely spot to enjoy a walk, picnic or outdoor concert. There are over 8,500 plant species here, and plant enthusiasts can join a themed tour or explore by themselves with an audio guide. During the European Green Capital year, it's also hosting a year-long program of sustainable events and exhibitions.


Pirita River Valley has around 650 plant species, including protected plants such as the Sea Thrift and Baltic Marsh Orchid, plus over 120 bird species. It's also an important summer feeding ground for bats.


IMAGE: Arsty

Nõmme-Mustamäe Nature Reserve


Last but definitely not least is the 200-hectare Nõmme-Mustamäe Nature Reserve: 'the lungs of Tallinn'. The Reserve is arguably the city's most significant wild area and its highest point, at 64 metres above sea level.


The Reserve sits in the Nõmme district on the southwestern edge of Tallinn. This forested, charming garden district was founded by landowner Nikolai von Glehn. Beautiful old houses in a range of styles, from traditional wooden to art nouveau styles, can be found on avenues lined with pine trees. There's a wonderful market, picturesque churches, Glehn's Castle and Nõmme Museum to visit, plus a Sports Centre, Swimming Centre and Snowpark, with ski trails and a ski-jumping tower.


The Reserve is made up of a variety of green spaces, including forests, meadows and sand dunes. Numerous hiking and cycling trails around and through the Reserve give you a chance to explore as much or as little as you wish.


There are around 500 vascular plant species here, including protected ones such as the Creeping Willow, as well as many species of lichens, mosses and birds. In the parklands of Glehn's Castle, you'll find 24 natural springs, a Palm House, an observation tower, and some interesting statues, including an enormous crocodile and a huge statue of Kalevipoeg. Kalevipoeg is Estonia's mythical hero; a giant who was reputedly just as good at practical tasks (ploughing fields and building towns) as he was at battling Satan and rescuing maidens. You can also explore the distinctive, terraced Ravila Park; Sütiste Forest, with its sand dunes; or the Adventure Park in the forest. Explore it via woodland trails if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, or on the treetop rope and bridge routes if you have a head for heights!



IMAGE: Tallinn - European Green Capital 2023

How Will You Explore Green and Blue Tallinn?


There's a wealth of information, maps, audio and digital tours to help you if you want to explore Tallinn's coast and green spaces by yourself. However, if you prefer a guide, there are plenty of day trips to specific sites, longer multi-stop tours, themed excursions, and nature-based holidays, including bird-watching breaks.


So, lace up your walking shoes, charge your digital devices, and prepare to immerse yourself in the captivating blend of nature and urban life that defines Tallinn. Remember, you're not merely a visitor—you're a pioneer about to embark on an unforgettable eco-adventure. Tallinn doesn't merely await; it beckons!






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