Tallinn’s Historic Signs: Sometimes Less is More


For towns hoping to preserve any period of history, the trick is maintaining authenticity: castles, churches, shops, and streets – all must fit the time.

Another aspect of historic accuracy that most centuries-old villages take seriously is business signs.

Nobody wants to see McDonald’s anachronistic arches in the middle of a Medieval treasure like Tallinn’s old town, but to be fair, most of the shops and restaurants thrive or fail on the tourist trade. So the question is: how to find a balance between what works aesthetically and what advertises the business?

Few people could read in the Middle Ages, so signs had to be symbolic and easily understood. And the merchants of Tallinn have risen to the challenge and created artistic, eye-catching signs to grab tourists’ attention.

Whether advertising pretzels, beer, or coffee …


screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-5-13-43-pm … equestrian wear or music.


 But this clever, double-duty sign is our all-time favorite. If you need shoes, walk right in, and if it’s raining, the boot downspout will keep your head dry.


 In these days of 24/7 media saturation and sign pollution in every direction, it’s delightful to see that simple still works, and sometimes, less is more.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

26 thoughts

  1. I love these. Still smiling as I type. I apologize for not recalling where you have previously found some of these interesting shop signs. Simple but oh so effective and smile inducing.

    1. Thanks Sue. Some of the best were in Germany: specifically Rothenburg and Bacharach. Those Germans have the quaint Medieval village down, but the Estonians do an excellent job as well. ~James

  2. What lovely creative signs! Your posts have made me regret I passed over an opportunity to attend a congress in Tallinn a couple of years ago. It wouldn’t have been a direct flight, but mostly I thought the experience would be a bit bland. Ha! one should always venture beyond more beaten paths.

    1. Bea, if you get another chance to visit Tallinn, I don’t think that you’ll be disappointed. Of course, like most post-Soviet cities in Eastern Europe, there are bland parts of town, but Tallinn’s historic area plus the modern center is very cool. A hotel in one of these areas will put you within walking distance to all the good bits, and it has a very nice vibe as well. ~James

    1. Jo, you must have seen lots of these old-town signs on your travels in Europe as well. I love the concept that they work for non-readers as well as foreigners who don’t speak the local language. I can’t tell you how many times in my travels that I’ve ordered a meal by pointing to a picture on a sign board or menu. ~James

    1. Thanks Peta. Your point about universal language is a good one. As a traveler, I’m sure you’ve used simples signs many times. I know that when I travel, I need all the language help I can get. ~James

  3. Love all of these, such creativity used in designing a sign reflective of what’s inside. I am a bit of shoe hound so of course, the boot is my favourite!

    1. You would have loved this posh little shop Lynn. The sign was wonderful, but the styles and prices were well out of our reach – at least for a couple of travelers who needed sensible shoes for negotiating all those cobblestone streets and alleys. 🙂 ~James

  4. Cities today force me into ocular overload. With every sign competing for our immediate attention, symbols so easily recognized, no name is needed. I love the simplicity of these signs and I agree, the boot is the best!

    1. I agree Laura. I feel that so much of the advertising we see in the US is more of an assault than anything else. It ends up being a spiral that can only go up and up. There are so many signs and notices that in order to really get my attention, something has to be over-the-top. Were does it end? Simple and clever always work for me. ~James

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