Tallinn Museum of Photography – Tallinn, Estonia - Atlas Obscura

Tallinn Museum of Photography

This former medieval prison now unlocks Estonia’s rich photographic history. 


With its colorful shops, quaint churches, and cobbled streets, Tallinn’s Old Town is often swarming with photographers. It’s the perfect location for the city’s Museum of Photography, which is adjacent to Tallinn Town Hall (the famous site of Vana Toomas). The Fotomuseum is an intimate, impactful museum that is enjoyable for those even with the slightest interest in cameras and the art of photography.

Located in a 14th-century building that was once a prison, the museum’s imposing architecture is as fascinating as its exhibits. Snug rooms are separated by thick stone walls, and the floors are linked by steep, medieval staircases and arched doorways. One narrow staircase has its own tale to tell, having been lost behind a wall for years. The building also includes a small enclosed courtyard where photos are exhibited outdoors. When you peer up at the tiny square of open sky, it feels as though you’re inside a camera yourself.

Several permanent displays document the history of photography in Estonia, particularly from 1840 to 1940. There are daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and ferrotypes; historical scenes that can be both poignant and hilarious, stereo images, and a model of an early 20th-century darkroom. Another room contains dozens of exquisitely preserved antique cameras, from a huge glass-plate monstrosity—to a Minox subminiature spy camera invented in Tallinn.

The museum’s basement houses exhibitions of contemporary art photography, which is given added depth and context by its proximity to the historical photos. There is also a small gift shop with books and souvenirs.

Know Before You Go

The entrance fee is €4 for adults, €2 for students and seniors, or free with the Tallinn Card. Anyone with mobility issues should note that this is a very old building with narrow, uneven stone stairs.

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